Karajia (sometimes spelt Carajia), about 48 km (30 miles) northwest of Chachapoyas, is known for the larger-than-life-sized sarcophagi which were sometimes the final resting places of Chachapoya nobility.
Here, standing upright, up to 2.5 m (8 ft) tall, they are bullet-shaped structures made of mud, wood, and straw, topped with an oversized head, colorfully painted, and placed in ledges high on cliffs. Characteristically, each sarcophagus has a face painted to look out over the valley below.
Inside, there were mummies and offerings, long since removed by looters and archaeologists, but the sarcophagi remain, eerily staring out into the distance, in several places – Karajia, with six intact sarcophagi, is the easiest to visit. (Sarcophagi in other areas were also made of stone.)
It it thought that the sarcophagi of Karajia contained the highest officials from the fortress of Kuelap. Archaeologists believe that the characters with a skull on their head were warriors; while the symbols on one of the sarcophagi points to one of them being a woman.
There are also less elaborate, smaller sarcophagi - containing lesser dignitaries - in the area ... along with numerous other ruins.
The Chachapoya always buried their important dead high up, in difficult to access locations, looking towards the rising sun or a village, and close to water. The remoteness of the location meant that it was not until 1985 that an excursion led by Federico Kauffmann Doig was successful in finding these sarcophagi.
How to Visit: Along with the fortress of Kuelap, the sarcophagi of Karajia are a real highlight of the Chachapoyas region and so included in all Peru North itineraries here:
- Kuelap & Gocta Express (6D itinerary)
- Tarapoto & Gocta 7D
- Chiclayo - Cajamarca 6D / 7D / 8D
- Chiclayo - Tarapoto 8D
- Tarapoto - Chiclayo 8D
- Trujillo - Tarapoto 12D
- Tarapoto - Trujillo 12D
Included in most visits to Karajia is a short detour to Quiocta Caves, a series of subterranean chambers, descending 545 m (1,788 ft) underground, that were also used by the Chachapoya culture as a burial site.
As well as ancient bones - and many bats and their guano! - the seven caverns have very impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, created by the flow of water through the limestone rock in this part of the Andes Mountains. Seeing the weird and wonderful shapes created by Nature, it is not hard to see why the Chachapoya considered the place to be sacred.
It is advisable to bring a good head torch, as there is no electric light in the caves; Wellington boots can be rented at the entrance.