Before we got to Peru we hadn’t even heard of the small town deep in the Amazones region called Chachapoyas. After arriving around 6:30am from our luxury business class overnight bus, and for once an amazing sleep, we got to our hostel to be greeted by the good news of being able to chill in a vacant room. After a quick chill we went out to get some breakfast. We then explored the small town, looked into organising our two tours and spent most of the day relaxing.
The first tour we decided to do was to a place called Kuelap. Some call this place the Machu Pichu of the North. Kuelap is a high stone walled settlement on top of a mountain at 3000m altitude built around the year 500 A.D. It was initially built by the people of Chachapoyas all those years ago and its main purpose was not to offer protection against invaders as you may assume from a fortress on a mountain, but for religious ceremonies and offerings to the gods.
After a slight confusion between us, our hostel and the tour company we were on our way. By confusion we mean we told them we didn’t want to do their tour from the hostel, little did we know their tour was with the company we had booked with, the bus left without us and thankfully the tour picked us up in a taxi and we caught up with the minibus. The trip involves a minibus journey for 1h30-2h drive, followed by a cable car journey across the valley for 20 minutes. This cable car journey was so incredible, dangling about 100 meters above the canyon with stunning views. Unless of course you are scared of heights…
As soon as we got off the cable car we knew we were in for a good day. Straight away you can see small stone remnants of Kuelap showing just how far out it extended. It is believed there was a population of 300,000 people before the Spanish Conquest which forced the inhabitants to relocate in the late 16th Century. The whole place was entirely forgotten about for centuries before a local stumbled upon it in 1843. It is only really in the last 10 years that it has become a prominent tourist attraction and an important archaeological site. To get to the main entrance we walked along a 2km path before a sudden clearing and the full beauty of Kuelap stood in front of us. The outer wall in front of us stood at least 8m high and in amazing condition. When seeing these sites you wonder what building techniques were used for stone walls to withstand time, especially here where it was abandoned for 300 years with overgrowing trees!
We were then brought towards 2 of the 3 main entrances. The first one was completely closed for restauration work. The scale of the works going on was quite something. We then carried along our path to reach entrance number 2. The way in was a small path carved between the colossus walls leading up the first level of Kuelap, between the outer and inner walls. Our guide explained that this area was for people of lower social status. To this day we can see the remains of their small circular houses. Another beautiful things that has happened here is that orchids have started to grow on the trees. From here we made our way past the inner wall in order to gain access to the upper ceremonial level. Up here we saw a compass made 1500 years ago that pinpointed exactly to 0 degrees north, we even tested it on our phones. How that was possible 1500 years ago we don’t know. We also saw the highest building of them all. From here they catapulted animals (and the odd human) as an offering to the rain god. The final main part of Kuelap we saw was the human sacrifice temple. By far the most impressive structure, it was shaped as a circle with a bottle shape built into the middle of it where humans were placed in and offered to the gods.
The next day we decided to go on the Gocta waterfall trek tour. The Gocta waterfall has been measured as the 3rd highest in the world (depending on how you measure it) so we were very keen to check it out. After an amazing 2 hour drive to get there going over mountains, back down to the river bed and driving through overhead cliffs, we got to the trail head to start our hike. Whilst you do go with a guide you are allowed to walk at your own pace so you don’t have to stick to the same group. We decided to walk quickly to try beat the crowds.
The walk was 5.5km each way going uphill, downhill and the occasional flat bit. The start of the walk overlooked an amazing valley on our left hand side spanning miles. The second part of the trek went downhill for what seemed like an eternity, this was going through more dense vegetation and also a lot more humid. We knew this part would come back to bite us in the arse on the return journey. When we finally got down to the river bed we started to climb back up again. This time the path became quite muddy from plenty of water sources just flowing onto the path. We eventually made it to the waterfall, if you were brave enough you could even go in the water where the waterfall finished. We did not particularly fancy getting into freezing water so just went down to the waterside and enjoyed the waterfall and the incredible landscape around it. Photos will hopefully do it more justice than our writing!
After making our way back we ate our lunch in a local restaurant and had to wait 2 hours for the rest of the group to all arrive back before leaving. We made it back to Chachapoyas for 5:30pm, just enough time to collect our bags, have some dinner and catch our night bus to our next destination, Trujillo.