Chachapoyas may just be one of the most underrated traveller destinations in Peru. Few make the stop on their way down to capital Lima and as a result, this cloud forest city sees far fewer backpackers than it deserves.
Situated 2,335m above sea level, the city and surrounding areas have long kept their secrets from the wider world. For backpackers looking to break from the Gringo trail, Chachapoyas offers some of the most stunning natural wonders in the country as well as some truly fascinating archaeological sites.
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Best Time to Visit Chachapoyas
The city benefits from a subtropical highland climate with average temperatures of around 18 Degree Celsius. This means it is a welcome escape from the harsh sun that characterises many of the coastal regions. May to September is the dry season which is the best time for hiking.
Owing to the surrounding cloud forest, it frequently rains in Chachapoyas and the weather can change dramatically so always make sure you are armed with a waterproof jacket to avoid being caught out.
Things to do in Chachapoyas
Explore the City centre
Despite being the capital of the Amazonas Region, Chachapoyas manages to avoid the chaos that tends to typify Peruvian cities. Instead, it exudes a more chilled out vibe which gives it a really nice feel.
The city itself is characterised by its colonial past and it is clear to see the Spanish influence in the buildings. Whilst there is nothing in the way of jaw-dropping attractions within the city, the undulating back streets and main square offer pleasant walks and the chance to take in a quaint and pretty city.
Known as the ‘Northern Machu Picchu’ Kuélap is an impressive citadel located in mountainous cloud forest around an hour from the city. Built by the Chachapoyas civilisation in the 6th century AD, this citadel is located a towering 3000 m above sea level!
While it only gets a relatively small number of visitors in comparison to Peru’s other historical sites, a trip to this walled settlement is well worth it! Read more about a visit to Kuélap, Peru.
Visit the Sarcophagi of Karajia
Karajia is home to cliffside mummies from the Chachapoyas culture which frequently attracts visitors. The mummies themselves are in sarcophagi which have been sculpted to resemble human figures.
The location of the mummies means that they have not been disturbed by grave robbers as they are nearly impossible to reach. Bear this in mind when visiting as you can only view them from afar.
See the Quiocta Caverns
There are six connected caverns here which lead deep inside the mountains. As you would expect, there are both stalagmites and stalactites inside as well as some unexplained human bones. Wear wellies as the caverns are very muddy and will quickly steal less durable footwear.
Check out Gocta Waterfall
Whilst the majestic Gocta Waterfall has been known to local communities for centuries, it is a recent discovery to outsiders. 2002 marks the year that the waterfall became known to the rest of the world, during an expedition by a German and a group of Peruvians.
The waterfall is absolutely awe-striking and measures in at 771m high! There is a challenging hike to reach the base of the waterfall but the views at the end make the struggle well worth it. For those who are less physically able, it is possible to rent a horse for the first (and hardest) 3 km of the 5 km trek.
Hike the Laguna de los Cóndores
This popular three-day hike finishes at an archaeological site located in Leymebamba. The site got its name because of the massive Condors which would soar over the lagoon. The hike is notoriously tough and trekkers are recommended to do at least part of the route on horseback.
Most of these attractions can be visited independently or organised via a tour from the city. For archaeological sites, it is best to hire a guide so that you are able to learn about the history behind the attraction.
This off the beaten track town is yet to take off on the main tourism stage and doesn’t often play host to western tourists. Make sure you ask for an English guide if required.
Best Places to Stay in Chachapoyas
There are plenty of budget accommodation options dotted over the city. The best ones feature their own tour desk and are close to the main strip.
Centrally located budget hostel, Chachapoyas Backpackers is a firm favourite with visitors to the region. The staff are super friendly and there is nearly always someone who speaks English close by which makes organising tours much easier if your Spanish still needs a bit of work.
Rooms are basic but very comfortable and there is a communal kitchen and living area for socialising. If you are looking to meet other backpackers somewhere clean and comfortable, this is surely the best choice in the city. Dorms start at 20 soles per night.
Only a couple of minutes from the main square, this hostel offers basic shared or private rooms. A 24-hour desk is provided which is helpful for those early morning bus arrivals and WIFI is provided. There is a well-equipped kitchen for use although it can get quite busy. Beds in an eight-person mixed dorm start at 18 soles per night.
Known for the local knowledge of the hosts, Casa Hospedaje Burgos is a good option for travellers looking to get off the beaten track. The WIFI provided is decent and the paid breakfast is rated particularly highly with guests.
Located close to the main strip, this is a good base from which to explore Chachapoyas and the surrounding areas. A double room with a shared bathroom starts at 60 soles.
Check out more accommodation in Chachapoyas here!
How to get to Chachapoyas
Chiclayo: Located nine hours north of Chachapoyas, there are daily bus departures to this overlooked city. You’ll probably want to make Chiclayo a flying trip as the city itself is a little rough around the edges. Despite this, a day trip to the Sipán burial site is well worth a look.
Trujillo: Head over to energetic city Trujillo for your fill of Peruvian cuisine or to explore the nearby Chan Chan ruins. Located just 15 minutes outside of the city, beachside town of Huanchaco is a nice place to wind down with a chilled backpacker vibe.
Lima: The capital of Peru is the world’s second largest desert city, giving it a unique setting on a global scale. Try para-triking over Lima’s famous beaches or sipping on a Pisco Sour in one of the many bars and restaurants. Chachapoyas has an airport with regular departures to Lima and there is the option of night buses for travellers on a tighter budget.