Introduction to Chachapoyas
Nestled between the Andes and the jungle, Chachapoyas, described by some as Cusco 30 years ago, is a friendly colonial town with outstanding natural beauty and cultural richness. The thick cloud forest enveloping it gives the place a mystical feeling that makes you want to delve in and explore further.
In times gone by, the area was inhabited by the Chachapoya culture, also known as the Cloud People. They were skilled warriors who supposedly were blond and fair skinned! Twice as old as the Inca, they constructed some of the most spectacular sites in Peru, which remain almost unexplored and unexplained still to this day.
Bear in mind that there aren’t many paved roads leading to Chachapoyas and you need to allow a few days to travel. On the up side, this means not many people make it there, giving it a more authentic feel.
Stunning views, hummingbirds, hot springs and orchids (not to mention a huge number of ruins) await those who venture out here.
Be astounded by Kuelap, its lost city feeling and the mystery surrounding its purpose, or visit the Leymebamba Museum with its mummies. Make sure not to miss visiting the impressive Gocta Falls, kept secret for years by locals fearing an ancient curse if they revealed its location. There are many other wonders hidden in the dense forest and it is thought that not even 5% of it has been discovered so far. So if you have the time, and a good adventurous spirit, it is more than worth venturing off the beaten track and exploring Chachapoyas. This is a truly special place.
What not to miss in Chachapoyas
This is one of the most extraordinary ruin complexes in Peru. Be amazed by the sheer size of its granite walls rising to up to 59ft. (18m) in height and, literally hundreds of structures including lookout posts, houses, burial chambers (including bones) and sacrificial alters. The backdrop of the surrounding hills adds to the experience of exploring this awe-inspiring fort.
The Leymebamba Museum
This Museum houses more than 200 mummies and funerary offerings found at the Lake of the Condors. The drive to the Leymebamba Museum is pretty spectacular too!
The Gocta Falls
The Gocta Falls is world’s third highest waterfall and although it was well known to locals for centuries, its existence was not made known to the world until after an expedition made in 2005. Take the 3-hour hike through a spectacular forest and watch in amazement as the water cascades down the green cliff.
Hike to Karijila
An impressive site with almost 10ft. (3m) tall funerary statues situated high up on a cliff overlooking the Utcubamba River. It’s not easy to get here and requires a long walk, but once there you will find yourself asking how on earth did they get the statues up there?!
Revash Funerary Complex
Revash is made up of a group of burial buildings hidden in the cliffs 9,186ft. (2,800m) above sea level. Painted red and cream, they look like little bird houses built into the sides of the cliffs.
Also known as Chachas, the town of Chachapoyas is laid-back and has some beautiful colonial buildings awash in white and surrounded by Peru’s high-altitude cloud forests. A busy market town, Chacapoyas is a great base for exploring the incredible and mysterious ancient ruins left behind by the Chachapoya civilization.
What you need to know
When to go
Since Chachapoyas is located on the edge of the jungle the climate usually is hot and humid, with an average temperature of over 68°F (20°C). Certain areas do experience cold spells and temperatures can at times fall dramatically depending on the altitude. The best time to visit is during the relatively dry months between May and October. Rain, although quite irregular, is prevalent throughout the rest of the year.
How to get there
Chachapoyas and the surrounding villages are among the highlights of Peru. Cloud forests, beautiful scenery and many pre-Inca mysteries to be discovered. However getting there is the tricky part. Currently LATAM has several scheduled flights per week to Tarapoto and Jaen. From Jaen it is another 4 hours drive overland to Chachapoyas, but it is just one hour away from the fortress of Kuelap.
Buses connect through Chiclayo, which is an 8 hour overland trip.
From Chachapoyas you can take local transport in the form of buses and private transfers to the area’s top highlights. The best is to simply book a tour.
Where to stay
Tourism to Chachapoyas and its surroundings are just starting so there are many basic options available in Chachapoyas and some 3 star properties. There are also a few beautiful and comfortable eco-lodges close to Leymebamba and the Gocta waterfalls.
Luxury hotels are not available yet.
The best way to visit all the places of interest is to book a tour which includes transport and a guide. The highlights are scattered throughout the region and the best way to experience them is to plan for at least a 4 night stay in 2 or even 3 hotels or lodges located in the different areas.
Alternatively there are local minibuses that run between the different villages.