Catarata de Gocta

Top choice waterfall in Northern Highlands

Image by Alexander Chiu Werner Getty Images

This 771m waterfall somehow escaped the notice of the Peruvian government, international explorers and prying satellite images until 2005, when German Stefan Ziemendorff and a group of locals put together an expedition to map the falls. Various claims ranging from the third-loftiest waterfall on earth to the 15th highest resulted in an international firestorm. Whatever its rank, Gocta is mighty impressive and, thanks to a web of well-signposted, forested trails, it's now pretty accessible, too.

To get to the falls from Chachapoyas, catch an ETSA combi (minibus) heading toward Pedro Ruíz (S3, 45 minutes) and get off at Cocahuayaco (a bridge on the main road). Mototaxis (three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaw taxis) usually wait here offering to take hikers up to the villages of Cocachimba (5.3km) or San Pablo (6km) for S10. Alternatively, you can hike up to either village. San Pablo provides best access to the upper falls. Cocachimba is the start of the trail to the lower falls. Both villages have community tourist offices where you must pay your entrance fee. Cocachimba has more in the way of places to stay and eat.

For a full day out, it's possible to visit both the upper and lower falls on one 15km circuit. Start in San Pablo village, from where a 6km trail leads to the base of the 231m-high upper cascade. Double back on the same path for 1.8km and then turn left heading down the mountain to a fantastic lookout with a clear view of both cascades, and then across a suspension bridge to the base of the taller 540m-high lower falls. From here you exit along the main trail to Cocachimba (6.2km), where you can catch a mototaxi back to Cocahuayco. From the road bridge, combis for Chachapoyas pass every 30 minutes.

For die-hard athletes wanting to do the full circuit, starting and finishing in Cocahuaycos, you're looking at a 26km hike over hilly, sometimes-muddy terrain. Start early.


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