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Chachapoyas and Kuelap

Why visit Chachapoyas and Kuelap?

This is a beautiful and mysterious region of northern Peru, with a history and culture that pre-dates the Incas. Sitting at 2334m above sea level, Chachapoyas is not as high as Cusco, so it’s a good place to start to acclimatise to the altitude, while enjoying gentle hiking or horse riding. A few days here would give you a wonderful insight into a lesser-known civilisation while experiencing stunning scenery - the region is famed for its cloudforest and waterfalls - wonderful wildlife and flora (it’s an orchid-lover’s delight) and remarkable architectural remains, including one of the largest ancient stone structures in South America. Reasons to visit Chachapoyas and Kuelap include:

  • The Gocta Waterfall, one of the tallest in the world. It has two-drops and its cloudforest setting is unforgettable. Although known to locals for centuries, it was only ‘discovered’ by the outside world in 2002.
  • More waterfalls - this region has 23! - including the less-visited, 896m, four-drop Yumbilla waterfall.
  • Visit the Chachapoya archaeological site of Karajia in the Utcumbamba Valley, with its eight cliffside mummies housed in upright clay and straw sarcophagi that resemble humans, then head to the caverns of Quiocta, with their astonishing stalactites and stalagmites.
  • Explore one of South America’s largest ancient stone structures - the 600m x 120m fortress of Kuelap. Built by the Chachapoya to guard against Inca expansion and Spanish invaders, this vast, walled citadel, sitting at 3000m and surrounded by cloudforest, contains 485 structures. Key structures include El Tintero, a circular turret in the shape of an inverted cone. Look out also for the scarlet bromeliads in the trees, the air plants’ roots wrapped around the tree branches overhead.
  • Enjoy the 25-minute cable car ride that brings you to within a 20-minute hike or 10-minute horse ride of Kuelap.
  • Take the 20-minute drive from Chachapoyas city to the village of  Huancas(known for its lady potters, so a great place to shop)and then take the short walk to the wonderful view of Sonche Canyon - there are several walking rails in the canyon.
  • Visit the excellent Leymebamba Museum to see incredibly-well preserved Inca bodies, and the impressive Revash Chachapoya funerary complex, with its remarkable well-preserved funeral mansions built into the side of the rocky canyon.
  • Take a boat trip on the Lake of the Condors. In 1997 archaeologists discovered hundreds of Inca mummies in a mausoleum built into the cliff face. The mummies are now housed in the museum at Leymebamba, but it is believed that the dense jungle that covers the mountains that surround the lake conceal thousands more Inca corpses.
  • Enjoy the flora and fauna of the region, from colourful parrots and hummingbirds to monkeys, spectacled bears (like Paddington!) and vast numbers of butterflies. If you’re an orchid fan you’ll be in seventh heaven - there are numerous varieties to be found growing wild (especially on the way to Gotca waterfall) and there are also a number of specialist nurseries within easy striking distance of Chachapoyas, such as the Santa Isabel Orchid Nursery, which grows 150 varieties.
  • Take time to get to know Chachapoyas town - visit the daily farmers market, buy fabric woven by the women of Leymebamba or eat at a traditional restaurant.

When to go to Chachapoyas and Kuelap

This is a year-round destination, with a moderate climate ranging from 13°C to 23°C. The rainy season is November to March, and it’s actually recommended to visit Chachapoyas during the rainy season as that’s when all 23 waterfalls are at their best - the biggest are at their most powerful and the smaller waterfalls that dry up in the dry season flow during the rains.

How to do it

There are daily 1.5-hour flights from Lima to Jaen and Chachapoyas is a three-hour drive from Jaen.

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Chachapoyas and Kuelap accommodation

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facts and information

Time: GMT-5hrs

Flight time:

Both KLM and Iberia have flights to Lima via Europe, leaving the UK early in the morning to arrive in Lima in the evening. The flight time is about 14 hours. It is also possible to fly to Lima via America.

Language: Spanish and Quechua are the official languages.

Visas:

Not required for British travellers (up to 90 days). EC nationals can ask us for further advice.

Health:

There are no compulsory vaccinations, except yellow fever if visiting the rainforest. Malaria prophylactics are also recommended in the rainforest.

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