3 Best Things to Do in Chachapoyas, Peru
Chachapoyas, the capital city of Amazonas Region in Peru, was always isolated, and only travelers exploring places off the beaten path visited the area. Nowadays the region is open to all visitors who found out there are plenty of things to see and do. Read our guide on three best things to do in Chachapoyas, Kuelap, Gocta Falls and Canon del Sonche.
Chachapoyas, the city at the edge of the Peruvian Amazon is not known and visited for its historic center with pretty square Plaza de Armas or for its cobbled stone streets, because there are so many towns like Chachapoyas in Peru, that for many tourists it is not worth it to travel so far north to spend a leisure afternoon strolling around.
The city of Chachapoyas is for sure underrated by many, but it is not the town itself why you should consider to change your travel plans, but the absolutely stunning nature and interesting architectural sites around. You can easily spend anything between two days to a week in Chachapoyas, and you'll still have plenty of things to do on your travel itinerary.
We've created the list of the 3 best things to do near Chachapoyas, which hopefully, will persuade you to put this region on your bucket list and explore Peru beyond the Gringo trail.
High in the mountains, Kuelap is a walled settlement from the 6th century AD which was built by Chachapoyas culture.
Kuelap is often compared to Machu Picchu with its nickname Machu Picchu of the North, but we would not compare those two sites at all. The lost citadel Machu Picchu is the one-of-a-kind, and no archeological site anywhere in the world can compete with it.
The settlement of Kuelap was inhabited by approximately 3000 people with the peak between the 9th and 12th century when also the majority of structures was built. The city thrived until the 16th century when the Spaniards arrived, and the site was abandoned, and rediscovered by accident three centuries later.
The archeological site of Kuelap was one of the prettiest we've seen in Peru. First, it is different from the rest of the structures you can explore in Peru, especially around Cusco, where it is possible to visit many ruins, but the overwhelming majority are Incan ruins, second, the setting high above the valley was spectacular, plus there were almost no other travelers around.
This is probably about to change, because not that long time ago a new cable car connecting Kuelap with El Tingo, a village nearby was built, so the place is much more accessible than it used to be.
Our Tip: You can visit Kuelap independently, but at the time of our visit, it was much easier to take a tour from Chachapoyas because of a road closure. You can either shop around in Chachapoyas for the tour, or you can reserve a guided tour, including the cable car ride here.
With 771 meters, Gocta Waterfall is one of the highest waterfalls in the world, and nowadays it is one of the main reasons why to visit the region of Amazonas.
That you've never heard about it and never seen the photos either?
Well, we hadn't either before we arrived in Chachapoyas, but nowadays the Peruvian government works hard to bring attention to this natural landmark.
The thing is, local people living in settlements around the falls (it is clearly visible from Cocachimba), of course, knew about it, but never revealed the secret, because a myth says that a beautiful blond mermaid would have cursed them if they told the world where the waterfall is. That's why the Catarata Gocta was discovered only in 2002 by an expedition led by a German Stefan Ziemendorff.
The falls are truly stunning, it has two tall cascades, and it is only up to you if you want to reach only the base of the first cascade, or you will extend your hike to the other one as well (in case you do not want to walk, it is possible to ride on a horseback for a fee).
If you want to walk only to the base of the lower fall and then back, we recommend you to get from Chachapoyas to Cocachimba by bus or with a tour from there.
We wanted to see both cascades and did not mind to hike a bit longer (approximately 15 kilometers), so we started in San Pablo.
We took a colectivo in Chachapoyas leaving from Terminal de Buses Municipal. We asked around for a bus to Catarata Gocta, and one of the drivers told us to get on a bus. The ticket cost S/.5 per person, and the colectivo took us to the crossroad to San Pablo, where we switched to a tuk-tuk for S/.10 per ride which took us to San Pablo.
In San Pablo, we paid entrance fee S/.20 per person (you will pay a bit less when you want to see only one cascade) and started the hike. First, we climbed to the first cascade, later descended to the lower (but taller) one, and from there returned to Cocachimba, where we again asked around, and one driver agreed to take us back to Chachapoyas for the same price, S/.5.
It was quite a long day, especially because we had to arrange own transport which took quite a long time - in case you prefer guided tours where the transport is included, you can check this one out.
Our Tip: If you want to have the falls for yourself and visit it before or after tours from Chachapoyas leave, you can stay in Cocachimba, for example in Gocta Miradores Hotel, from where you'll get wonderful views of the waterfall.
CANON DEL SONCHE
We are pretty sure that in Chachapoyas you wouldn't have expected to find a canyon not less impressive than the most famous canyon in Peru, Colca Canyon. But here it was, and the view from the viewing platform was near perfect, even though the weather was not cooperating the day of our visit.
Although numbers are usually boring, we will make an exception here, as the stats are pretty impressive as well. The Sonche Canyon is almost 11 kilometers long, the highest point of its walls is 2620 meters above sea level, and the canyon is almost 900 meters deep!
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From Chachapoyas to Huancas Viewpoint, you can take either a taxi for S/.7 or a shared colectivo which leaves when full from an unmarked terminal close to the crossing of street Ortiz Arrieta and Avenida Evitamiento. The colectivo costs S/.3 one way. The ride takes approximately 25 minutes.
We got to the viewpoint without a problem, but on the way back there was no colectivo for 20 minutes or so, so we shared a cab with one traveler visiting the canyon at the same time.
Everything around the viewpoint is newly renovated, so there is an entrance fee S/.3 per person.
Our Tip: If you feel that the region around Chachapoyas has become your favorite, there is much more to explore. You can visit for example Chachapoyas Revash Mausoleums and Museum of Leymebamba either independently or with a guided tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN Chachapoyas
Chachapoyas is a medium-sized town, but the city center is compact, and there is no need to stay far away from bus terminals, the main square, and travel agencies as the town offer a good selection of accommodation options. We've handpicked three best hotels for every budget.
Budget | Casa Hospedaje Teresita - Clean rooms, helpful staff, and good breakfast. Great value for money for all budget travelers.
Mid-range | La Casa de Los Balcones - Excellent location near Plaza de Armas, comfortable and clean rooms, and lots of options for tours. Close to restaurants and market.
Luxury | Hotel Casa Hacienda Achamaqui - Attentive staff, spotless rooms, great restaurant, and a charming colonial-style building with scenic views from the rooms.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via HotelsCombined.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CHACHAPOYAS
Chachapoyas lies at the beginning of the jungle, so weather can be hot and humid, but as the town also lies more than 2000 meters above sea level, you can experience cold days as well altogether with quite frequent rains.
For your trip to Chachapoyas, you generally need to pack a bit of everything, including the five following essentials.
- Fleece Jacket for Him & for Her | Always pack a fleece jacket to stay warm as the weather is unpredictable here and it is cold almost all year round early in the morning and later in the afternoon.
- SteriPen | It is not possible to drink tap water in Peru, so in order to keep your plastic waste to minimum, travel with this useful travel gadget.
- Waterproof Jacket for Him & for Her | To be protected against rain and wind, pack a good-quality jacket, especially when traveling in Peru during the rainy season.
- Backpack for Him & for Her | Make sure your backpack fits extra clothes, water and snacks for all day. It is worth to invest in a backpack with a back support and waist strap.
- Sunscreen | Sun is incredibly strong higher you go, do not forget a quality sunscreen. We used 50+ SPF all the time in Peru, and it worked well.
HOW TO GET TO CHACHAPOYAS
Although Chachapoyas is a bit off the main backpacker's trail, it is not hard to get there with an overnight bus from either Chiclayo, Trujillo or even Lima. In Peru, we often traveled with MovilBus, which was reliable, and we could sleep on board, so we arrived in our destination fresh enough to start exploring the place straightaway.
When you are in Lima, would like to visit Chachapoyas but don't want to travel that far north or don't want to spend almost a day on a bus, it is possible to take an hour and twenty minutes long flight from Lima to Jaen and in Jaen take a shuttle bus to Chachapoyas which takes approximately four hours.
Alternatively, you can fly directly to Chachapoyas from capital Lima, but the flight is scheduled only three times a week.
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