One of the best day trips from Chachapoyas (in my humble opinion of course) is to visit Kuelap. This is a pre-incan fortress up on top of a mountain (kind of like that southern neighbour, Machu Picchu) only without the massive tourist infrastructure. If you've made it as far as Chachapoyas, you're also capable of making it to Kuelap, just arrange your transportation in town and bring some seat cushions if you value your bottom.
Kuelap gave me a real lost-city feeling considering we were the only people visiting the entire complex that day. The remote location keeps you well off the beaten track and is extremely relaxing if you've battled the crowds at Machu Picchu. The site guardian can provide a tour or you can wander through yourself with a small guidebook available for purchase in several languages. The entrance fee is 11 soles and goes to the Instituto Nacional de Cultura Amazonas to fund further excavations and restorations.
Wow. just to be at a place so unseen and so spectacular was a highlight...to save time, we just took the trip through our hotel, think it was a bit overpriced, but it was the going rate, and we didn't want to spend 2 days hping to catch a taxi back...
The guide was sweet, they take turns from the 'town' so everyone gets to make a little money, and we had lots of broken spanish laughs. Hard hike for us lazy city folks, easy for those in average shape, but fun nontheless, and the falls speak for themselves.
Don't make it all the way to chachapoyas without this stop. And go to the one place that serves beer in the cheap market at the edge of Chacha. We were the first tourists to ever go there and drink (they were scared of us at first) but now they love them some drunken Gringos.
Kuelap is a prime example of Chachapoyan architecture. The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, were a group of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region.
The Kuelap fortress is located at the summit of a hill at the altitude of more than 3,000m above sea level. It is made up of massive stone walls that curved around. The reason for the curved walls is because a straight wall can collapse easily during earthquakes, but a curved wall is more stable.
Imagine holding a piece of rectangular strip of cardboard, it falls down if it is straight, but if you compress it such that it is wavy, it is less likely to fall down.
From its massize size, Kuelap's construction needed a lot of effort, its complexity surpassed other archaeological structures in the Americas in size. The structure is almost 600m long and its walls, 19m high.
The fortress has very narrow entrances and to enter it, one needs to climb up a narrow flight of stone-steps. This naturally means that any enemy entering will be knocked down in one fell swoop when he arrives, panting heavily (considering also the high altitude), at the top.
There are more than four hundred buildings within. These constructions inside are mainly cylindrical, with pointy grass roofs (which no longer exist, of course). The decorated walls have friezes that seem to symbolise eyes or birds (like V-shapes, or multiple elongated diamonds enclosed within one another).
Get a group to share a taxi to take you here.
It is possible to take a microbus. Near the market around Jr Libertad and Jr Ortiz Arrieta, you can hear some guys calling out 'Kuelap, Kuelap'. Try to get there early in the morning, before 8 or 9am to confirm the time. The microbus will take you to Kuelap and even wait for you before it embarks on the return trip. Check time with the driver. Note that this is a regular microbus for locals, so along the way, it will stop for passengers.
A few hours by car out of Chachapoyas are the Karajia sarcophogii perched on a mountainside. There is a small museum in the town next to the site that was unfortunately closed when we visited. However, my tour guide went to the trouble of emailing me photos and descriptions of the displays inside the museum after I got home from my trip! The drive alone was well worth the trip with spectacular views of the northern andes.
La Plaza de Armas is the term used in most of Peru to designate the main plaza in town. Chachapoyas' plaza de Armas is a lovely town square in the center part of town. I loved this plaza. I loved spending the afternoon people watching.
Being here will make you understand why the took the name of Chachapoyas, cloud people.
Not really a fortress but a city, Kuelap is thought to have nested around 4000 people in its more than 400 individual constructions. Chachapoyas was not a culture per say but more a fusion of different tribes fighting against a single enemy, the Incas, and it is in Kuelap where you see the fusion. We can see different types of constructions, different ornaments & motives (see pictures), etc. On its different levels, 3 of them total, a distinct social status can be observed. Some people, however, think that Kuelap wasn't home to the Chachapoyas, but more of a place where people could look for refuge in case of a war and that most of its buildings were dedicated as warehouses for food. Some points to look here are the needlepoint entrance, which makes it easier to defend the entrance to the fortress with just a few people and the placement of the fortress against a (practically) cliff, with its towers as sentinels.
Your admission fee (around US$ 4 in 2006) gets you a guide.
The waterfalls at Pedro Ruiz. The Gocta is thought to get its name from "gota", water drop, but nobody really knows the origen. The Gocta is the third tallest waterfall in the world, 770 something meters above sea level, and with its two tier fall allows you to see the entire waterfall from the very bottom, take a bath in the second tier, or see it from the very top. Each walk takes about 1.5 - 2 hours and you have to pay a small fee to the city that hosts the walk which will provide you with a guide. Really easy trail and quite nice. If you go early enough you might be able to see some rainforest fauna, such as the gallito de las rocas y el mono cola amarilla.
Karajia funerary site must be one of the most remarkable tombs you will ever come across... with the wooden-clay coffins still in their original location, set into an impressive cliff face!
Mummies wrapped in cloth were placed inside. The coffins were constructed of stone, wooden poles and slapped with clay. Interestingly, the statues are shaped like humans with a huge head.
Perched up in the cliff overlooking Utucubamba river, there used to be more than 20 such coffins (or so my guide told me). While seemingly impossible to reach, grave-robbers still managed to rappel down and make off with the coffins. Now, these few remaining ones are 'protected' by the villagers. I mean, there is no security guards, no alarm system, no barriers. The villagers just had to keep an eye on them.
How these coffins remain unscathed all these hundreds of years is nothing short of a miracle, considering how exposed they are. Think about the mummies entombed deep within multiple coffins and into burial chambers dug way down in the dry desert of Egypt. These are NOT like that at all.
But I supposed the Chachapoyans knew what they were doing and there must be a natural overhanging perch to shelter the coffins from the rain.
That's why you arrive awestruck, gaping with your mouth wide open, and you are most likely one of the few tourists to have made it as this part of Peru is much less accessible than others.
To get here, form a group and share a taxi. The drive is 2.5 hours long, through very windy and treacherous mountainous road, full of pot-holes and if it had been raining, argh... utterly muddy and wet. Very terrible.
From Cochane, you have to go on foot for another 2.5 hours through undulating hills and tranquil farms. And then, wow!! Highly recommended!!
If you consult with the Tourist Information, there are actually countless other ruins and interesting sites, like Levanto, Laguna de los Condores, etc....
The problem is that they are all located spread out from Chachapoyas, about 2-3 hours away by car, and along terrible terrible terrible (and often, very dangerous) road conditions.
This means that to visit them, you have to form a group and share a taxi. The drive there plus the visit and the drive back means that it will take up 1 day for each sight.
Hence, you should find out loads of information and decide which are the ones to target for and arrange with your driver.
This museum holds the treasures found from the burial chullpas at Laguna de los Condores.
Note that there are over 200 mummies and a huge quantity of ceramics, textiles, wooden artefacts, and everyday objects found in this site which is near a beautiful lake in the jungle of this region.
What is interesting about the mummies is that many are wrapped in cloth and amusingly, some of them had faces drawn on the cloth (like using a black marker to draw a skeletonal funny face). I swear, it looks just like someone is pulling your leg.
To get to Lemeybamba to visit the museum is quite tricky. There is a microbus that leaves Chachapoyas in the afternoon 12-1pm (but there are lots of delays, as expected) which means you arrive at 4-5pm. The museum which is still a 5-min taxi ride away, closes at 5pm. So, if you hurry and arrive, you may be able to persuade the museum official to let you enter to visit it hurriedly.
The microbus back to Chachapoyas is an even greater mystery. When I booked it the evening before, various people told me the microbus would leave at 3am, 4am or 5am. So, whatever it is, just pack everything ready and try and be half-awake between these times and wait for the beeping of the horn when the microbus comes to collect you.
Gocta Falls, the third highest in the world, are now opening for Tourism. The falls were kept secret by the locals of this area because they feared an ancient curse if they revealed it's location. The falls are supposed to be protected by a white haired mermaid like spirit whos hair can be seen flowing down the massive U shaped walls at the bottom of the falls. The trail to the falls is reached via a one and a half hour ride from Chachapoyas on newly improved road that can accomodate 4 wheel drived vehicles. After reaching the small village of Cochachimba in the San Pablo district, a trail leads the intrepid traveler on a 3 to 5 hour tek to and from the falls. The falls appear on no map at this time and a guide is highly recommended. Although no formal equipment or training is required the trail is primitive, muddy and steep in many locations.
Quite nice scenery ... just 10 km north of Chachapoyas. A 4 hour walk in total - or you can take a taxi from Chachapoyas.
Hiking to Karajia Sarcophagus. Funeral statues built by the Chachapoyans to honor the mighty warriors.
The entrance to Chachapoyas and your departure point to Laguna de los Condores. Unfortunately because of time I couldnt visit it (requires 3 days there and back) but ill pdate you on it when i do it.