Named after the indigenous inhabitant that were living in this region before the Inca empire came and took possession of their territories, the area is brimmed with interesting history and spectacular natural beauties.
Geographically speaking it is included in the Amazon region which would make you think about unbearable heat and extreme humidity.
Well, nothing like that. The region has a totally different climate from its neighboring Amazonian territory.
I was here in February and it was damn cold and rainy. Despite the fact that we are below the Equator and it’s supposed to be summer in February, I found out that in Peru, the coastal zone is summer when the internal region is winter. Quite odd, but it makes sense. It was super cold indeed. I am actually freezing in my mountain gear while writing this post.
I was suggested to get to Chachapoyas on my journey from Ecuador as it was one of the option I had coming from Vilcabamba.
I am so happy I followed that suggestion, as there is so much to visit here, and if it was summer there was even more. The problem is that with the rainy season, some hiking trails are closed, for being too dangerous, for mudslides and muddy trails. But I will also give you information on things you can do in Chachapoya if you get there in the Summer.
Who should visit Chachapoyas (Chacha for friends)?
- Anyone who is interested in Peruvian history and culture
- All those passionate about nature and hiking.
- Those who love to explore off-the-beaten-track and yet spectacular places
How to organize your visit to Chachapoyas
Chachapoyas is located at a distance of 1 to 2 hours from every place of interest, which means you might be able to see one or two places per day if you go on tours. If you go on your own it gets more complicated.
I will explain for every tour what is the best way to get there and I will give you the pros and cons of the two options. So, if you want to know more, read on.
TABLE OF CONTENT
THINGS TO DO IN CHACHAPOYA
#1 Hike to the spectacular Gocta Waterfalls
It’s a 5 km very easy hike, a bit steep in some parts but it’s definitely doable. I have seen families with kids as well. The terrain is a bit slippery in the rainy season, from December through March, but easy. During the walk, you get spectacular views of the fall. The walk in itself it’s worth all the efforts for the spectacular scenery.
How to get to the Gocta Waterfalls from Cocachimba
You can either go on a day trip or spend the night in the spectacular Gocta Lodge or if you are traveling on a budget you will find a few hostels and more modest private accommodations. The village is tiny but pretty surrounded by lush green mountains. Definitely, a place to relax and have refreshing walks in nature.
On a day trip, you can get from Chachapoyas on a combi (small bus) from the bus terminal. You need to look for a bus that goes to Bagua or Pedro Ruiz and tell the driver that you are going to Cocachimba. They will drop you off at the crossroad and there you will find a motor taxi to take you up to Cocachimba. (Cost 3 PEN)
You will be dropped off at the tourist office where you will have to pay the entrance fee of 10 PEN. If it has been raining it’s convenient to wear rubber boots that you can rent right there.
Your beautiful walk will start there.
It’s about 2 hours to 2 and 2 to come back however it depends on your pace. It took me 2 hrs and 30 minutes to go and 1 hour 30 min to come back because on the way there I kept stopping to take pictures while on the way back it was pouring with rain and I was hungry so I wanted to get back as soon as possible.
You can also ride a horse if you think it’s too much of an effort for your, however, they will take you only at km 3 then you will still have 2 km to walk.
With this tour, you get to the bottom of the fall and once you get there you won’t see the first fall that you were seeing on the way there.
How to get to Gocta Waterfalls from San Pablo
There is another way to get to Gocta and that’s via San Pablo. With this itinerary, you would get at the bottom of the first fall and you will also have the possibility to walk down on a very steep road and come back from Cocachimba. I didn’t do it so I can’t really talk by experience but I know it’s doable. You can ask at the tourist office in Chachapoyas or to any guide.
Is it better to join a private tour or can I do it on my own?
Although for the majority of the sites in this region, it’s much more convenient to join a tour, for the Gotca fall you are much better off if you do it on your own for the following reasons:
- First, because you don’t actually need a guide. The trail is very well marked and even if you are traveling on your own you will always find somebody on the trail either tourists or locals who live there.
- Secondly because if you join a tour you will be with huge groups that are getting there all at the same times and I believe when you are in nature, big noisy crowds take away the magic of it. If you go on your own I would suggest you either sleep there and leave early morning or get a 7 am-bus from Chachapoyas (7.30 am to the latest) so that you can get there before the crowds. You won’t be alone anyway but it will be enough to enjoy the spectacular views in the silence of nature. I assure you it’s going to be magic.
I went with a girl that I met in the hostel and we both wanted to go early and have lunch at the Gocta Lodge on the way back. It was a spectacular day.
#2 Discover the lesser known Yumbilla Waterfall
I wasn’t sure whether to go or not because I was alone and I was told it was not a completely organized place like Gotca and I didn’t want to find myself in the middle of nowhere and get lost. I am a little unconfident when I am in nature by myself. However, after asking around I decided to give it a go and it turned out to be a spectacular hike.
I played it safe, though, and I hired a guide to walk with me. It became a little expensive at the end but all worth it.
How to get to Yumbilla waterfall from Chachapoyas
It’s the same direction as Gocta, but you will need to get off in Pedro Ruiz, it’s about 1h 30 minutes from Chachapoyas. At the bus terminal, you will find motor taxis and you will need to ask them to take you to Cuispes.
The taxi driver will take you straight to the tourist office where you would pay the ticket and receive instructions on how to get to the waterfall.
Its a total of 6 km but 3 of them are on a regular road, not very interesting, although peaceful. So, in order to save time I decided to let the guide take me on his motor taxi at the entrance of the path, where we started the hike.
I enjoyed it even more than the one to the Gocta Fall because you are walking in the deep jungle with some views every now and then. The path is narrow, and much more interesting and fun to walk, with lots of up and down hills.
You will also bump into other smaller waterfalls and man-made wooden viewpoints with spectacular views of the valley.
It took us about 2h 30 minutes to get to Yumbilla and 1 hour to get back.
Once in Yumbilla, you have the opportunity to climb down to the next 3 falls but you will need a guide to get there because you need a cord. I didn’t take my chance even if I was with a guide.
- Bus from Chachapoyas to Pedro Ruiz 10 PEN
- Motor taxi from Pedro Ruiz to Cuispes 15 PEN (because I was alone, if you are 2 people is 10 each). The return cost me only 10, for some reasons.
- Guide to the first fall 40 PEN
- Entrance to the fall 10 PEN
- Taxi to the entrance of the hike 10 PEN
NOTE- you don’t really need a guide to get to Yumbilla, the path is only one and you cannot get lost. Although there are side paths, you can easily see the main one. However, if you decide you want to go to the second and third falls of Yumbilla, you will need a guide because there are several paths and you can get lost there.
If you love nature this is definitely a place I suggest visiting.
#3 Visit the Ancient Fortress of Kuelap (archaeological site)
This is one of the unmissable places if you are interested in local history and pre-hispanic culture. The entire province of Chachapoyas is named after the local civilization of Chachapoyas that came here even before the Incas, which, in fact, found them during their territorial expansion. Kuelap is the biggest settlement of the Chachapoyas culture that has been discovered and restructured. The place has been well maintained and, in fact, they were still working on one part of the fortress for more excavations and maintenance.
There is a brand new cable car that will take you from the town of Tingo to the Fortress. It’s a 20 minutes ride over the canyon with breathtaking views.
Once you get there you will pay the entrance fee of 30 PEN and if you want you can hire a guide for 50 soles to guide you through the ruins. It’s a fascinating place and although I love to get lost through ancient ruins, I also like to learn about what I am seeing. This is the reason I joined a tour in this case and it cost me much less then if I had to come on my own and get a guide. The only thing I regret is to have booked a tour with lunch included. You should ask the option to get a tour without lunch and get your meal somewhere else cause we were taken in a very shabby place that I would have rather avoided.
Besides that, the guide was great, very knowledgeable and prepared.
Cost of the tour 85 PEN
If you go on your own the entrance is 30 PEN and the Cable car 20 PEN. I didn’t check how much for the ride from Chachapoyas but it should be from 5 to 10 PEN one way. So at the end is more or less the same money and you have a guide included.
#4 Discover the Sarcophagi of Karajia and explore the caves of Quiocta
If you want to cover both places in one day you will need to join an organized tour and I believe it’s the smartest thing to do in this case. The tours have a maximum of 16 people and a knowledgeable guide to explain what you are seeing, which helps. You will get to a place close to Quiocta caves where you will put on your rubber boots and order lunch. Then you would reach the caves. The guide will give you specific instructions that you should follow in order not to fall. In the cave, it’s very muddy and slippery so you need to be careful. Of course, I fell and had mud all over my but and my camera bag. I was more upset about the bag, besides feeling really clumsy, which I am indeed. I just didn’t want strangers to find out. 🙂
Anyway, this is a very huge cave and if you normally feel a little claustrophobic, you shouldn’t have a problem here. It’s an interesting walk inside mother earth.
After the cave, you will get back to the place for lunch and then to the Sarcophagi. Needless to say, the entire trip takes place in spectacular scenery, driving on the winding roads of the Luya province.
The Way to the Sarcophagi of Karajia will also leave you speechless.
I was there on a cloudy day and the grey sky made the scenery even more dramatic.
Here you will have to walk for an hour or you can hire a horse. Another scenic hike downhill to get to the sarcophagi, impressive anthropomorphous statues nestled on the walls of a cliff. They are from the age of the Chachapoyas civilization and anthropologists have discovered mummified bodies inside, some of them very well conserved. The guide explained that there have been found many other similar religious objects (vestigios) related to the same culture besides entire cities that are waiting to be dug out.
It’s a full day tour and you’ll be back to Chachapoyas at around 7 pm.
Price 80 PEN
#5 Admire the spectacular Mausoleum of Revash carved in the mountain and visit the interesting museum of Leymebamba
This tour is the farthest of all but if you are really into anthropology it’s really worth the money and the time. You will get to a small village on top of the mountains in the province of the Mausoleums
You could go on your own but you won’t make it to both places unless you spend one night in Leymebamba. There is, in fact, a bus that goes from Chachapoyas to the small village of San Bartolo. But to get to Leymebamba you would need to get back on the main road to Yerbabuena and then wait for transportation to Leymebamba at an unprecise schedule.
That’s why going on a tour is the best you can do. Also keep in mind that the tour doesn’t come with a general guide, but just a driver. He will take you to San Bartolo first where you will meet a local guide who will take you to the Mausoleums of Revash. Ticket and guides are included in your price and so it is lunch and transportation of course. If you go on your own the guide would cost you 30 PEN and the entrance 10 PEN.
Even this tour is packed with spectacular views of natural beauty. From San Bartolomè you will have 1-hour walk to reach the mausoleum. Even if you have seen it in pictures, just looking at those little houses carved into the cliff it’s mind-blowing. According to the archaeologists that studied them, they must have been the tombs of the Chachapoyas priests and governors or other people of higher ranks.
The local guide will also fill you in with all the related information besides a lecture on local plants and their healing properties. Unfortunately, the guides there don’t speak English, yet. But he told me that in need, the travel agents would send a translator. So when you book your tour make sure you specify that you don’t speak Spanish.
You will then eat in a very local restaurant, simple but genuine. You won’t have much choice either chicken or pork. If you are a vegan or vegetarian the only thing you will find is white rice and salad.
Leaving San Bartolome’ you will move on to Leymebamba, which is a cute small town with a popular museum of the Chachapoyas culture. I have to say I was too tired to appreciate it, as by the time we got there it was 4 pm, but it’s very well organized and with lots of information on the Chachapoyas civilization and the discoveries. There is also a video in English about the discovery and the exhuming of the mummies.
Cost of the tour 120 PEN but you can always negotiate. I booked it for 100 PEN straight away. It’s not an easy tour to find as they need at least 3 people to do it. Since the travel agents don’t talk to each other, you will need to tour around and find out which one is doing the tour. That’s what I did at least. Maybe you are luckier.
#6 Get blown away by the spectacular views in Huanca Canyons.
This was actually one of my favorite visits. It’s short and sweet. At about 10 km from Chachapoya, on top of one of the mountain that surrounds the city, the lovely village of Huanca boasts 2 spectacular viewpoints over a canyon.
- Mirador Cañon del Sorche and it’s right in the outskirts of the little village of Huanca.
- Huancaurco and it’s a 5 km from Huanca.
How to get to Huanca Canyons
You can either chose to go on a taxi, which it’s naturally more expensive but it allows you to move around at your own pace, or you can rough it a little and get on a local combi (mini-van). They leave every 5 minutes from a garage situate right in front of the restaurant “La Esquina artisanal” (check out the map here below). It’s 3 PEN to get to Huancas or 5 PEN to get to Huancaurco but there have to be at least 4 passengers for this last one.
Once you get there you either ask the driver to wait for you 15 minutes or you wait for the next one to come. Or you can call the bus company to send you one. (or so the ticket lady told me). Our driver waited for us because we were quite a lot coming back after 30 minutes or so and it was obviously more convenient for him to wait.
On the way back I stopped at the village of Huanca and walked to the other viewpoint. Even more spectacular because the sun came out and besides you can also see a waterfall in front of you.
A breathtaking view in both cases. In about 3 hours you can cover both sights.
Costs to get to Huanca Canyons
Entry fees 5 PEN for each viewpoint
Bus fees 5 PEN to get to Huancaurco 3 PEN to get to Huanca only
#7 Go on an adventure: 3 days trekking in the Laguna de los Condores
I couldn’t do this trek because of the rainy season and not even travel agencies sell tours at this time of the year. So if you go in the summer and you do it please let me know what is like! 🙂
WHERE TO STAY IN CHACHAPOYAS
Since I decided to stay for a couple of weeks to catch up with work I have also taken my time to investigate the best hotels and I have visited a few. Here are my reviews about what I have seen. Not all of them are positive.
KILLA WASI HOSTAL
I stayed in this hostel for 2 weeks and although it was basic, I found it quite charming and cute. The host, Nancy, is adorable, very kind and always attentive. I had a private room with shared bathroom but you can also choose the dorm or the private room with bathroom. Breakfast is cheap and delicious. They are new and unfortunately, they have only one review on TripAdvisor and it’s bad, besides mine. However, I believe it’s a very good value for money.
MID RANGE HOTELS
I went to check it out since the fancy entrance was promising and it’s right on the Plaza de Armas but I was a little disappointed as a first impression. Although the room had a wanna-be-pretentious-feeling, the overall impression was shabbiness. I definitely wouldn’t stay there, if I could choose. At that price you can find a much better value.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
HOTEL POSADA DEL ARRIERO
I found this hotel just by walking by and the immaculate reception area attracted me so I went in to check it out. I wasn’t wrong. The rooms are simple but look sparkling clean and new. The hotel is, in fact, a few months old. There are a lovely patio and garden and you have breakfast included in the rates. Nice decoration and vibes.
HOTEL PUMA URCO
This hotel looked charming from outside and with a very good location in the Main street, the pedestrian Amazona. In fact, it’s not a bad hotel, just a little old and outdated with not so much light. It’s a decent mid-range property with good location I would say.
HOSTAL LA CASONA MONSANTE
This is, of course, my favorite. So called because it was previously a Casona, a sort of Mansion that was refurbished and turned into a hotel. Very simple, not pretentious at all and in fact it has a very reasonable price for what it offers. The room looks very elegant and finely decorated. That would definitely be my choice, with no doubt, if you are not traveling on a budget. It’s also located on Calle Amazona but some of the rooms face the internal patio. Close to the main plaza.
THE BEST CAFES’AND RESTAURANTS IN CHACHAPOYAS
This time I was staying in a hotel with no kitchen so I explored different restaurants and cafe’ where I would spend all day and three meals while working from my laptop.
However, I have to be honest, I had my favorite where I tended to return all the times, but I also ventured to try out different ones for the sake of information.
Here I will give you the list of the places where I have been.
This was my first choice. The second best coffee’ in town and the best meal, besides the cozy atmosphere. I have tried almost everything vegan and vegetarian on the menu. It’s all great. The pastry is homemade and you can tell. The Chocolate truffles are out of this world. WIFI is good. I was there to work almost every day. Unfortunately is closed on Sunday, like almost all the places.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
EL BATAN DE TAYTA
It’s a great place for a fancy and original dinner and drinks. They have a very creative environment just like the plate presentation and drinks with crazy ingredients. It’s a place where you would want to go with a company and although I love to eat by myself I was happy to share that experience with a new friend that I made along the way, which happened to be Italian as well. We tried different dishes and I manage to get a vegetarian one. Great place to spend a night in good company
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Lovely place, great service. It’s a very cozy space where the walls are decorated with paintings and pictures, the furniture in a relaxing greenish color and the table mats have Owls drawing for kids and adults to color. I couldn’t resist and one night I did my artwork as well. 🙂 I wasn’t super happy with the food choice though. They are not what I would say vegetarian and vegan-friendly, so I just ate a lot of pizzas which was ok. The juices are great too. And sometimes if you order coffee they bring you some delicious homemade biscuits. The staff is the real highlight of the place. Adorable people. I particularly made friend with Michele a very young girl so genuinely caring, but also Davis and the others were awesome. This is why I kept returning even if the food was not so special. Oh! and WIFI is great.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
LA REAL CECINA
I found out this place at the very end of my stay. Too bad because they have interesting vegan dishes made with soy meat. I loved them. They have a great variety of plates of local cuisine that you can choose from, which is very exceptional in that region. The place is not so cozy but pleasant.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
ACADEMY COFFE SHOP BLACK MOUTH
This is where you can find the best coffee in town. They are specialists, hence the name. The owner is a very young girl so passionate about coffee making that she opened her own place. There is also a very warm atmosphere and good music. The only problem is that they basically have nothing to eat except for a few deserts and some sandwiches but with meat. So I only went for my coffee and had to leave to get my meals somewhere.
They said they are working on the menu, though, so by the time you are going there I am sure they have more options. I hope so because space is really inviting you to stay.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
I just went there once, the coffee was not particularly good. They had nice looking deserts but I didn’t try them. The place is elegant and closes at 2 pm to open again at 5 when they serve dinner. I didn’t try any meals.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor
So, I hope you have had enough information to organize your trip to Chachapoyas. If you need more info please get in touch! 🙂