From Chachapoyas to Yurimaguas

Posted on May 8, 2014


Back in Peru already for some days, enjoying sun, beach and delicious food in Mancora, it was time to travel in-land again. First stop Chachapoyas, a small city in the Amazon Region and vantage point to explore waterfalls and Pre-Inca ruins in the surrounding area. We found a room in a nice old colonial style hotel, directly at the main square. We were quite surprised when we stepped out of our hotel on the next day, and a huge parade took place around the square with all local kids participating. Although we couldn’t really find out what exactly they were celebrating, it was interesting to see the perfectly drilled kids and their teachers lining up and doing some military-like marching around the square, with lots of people gathering around and watching. After the drill was over, kids got treated with an ice cream and hung out at the square, again funny to watch and perfect for some snapshots.

All kids of Chachapoyas…

are perfectly lined up…

for the parade around the main square…

and get rewarded with ice cream.

Since we wanted to use our time most effectively, we quickly signed up for a tour to the famous waterfalls of Gocta and for the following day a tour to the ruins of the Pre-Inca city of Kuélap. There wasn’t really many tourists in town, so our group to the waterfalls was rather small, with one couple from Belgium and one other guy. It didn’t take too long to reach the starting point for an about an hour walk to the waterfalls. The weather was really nice at first, but once we got closer to Gocta it got more and more cloudy and grey. We did see an old acquaintance on the way, the colourful bird “cock of the rock” we had watched earlier on our trip in Mindo, Ecuador. We also got to know the Belgium couple a bit, which travelled a similar route as we did and was also on the way to the jungle metropolis of Iquitos. We talked with them about travelling and life and felt a bit as if we would meet them again.

Mountains around Gocta

Walk towards the impressive Gocta waterfalls

At night, when we hung out at the hotel we watched a local dance group, performing for an American party. The dancers used different costumes and performed many different dances accompanied by some local live music. The show was of course very touristic, but still had its charm and we, as hotel guests, were fortunate enough to enjoy it for free. Later that night, we were about to go to bed when we heard a strange rustling in our room and had a suspicion for what could be responsible for the sounds. After having a mouse in a camper-van in Australia, we knew how it sounds when the rodent tries to open plastic bags to get to its contents. When we turned on the lights, we caught the mouse in action and it quickly disappeared behind the closet. We packed all our belongings in our backpacks and closed them, knowing the mouse would return from its hiding place once we would turn off the light. We also thought that the mouse would have a tunnel behind the closet and that this was the way it was coming from. That proofed to be wrong when after some minutes the mouse started to gnaw on the wooden wall behind the cupboard, obviously trapped there and trying to dig a new tunnel. Hard to imagine, but it was really noisy, when it bit big chunks out of the old wood. We decided to be quiet and leave the light on for a moment, Camilla was not up for having a mouse in the room for the night, which could possibly walk over her once she was sleeping, so we had to either catch it or get it out of the room. Arnold waited next to the closet in total silence and it took only some minutes before the mouse gave up on the wall and came walking out of its hideout. It passed Arnold ‘s feet, without noticing him at all and was on the way to the backpacks again. Once the mouse was close to the door Arnold walked towards it and the rodent slipped through the crack under the door out into the hallway. Quickly we taped the crack under the door, with the oh-so useful duct tape from our travel utensils and we had a quiet night ahead of us. Once more though we got reminded not to have any food in our room, even if it is packed good and the ho(s)tel generally looks clean.

Local dance performance in our hotel

Our breakfast

After a good nights sleep we were early up for the second day-tour, this time to the Pre-Inca fortress of Kuélap. It was a long drive in a mini-bus deep into the mountains, passing only a few tiny villages along our way. People there live quite isolated, far away from the next big city and the region is said to be one of the poorest in Peru. Nevertheless people there seem to live a happy life with the little they have and the kids there were very natural.

Mountains and valleys near Kuélap

Kids playing, using a simple plank as a slide

In one of the villages we stopped for lunch and sat together with the other tourists, this time there were more Peruvian people in our group. They were all very nice and the mood was relaxed in the group, lead by an enthusiastic local guide, who did his job very well. Once we were at the ruins he explained the small city of the Chachapoyas culture, which was at one point taken over by the Incas. The giant walls of the fortress were impressive and the location was stunning. There were only a hand full of people at the not so well-known ruins and with standing there at the highest point of the surrounding area in almost silence, it wasn’t too hard to imagine life here some hundred years earlier.

Our guide explains the city structure

Entrance to the ruins

The omnipresent lama

Remains of the house walls and a replica of a house of Kuélap

The typical patterns of the Chachapoyas

Human bones hidden in one of the walls of Kuélap

Exit through a tight corridor and view over the surrounding valleys


It had been a long but nice day and we got back to our hotel late in the evening. The next morning we had to make the bus to Yurimaguas, from where we planned to travel by boat to the jungle city of Iquitos. The bus ride lasted the whole day and due to road work we were not able to reach Yurimaguas that day. The buses final stop that night was at Tarapoto, a larger city about two hours from Yurimaguas. There was no more buses to Yurimaguas at that hour and we were forced to stay over night and take the bus the following morning. We got up early, not to lose any more time and a moto-taxi brought us to the “bus station”, which was no more than a taxi stand, with drivers fighting over the customers and claiming it was the only way to get to Yurimaguas. Anyway, we arranged a fair price and in addition the driver promised to drop us at the harbour, from where we could directly board a boat leaving to Iquitos. As soon as we had one more passenger for the taxi (they fill them up before they leave) we were set and could leave. The drive was exhausting, with as many turns as you can imagine and the third passenger did not handle them so well. The poor boy was throwing up all along the way and we were happy to finally reach the port of Yurimaguas, where a big crowd of touts awaited us…