Northern Peru - The Secrets of Chachapoyas, Kuelap and Gotca Falls

By Gary Sargent

If you are taking a Peru vacation, you should consider the less visited North of the country. Peru is not just about Machu Picchu; there is so much more!

Chachapoyas - The Spanish Stronghold

Included in the secrets of the North is Chachapoyas, one of Peru's oldest cities with a long history and its colonial Spanish influence. This small town is located in beautiful northern Peru and its name is derived from the Chachapoyacuno, a native word meaning "mountain of mist or forest". It was originally founded on September 5, 1538 by Alonso De Alvarado and was the capital of the whole of Eastern Peru during colonial times as it served as a staging post for expeditions intended for colonizing and conquering the Amazon Jungle.

The city has remained fairly isolated until relatively recently when better roads were built connecting it with major coastal cities such as Chiclayo, Trujillo and Piura. The climate and surrounding spectacular mountain ranges make Chachapoyas a unique and beautiful destination. The colonial Spanish influence is still evident by the existence of large colonial mansions with their red clay tiled roofs, patios and wooden balconies with their surrounding orchards and gardens, and fields of sugar cane and coffee.

Around Chachapoyas

There are many attractions for tourists in and around the city of Chachapoyas. The city has three plazas which are linked by Victory Street, named after the victorious Chachapoyanos who paraded through the city on this avenue after famous battles. The main square in the city is called Saint Anna's square and is where the first church of the city was built. Historically eight days of bullfighting took place in this square during the San Juan de los Indios festivities. In the east of the city Independence Square is to be found where a monument stands to the Chachapoyan heroes from the battle of the Higos Urco that took place on June 6, 1821.

Other attractions close to the city include the Cuyana fountain which is located on the hill known as Luya Urco just west of the city. This fountain is legendary as it has a water-well sunk into a rock from which Santo Toribo de Mogrovia was able to draw water, ending a drought that was affecting the region. It is also considered a fountain of love as they say any man who drinks from the fountain will be eternally attractive to the women of the city. Anything goes with the desperate...

The Ancient Citadel of Kuelap

There are also many important archeological monuments in the areas surrounding the town that were built by the Chachapoyans. Some of these are ancient stone citadels that were built on the tops of mountains with commanding views and leaving more land open for cultivation. One of the best examples of one of these citadels is Kuelap which is three miles from the village of Tingo and one hour by dirt road from Chachapoyas.

Kuelap is a colossal structure containing millions of cubic feet of stone and presumed to have taken 200 years to construct. Its strategic location between the Marañon and Utcubamba Rivers, both tributaries of the mighty Amazon, has contributed to the fact that it still stands today. At 9,843 feet above sea level, it can be reached by car, horseback or a three to four hour hike. The main group of buildings are circular with one main access corridor, designed for maximum security and defense. Inside the huge outer walls there are over 400 buildings in total, some of which are small round stone houses with some of the larger ones measuring up to 1,969 feet long and 66 feet high. Many towers for defense were strategically placed around the complex to protect the inside and outside of the citadel from invaders.

The Waterfalls of Gotca

Gotca Falls, located a couple of hours from Chachapoyas, remained unknown to the wider world until an expedition in 2002 led by Stefan Ziemendorf, a German engineer, and a group of Peruvian explorers re-discovered it. At a height of 2,532 feet, Gotca Falls is the third highest waterfall in the world if you consider its two stage drops together. The scenery is spectacular and the 3 hour hike to the middle of the falls is well worth the effort, as you are able to stand under the torrent at the bottom of the first drop.

The Gotca falls are produced as the Cocahuayco River runs over a sharp cliff face from a high plateau and falls for the first thousand feet to a large ledge which interrupts the torrent. The river waters then meander a short distance through vegetation and fall over the side of the second cliff to continue the decent to the base of the canyon.

Although this region is relatively new to tourism, many Peruvian travel agencies have developed tours for people with an interest in archeology and a sense of adventure. A tour through the landscape and history of Peru's little known northern region can make for a magical and enchanting vacation, one that few people have had the opportunity to experience.

Gary Sargent
Article by Gary Sargent
Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and has lived in South America since 1998. Gary is passionate about life here, the people, customs and places. For more Peru travel advice or to book your next Peru vacation, visit Gary's website at

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