Chachapoyas: Some of Peru's best ruins and natural attractions
As the little van winds up the bumpy dirt roads, I stare out the window in wonder and awe. The Andes mountains rise to great heights and dip back to beautiful valleys as far as the eye can see. The mountains here are covered in grass, occasionally patches of forest, and small patches of farmland--which end up looking like little quilts blanketing portions of the grand mountains. The slopes often offer amazing views of layered bands of rock, rolling in places with huge wave-like synclines and anticlines.
This is the region of Amazonas, in northern Peru. Chachapoyas, the capital of this region, is a fairly peaceful mountain town located near many amazing attractions. There is so much to see and do in this region and it has yet to become a huge tourist attraction, which ends up making it a very enjoyable experience.
From Chachapoyas tours can be booked to many of the sites in the region. Beautiful waterfalls, enormous caverns, mighty ruined fortresses, camping in idyllic valleys, and so much more. The Plaza de Armas in the middle of town is surrounded by cafes, markets, and little tour agencies. Here you can book your trips to the surrounding sites.
The Fortress of Kuelap should be on anyone\'s list when coming to this region. Kuelap was built by the civilization of the Chachapoyas. The ruins are huge, about 600 meter long and 110 meters wide. Inside the giant stone walls are hundreds of buildings in varying states of ruin, with plants growing throughout much of the fortress. It\'s sits high above the Utcubamba valley, on a ridge at about 3000 meters above sea level.
The ruins of Kuelap
This is really an amazing site. The walls of the fortress run are grand and continue for a great distance. While walking through the ruins you\'re treated to the amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The tour was in Spanish, but supposedly you can get bi-lingual tours as well.
Kuelap is a short drive from Chachapoyas, which is mostly what you are paying for because lunch and entrance were not included, but it was only S/. 30, which is well worth the information the guide added and the transportation. Warning about the transportation, anyone easily carsick might not enjoy the bumpy, windy roads to most of these destinations. They are well worth it though.
Another great site is the Gocta waterfall. Claimed to be the third tallest waterfall in the world, Gocta rises about 711 meters total and has two drops. This tour involves a bit of hiking, at least two hours, probably more, but the hike is worth the trouble itself. It offers amazing views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, like most of the attractions here. Keep your eyes peeled for butterflies, birds, and apparently monkeys. The agency I booked through said that there are small monkeys in the area, although hard to spot.
The waterfall itself is very impressive. It has created a collection of fascinating geologic features, a beautiful small lake which then runs into a river, and is just a great place to stop and have a snack to refuel for your hike back. Stop taking pictures for a few minutes and just watch and listen to the falls. It\'s amazing to see how much a strong breeze can affect the falling water.
The top of Gocta falls
The other tour I did was of the Karajia sarcophagi This cost a little more, but bundled with this is a tour of the Cave of Quiocta. The limestone cave extends roughly one kilometer into the mountain side and has some amazing stalagmites, stalactites, and huge open spaces.
The Karajia sarcophagi are located on the wall of a cliff, high above the small path you take to see them. This is a row of six statues which, when first discovered, housed mummies in the fetal position. Don\'t be fooled by the pictures, these are pretty far away from where you see them, but I felt it was worth the trip. Anyway, once again just seeing more of the beautiful countryside was worth it.
The day tours to most sites in the region leave around 8 a.m. and return by 6 p.m. Each tour usually stops in a small town before the attraction and the group can order lunch for when they return from the trip. Alternatively, you can always pack a lunch.
I ordered lunch once, and that was when I saw cuy being offered. I had been very interested in trying this since I heard about it. Cuy is guinea pig. That cute little animal originated in the Andes and has been consumed by Andean dwellers for hundreds of years. It was really tasty. There isn\'t much meat on these little guys, so it\'s best to put down the fork and just use your hands.