Wednesday, May 08, 2019


Having others come and join us is an awesome experience but one of the differences and difficulties associated with that is a lack of flexibility in the schedule. They have flights to catch and routes and timing generally need to be adhered to. Both of us had been feeling unwell off and on for the past month or so and rolling into Chachapoyas at sunrise after a terrifying overnight bus through the mountains from Cajamarca, we had to admit we were probably pushing ourselves too hard and risking a burnout. The long windy mountain roads and high altitude was probably taking its toll on us too. 
Fortunately for us, Chachapoyas is a pretty little mountain town and not too high at 2300m. It is also cheap and we managed to find a quiet hostel that was the most comfortable that we'd seen in weeks. I wouldn't usually be happy about rain, but with a pretty dismal forecast we decided to pause and rest. We ended up staying for a week and only did activities about half of the time. On the worst of the rainy days we had a good excuse to sit and rest or research. On the marginal days we made a few day trips out. Chachapoyas is a great little hub for visiting a bunch of sites nearby and will become a popular tourist hub eventually. It is already starting to feel the increase in visitors and developments are underway in some areas. For now it remains pretty relaxed and friendly and easy to do things on your own. 
The most popular and world-class of the attractions nearby is Kuelap. It is a ruined sacred city of the Chachapoyas civilization sitting on a mountaintop with amazing views (of course) and hardly visited or known yet outside Peru. It used to be accessible only by long rough road or a 5 hour hike up the mountain but 2 years ago they opened up Peru's only cable car system to take you up there instead. It is high and steep and made us a little nervous but we wouldn't have made it to the ruins otherwise. They are still working on preserving/restoring the ruins so once you are inside the city walls (it looks like a fortress and is often called such) most of it is still overgrown with vegetation and has that authentic Indiana Jones look :) There is a set path though so we couldn't just go running around poking our heads in everywhere. At its peak it had 3000 or so residents in little stone circle huts and a few small temples. Really though this is just a very atmospheric place and gave us the impression that we were discovering the next big thing in Peru. 

The outer walls of Kuelap

The narrow entry through the wall

I love overgrown ruins

Each circle was a residence

Also nearby and somehow the symbol of Chachapoyas are the sarcophagi of Karajia. We made our way to a nearby village to make the short hike into a little canyon to see them. They are a group of now 7 Chachapoyan mummies sitting in the side of a cliff and dating from the 15th century. They look cool but are of mysterious purpose and you can't get very close to them so it was a relatively short visit. Mummies are not an uncommon thing in the area and there is a museum in the nearby village of Leymebamba that has hundreds. We didn't go there though. 

On the trail to the Karajia sarcophagi
Found the cliff
Yes, those are real skulls on there too

Each time we went anywhere it was an adventure on the roads. To get anywhere it seems you have to drive down windy mountain roads and then back up another. Many of the roads are in pretty rough shape and landslides are very common here. We were constantly being delayed by work crews clearing away rocks and dirt and it was a little disturbing to go out on a road and come back a few hours later and see a new mess on the road. It is beautiful green scenery though. The area is the east side of the Andes and covered with wet cloud forest which eventually drops down into the Amazon, similar to Machu Picchu. 
Just outside of Chachapoyas, beside a village called Huancas is the Canyon del Sonche. You can stand at a viewpoint just on the edge looking down on the river nearly 1000m below. There were some nice waterfalls across the way as well but the best was Gocta Falls, a 771m waterfall that we saved for our last day of activities (our only day of real sun). Making our way to the village of Cocachimba we ended up doing a 10km (~4hr) round trip hike to the base of the falls. You can see it from the beginning of the hike but it is so tall you really have to get up close to appreciate it. There isn't a lot of water but the falls and especially the landscape around it are beautiful and we had a really great day. 

Canyon del Sonche

Canyon del Sonche
Cocachimba village
Our destination, Gocta Falls, upper falls 231m, lower falls 540m

Our view

Our trail
The lower falls

Now that we are rested and feeling better it is time to move on. Ecuador here we come!


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