Hiking to Gocta waterfall was one of the highlights of my trip to northern Peru. It’s reported by some to be the third highest free-leaping waterfall in the world and by others to be tenth or even sixteenth highest in the world! Whatever the case, the falls are very spectacular and the hike to it is through beautiful cloud forest. In fact, they were kept secret by the local people until 2006 when a German scientist viewed them and persuaded the Peruvian government that they be measured.
Gocta Falls is only about two hours from Chachapoyas, in northern Peru. The best way to see it is to hire one of the tourist services in Chachapoyas. I used Raymillacta Travel, located right on the Plaza. This tour is not very expensive, about 40 soles, including a guide. The guides typically speak only Spanish. A van picked us up at the tour agency.
We traveled to the small village of Cocachimba where the hike begins. Our small group included two young women who were in the Peace Corps in Peru and me.
Once in Cocachimba, we met our guide and left on our hike. The hike to the Gocta Falls takes anywhere from 2 to 3 hours (about 5.5 km or 3.5 miles each way) depending on what kind of condition you are in. It is not really an easy hike; there is a lot of up and down and it gets hot and humid. Remember to take lots of water, sun block, and snacks.
If you prefer, you can rent a horse for 25 soles round trip. We were passed by quite a few people using this option, probably because the return hike is a steep climb and seems more difficult than going in. It is important to realize, however, that the horses are not allowed to go to the end of the trail, so riders still have to hike 30-50 minutes.
Initially, we walked through agricultural fields for about an hour and then we moved into the very beautiful cloud forest area. We had initially seen the falls from the village and enjoyed more views of them from time to time on the trail.
We were lucky enough to see a toucan, which the guide pointed out to us, way up in the canopy. The toucans are heard much more often than they are seen so we thought we were quite lucky to have seen one.
I was there in June of 2011 and there was a modest flow in the stream. The base of the falls is very beautiful and those who bring swimsuits can enjoy a swim. I did not have one so I just walked around the base of the falls, cooling off in its spray. Our guide pointed out some fossils in the area and told a story of a mermaid who is said to live in the pool, her silver hair spilling over the edge of the lowest section. Some of the locals believe she may be angry about foreigners coming to the falls.
I think the hike is well worth it because of the natural beauty of the area. Out of all the things to do when visiting Chachapoyas, this is the second most interesting after visiting the fortress of Kuelap.
My wife arrived in Lima after I’d been traveling in the south of Peru and the central Andes for over a month. She gets sick at high altitudes so she decided to avoid that part of the trip. We had made plans to travel together along the north coast of Peru and then into the northern Andes for a month before I had left. I had bought a small laptop computer to take with me so we stayed in contact using Skype.
Once she arrived, we spent a few days in Lima so she could get acclimatized before we headed up the north coast of Peru to Chiclayo. We decide to break the trip up here since it already took us twelve hours on a bus just to get here. We chose to travel with Cruz del Sur since they have the most comfortable buses.
We had stopped in Chiclayo on our 2009 trip to South America, so we were familiar with it. We rather enjoyed the city and the small simple hotel we stayed. The real draw of the area, however, is the nearby ancient ruins and the fantastic museum in Lambayeque.
From Chiclayo to Chachapoyas, we chose Movil Tours bus company. The journey took us all night. Make sure when buying tickets you get the seats on the first floor (bus cama or sleeper seats) not the more rigid seats upstairs. The cama seats are more expensive but always worth the extra money if you are traveling for extended periods of time.
It seemed like a near-fatal mistake we made when purchasing our tickets to Chachapoyas. We were really uncomfortable the first few hours until passengers started getting off and we could spread out. We are tall North Americans and the seats were very cramped for us, plus we had two small packs we kept on our laps for security purposes.
We arrived in Chachapoyas at the crack of dawn. We then dug out our Lonely Planet guide book and picked out a hotel to stay at. Los Orquideas was our first choice and, at 6 AM, the kindly manager was awakened by the cabbie and graciously gave us a room. This really nice hotel could only put us up for one night. The next day we found another enjoyable hotel in the center of town, La Casona Mosante, housed in beautiful old colonial mansion.