Chachapoyas, the cloud forest kingdom of northern Peru
Rugged, verdant and hauntingly beautiful, the region was also home to the Chachapoyas warrior people.
They were never conquered by the Incas — though not for want of trying — and left behind some amazing archeological remains, including sarcophagi perched precariously in the middle of cliff-faces.
Peru is rightly a world-famous tourist destination. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get right off the beaten path here, including to see both awe-inspiring archeological sites and breathtaking landscapes. And one of the best regions in the entire country to do that is Chachapoyas, the region of dense cloud forest in northern Peru that was once home to the Chachapoyas warrior people, one of the few cultures in the Andes to successfully resist the all-conquering Inca Empire.
The most famous Chachpoyas ruin is the mountain-top fortress of Kuélap, which rivals Machu Picchu in both scale and splendor but has received just a fraction of the visitors — although that may change with the inauguration of a new cable car. Yet the Chachapoyas people left their region dotted with archeological remains including their utterly spectacular funerary practice of leaving the mummified remains of important dignitaries in sarcophagi, standing or sitting vertically, on small ledges in the middle of blank cliff faces. Archeologists still debate how the Chachapoyas people did this although the consensus seems to be that using hand-woven, natural fiber ropes, they rappelled down the cliffs rather than climbing up them.
Probably the best known today are those of Karajía, which require a brief walk from the end of the road. Standing some 2.5m high, they have been placed in an inaccessible cave in the middle of a cliff that would have required some death-defying daring to reach. Made of clay, sticks and grass, these sarcophagi are painted with white, red and yellow natural pigments. Inside each one, curled in the fetal position, is the remains of a Chachapoyas adult.
Another must-see sight in Chachapoyas is the Gocta waterfalls, one of the highest in the world, at a mindboggling 770 meters. Watching white jets of water crashing over the cliff edge and ever downwards, amid clouds of mist and against a backdrop of lush cloud forest, is an unforgettable sight. Yet perhaps most amazingly, although well known to locals, Gocta only came to be discovered by outsiders in 2005, when a German-Peruvian team of explorers happened upon it. Today, there are two different hikes to the foot of the falls. Both are rigorous, with one taking around half-a-day, while the other starts from higher up and takes about three hours there and back. Bring a raincoat!.
To visit Gocta or Karajía as part of your unique, individually tailored Peru itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.