Chachapoyas – Ancient Ruins and Giant Waterfalls.
May 22, 2014 – May 25, 2014
Our first true destination in Peru was the high mountain village of Chachapoyas. Located in the foothills of the Andes at 2,235 meters or 7,333 feet. We arrived early in the morning, after yet another all night bus ride.
By now we have gotten pretty used to the overnight buses. And I can actually manage to get a few hours of sleep on them! Chachapoyas turned out to be one of our favorite destinations in Peru, the small town high up in the mountains is surrounded by dozens of tourists destinations all within a day trip away. Dozens of ruins and natural wonders. We visited three of the most popular sites, the fortress of Kuelap, Gocta falls the second or third highest waterfall in the world (depending how you measure it) and the ancient cliff mausoleum of Revash. The town is named for the Chachapoyan people, a pre-Incan civilization who built the majority of dozens of surrounding ruins. The Chachapoyan civilization remained independent from the massive Incan civilization until they were conquered only just before the Spanish arrived in Peru.
Cuy, or Guinea Pig
We also had our first chance to taste Cuy, or Guinea Pig. Often deep fried and very expensive this dish is popular in both Ecuador and Peru. Shops selling this delicacy can be found everywhere. Krista had tried some Cuy on a trip to Peru 11 years ago, but I had not yet had the pleasure. We tried some in Chachapoyas, its taste was something between chicken and pork, but gamey and not very flavorful. If I had to sum up the experience in one word, which I don’t but will anyway, it would be – disappointing. There is actually very little meat on the Cuy, what you get is mostly skin and bone. We were happy to try it but decided we would skip it in the future and save the money.
Ruins of Kuelap
A three hour van ride from Chachapoyas up a very steep and winding dirt road, often a one lane track right alongside a five hundred foot drop was the ruins of Kuelap!
Kuelap, the lost city of the Chachapoyan’s, a massive pre-Incan fortress that is little known to the world but rivals Machu Picchu in size. Recently re-discovered and explored by archeologists this massive 600 meter by 400 meter roughly oval shaped stone fortress sits at the top of one of the many steep mountains in the area, giving those who built it an excellent view in every direction. While at Machu Picchu its possible to get an organic almond milk latte, and it draws thousands of tourists everyday and costs hundreds of dollars to visit, Kuelap by contrast is almost completely unknown to the world and cheap to visit. Our tour group was around ten people, and in all we saw perhaps 15 tourists while we were there. If you want to explore unspoiled ruins without hundreds of tourists tromping about, consider visiting remote Kuelap.
The massive fortress is still covered in the jungle vegetation it was found, giving it a very authentic untouched feel. The 600 by 400 hundred fortress is built on a massive stone platform built entirely by hand out of stone and dirt and surrounded by a tall stone wall. Inside archeologists found 420 circular buildings, various alters and military defenses, and grave sites.
More massive stone walls separated the sacred inner city from the outer city.
This massive waterfall a couple hours from Chachapoyas is somewhere between the second and sixteenth tallest in the world (depending on who you talk to). Locals proclaim it as either the second or third tallest in the world, however online searches reveal different answers. Gocta is actually two waterfalls one atop another. Much of the differences on its world height ranking depend on if you measure it as one continuous waterfall or two separate waterfalls. Combined Gocta falls measures 771 meters or 2,530 ft.
Our arrival was a bit cloudy and dark and we were wondering if we would be able to see much at all.
However later in the day as we hiked in the clouds cleared and were given amazing views of the falls.
That little green figure is a person walking towards the falls.
Our walk back to the van.
Cliff Mausoleum of Revash
After a day of rest, laundry, and figuring out our next travel plans, we explored a cliff side village the pre-Incan Chachapoyan’s built into the side of a cliff to serve as a resting place for many of their dead. This city for the dead is accessible by another couple hour van ride and a couple hour hike uphill where we were able to explore the cliff side dwellings.
Views from the hike up.
After visiting Revash we went to the Leymebamba museum where many of the mummies found at Revash and other sites in the area are found. The bodies were positioned in a fetal position after they died. The years of decay and decomposition have given them a quite unintentional but very chilling appearance.