After Mancora, I was looking for somewhere not beachy. Dan had repeatedly kept telling me to go to Chachapoyas, a huge detour east on my way south to Lima. After reading his blog about the town and that he probably has got a job with the Chachapoyas tourism board, I started my long journey. It was only 6.5 hours south to Chiclayo, then a 9-hour bus ride to Chachapoyas. Easy!
Chachapoyas is in the Amazonas region, although it doesn’t feel anything like what I had imagined the Amazon to be like (i.e. not hot and humid). According to Wikipedia, “puyus” means cloud and “sacha” is forest, both from the Quechua language. When put together, the Chachapoyas culture was often referred to as the cloud people.
I arrived in Chachapoyas at 6:30 am freezing cold and in the middle of a downpour. But after arriving at the hostel wet and cold, they let me check in early and had my first hot shower in Peru. Hooray!
There isn’t much to Chachapoyas. It’s compact with lots of hills and high curbs. Plaza de Armas, the center of the city was covered with a green tarp. But if I use my imagination, it’s a beautiful place to bum around. Sadly, a lot of Chachapoyas was being fixed up. But as the city name implies, there was a constant cloud cover over the hills of the city making it feel magical.
Amazingly enough, I found a vegetarian restaurant in Chachapoyas. For 6 PEN ($1.78), I got soup, salad, a main of beetroot salad and a meat substitute with a drink. I just went into veggie overload.
Chachapoyas is very walkable. I love the pedestrian street with its quaintness. However, this place isn’t very wheelchair-friendly. The curbs are ridiculously high and uneven.
Pozo de Yana Yacu is the “love fountain” of Chachapoyas. “Yana” means black and “yacu” means water in Quechua. Apparently, single people who drink from this well will find everlasting love with a local. I looked inside the well, and it was dry.
The main reason why people come to Chachapoyas is to see Kuélup. It was in Kuélap where I truly understood the meaning of the Chachapoyas name.
On the advice of Dan, I went to Kuélap on a tour. For 70 PEN ($20 USD), it should have included transport, a well-trained tour guide, lunch, and a trip on the teleférico. However, when I was there, the teleférico was non-functional. Thinking about it now, I should’ve gotten a discount.
Our guide, Gustavo, who had only done this tour a few times, guided 19 of us. The road we first started on was soaked from the night before, but it was walkable. However, his colleague told him there was a shortcut. Then, things got interesting. First, we went through a lady’s farm. She freaked out (as she should) as we tried not to trample on her crops.
We also crawled over barbed wire and jumped over ditches, all while trying to stay upright because the mud was treacherous. Gustavo got a mouth full of me and several others who were not exactly thrilled of this shortcut, especially since we could clearly see the road was not that far from where we were at.
When we finally got to the top and onto the archeological site, we just saw clouds. But Gustavo did save himself and explained the history of Kuélap.
Kuélap was once a jacta (pre-Hispanic city) that flourished from 900 to 1400 AD. At one point in time, Kuélap housed 300,000 inhabitants, more than Machu Picchu. This fortress is 3,000 m above sea level and contains 420 circular buildings. They said circular buildings didn’t require as much material to build compared to rectangular ones. The Chachapoyas people called Kuélap their political capital and thrived there until the Spanish came in the mid-16th century. Fires, rain, natural erosion, and a lack of an effective drainage system left Kuélap in a deteriorated state. The Peruvian government is trying to save Kuélap, but of course, it doesn’t have the financial resources to do so.
Unfortunately, the teleférico was not working the day I was there because that would be the way most people would leave Kuélap. Instead, we had to time down. And, of course, once we started our descent, the clouds began to cry heavily. I was proud to say that I was one of few who managed to stay upright during the hike down. The road became a river, and Gustavo insisted on going through barbed wired again. All 19 of us boarded the bus with a lot of mud weight.
How to get to Kuélap
- If the teleférico actually works, there are colectivos from El Triunfo. In theory, they should drop you off in Nuevo Tingo.
- If the teleférico isn’t working, stick with a tour. Chachapoyas Backpackers Hostel offers the tour for 70 PEN.
Huancas is a town located almost 10 km north of Chachapoyas. This community is known for their pottery.
But of course, when I was there, every pottery shop around the main square was closed. At least I got a picture of statues of women making pottery.
For me, the highlight of Huancas was the Cañon del Sonche. I can’t remember being in such awe over a place. And practically no one goes there! It’s 11km long and 962 m deep.
Thanks to Maps.me, I found a trail along the side of the mountain which linked to another viewpoint. It said it was only 2 km long, so I said why not. The path was clearly laid out up until I got to the prison. Since the path split, I decided to take the roadway, which meant walking alongside the prison walls. There was a ridiculous amount of poop there.
How to get to Huancas
- From Chachapoyas, head to the corner of Avenida San Juan de la Frontera and Jirón Ortiz Arrieta. You should see a dirt road.
- The colectivos (mini-vans) cost 3 PEN (90¢). Tell the driver to take you to Mirador Cañon del Sonche. There is another viewpoint called Mirador Huancauro that is 4 km north of the prison.
- The entrance fee to get into the viewing area is 3 PEN. Make sure to have exact change.
- The other viewpoint that is connected by a trial on Maps.me doesn’t exist, or at least it wasn’t visible to me.
- Collectivos can be picked up anywhere along the road. Huancas is tiny.
I didn’t get to see Gocta Falls, the 7th tallest in the world because the idea of wearing wet hiking shoes on a 5km hike was just a big no. But I did get this lovely pop-up brochure of the falls.
Chachapoyas is a definite must in northern Peru, just don’t come from December to March. They don’t call this place the cloud forest for nothing!