Chachapoyas is a region and town in northern central Peru, it is also the name of the pre-Incan inhabitants of the region. The main town of Chachapoyas is easily reached by bus and I travelled here from Trujillo which was a comfortable 12hr night-bus journey. The town itself is set in the mountains and the surrounding area is green and lush. There are a number of things to see and do in the area but given the distances between them it can be quite difficult to visit the different sites unless you have your own transport or go on a tour. The tours I went on were however fairly cheap and the places we went to were well worth it.
After arriving at around 6am in the morning myself and a couple of friends that I had made when I got off the bus were able to join a trip to Kuelap that left the same morning at 8am. Kuelap is an ancient stone city that is located about a two hour drive from the town of Chachapoyas and is the largest pre-Incan ruins in South America. The ruins are in good condition with impressive 12m walls still standing and a number of houses and other buildings still in reasonable condition, of course there has been some reconstruction as well. The ruined city is set atop a mountain with impressive views in all directions to the surrounding Andes mountain ranges. The site attracts a fair amount of tourist but nothing compared Machu Picchu. It’s really a full day trip as you need at least a couple of hours to explore the ruins and it is about a 1km walk up hill from the carpark.
The following day we visited the burial caves in Quiocta and saw some unique local sarcophagus burials in Karajila. Quiocta was the first stop and is about a one and a half hour drive from Chachapoyas through some very scenic mountains. Once there it is about a 15 minute walk down into a little valley where the entrance to the cave is, before heading down we were fitted-out with some gumboots and a flashlight which both were essential. There were a couple of burial sites within the cave where the human bones and skulls were clearly visible. Further into the cave there were some impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is pretty muddy and at times you have to take care not to face plant into the mud. It was a cool place to visit and the guide was quite informative but I can’t help but think it should be a little better managed or restricted as for the most part you are able to walk wherever you want, trudging through the mud and small creeks running through the cave. All of this would put a lot of strain on the internal environment within the cave and I’m sure that the tourism here is definitely damaging the cave and negatively effecting the internal eco-system.
After some lunch in a nearby village we then drove onto Karajila. From the small town above the gorge it was at times a step walk down to the lookout. If you don’t think you are up for the walk the locals can offer you a mule to take you down and back again for a few soles. There are three or four different burials that are visible in the cliff face, one of which is very impressive. The burial sarcophagi were not the traditional burial method for all of the Chachapoya people but for those of this surrounding region it is something they practiced for some time. This site is the easiest to visit but apparently there are some others that have been discovered deeper in the jungle.
It would be easy to spend more than a week exploring this area given the number of archeological sites, waterfalls and treks but if you’re limited for time you want at least three days so you have time to see a bit of what the area has to offer.
After Chachapoyas I back-tracked to Trujillo and explored Chan-Chan and Huaca del Sol.