Recommendations to explore Kuelap, Gocta & around
Looking to explore the undiscovered jungle of Peru? Well, here we have some very practical tips to backpack to and around the Northern Highlands. For stunning views, the most recommendable route to reach Chachapoyas, the capital of the Amazonas in the Northern Highlands, is through Chiclayo. Take a bus from Lima to Chiclayo, and then another bus from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas.
From Lima it will take you around 10 hours by bus to get to Chiclayo, costing around US$ 30. From Chiclayo the bus ride will take you around 12 more hours to reach Chachapoyas.
So how many days do you need for this adventurous experience?
This depends on how you travel; on a time schedule, or wondering freely around without any constraints. Let’s look at both options. If you want to take a quick tour visiting only some of the highlights we can recommend you to stay 5 to 6 days, visiting at least Chachapoyas, the fortress in Kuelap and the Gocta Waterfall. These three places mark the must-sees while backpacking in the north!
But if you are looking for a more Indiana Jones alike experience, visit also places like thhe Great Vilaya Valley and the Lake of Condors. You can stay at least 2 weeks highly entertained in this challenging terrain!
Let’s give you some practical pointers on how exactly to get around in the Northern Highlands.
How to hop from A to B in the Northern Highlands
The capital of this region is Chachapoyas. We also take this as the starting point to get to all the different places in the Northern Highlands (described below). In this city you will find plenty of locl touristic agencies that could take you to all the below spots, so feel free to arrive without an agenda or previously purchased tours.
The fortress of Kuelap
In this location you’ll find a great fortress, also known as the Machu Picchu of the north. This is worth a full day trip from Chachapoyas. To get to the fortress, take a local bus from Chachapoyas to the town of Tingo. Here your journey starts; a 2,5 hour trek (8 kilometres) to get to the fortress. The track is an adventurous and rough hike through the wild. You do not really need a guide, although some people do arrange this, mainly from Chachapoyas. Alternatively, you can take a car ride from Tingo which takes you around 1 hour to get to the fortress.
If this is intriguing for you, then check out our awesome video and article about the Northern Highlands right here!
This is one of the worlds’ highest waterfalls and worth a daytrip from Chachapoyas. The waterfall is a short bus ride north of Chachapoyas, dropping you off in Cocachimba. From that point on, you will a have a challenging hike ahead (+/- 2,5 hrs.), with a breath taking waterfall scenery as “grand finale”. Expect to see birds, butterflies, local producers of sugar cane local alcohols and the real Peruvian jungle.
Check out our great video and article of the Gocta waterfall right here!.
The Lake of Condors / Lake of Mummies
This lake is known for its 200 some mummies and more than 3000 Chachapoyas & Inca artefacts that have been found in the banks of the lake. First travel to the town of Leimebamba, which is around 3 hours south from Chachapoyas by bus or car. From here you can get to the lake on a hike of around three days Check out one of the many travel agents in the area to verify the exact times of this trek.
Gran Vilaya Valley
This almost untouched valley is covered by rough terrain, mainly accessible by walking or horse. It lies between 1 and 3 days west of Chachapoyas, depending on whether you take a bus, car or want to stretch your legs for a hike.
Revash is a full day trip from either Chachapoyas and Leimebamba. Revash is located on a 3,5 hour steep hike from the Leimebamba – Chachapoyas highway, right at the turnoff for Santo Domingo.
This is a full day trip from Chachapoyas. To get here take a minibus from Chachapoyas to the villages of Luya (50 minutes) and from there take another one via Cohechán to San Miguel de Cruzpata (another 50 minutes). From here you need to confront a 45-minute walk to reach the site. After the other walks, this should be a walk in the park for the true backpacker!
When (not) to go, hiding from the rain
Finally, beware of the rain…and with that, the roads! The climate in the mountains of the Northern Highlands is totally different than in the rest of Peru. You are basically dealing with a dry and a wet season, rather than the regular four seasons. The dry season is by far the most comfortable to travel in this region, this is between May and October.
But if you don’t mind taking the adventurous route, the wet season is great for the true adventurer as usually you won’t see that many backpackers around in this season. Keep in mind that the ancient route from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas might be temporarily closed in the wet season.
During the wet season the transport over the road can take a bit longer, as not all the roads are 100% perfectly paved yet. And yes, even these bumpier rides add to the experience of backpacking Peru, as you’ll end up finding the undiscovered secrets of The Northern Highlands!