The Amazonas town of Chachapoyas, in the north of Peru, is a great base to explore nearby towns, ruins and natural sights making it an ideal extension to your Peruvian tour. Located at 2,235 meters above sea level, the city is isolated from the coast and other neighboring mountainous regions. In the proximity of the Amazon jungle, the climate is subtropical . Sugar cane, coffee, and orchids grow naturally and in abundance in this area.
The actual location of Chachapoyas altered several times over the centuries until it moved to its present site in approximately 1545. The market town preserves much of its original Spanish-style colonial “casonas” and tiled rooftops.
This busy town with a population of approximately 20,000, is relatively small, making it easy to get around on foot. You can visit the quadrilateral shaped Plaza de Armas, surrounded by cafes and markets or stroll to Plaza Santa Ana, the site of the first church. This very same plaza was also used to mark San Juan de los Indios with eight consecutive days of bullfighting.
June to August is the most popular period to visit, which coincides with the dry season. The aptly named Tourist Week, is held in the first week of June and is honored by a large colorful parade. A festival honoring the Virgin of Asunta, the patron saint, is held during the first two weeks during August.
While much remains the same, some things have changed. The Kuelap stadium now stands where a large lagoon, surrounded by palm trees and totoras once dominated the landscape.
The Chachapoya people date back to 750AD. The name Chachapoyas comes from the Quechua word ‘sacha’ and ‘puyus’ meaning cloud forest, from which the nickname of ‘cloud people’ or ‘warriors of the clouds’ was coined. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century, the Incas had already conquered the Chachapoyas, and so little is known about their accomplishments or their beliefs. What we do know is based on fragmented second-hand accounts and archeological evidence obtained from the ruins, pottery, tombs and other artifacts.
By the 18th Century, the majority of the Chachapoyas tribe had been destroyed. The Chachapoya have many similarities to other Andean cultures. In particular, the funeral architecture and sarcophagi can be likened to the coastal civilizations of Tiahuanaco and Huari.
Popular culture has put the Chachapoyas firmly on the map. Indiana Jones fans will recall that in ‘The Raiders of the Lost Ark’, Indiana is searching a booby-trapped Chachapoyas Temple for a golden idol. While in the archeological novel ‘Inca Gold’ by Clive Cussler, the Chachapoyas play a significant role in the story.
The inaccessibility of the majority of local sights and ruins means that very few visitors come to this part of Northern Peru and you can therefore experience a real sense of exploration and wonder. You can go off in search of the nearby Yumbilla (895.4m) and Gocta Waterfalls (711m) to admire the beauty of the coffee fields, valleys, and the spectacular cloud forest. And as you hike, be sure to look out for colorful birds, butterflies and maybe even a monkey or two! Gocta has a collection of interesting geologic features and is situated near a picturesque lake into which runs the nearby river. Here you can relax before making your way back.
Looking for more things to do? The Lagoon of the Mummies is a complex of six mausoleums representative of the Chachapoyas. The mummies and other associated finds are now housed in the nearby Leymebamba Museum. A selection of mummies can also be viewed in the Chachapoyas’ Regional Culture Museum, overlooking the Chachapoyas plaza.
Karajia is a spectacular funerary site featuring sarcophagi built directly into a ledge. The wooden figures were assembled in the 15th century to bury important Chachapoyas leaders. These six capsule-like statues, made of straw, clay and mud, overlook the wall of the cliff and the beautiful countryside beyond. The tour can also be combined with Pueblo de los Muertos or the Quiocta Cavern, a limestone cave with amazing stalagmites and stalactites and grand open spaces .
Kuelap, often called the Machu Picchu of the north, is the largest stone structure in South America. This fortified city constructed by the Chachapoyas contains more than 450 stone houses and is located on a mountain higher than Machu Picchu. It was erected as a defense and has 20 meter high walls and only one access corridor allowing only one person entering at a time. Interesting flora and fauna from hummingbirds to orchids, skunks to bromeliads rise from the ruins. It sits high above the Utcubamba Valley at about 3,000 meters above sea level.
The Chachapoyas culture survives in the archeological remains and ruins that surround the city of Chachapoyas.