7-day tour exploring the hidden secrets of Chachapoyas region, often on foot.
Includes Kuelap, Yumbilla Falls, Los Tigre Sarcophagi, Congona & La Petaca.
Beginning in Jaen; ending in Cajamarca (or back in Jaen).
2018 price from £1,290 / $1,815 p/p (in double occupancy).
Private transport & excursions, with English-speaking guide.
The Chachapoyas region has been growing in popularity - for many excellent reasons - and yet remains wonderfully unexplored. So, this 6-night tour visits lesser-known waterfalls, sarcophagi, cliff tombs and jungle-covered Chachapoya ruins ... that are sure to unleash our inner Indiana Jones!
Of course, we include Kuelap, as it is a must-see, but plan to be there when there are fewer visitors.
We take less trodden paths, some of which are more demanding, so this tour is aimed at those who enjoy hiking, and exploring. This is a Chachapoyas adventure that only a lucky few will experience.
Day 1: Jaen - Cocachimba (L)
You are met at Jaen airport and driven by private transport to Chachapoyas Province - a beautiful journey taking roughly four hours.
We stop for lunch in the city of Jaen, before descending to the Marañon River, Peru's second longest waterway and a major Amazon tributary. We pass through an arid area of cactus and scrub, before arriving at the town of Bagua Grande. We then begin to ascend to Chachapoyas through the scenic Utcubamba Canyon.
We head up a side valley to Cocachimba, where we stay the night at Gocta Andes Lodge – where every room as a view of Gocta Falls.
Day 2: Yumbilla Waterfall & Forest Trail; Canyoning Optional (B, L)
While most people hike to the bottom of Gocta Falls, we drive to the town of Pedro Ruiz and then head up beyond the small village of Cuispes to the trailhead that leads to Yumbilla Waterfall. Yumbilla tumbles in a series of drops that total 896 m (2,938 ft) making it higher than Gocta, and yet a lot less visited.
To get there, we hike for two hours along a cliff-side trail, through exquisite cloud forest full of butterflies, birds and orchids, passing various smaller waterfalls.
You can double the adventure, by including a half day of canyoning in this remarkable location (additional cost).
After enjoying the waterfall, we return to our transport for the drive back to Cocachimba, where we spend the night.
NB. If wishing to hike to the bottom of Gocta Falls, ask us about adding a night in Cocachimba.
Day 3: Los Tigre Sarcophagi (B, L, D)
After breakfast, we drive across the Utcubamba River and wind our way up to the village of San Geronimo. Here we start our hike uphill for a couple of hours to reach the viewpoints of Los Tigre Sarcophagi – an impressive group of painted tombs that were only discovered in 2010.
From the viewpoint, we can make a steep climb up through the forest, on a narrow trail, to the bottom of the cliff that leads us much closer to the sarcophagi.
At the base of the cliff we will see the remains of many other tombs of what was obviously a very important burial site for the Chachapoya. Climbing a tree by a ladder we can sit opposite the sarcophagi and get a wonderful close-up view.
We return to the village and drive back and along the main valley to La Casa de Doña Lola – a small lodge with its own private forest reserve.
Day 4: Kuelap: largest ancient stone structure in South America (B, L, D)
For those that like archaeological ruins to themselves, then the ideal day to visit Kuelap is a Monday – the day the cable car does not operate.
From the Utcubamba Valley, we drive up to Kuelap and then hike the final section to arrive outside the main entrance way ... as the ancients would have done. In front of us, we see the towering outer wall of the stone citadel, perched on a ridge at 3,000 m (10,000 ft) above sea level. It forms a massive platform for 400 roundhouses still partially covered in cloud forest.
At the end of the tour, we return to our vehicle and drive back to La Casa de Doña Lola for a second night.
Day 5: La Congona & Cataneo (B, L, D)
The area around Leymebamba is littered with little-visited Chachapoya archaeological sites which can only be reached on foot. Today, we visit two such ruins: La Congona & Cataneo
Our journey takes us by car to the village of San Cristobal where we begin hiking uphill. Sitting atop a small peak, La Congona has some fine stone buildings to wander around.
Further along the ridge, we climb up to another small forest-covered peak covered to the Chachapoya ruin of Cataneo. Here we find beautiful moss-covered walls that are s so well-made it is hard to believe they are centuries old.
We carry on hiking along the ridge to our transport which takes us to our Leymebamba accommodation - the exclusive lodge of Kentitambo.
Day 6: Leymebamba Museum & La Petaca Cliff Tombs (B, L, D)
Opposite Kentitambo is the famous Mummy Museum of Leymebamba that houses artefacts recovered from cliff tombs at the nearby Lake of the Condors. Here we can see over 200 mummies, textiles, ceramics and wooden effigies that are in a remarkable state of preservation.
After coffee, we drive south up the Atuen Valley to begin our walk to Tajopampa and the enormous cliff tomb site of La Petaca. Once there, with the help of a telescope, we can spot dozens of tombs built in impossible locations. We also see the trophy head collector pictograph.
Returning to the road, we drive back to Kentitambo for a second night.
Alternatively, you can stay away from it all at the isolated farmstead of Tajopampa. The accommodation is very basic, but the location is spectacular, and far removed from the stresses of modern life. Here the cooking is done over an open fire.
Day 7: Drive to Cajamarca or Jaen (B, L)
Today, we reluctantly leave the Chachapoyas region, by either returning to Jaen or continuing to Cajamarca. Both journeys take approximately six hours, but the road from Leymebamba to Cajamarca is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular in Peru.
We start by driving up to a pass at 3,600m (11,800 ft) that overlooks the Marañon Canyon. The road then heads down to the river through many different eco-systems.
We cross the bridge at the valley bottom at 850 m / 2,790 ft, then drive up 2,400 m / 7,900 ft to the western side of the canyon. A little beyond is the market town of Celendin, famous for its straw hats.