Chachapoyas, the muse of the North

San Juan de la Frontera de los Chachapoyas, or simply Chacha as known by locals, is the capital of the indomitable department of Amazonas, a name proclive to erroneous interpretations when it is attributed to this territory exclusive characteristics of lowland rainforest – or Amazonian plains, but to a large extent, it is also the Amazonian Andes that make a presence here, since the department includes sections of the eastern slope of the great mountain range.

This city is named after the culture that dominated the region from around the 9th century until the arrival of the Spaniards (XVI century). And recently, it has been the epicenter of a revolution in terms of sites of interest for those visitors in search of novel experiences, which differ from the Andean-Inca vision of Peru.

Aereal view of the main square and the south-west section of the city. By J0EL 20001 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

It is always interesting to hear stories of the Chachapoyas, who despite the fact that they were forcibly incorporated into the great Inca nation, retained their customs, and there are even speculations that they carried part of their identity to Cuzco (or Cusco) itself, when it seems they were ordered to work in the construction of Choquequirao (but this topic will be left for another time). However, this trip will really make you think who did what in Chachapoyas and Cuzco.

Traveling to Chachapoyas requires dedicating an exclusive and ample time, to move around without haste or pressure. And if your trip to Peru is exclusively dedicated to the north, then your perception of the country may be totally different from what you would have had if you had only dedicated your vacation to southern Peru.

Our travel proposal is not to stay orbiting the capital city, it is simply an excellent reference and a strategic point for a good part of the trips that we will suggest next, since in fact you will be visiting most of the provinces of the department.

Arrival at Chachapoyas

For good or for bad, even today Chachapoyas is still a little relegated from the offer of domestic flights, so there are only three days a week from which you can leave from Lima. The bus from Chiclayo or Trujillo is an alternative (saving a night’s lodging, since the trip by land it will take you all night) and it will connect with the Moche Route. But if you are coming from the east (Moyobamba – Tarapoto) only day-time terrestrial transportation is available, and it will take you several hours.

The following is an example of a customizable itinerary around Chachapoyas:

Day 1: Mausoleums of Revash and Leymebamba museum

For this first contact with the Chachapoya culture, and especially with its funeral customs, it will be necessary to travel to the south along a great road with views that will give your sight to lot of work, although surely, the opening that provides the landscape to the arrival in Chachapoyas will have already given you the intuition that this region is very beautiful and dramatic.

The subsequent walk to the Revash mausoleums will show you only one of the many ways in which the ancients venerated their dead and sought to provide them with the best possible journey to eternity. Regrettably, that effort was not enough against the opportunist plunderers who managed to reach the places of difficult access and ended up emptying them. Fortunately, at least these beautiful and no less interesting mausoleums, are preserved to witness the audacity of the Chachapoyas at the time of saying goodbye to their respected figures.

The red-and-ochre funerary precincts that the Chachapoyas left behind in cliffs 1 hour away from Leymebamba

But the eternal race between looters and preservers is sometimes in favor of the latter and was in another location, even more inaccessible, than hundreds of mummies (yes, literally mummified bodies) were found and safeguarded in a small but modern museum that you will visit in Leymebamba.

A visit to the museum will reveal the less known Chachapoya culture

Day 2: Tajopampa, Diablo Wasi and Bóveda (full day outdoors)

Today the walk is longer (if you do not decide to go on horseback), but whatever it may be, you will be going to a place where very few people go and where they all come back excited. Of course, it is always better to have binoculars to be able to see in detail the cliffs where the Chachapoyas – as they were used to, defied the vertigo and the lack of ground under their feet to painstakingly place their precious ones whose hearts stopped beating.

See the detail of the expert masonry of the Chachapoyas evident in Diablo Wasi even in these difficult circumstances

There is also another very particular work, which more than a vault (translation of Bóveda) should be called a sinkhole. We referred to this earlier in terms of its similarity with another archaeological site in the south of the country (Moray), but we will not inculcate more predisposition for you to draw your own conclusions.

Despite the distances and the remoteness of the site you will find undoubtedly Inca works, then it is there where you will stop thinking that you have walked a lot and you will be amazed by the vast empire that managed to leave a mark even where they were not much appreciated.

The day will end by retracing the road traveled. And then, you will be back in Leymebamba.

Day 3: Kuelap and Milpuj private conservation area (or Amazilia bioreserve)

The best-known work of the Chachapoyas, at least among the most accessible and discovered so far (as the Gran Pajatén and Vilaya deserve special mention). Much is said about Kuelap: that it is a fortress (but no weapons have been found), that it is a citadel (but there are no water sources), that it is comparable to Machu Picchu (but they are really very different). Then draw your own conclusions, for this is the very complete interpretation center, and on our behalf, we will provide the best guide to assist you in all your questions.

The perimeter defined by this impressive wall is of 800 m long approximately

On the way back you will have lunch at Mrs. Teudula’s house, it is our way of “RESPONSabilize” the tourism because with the start of the cable car operations, many families that offered services to the passengers were left out of the Kuelap circuit. And if time is on your side, you will have the chance to visit Macro, a small site that shows, once again, the traditional construction style of the Chachapoya culture.

Then (and as always with us) you will have the option to choose between spending the night in Milpuj: a small family-conservation-area where the charismatic doña Lola and her son “Perico” will simply steal your heart. Or in Amazilia reserve: a place with the smell of coffee plantations and buzzing hummingbirds attracted by the feeders installed in the garden. Whatever your choice may be, with your trip to Amazonas you will be adopting a tree that will be planted in Milpuj.

Views of Milpuj (left), and Amazilia (right). Top right is the Barreta mountain, where Kuelap’s wall is visible.

Day 4: Karajia sarcophagi    

It is time for something new, although surely everything seen so far has been, but what you will see below is really iconic and particular, because the giants of clay that are guarding the cliffs await your visit in an imperishable manner. Therefore do not rush, take your time to walk because the altitude could require extra effort to the body and that is why today’s activity is designed to invest only half a day in it.

The six sarcophagy were intended to held in their interior respected Chachapoya members

Day 5: Gocta falls

The word Gocta is synonymous with record, but in reality that is what matters least – if it is the third highest waterfall in the world or not, it is totally irrelevant. Its beauty and the experience of the route is what really catches the eye. Exuberant vegetation, birds, plantations and even a cane sugar mill will make the road lively.

Depending on the season, you will fell the spray from long before reaching the base of the waterfall, or on the contrary, you can arrive with relatively dry clothes and perhaps dare to dive into the small pool of icy waters that are very comforting after the walk.

The Gocta Waterfall in the Chachapoyas area of Peru - RESPONSible Travel Peru
A view of Gocta from the trail that starts in the community of San Pablo

Days 6 and 7: El Tigre’s sarcophagi and Yumbilla waterfall

The geography of Amazonas has conferred much of what is and has been. Civilly, the Chachapoyas found a way to overcome the abrupt terrain and the dense vegetation to create great works –of which you have already witnessed, and today you will be able to see new and different sarcophagi in equally challenging locations on the El Tigre hill.

For its part, nature also did its thing and gives us not only Gocta (771 meters high), but also the Pabellón waterfall (more than 400 m), Chinata (580 m) and Yumbilla: with its nothing more and nothing less than 896 meters, where we will undoubtedly guide you, since you cannot visit Amazonas without seeing such a wonder.

“This is not a large volume waterfall, but only its height makes it formidable … It’s very tall, and quite scenic.”

Days 8 and 9: Huamanpata seasonal lagoon

A temporal but spectacular place at any time you are visiting. In its flood season it is simply surreal to see the trees almost covered with water, while in the dry season you will see the whimsical, undulating river making the landscape a memorable sight.

We wanted to leave Huamanpata for the last part of the trip and give you the opportunity to get away from all contact with the world, to walk with full consciousness in nature and let your spirit feel free and as if you had always belonged to this place.

Take a look to the wood raft on which you could surf the mistical waters of Huamanpata

You may not imagine how difficult it has been to avoid proposing a much more extensive trip to the Amazonas and Chachapoyas lands. We believe that this destination deserves much more attention and much more investment from the authorities, and the way to promote that is by visiting it.

Visit Chachapoyas and get lost in the vastness of the department of Amazonas with a tailor-made itinerary and the wise advice of our travel specialists. Make us a request and we are sure that you will start traveling from the moment you receive the first proposal from our expert designers.

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