Travel Guide for Chachapoyas in Northern Peru

This northern land is a different Peru. A land shaped by different forces. Other rivers and another culture, the Chachapoya (pre-Incan and also during Inca times) gave shape to this rugged territory and the other way around. The result is an incomparable destination, very much untouched.

Here, we will describe to you the attractions located mainly along the Utcubamba river. And Chachapoyas, the capital of the Amazonas Department, is only an operations base from where to start (or to have an intermediate stop), as several smaller cities, towns, and villages will be visited depending on your interest. The fun part is that this region has it all (according to our way of traveling): Nature, Living Culture, Archaeology, Community-based tourism. In resume, Adventure Off the Beaten Path.

This destination requires time, but the rewards are well worth it. You won’t feel you are wasting time that you could dedicate to other of the most popular Peruvian destinations, as exploring Chachapoyas is beautiful and suits all kinds of travelers as well. The weather is kind (except when the rainy season is at its peak) and the elevation is variable but very manageable.

Get ready for Chachapoyas by keep reading and also checking our practical guides on Best Time to Travel to Peru and What to pack, considering that this destination is part mountains and part jungle.

What we recommed for you

Our first recommendation is to Travel Slow, the surroundings of Chachapoyas require you to move a lot by car, because there are long distances to cover, but the mountainous geography will spontaneously make the pace slower. So, relax and enjoy.  

Archaeologically speaking, Kuelap (3000 masl / below 10000 ft) is the most popular Chachapoya ruin (1000 to 1400 BC) to visit. This so-called “fortress” is a huge complex of walled buildings on top of a mountain. Sounds familiar? Well, this pre-Incan structure, even when discovered way before the Modern Wonder of the southern part of the country, never got as much attention, and even today is a very pleasant visit with no crowds and with the chance of arriving by cable car, providing fantastic views of the landscape. 

Kuelap's slim entrance in a yellowish rock wall that seems to be infinite along the mountain ridge | Responsible Travel Peru
Kuelap most famous portrait, the main entrance

Secondly, the Karajia sarcophagi follow in popularity to Kuelap, and two reasons are to be taken into consideration. First, its relatively easy access by car and a low-mid difficulty hike (basically by the altitude of approx. 2700 m), and last, it’s undeniable attractive looks, as these burials are anthropomorphically shaped, and not like the Revash mausoleums that resemble little houses (although it is quite amazing to see their location in the cliffs) or others like Diablo Wasi, but this one requires more logistic to visit.

In terms of natural attractions, because of its proximity, sightseeing opportunities, and adventure in general, Gocta is the queen of all the waterfalls of the region (even when not the tallest, in this case, Yumbilla is). Conveniently located a few hours away from the main road that connects most of the other highlights, it is visible from the car if the conditions are right (clear day in a rainy season), and this is a great encouragement for the hike that follows. Gocta displays two waterfalls that sum up 771 m of altitude, and there is more than one way to reach them, something that adds value to the experience.

Panoramic view of Gocta waterfall of 770 meters high in a contrasting dark blue background of the mountains with the bright green of the forest | Responsible Travel Peru
The Gocta falls, the upper one reachable from the village of San Pablo and the lower one from Cocachimba

Chachapoyas city is charming, very walkable, full of beautiful houses with balconies, many of them transformed into hotels, restaurants, and cozy cafes. You will rarely arrive directly to Chachapoyas because direct flights are not so convenient, and because we like to arrange things differently. So, you might visit the city long enough to get to know it, as well as its immediate surroundings (like the pottery town of Huancas, and the magnificent Sonche Canyon), but never for too long.

Then there is Leymebamba, one of those smaller cities that are simply a must. Leymebamba is popular for a museum that holds hundreds of real mummies from the Chachapoya culture, those found in an almost indescribable location in the area (Laguna de los Cóndores or Condors’ lagoon). But Leymebamba is also a hub for incredible treks, and for authentic contact opportunities with local people, artisans, and host families of simple but beautiful lodges.

These are examples of how well preserved the funeral bundles were found despite being several hundreds of years old

In terms of doing what we like most, contact with local people is always possible. On the way to Kuelap we recommend stopping and staying, for as long as you can, with Lola and Perico. Mother and son that after living a long time away from nature, returned to their little piece of land, Milpuj, to do something marvelous. We won’t tell you a lot more, but just as a mouth opener, you will taste honey from Perico’s beehives, maybe even some eggs of their free-range hens, you will certainly plant a tree (yours forever), and smell the fragrance of many many flowers while, if lucky enough, trying to spot animals like a deer, or even maybe an Andean bear! 

On the way to Gocta, the trek can be organized in a way that you walk through the two participant communities of the circuit, San Pablo and Cocachimba. Starting in San Pablo and hiring one of its guides services, you will walk the way to the first fall (the upper one of 220m), while later on, after taking the trail that connects with the second fall (the lower one of 500 m), a guide from Cocachimba will take the turn and it might even provide the possibility of a horse ride back to town (for the excursionists that ask for it). There are lodges of different categories and charm in both communities, as well as interesting projects of conservation and environmental education.  

In Leymebamba you will meet the artisans that work the textiles and wood, people like Norma and Isabel, and Miguel Huamán, while in Huancas the women have expert hands to shape the clay, all of them are keepers the iconography of the region in their crafts.

And if you dare to do the Lagoon of the Condors excursion, you will spend memorable convivial moments with local guides, camping and staying at a shack of Peruvian cowboys and watching how the meals are cooked. For this, check out our multi-day tour in the region or ask one of our travel specialists to tailor an itinerary (like this one for example).

How Chachapoyas connects to other destinations

Chachapoyas is not necessarily known for its connectivity, but in the country of surprises, we are proud to have very creative options for continuing or starting your Chachapoyas trip with other destinations in the north of Peru.

Cajamarca is a great option, as you will get a bonus of those not so well-known Peruvian cultures and places.

The other and most favorite connection is with the coast, along the Moche Route, where sites of other pre-Inca cultures can be found. This is another option for great Slow Travel and not to be missed.

Finally, continuing your trip East, to the jungles of Moyobamba and Tarapoto, options Off the Beaten Path that we simply love because they give the opportunity to dynamize the economy of those regions, while providing enjoyment of Peruvian Rainforest away from the most visited destinations for this kind of locations.

Consider the easy way and relax

If you prefer real experts to plan your itinerary for you, consider taking a look at our custom itineraries section. We have more than a decade experience in tailor-making unique travel experiences throughout our beautiful country. We’ll take all the work out of your hands and leave you only to look forward to your dream trip. 

See more of Chachapoyas

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