Chachapoyas: Gocta, Kuelap and how Peruvians do not make it easy

Before hitting the jungle we wanted to make a stop in Chachapoyas, as many travelers had told us about the amazing day trips you can take from there. The city itself is nice but it’s not a reason to make a stop. We were there to see two things: Gocta, the third largest waterfall on earth and Kuelap, the ancient city which some call the Macchu Picchu of the north, which is not, not at all.

To go to these places you can either go on your own or take a tour. The price difference between these two options is almost none, and in the case of Kuelap, there’s no difference at all, so we decided to take a tour.

We first went to Kuelap. This ruins are part of the Chachapoya culture, who inhabited the place before the Incas massacred them and turned them into slaves, semi free citizens and some were lucky enough to be free citizens within the Inca empire. On the way there we made a stop in a place called Macro, also inhabited by the Chachapoya. It’s only a 5 minute stop in the road to watch the holes in the mountain where members of this ancient culture lived. There’s almost no research about Macro, and scientists still don’t know why did the Chachapoya live in these caves in the mountain.

Now the key to every tour is the guide you get. Ours sucked, hard, that damn guide. Let me illustrate. On the way to the site he was the slowest, taking breaks just to rest his ass, as the rest of us were just fine, cause the little walk up from the parking lot is not really climbing Mount Everest. Basically he spoke as if we were extremely lucky to hear his voice and treasure his words. He would all of a sudden change the topic from the ruins to his political delusion and for example claim that the world had faced 3 evils: Monarchy, communism and now in recent times, Islamic terrorism. We were like, what the hell?? He kept walking, turned back, and repeated again his 3 evils, counting them with his fingers while talking. He then added that it all would lead the world to a peace obtained after a huge war. What pissed me off the most was how he was saying all this crap, as if we were all dumb idiots who knew nothing and now, thanks to his honor we were given the absolute truth, and we should be so thankful for it.

Luckily, the views while going up are really amazing and we could focus on enjoying them instead of listening to the his nonsense jibber-jabber.

A nice discovery were these anemones fossils. Turns out these whole area, centuries ago was covered by the amazon sea. When looking around it’s hard to imagine all these area was covered by water.

When arriving to Kuelap, the first thing you see is the massive wall that surrounds it, which in some places reaches almost 20 meters.

When we entered the site our lovely guide had his brightest moment. He told us the average Chachapoya man would live 20 years. Now why would this happen? Well according to him, the Chachapoya people didn’t have guns nor did they have dogs that would chase their preys, so they had to run behind the animal they wanted to hunt, and so they were exhausted. He put on a little show, where he run behind an imaginary prey and was so tired after getting it. That was a bit too much for me, so I had to ask him, that’s it? They died on their twenties cause they were tired?? Then and only then he’d say that no, no, that they also suffered many diseases and there were other reasons.

After that and other pearls of his we were kind of disconnected from the tour, and the ruins are not that impressive as the main pieces are reconstructions. What’s amazing here are the views.

So yep, with a nice guide that focuses on the topic and is able to bring the ruins back to life with facts and stories, it can be a pretty amazing visit. With an idiot that has no idea what he’s talking about, well, it’s still a nice trek.

The next day our expectations were a bit higher, cause we knew that even if we were taking a tour to Gocta, in there, having or not having a guide makes no difference cause it’s a waterfall, so once you know how big is it and when it was discovered, that’s pretty much all there is to know. But even if we thought it’d all be smooth and easy, well, another nice Peruvian almost ruined it.

When I went looking for a tour to Gocta, I ended up in an office of the same company as the one we took to go to Kuelap. The guy there was really nice and friendly and he assured me that the tour guide would not be the same as the day before. He also explained me that Gocta is formed by two waterfalls. The one on top being the smallest and the one down the largest and most impressive. So he assured me the tour would be to arrive first to the lowest and then we’d go up to a viewing point from where we could see both waterfalls. Sounded great so we took it.

And so the next morning we got on a little bus together with a woman and her two kids. The landscapes on the way are really amazing, the northeastern Andes are crazy beautiful.

But once we got there and started walking, we realized we were pretty damn high and then our guide told us we would first see the upper fall then go down to the viewing point and back again to the bus without seeing the largest waterfall from the bottom. That was too much to swallow. Basically Kasia let out lieutenant Pikuta and we started saying that no freaking way we’d do that, that we didn’t need any damn guide so that we’d do what we paid to do. Finally the tour guide, scared of Kasia and her alter-ego, made couple of calls and told us that we could see first the upper fall, go down to the viewing point and later keep going down to see the largest fall and then walk to the village where we’d have arrived if we had entered from the bottom, where the car would go pick us up.

The price you pay when you enter where we did is 10 soles, but if you enter from the bottom is 20, so finally we got to see it all and paid half for it, we ended up getting a pretty good deal.

When we were up the sky was a bit covered and the fog messed up a bit the view of the top part of the waterfall, but still, it was really damn impressive. Our previous big waterfall was El Pailon del Diablo back in Ecuador, but this one is the tiny little sister of Gocta.

The sky started to clear up when we walked towards the viewing point, and there we enjoyed a little snack with these incredible views.

Finally, the way down to the bottom took a while, if you’ll visit this it’s much better to go from up down, cause this part of the path is really damn steep. It took us a while but it’s completely worth it.

When reaching the largest fall, a nice surprise was to find out that despite the height of the fall, the water almost doesn’t make any sound when reaching the bottom, it’s incredibly silent, as if only steam reaches the bottom of the fall, cause the water seems to get dispersed in the air. One feels really small while watching this.

We ate lunch there and started walking back, having in mind that the bus wouldn’t be waiting for us for long. The views from this other path are way better than the ones we took when we started in San Pablo. This path to Cocachimba is much nicer cause you can see the waterfall almost during all the way, and when you can’t the views are still amazing.

Really, really worth it to make a stop in Chachapoyas, there are more places to visit around than Gocta and Kuelap, but these are the main attractions. Just remember if you go to Kuelap, make sure your guide is not called Augusto, with that you’ll have a wonderful time.


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