Chachopoyas is pretty far off the beaten path. It is in the region of the Peruvian Amazon. But if you are imagining dense Amazon forest that is not the case. It is a typical South American town in a valley.
We elected to fly first to Trujillo then bus to Chachopoyas which was a 14 hour ride. There is no way to get to Chachopoyas that doesn’t involve a long bus ride unless you have a car, there is no airport or train station.
We decided on Chachopoyas so we could visit the pre-Inca site of Kuelap. The Chachopoyas people inhabited the area for hundreds of years before the Inca arrived in the late 1400s. The Inca were an invading force who took over the area. They used forced relocation of many of the people and slavery to control the Chachopoyas people. About 70 years later the Spanish arrived and sadly the Chachopoyas people decided to side with the Spanish against the Inca. You can imagine how this worked out. The Spanish continued the forced relocation of the people and within 200 years 90% of the people had died.
The site of Kuelap itself is really vast, the excavated part we visited was really interesting and the location is lovely. It was about two and a half hours from the town of Chachopoyas so it was definitely a commitment. We learned from our fellow traveler from the US about a strike of the bus drivers near Machu Picchu during the time we have been in Peru so both Brad and I are glad we selected Chachopoyas versus Machu Picchu. Of course we had considered revisiting but since we had already been there we made other plans, thankfully!
The down side to our visit to Kuelap was that both Brad and I ate food that didn’t agree with us and we ended up in bed for two days recovering. We have been really lucky so far. Brad got food poisoning on our cruise off the coast of Turkey a few months back, I avoided problems by not eating the luke warm vegetables and rice the restaurant we were at offered, but this time around I had no such luck. But we only missed on site we hoped to see, a big waterfall named Gocta, but later we learned that the falls are not so big right now because it is the dry season so maybe we didn’t miss too much.
We also visited a really creepy and big cave called Caverna de Quiocta. We walked back into the cave about 500 meters which is roughly a third of a mile. It was really muddy in areas and the mud was so thick and sticky our boots would get basically glued to the ground and in order to release them a kind of twisting motion was required. Brad did really well in the cave I unfortunately stepped where I shouldn’t have and ended up about one foot deep into mud and water. Fortunately I was able to twist my stuck boot and with a hand up from Brad dislodge myself. I just ended up with mud in a few spots but it was concerning. It was creepy to have my foot stuck a foot below where the rest of me was. There was a guy with us who fell a bunch of times and the first time he fell he dunked his camera lens fully in the mud. I felt bad for him but after a while it was so dark our cameras couldn’t take very good shots anyway. The cave also was a burial spot for the Moche people and there were many skeletons there plus a neat pottery head of the guardian of the cave. The skeletons and pottery are about 2000 years old.
Our guide had us turn off all of our headlamps and just “be” one with the cave for about one minute. It was pretty awful for me and really unfun. Plus I am sure I heard either a bat or a rat squeak. So there was that.Overall the cave experience is one I have had before a few times and hope not to repeat. I don’t care for the clammy feeling of a cave, or the sense that it could collapse at anytime. It was worth it but as we came close to the cave opening at the end of our time there I felt relieved.
We also visited Karajai Sarcofago which is a historic site perched on a cliff. Six sarcophagus are located there and they seem pretty neat to look at. To get there we hiked down a hill about one kilometer. I liked the site a lot, it was also fun to see the villages on the way in and to see the ladies who offer horse rides to lazy tourists who can’t make it up the rather steep one kilometer hike back up. The ladies lead the horses up then lead them back down several times daily with no problem at all. They are very strong. At least three of the horses had ponies so that was fun to see. We also stopped to say hello to a farmer who was working his field. He is 105 years old and his wife is 102 but we didn’t get to meet her because she hiked up to the village to make a purchase.
According to our guide the women in that area are responsible for husbandry and the men handle the fields. Years ago we had a guide explain to us that in the area of Peru we were in the girls worked as shepherds and the boys were sent to school. And in fact we did see many girls herding sheep and cows. Some of the girls were pretty young. Perhaps 8 years old.I had thought that being in the mountains we would have fresh air but I was wrong. The pollution in Peru is really awful. The air can been seen and they don’t seem to have a system for waste disposal. We saw many area where trash is just dumped on the side of the road. Massive heaps of trash. And they burn trash sometimes and the slash and burn fields. The smoke is pretty thick in the air all the time and it smells smokey. It burns my eyes.
Chachopoyas has many historic sites nearby but the town has little to offer. So if you visit plan your tours and you will have a fine time.