Off the beaten track, Chachapoyas can be described as real ‘Indiana Jones’ territory. Located in northern Peru, at the juncture between the Amazon rainforest, the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast, this is a mystical and wonderful place, deep in the cloud forest.

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Highlights

  • Peruse the mummies of the Leymebamba Museum
  • Visit one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, Gocta Falls
  • Explore the unrestored pre-Inca ruins of Kuelap fortress

Overview

Far from the crowds that flock to Machu Picchu, this land offers ancient history and archaeological wonders that easily rivals the famed citadel, such as the mystical Kuelap fortress, hidden amid the undergrowth. The lush vegetation and mountainous terrain offer rewarding opportunities to explore - hiking to incredible waterfalls and discovering diverse wildlife along the way.

Brief itinerary

Itineraries to Chachapoyas can vary in duration and route, to take in the jungle of Tarapoto, shortened as a quick extension from Lima flying in and out from Jaen, or continue on to the coast to combine with the archaeological highlights of Peru’s Moche Route and on to the beaches of Mancora. Here’s a recommended route to take in the region’s highlights:

Day Activity
Day 1 Lima - Cajamarca
Day 2 Leymebamba Museum
Day 3 Leymebamba and Tombs of Revash
Day 4 Kuelap pre-Inca fortress
Day 5 The Sarcophagi of Karajia OR hike to Gocta Waterfall
Day 6 Journey to Chiclayo
Day 7 Tucume Pyramids and Royal Tombs Museum

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Lima to Cajamarca

 Ventanillas de Combaya
Ventanillas de Combaya, pre-Incan cemetery in the mountains near Cajamarca

Cajamarca is one of the principle gateways to Chachapoyas, with regular, direct daily flights from Lima. Spend a night at Costa del Sol Cajamarca, located on the main square overlooking the Plaza de Armas.

Day 2: Cajamarca to Leymebamba

Driving from Leymebamba to Celendin
Mountain valleys between Leymebamba and Celendin

The picturesque 8 to 9-hour journey to Leymebamba begins with a 3-hour drive to Celendín, known for the intricate straw hats made there. You’ll then descend 2,400m to the Balsas River, cross an impressive suspension bridge before ascending to the eastern side of the Marañon Canyon, passing through beautiful mango plantations. On arrival to Leymebamba, you’ll check into Kentitambo Lodge. This beautiful B&B was built with ecologically-sourced timber and is surrounded by beautiful gardens which attract hummingbirds.

Day 3: Leymebamba Museum and Valley of the Condors or Cliff Tombs of Revash

Mausoleum of Revash built into the side of a cliff near Chachapoyas
Clifftop tombs of Revash, built into the cliff near Chachapoyas

After a guided visit of the Leymebamba Museum, you can choose to head up to the Valley of the Condors for a walk through the beautiful cloud forest where you’ll spot a variety of birds and orchids. Alternatively, enjoy a two-hour hike to the colorful clifftop Tombs of Revash, dating back to 1250 AD. Spend the night at Kentitambo.

Day 4: Kuelap fortress

Ancient ruins of Kuelap
Ancient ruins of Kuelap

Today you’ll visit the mystical pre-Inca fortress of Kuelap, driving through the Uchumba Valley and then taking the road to Kuelap or the cable car. Kuelap is the largest ancient stone structure in South America, perched on a high mountain ridge in the cloud forest. Often referred to as the ‘Machu Picchu of the north’, some parallels can be drawn between the two sites. You’ll then head to Gocta Natura Cabins or Gocta Lodge for the night.

Day 5: The Sarcophagi of Karajia OR Hike to Gocta Waterfall

Gocta waterfall
Gocta waterfall

After a drive down the valley and winding your way up the western bank of the Utubamba to the village of Cruz Pata, you’ll begin a 40-minute hike to Karajia to visit one of the most enigmatic archaeological sites of northern Peru. Alternatively, take a 2-hour hike through sugarcane fields and forest to Gocta Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world. Spend the night at Gocta Natura Cabins or Gocta Lodge.

Day 6: Journey to Chiclayo

With stunning views along the way, you’ll drive down through valleys and canyons with views of rice paddies close to the town of Bagua Grande. Crossing over to the Marañon watershed, the drive continues to the Pacific side of the Andes, down towards the coastal plains and your next stop, the town of Chiclayo, after 9-10 hours.  Spend the night at Casa Andina Select Chiclayo. The modern hotel offers a pool, terrace and onsite restaurant.

Day 7: Tucume Pyramids and Royal Tombs Museum

Ancient city ruins in a Tucume desert
Ancient city ruins in a Tucume desert

This morning you’ll transfer to the incredible abode pyramids of Tucume, north of Chiclayo. The area is said to possess spiritual powers which local Shamans use for performing rituals. Then continue north to Tumbas Reales de Sipán Museum which houses the world-famous collection of burial artifacts from the Lord of Sipán tomb and other tombs uncovered at the Huaca Rajada archaeological site. Explore the museum before heading to the actual archaeological site.

From here you can fly to Lima, or carry on Peru’s Moche Route to Trujillo, or head further up the coast to the best of Peru’s Northern Beaches.

Getting there & away

The itinerary outlined above involves flying from Lima to Cajamarca and from Chiclayo to Lima for the return journey. In between the flights are overland transfers, for which Aracari arranges private cars with English-speaking guides.

Alternatively, you can fly to Tarapoto and then explore Chachapoyas, or into and out of Jaen – direct flights from Lima started in 2016.

Best season

April to December is the dry season and the best time to visit, though Gocta waterfall is at its fullest in the rainy season! 

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Map

Map of Chachapoyas: Peru’s Best Kept Secret - 7 Days
Map of Chachapoyas: Peru’s Best Kept Secret - 7 Days

Recent Trip Reviews

Related trips planned by kimkim specialists

Chachapoyas: peru’s best kept secret - 7 days, Peru - Mar 6 - Mar 14, 2018

Traveler: Samuel O. - Local specialist: Martina Capel

I would like to say thank you to Martina. She put an incredible tour together in a very short amount of time. She always responded immediately to any question i had. She was a real pleasure to work with.
Our guide John was great. He was very friendly and always upbeat and helpful.
Our stay at Casa Hacienda Milpuj was great. The freandly conversations were nice and the food there was best of the entire trip. I could have stayed the entire trip in Hotel Achamaqui. The service and food were... read more

I would like to say thank you to Martina. She put an incredible tour together in a very short amount of time. She always responded immediately to any question i had. She was a real pleasure to work with.
Our guide John was great. He was very friendly and always upbeat and helpful.
Our stay at Casa Hacienda Milpuj was great. The freandly conversations were nice and the food there was best of the entire trip. I could have stayed the entire trip in Hotel Achamaqui. The service and food were very good and the scenery was amazing. I loved the quiet peacefulness.
All the day trips were great but I think the waterfalls of Gocta was the best. Riding horseback provided some great photo opportunities. I have traveled extensively in the past and this was the most organized and well planned tour i have ever been on. Thank you Martina and Kimkim.

Chachapoyas: peru’s best kept secret - 7 days, Peru - Jan 17 - Jan 21, 2018

Traveler: Janice V. - Local specialist: Martina Capel

Martina was very helpful regarding our pre-trip planning. We had planned all facets of our trip to Peru prior to contacting Martina. We decided to do so because we wanted to go to the area and found it somewhat difficult to research travel options there. Our tour stated that we would have an English speaking guide.
Day 1 we were met by Joan/John and Carlos @ Cajamarca airport. After dropping our bags we visited Cumbe Mayo. This was a wonderful place. Our guide was clearly... read more

Martina was very helpful regarding our pre-trip planning. We had planned all facets of our trip to Peru prior to contacting Martina. We decided to do so because we wanted to go to the area and found it somewhat difficult to research travel options there. Our tour stated that we would have an English speaking guide.
Day 1 we were met by Joan/John and Carlos @ Cajamarca airport. After dropping our bags we visited Cumbe Mayo. This was a wonderful place. Our guide was clearly enthusiastic but, not fluent enough (in English) to convey much of his knowledge. As became clear at that point, Anna often needed to translate for my benefit. ( I sensed the visit was the short version. ). We learned that J was a guide-in-training. He had to train for some 900 hours before receiving license.
We returned to Cajamarca. Having risen @ 3 in the morning for our 7:30 flight we were hungry at that point and asked J for recommendations. He dropped us at a lunchroom on the square. A fairly grim experience. I mention this only because perfunctory drop-offs became the norm. I think this is an issue of manners. We are outsiders, the guide the insider. This in addition to the fact that the Hostal had no heat — it was cold and mercilessly rainy,— or WiFi. There was no way not to hear our next door neighbor’s TV. If we had foreknowledge of the lack of heat, we would not have agreed to stay there. How hard is it to recommend a few places to eat?
Driver Carlos was excellent throughout. No fruit or water in car throughout our tour.

Day2 7 hr drive to Leymebamba. Prompt pickup. J asks if we want to stop @ a grocery store. Having stocked up on snacks at the Cajamarca market, we only needed more water and stopped at bodega. We naively assumed that there would be a plan to eat along the way. We chatted for about 1 hour as we left the city and headed in the direction of Leymebamba. We stopped for lunch and J suggested we take our food and eat on the little square. Another point of confusion. We hadn’t packed a lunch. Meanwhile J & C headed into a little restaurant for lunch. Since it was clearly the only place to eat in this locale, I joined them.
We stopped only once thereafter for a photo op. For the remaining 6 hours there was an abundantly obvious silence. Our questions like, ‘what river is that?’ were answered but, no comments/ info from guide.
Then a stop at woodworker’s place. This was kind of crazy. After 7 hours in a car we did not feel like doing this but, felt obliged to do so.
We reached Leymebamba and checked into our Hostal. This proved to be a far nicer stay. A lovely well maintained Hostal and it was fortunately warmer than Cajamarca. Great family, delicious breakfast. Again though, after that very long drive, no food recommendations. We made the wrong choice. Ironically, the next day after visiting the Museum we had a great lunch, in plaza. The restaurant owner, a relative of Carlos’, was a delightful woman who really knew how to cook!

Day 3
Visit to Leymebamba museum. Wonderful visit. Felt a bit rushed as we followed J through. This seems to be an occupational hazard for tour leaders. One though that they surely need to develop the flexibility to allow for. It seems to me that a tour guide to be really good, needs to get to know his clients. Perhaps J is too young? Not curious? ( He might have heard that one of our reasons for visiting Peru was our interest in its cuisine. )
After a terrific lunch we set out to visit Revash. Sadly rained out. Roads in dangerous conditions. We were dropped off at Lola’s and Perico’s. Heaven. Spent an afternoon at their wonderful place with our consummate hosts. We loved each other’s company. Nine hundred stars!

Day 4
Kuelap Visit. Terrific.
Lunch @ Shubet also good. Again Carlos’s friends/relatives..
Drive to Gocta. Rafael not there but, his in village helper arrived promptly to let us in. Somewhat unsure how to interpret Rafael’s absence but, made ourselves comfortable. (Footnote hot water unavailable.)
Had a wonderful afternoon enjoying Rafael’s place. Also later when another guest arrived.

Day 5
Hike to Gocta Waterfall. Strenuously wonderful. Took horses half way back down.
Arrived back to Rafael’s hot and tired....wanting to clean-up and relax. J announced we were to go next door for lunch. We went. When one is staying at Rafael’s, the setting isn’t really impressive.
The food is mediocre. J had told us that C would be driving us to Jaen the following morning; a gesture we very much appreciated. Carlos happened to be dining @ same time we were (next door) with his family. We confirmed that we would see him tomorrow.

Day 6
Instead of Carlos, his young relative ( no more than 18?) w/ his friend to airport in Jaen.
Nice person. Friendly but, not a mature driver. Thought we would be seeing C and planned to give him a tip then. Plz send info regarding how we can do so.

My advice to Trip planner. Suggest visitors to this region—-@ least @ this time of the year— come and go via Jaen. Spend time in Chachapoyas and environs.