Catarata de Gocta

Top choice

This 771m waterfall somehow escaped the notice of the Peruvian government, international explorers and prying satellite images until 2002, 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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby attractions

1. Catarata Yumbilla

7.17 MILES

A tiered waterfall falling in four sections, Yumbilla, rather like Gocta, was not properly surveyed until the early 2000s. And with all the recent…

2. Huancas

10.47 MILES

The tiny and agreeably unkempt village of Huancas (pronounced like the English ‘wankers’!) has a small artisan community making clay pots the old…

3. Mirador Cañón del Sonche

10.54 MILES

The joy of this steep-sided canyon that cuts like a deep gash through the Northern Highlands is that you’re barely aware it’s there until you are…

4. Caverna de Quiocta

10.85 MILES

This large cave is 545m long and guards a spooky selection of stalagmites, stalactites and other trippy rock formations. Also visible around the entrance…

5. Karajía

13.19 MILES

This extraordinary funerary site hosts six sarcophagi perched high up a sheer cliff face. Each long-faced tomb is constructed from wood, clay and straw…

6. Huembo Interpretation Center

13.22 MILES

This interpretation center 15 minutes west of the village of San Lucas de Pomacochas maintains feeders on a private reserve that attracts the Marvelous…

7. Mirador Luya Urco

13.97 MILES

A 10-minute stroll northwest along Salamanca brings you to this modest lookout with a city panorama.

8. Instituto Nacional de Cultura Museo

14.18 MILES

This small museum on the Plaza de Armas houses mummies found throughout the region, plus ceramics from several pre-Columbian periods and one of the…