“We’re going to have to cut some parts of Peru out” was the common statement made regarding our Peru itinerary. We already had over six weeks dedicated to this huge, diverse country, were starting to run short of time and money and still wanted to get all the way down to Patagonia. Then we arrived in Mancora and had to go and speak with our hostel owner who just had to go and tell us about Chachapoyas and the third largest waterfall in the world and the ruins almost as good as Machu Picchu (slight exaggeration I believe). We pretty much immediately got influenced and started looking into how we would get there. This turned out to be not so difficult but extremely lengthy. We kept umming and ahhing about whether it would be worth it but we thrive off going to places not everyone goes to so we decided to just go and see what it was about. I have to say, we definitely enjoyed our time in Chachapoyas and surrounds and honestly we could have stayed longer as there was a lot to do. But I’m not sure if it would be worth it for everyone, especially if you are short on time and hate night buses.
We spent three nights in Chachapoyas, originally two, but we extended because we had more activities we wanted to do. I recommend staying at least two nights, you will most likely arrive and leave on a night bus so this gives you three full days. You could just do an overnighter and get two full days, depends if you can handle just one night between night buses, unlike us, we’re wusses. The following is our itinerary for four days in Chachapoyas. We really enjoyed our time there and can recommend to people who like going off the beaten path.
Getting to Chachapoyas
We came from Mancora to Chachapoyas (from now on I will refer to as Chacha). This was a long day (and night). From Mancora we had to get to Chiclayo. We left at 10am, I think there were buses leaving at 6am, 12pm, 4pm and night too. The company we went with was CIFA. We wanted to get the 12pm because that meant less time waiting in Chiclayo for our night bus to Chacha but it was already booked out the afternoon before so we had to get the earlier one. The bus ticket was 40 soles each, originally she said 45 but we weren’t too happy with the time so then she changed it without us asking to 40. The bus took approximately 6.5-7 hours (we scored first class somehow, woo!) so it was a comfortable ride. We arrived at the terminal in Chiclayo and knew we needed to get to Movil Tours to get the night bus. There were taxi guys everywhere so we went with one and he charged us 20 soles for a 10 minute drive! We could have gotten a moto taxi for cheaper perhaps but we were so hungry we were delirious! Movil tours offer an 8.30pm bus for 75 soles and a 9pm for 55 soles, we took the 9pm because it was cheaper and it takes longer which means we wouldn’t have to arrive in Chacha at 4.30am. We had around 3 hours until our bus left so we went and found some food and then just had to wait in the terminal which was average. We received dinner on the bus which wasn’t too bad considering it was bus food, chicken with ham and spinach wrapped inside, a piece of potato and rice. It was cold though. We arrived in Chacha around 7am and walked from the Movil terminal to our hostel, Hostel Ñuñurco Travellers. Thankfully they let us check in that early and gave us free breakfast even though we hadn’t spent the night there! This really made our day! The two main things we wanted to do in Chacha were Gocta Falls and Kuelap Ruins. We had missed the tour leaving for Kuelap at 8am so we asked what else we could do. Turns out there is a lot and so the first day we went to Huancas, a really tiny “town” which has a hike to a lookout over a canyon. Perfect for us!
Getting to Huancas was super easy. We walked to the Terminal Terrestre in Chacha where guys were shouting “Huancas” down the other end of the terminal. Some people should asked where we were going and pointed us in the right direction. There are also guys shouting their destination so you could just go to them. We got in a combi and the van was already almost full so we left soon after. This cost 3 soles each and took approximately 25 mins.
We stopped in front of a house and everyone got out, the driver said he could take us to the Mirador (viewpoint) but we said we wanted to walk. We walked past what looked like a prison and took a right up a trail along the prison wall. We walked up about 10 mins before we could see the canyon. You then take a right and just keep walking along this trail and along the ridge, until you see the Mirador hut. It was a really nice, easy walk with views over Soncha Canyon, different scenery to what we’d been used to. I don’t know exactly the distance but we walked for approximately an hour, with a lot of stops for photos. We bought some water and had some snacks at the lookout before heading down. At the bottom, there were some ladies who asked where we came in, saying we hadn’t paid the entrance fee of 3 soles. We paid, signed the visitor book and left. It was easy to get back, a combi was coming as we left so we got in, it was 3 soles back as well.
In the afternoon we wanted to go to the Museum near the Plaza de Armas, however it turned out to be a public holiday and it was closed so instead we went and tried some Peruvian liqueur from a local bar. Not saying I enjoyed it but for only 2 soles each, let’s say we were well on our way.
Is there anyone is the world who hates waterfalls? I don’t think so. So when you get told about the third highest in the world, you go! Turns out this is actually a disputed topic because the waterfall measuring guys can’t decide whether it is the 3rd highest or 5th or 16th. Either way it’s huge and we were really keen to see it. To get to Gocta Falls we walked to the Terminal Terrestre in Chacha and asked for Gocta. The woman at one of the desks told us to take a combi heading to Pedro Ruiz for 5 soles and tell the driver you’re going to Cocachimba. Again, the combi was almost full when we got in so we didn’t wait long. We got off at a bridge after about 45mins of driving. Keep an eye out for the sign below as our driver forgot to stop and we had to walk back about 10 mins.
At the bridge there were moto taxis waiting to take people up to Cocachimba, the starting point of the hike to Gocta Falls, for 5 soles per person. This bumpy ride took about 25 mins but was quite enjoyable as you drive past the valleys and can get a glimpse of other waterfalls in the distance. Entrance to Gocta Falls is 10 soles per person. We showed our tickets to the ranger at the start and he said the hike was 7km each way and should take 5 hours. From the very beginning of the hike you get a great view of the falls which gives you motivation to complete the hike and claim your reward!
I really enjoyed the hike, it wasn’t too difficult as you walk along trails with views over the valley and then switch to jungle. There is a bit of downhill which we knew we wouldn’t appreciate on the way back. There are great photo ops of the falls along the way until finally you get to the big guy! We’ve visited a lot of waterfalls in the last 8 months of travel and this one is probably the most impressive. You have to crane your neck to see the top. It is surrounded by a cliff with smaller waterfalls as well. You can’t actually see both levels of the waterfall from the bottom which makes you realise just how big this is. Getting close means you will get sprayed and we had to wear our rain jackets even taking photos from a distance. We sat and enjoyed lunch with the gorgeous view and had the sun creating rainbows in the waterfall.
After about 40 mins at the base we started the hike back. This was relatively easy until we got to that dreaded uphill which we knew we would hate when we were coming down. Although it was a big ascent, it wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated, I think because we had adjusted to high altitude hiking from Ecuador and we were pretty impressed with how fast we went. See our Suunto Moves Count below to give you an idea of what the hike entails.
When we got back to the beginning we asked in the office how to get back, the women told us we could take any car back down. Turns out that was a lie because it didn’t seem anyone was going down. There were also tour buses but they were all full so we didn’t really know what to do until eventually a moto taxi came up and offered to take us back down to the bridge which I think is the normal way to do it. It cost another 5 soles each and was only 15 mins this way because we were going downhill. The moto taxi driver told us to wait on the bridge for a combi coming from Pedro Ruiz, a guy in a ute drove past offering a lift just as we saw a combi coming so we declined but turns out the combi was full. Luckily this ute driver saw that we got knocked back and ended up reversing back to us, how nice!! His name was Robin and he told us how usually the combis back to Chacha in the afternoons are full. We were very grateful for this kind stranger and he dropped us back at the town square. Visiting Gocta Falls was a great day trip and well worth it! There are tour companies all over Chacha offering tours to the falls but I highly recommend doing this trip independently. The transport was relatively easy to navigate as it is a popular destination in the region. The tour companies charge 65 soles per person for the tour, all up we spent 50 soles, less than than the cost of the tour for one of us. You definitely don’t need a guide to do the hike, it is a very clear trail and not like the ruins where you would want lots of information about the site.
We were initially supposed to spend only 2 nights in Chacha but we ended up hearing about all sorts of tours to do with burial sites and mausoleums that we were like we have to do one of these trips. We found out about a museum in Leymebamba which had 219 real life mummies! Harry loves that kind of stuff and we thought, when would we be able to see something like that again? The downside to this expedition was that Leymebamba is 3 hours away from Chacha. We were wondering whether it would be worth it as 6 hours driving in one day is a lot, we also didn’t know whether to do a tour. We were going to spend the 95 soles to do it as we had read that it was difficult to get there on our own however Robin, our friendly ute driver from the day before had told us that it would only be 6 soles to Leymebamba in a combi and we thought, shit we will be saving so much if we just do it on our own, so he sold us! We went to the Terminal Terrestre in a taxi because we were sick of walking, it was only 3 soles. Asked around for Leymebamba and found one leaving at 9am, it was 8am and we were hoping for earlier, we eventually found one leaving at 8.30 which in Peru means 9 anyway by the time you have all the last minute stragglers getting in and doing a round of the town for more passengers. The ride ended up only taking 2 hours which was a big bonus and was 10 soles each. The drive itself is really nice as you drive along the beautiful clear Utcubamba river which curves around mountains deep in a canyon. On the way I heard “Land Down Under” and it made me tear up and crave a vegemite sandwich! We got dropped off in the square and reserved a spot on the 2pm combi back because we didn’t want to miss it in case it was full like the day before. From the square we took a moto taxi to the museum, it was 5 soles and 10 mins. You can walk, it is only 2.5km but it is uphill, apparently takes 45 mins, I think it would take longer. We got to the museum and paid the 15 soles entrance fee. As soon as we went in we were impressed with the sculptures and artefacts in the entrance hall.
There is a lot of information (mostly in Spanish) regarding the mummies that were found in cliff tombs at Laguna de los Condores in 1997. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like for those who made the discovery! The museum started off with artefacts like ceramics, jewellery and instruments and then continued onto the real actual mummies!
Seeing these remains was eerie and spectacular. It was so amazing to see these skeletons that were actual humans some 500 years ago. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would feel if my remains were placed in a museum on show. I wondered who these people were. There were even babies. They were creepy to look at and I didn’t like spending too much time with them, I just felt weird knowing they were once walking around, living a life in a time totally different to mine.
Visiting this museum is something I’ll never forget but I can say if you aren’t a museum person or if you don’t speak any Spanish then perhaps the 4 hour return trip isn’t worth it for you. We only spent an hour in the museum as it is not that big. We were early for our 2pm combi back so we walked around the town for all of 10 mins (it’s not a big town). We sat to wait for the combi early and it was lucky that we did as it ended up leaving 10 mins early anyway. Another 10 soles each and 2 hours later and we were back, ready for our last day in Chacha!
*This day out was also supposed to include Revash Mausoleum which shows the burial sites in the side of cliff faces where the dead were buried with their valuables but from asking around it seemed it was only possible to take a moto taxi from Yerbabuena to a spot and then walk 2 hours to the mausoleum. We thought we wouldn’t have enough time to make it on the last collectivo back to Chacha so unfortunately we left it out however it would have complemented the trip to Leymebamba really well and if we had have done the tour we would have been able to do both but we are cheapskates so missed out. The tour to visit both Leymebamba Museum and Revash Mausoleums was 120 soles.
Today was the exact tour day that we hate! We visited Kuelap Ruins and we decided to do this through a tour so we could actually get some information about the place. The tour cost us 95 soles each and included transport, a guide, entrance and lunch. We were to be ready at 8.15 to leave at 8.30 but of course didn’t end up leaving until 9am. Everything with a tour just takes so much longer. Getting everyone into their seats in the combi takes 15 mins because a group of four all have to sit together when there’s only three seats across. Taking peoples lunch orders takes another 15 mins. Sorry, I just really don’t like doing tours. Anyway the drive to Kuelap took about an hour. Then we took a bus up to the starting point of the teleferiqo which is 10 mins. Then the teleferiqo which takes about 20 mins. The view was great and you can see right down the barrel of the valley.
From the top of the teleferiqo you hike about 20 mins up to the ruins. It is possible to take horses as well. The ruins of Kuelap were very interesting and different to what we’d seen before. The site is quite big and we started at one end and made a loop around. The guide only spoke Spanish which we can understand quite a bit of but unfortunately we missed quite a lot of the information because he spoke very fast and when big chunks of information are being relayed it is difficult for us to grasp it all which was disappointing as we really wanted to make the most of a guide. The tour wasn’t sold as English speaking so it is not the tour companies fault.
The most interesting aspect of the ruins is the circular shape used in the structures, we loved this style. The views from the ruins are also amazing, looking over the Utcubamba Valley. It is totally understandable why the Chachapoyans built their fortress up there!
We spent about 2 hours walking around the ruins which was plenty of time. Some of the site was being refurbished or had been redone which was disappointing and I believe the ruins would have been more impressive a few years back. Kuelap is supposed to be known as the Machu Picchu of the north but with a fraction of the tourists but it turned out to be quite busy, nothing compared to other more well known sites but definitely more than I expected. I think this is because you used to only be able to access the ruins by hiking but the newly built teleferiqo has made access much easier.
After coming back down, we had lunch at one of the restaurants. I had fried trout and it was really good! All in all we had a good day but I definitely think we should have just done it ourselves because we didn’t gain much from having a guide because of the language barrier and getting there would have been easy. If you are to do it independently it would cost approximately 50-60 soles. The teleferiqo was 20 soles, entrance fee was 20 soles, our lunch was 15 soles each but obviously this is not an obligation. We don’t know how much transport from Chacha would have cost but I assume it was somewhere between 5-10 soles each based on our other experiences with the combis. In the end the tour doesn’t end up being that much more at 95 soles but honestly I would have just preferred to do it on our own to avoid waiting times and annoying people taking 40 selfies of themselves in front of a tree. One couple were standing next to each other on a viewpoint taking selfies, not even together, what the hell! Each to their own I guess. We got back to Chacha around 4pm which gave us enough time to shower, our hostel let us use the communal bathrooms and store our bags for the day which was great as we were taking the night bus to Trujillo en route to Huaraz. Can’t recommend them enough.
So that’s our 4 day itinerary for Chachapoyas. Like I said earlier, if long distances aren’t your thing then maybe not worth it but for us it was great to get off the beaten path and spend time in a Peruvian town not surrounded by foreigners while experiencing some amazing sites and things like mummies which we never expected to see!