Explore North Peru from Chachapoyas
Updated: May 18, 2020
Despite having stunning landscape, huge waterfall, cloud forest, rolling mountain, numerous ruins, and natural wonders, North Peru is often overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of South Peru.
It is still underrated and overlooked by most of the tourists. But you want off-the-beaten-path experience, North Peru is the perfect place to start with.
We visited a tiny Andean town, Chachapoyas in Northern Peru at the edge of Peruvian Amazon in our limited time.
Chachapoyas, the land of Pre Inca civilization, inhabited by the people living in the cloud forest in the eastern slope of Andes. Very little information is available about the ancient civilization. According to history, they are conquered by the Inca Empire before the Spanish invasion. And, it is said that the name “Chachapoyas” was given by Inca and it means “Cloud Forest” in Quechua.
Chachapoyas was the basecamp for us in North Peru. The town has a very laid-back vibe but does not offer anything extraordinary. You can probably take a stroll around the city center following the cobblestone street and explore the nearby on your own. But the main attractions lie beyond the town, into the surrounding valley and can be discovered by day trips.
Best things to do while in Chachapoyas: Instead of writing an itinerary, I thought of listing some of the best places to visit in Chachapoyas.
Visit Revash: It is a funerary complex of Chachapoyas built high into the limestone cliff. It can be visited on a day trip from Chachapoyas. Revash is situated near the village named San Bartolo. From San Bartolo, you need to walk almost one and a half kilometers to reach the destination. If you look at the picture below, you can see the pink and cream painted little houses like shape. These are the mausoleums in reality. It is thought that these are the final resting place of the powerful and prestigious individuals of Chachapoyas people.
Like Revash another unique burial site found in Luya province of Chachapoyas is the Sarcophagi of Karajia. It consists of tombs in the shape of a human figure. Chachapoyas people built the sarcophagi in high rocks or in a place difficult to reach to ensure the sarcophagi would never be visited and mummified bodies could rest in peace.
Visit Leymebamba Museum: Just a few hours from Chachapoyas, this exclusive local museum is the house of more than 200 mummies and their funeral offerings. The mummies are recovered from Laguna de los Cóndores through the archaeological project led by the Mallqui Center. If you want to enrich yourself with the knowledge of Chachapoyas people, their traditions and culture, this museum should never be missed.
** Most people visiting Revash combine their tour with the museum visit.
Visit Kuelap: It is a 6th century AD walled settlement built by Chachapoyas on a hilltop at an elevation of 3000 meters. This massive structure is a combination of fortress and the city and stands as an illustrative of the ancient civilization of Chachapoyas in the cloud forest. Because of the dramatic mountain range along with the walled city on the mountaintop, Kuelap is often called “Machu Pichu of the North”.
Kuelap is far and secluded completely from the outside world. You could only reach the entry point of Kuelap after an hour bus ride from Chachapoyas, followed by 20 minutes long cable car ride from Tingo Nuevo passing through the overlapping Andean meadows. From the entry point, you need to collect tickets and start walking uphill to reach the final settlements. The more you walk uphill, the more you experience the change in the climate. You might experience a sudden splash of the shower too.
The first thing we noticed in Kuelap was almost 20 meters high stonewall surrounding the city. There are three entrances to the city and more than 550 structures inside the city. It is fascinating to see the remains of the circular-shaped house probably used by the people lived there, the Inkwell and the decorated stonewalls. Also, the unknown orchids emerging in every corner, lazily grazing llamas and passing cloud over the hilltop complements this archeological wonder in every bit.
Visit Gocta Falls: I saved the best for the last.
Catarata del Gocta is a 771 meter tall, two-level waterfall emerging from a high cliff. This impressive waterfall was hidden in the upper Amazonian Basin of Peru until the German explorer Stefan Ziemendorff together with Peruvian explorers ventured there in 2005. This is a must-visit place while in Chachapoyas.
We visited Gocta from Chachapoyas on an organized trip. It can be visited independently too if you can manage the transportation on your own or use public transport. You do not need a guide for hiking since directions are well marked but having an organized trip solves the transportation part.
We started our journey from Chachapoyas in a small minivan and reached to a little village called Cocachimba. From there we followed the trail to the waterfall. We did have a local guide who walked the trail with us. The hiking trail gives you a good workout, goings up and down, and flatlands in between. Also, the muddy and slippery areas of the trail challenge your hiking skill from time to time. I strongly recommend having good hiking shoes along with a good rain jacket before going for this hike. Rain is very common in the Amazonian Basin and it would be very difficult if you are not well equipped.
It took us almost 2.5 hours to reach the bottom of the waterfall. The view from there was breathtaking. But you almost can not see the upper part of the waterfall once you reach the lower part. Though there are numerous viewpoints on the way where you could capture the majestic view of the waterfall along with the wonderful wilderness without being interrupted by anybody.
Since I already pointed out my favorite picks, I thought of sharing the few glimpses of North Peru captured on our way:
Before I finish my blog here are some recommendations that could be useful.
Never miss Important Info:
We visited only Chachapoyas. But Northern Peru has many places to visit such as Trujillo, Huanchaco, Chiclayo, Cajamarca, Tarapoto. You might want to check other places and add more days if you want to explore more in North Peru.
Transportation and accessibility could be serious blockers while planning for North Peru. The availability of domestic flights to the small town is also another concern. My recommendation would be to check out all the options (bus, flight) before you plan. I recommend Cruz del Sur and Movil Tours in case you are planning to travel by bus to the North.
We flew to Chachapoyas from Lima by Atsa Airlines. It was almost two hours of journey from Lima in a small two-seaters (less than 20 seats) flight. You might want to consider this option in case you only visit Chachapoyas.
Additional info: They weighed bag and every person before boarding. I mentioned this because you need to consider how much luggage you are carrying for such a small flight.
Chachapoyas airport is a small one. You do not need direction to move inside the airport. Once you land, you can just come outside and take the taxi or collective for the city center or your hostel or hotel.
Another option could be taking the airport shuttle from your accommodation.
We booked Chachapoyas Backpackers hostel from Booking.com. The best thing about the place was, there was always someone speaking English. The staff is very friendly and helpful. I can recommend this if you are looking for a budget option.
We took organized day trips from the hostel to solve the transportation issue. I did not find any option of renting a car. Even if there is an option available, considering the road condition, I would recommend taking a bus, collectivo, or minivan.
Day trips are mostly guided trips. Each day trip we took costs around 50-80 soles per person depending on the places visited. Food is not included in day trips. But mostly organized trips arrange food with little extra money. The average cost per meal is around 15 soles. If you are ordering something fancy it might go up to 35 soles. Most of the time they tie-up with local restaurants.
You can get all the necessities from the market and the pharmacy in the city center. When in Peru, you are blessed with good food. Chachapoyas is also not an exception. Try out local places for some authentic food. I recommend Amazonika Restaurant.
ATMs are available in Chachapoyas. If you are new to this place you might need some time to find out the local ATMs. I would recommend carrying cash with you just in case you need it.
I have reached almost at the end of this Blog.
In conclusion, I would say, North Peru is enigmatic and less traveled. The sleepy little towns in the mid of cloud forest, the ancient ruins, never-ending mountain range, and, the story of the cloud people all together create an unforgettable experience that you will cherish forever 😊💕.
In my next blog, I shall take you to Ollantaytambo and share one of the best day trips of my Peru Diary. Until then, Keep Reading WandererSuva.
If you want to know more about Peru, check out my previous blog.
If you like my story and want to share yours then let me know in the comment section.