The Chachapoyas kingdom: Lord of the Clouds and Waterfall Valley by Daniela Mendez

 

This was supposed to be a scouting trip, and it definitely was! It was a trip that exceeded all my expectations.

The Uctubamba Valley and its surroundings are full of conservation areas – this for me is a sign that things are being done well there. The local people want to conserve, by taking care of their most important non-renewable resource through watershed protection: Water.
This valley is well-known for its waterfalls and inspiring nature, endemic birds and its rich cultural traditions.


My trip began in Cusco. I took a flight to Lima and then connected on another direct flight to Jaen (flights from Lima to Jaen are are between $100 and $200 dollars for the roundtrip). We drove for about three hours from the airport to Huembo Lodge. This should be an obligatory stop for all travelers who are nature lovers. I was truly amazed by the spectacular views from this place- it’s a perfect spot in the middle of the cloud forest. I must say that binoculars are a must when visiting this area. I carried mine with me from the moment I left the airport. Huembo Ecological station is a conservation area that is well-known as habitat for a vast variety of hummingbirds, including the Marvelous Spatuletail (http://www.owletlodge.org/huembo-lodge/ ). I kept seeing many hummingbirds- believe me when I say many! There were flying all around, eating from their feeders – the lodge staff knew we were coming so they filled the feeders to keep them feeding and hovering around. We enjoyed a nice healthy snack there, including local cheese and fruits.

We then continued our way to Abra Patricia, reaching the Owlet Lodge (from Huembo to Owlet Lodge is one hour – http://www.owletlodge.org/owlet-lodge/ ) . This lodge is very comfortable, clean, and full of birds and nature. We took an hour-long hike that afternoon to the canopy tower, where the view was terrific. Coming back to the lodge we spotted an Agouti and a Swallow-tailed Nightjar.

We decided to wake up at around 5 am to go birdwatching around the property, along the Grallaria Trail, a gentle slope of about 2 kilometers. Immersed in the cloud forest, we observed many endemic birds and local plants. After a fine day of scouting the area, visiting other conservation projects, lakes and farms, and a cheese tasting, we reached Cocachimba, where Gocta Waterfall is located. We had decided to stay at a super-nice boutique lodge, Gocta Natura http://www.goctanatura.com/en/our-cabins/ . This is an eco-friendly lodge that offers nature lovers exclusive, personalized services. They feature five boutique-style cabins with a privileged view of Gocta Waterfall. They open their house so that visiting guests can enjoy the views, the food and share time with the owners. Breakfast was served at the house next morning. I was amazed; home-made bread, marmalade and cheese. The fresh blueberry juice was absolutely delicious. Everything was highlighted by special touches – the house seemed to be out of a dream!

The hike to Gocta takes about three hours to the main waterfall. It’s easy, and there are some very nice rest spots where you can take great pictures after only an hour of hiking.

The cable cars at Kuelap are located an hour-and-a-half ride south from Cocachimba. The Telecabinas at Kuelap were the first cable cars built in Peru. Their operations and guest services are excellent. The ticket is bought directly there. From the main station you can take a bus (cost included with the cable car ticket) which takes you to their plataform to board the cable car– they’re very strict with their timing. Buses depart every 10 minutes, from 8 am to 4 pm. Definitely, the visit to Kuelap Fortress should begin with this journey. We then reached the check point where we bought the entrance ticket and walked for about 20 minutes up to the fortress – it’s a gentle uphill hike (you can rent a horse here). The entire fortress is amazing, and very well protected and conserved. I did not see any garbage on the ground, and all the tourists and groups inside were following the paths. My first impression was very positive. The local people are well-organized and willing to receive more people. I was very surprised with the punctuality at the cable cars.

We had the chance to visit Milpuj La Heredad for lunch (from Kuelap to Milpuj it’s 30 minutes by car). This place is a conservation area. Lola, the owner, along with her son Perico gave us a very warm welcome. Lunch was homemade pumpkin soup, fresh lemonade and some ollucos (a dish of traditional Peruvian tubers). The food reminded me of my grandmother’s house. They’ve started to receive volunteers and travelers, since they’ve designed some nice programs on their big property. They have four rooms, basic accommodations, private bathrooms and lovely food. You can hike along their private trails, plant a native tree and paint a nice stone to put next to your tree (the GPS location is given to visitors). You can also enjoy feeding the animals and many other delightful activities. I truly loved this place and all the stories Lola shared with us.

From Milpuj we drove for about an hour to reach Leymebamba town. We spent the night at a basic 3-star lodging ( La Casona / link). The next day we continued for about 5 minutes to the very well-situated local Leymebamba Museum. At the entrance, we spotted a lovely Little Woodstar – a rare bird species found at the edges of humid forest and semi-open habitats along both sides of the Marañon Valley. It is also the smallest hummingbird in Peru! I was surprised to find such a nice and complete museum . I learned that many current neighbors from the area were involved in getting the funds to invest in research, and to obtain historical finds of the Chachas culture and tradition. In front of this museum is the Kentitambo Café /Lodge, also known as the Hummingbird Inn. http://www.kentitambo.com/ .The food at Kentitambo lodge is absolutely delicious- it’s homemade and tmost importantly, it’s made with love! We were receive by the lovely Azelita, who’s in charge of the lodge while the owner is away. The well-tended gardens were designed to attract hummingbirds. With the help of several hummingbird feeders, it’s possible to see over fifteen different species, You’ll be astonished, believe me! While there, you can delight in every single detail that surrounds you. The rooms are spacious and very comfortable.

While at the cloud forest, I like to start my day very early. Following a 5-star breakfast (homemade yogurt, fresh ground coffee and bluberry pancakes), we did a short easy hike through the Atuen Valley. Amazed by the spectacular views, we even saw condors flying high up. We truly enjoyed this uncrowded off-the- beaten-track place.

It was time to get back to Jaen for our flights back to Lima and Cusco. On our way to the airport, we stopped at Hacienda Achamaqui for a couple of hours, in front of the Utcubamba River. This place has a really nice view and it’s a 3-star hotel, with a friendly, smiling staff. They have a colonial bridge, some endemic birds and relics of the Chacha culture within walking distance. It was once a chirimoya farm. Chirimoya is a delicious Peruvian fruit, known in English as a custard apple. From here, it took us around two-and-a-half hours to get to the airport to catch our return flight.

 

*I want to thank the persons who accompanied me on the scouting trip and made it more fun and enriching: Renzo Zepilli, birdwatcher and nature guide from Natural Habitat; Leonadro Gonzales, adventure specialist, birdwatcher and biologist; and Luigi Marmanillo, local guide.

 

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