Our trustworthy feet led us to the north of Peru, precisely to the Gocta waterfalls, for a hike. They are among the tallest free-leaping waterfalls in the world with 771 m -divided in two falls. Anna loves waterfalls and we have seen our fair share on this trip so far. So it was to be expected that we put on our beloved hiking boots again (what would we do without them?), fill up our lunch box and trek on.
What we did not expect was 1. to walk more than 8 hours (people did warn us but we usually walk faster than what people say); 2. to pay so little for the entire day-trip; and 3. to end up being sick as a parrot and lie in bed for two days after that —if you’re interested in our diarrhoea, skip to the end of this article.
The beauty of Gocta lies in the mix of different landscapes: Mediterranean-like scented bushy slopes, jungle forest (a real jungle!), and also tranquil mud paths along fields. The Gocta waterfalls hike is clearly a demanding one, but it’s one that will impress on you in many ways.
Here is how to get there, how much it will cost you, everything about the hike, and why Gocta is not only an unmissable, but also a good reason for a detour to the unsung charms of Northern Peru.
Dig deeper into the jungle: Exploring the Amazon Rainforest in Peru
Gocta Cataracts Facts (say that 10 times real fast)
The Gocta waterfalls are situated 44 km away from the city of Chachapoyas, in the north of Peru. That’s roughly 700 km to the northeast of Lima. Gocta has been brought to the attention of the world in 2005 by the otherwise unknown German researcher Stefan Ziemendorff. It enjoys since then a notoriety among national & international nature lovers. Even though, there weren’t many people visiting when we were there in low season, and I read that it’s never crowded.
Because of its altitude, clouds occasionally cover the waterfall, giving it a misty and mystical look. Its total height of 771 metres is divided into two leaps (the tallest one ranging 541 metres), which makes it either the 3rd, the 4th or the 17th tallest waterfall in the world, according to what exactly you are measuring.
As for me, I have my doubts about putting two falls together to make it the world’s third largest, but if that’s their thing, so be it. The fact remains that the walk in the lush rainforest and the different viewpoints on the two sister falls —and on the surrounding valley— are all absolutely breathtaking. And so is the hike. In more than one sense.
Love waterfalls? Read about the majestic Iguazú, the world’s new wonder!
The legend around Gocta
If nobody spoke of the waterfall before Ziemendorff put his own trustworthy feet there, it’s probably due to a legend. Locals believed in a golden-haired mermaid dwelling there, who cursed anyone who approached her, either transforming them into a rock or attracting them to the depths of the river, or both.
It might or might not be what happened to that tourist in 2016, even though another legend says he slipped into the abyss while taking a selfie. Well, that sounds too far-fetched to me…
Where to Start the Gocta Waterfalls Hike?
Of course, when you arrive to Chachapoyas, you can always head to the main square to be hailed by one of the many tour agencies that offer daily trips there. But honestly, there is no use for an organised tour —all you need to do is to take a minibus.
It is a 40 min ride (in direction of the town of Pedro Ruiz) on a very curvy road that should cost you s/ 5.00. You will stop at one of two points in Cocahuayco: just tell the driver you want to go either to San Pablo or to Cocachimba. From one of these two places you will start a different kind of hike.
Gocta Waterfalls – Hike from San Pablo
The Long Loop
To get to the trailhead from Cocahuayco, you first need to reach the village of San Pablo. This can be done by mototaxi for s/ 10.00 total (divided in as many passengers), or by walking up. If there is an occasion to walk and exhaust ourselves, rest assured that we will rise to it. So of course, we decided to walk up (1,5 h); and this was probably our favourite part of the whole hiking day! We crossed a warm landscape, walked by sugarcane and aloe vera fields and met chatty locals who offered us bananas.
The long loop starts then with a 1,5h chilled walk from San Pablo (1934 m asl) up until the bottom of the 1st fall (2340 m asl). You will have a spectacular view from there, on both the fall and the valley around. But make sure you bring a rain jacket! The wind will blow the water right into your face, just for fun.
There will be several viewpoints on the way where you can take in the whole valley and rest; also several shelters in case the weather is not with you. But if it’s raining, I advise you don’t risk it in the first place—it would be a very muddy 8-hour walk!
After seeing the upper fall, you’ll go back on your steps and further down 40 minutes to a bridge crossing the river. From there, and from another viewpoint on the way down, are the best views of the two sister falls.
The Closest Viewpoint
Keep some space on your camera card because another viewpoint is awaiting, right at the feet of the lower fall: once you’ve crossed the bridge opposite the Gocta waterfalls, hike the path until you reach a junction and turn left. The noise of the fall will call you, or is it the voice of the mermaid?
When you’ve taken enough pictures of that big flush in all possible angles, turn back for a 2,5h walk to the village of Cocachimba. I warn you: half of it is a steep uphill! From the village, you can take a mototaxi for s/ 10.00 total, or walk 1,5h more to Cocahuayco, your starting point; from there minibuses go regularly to Chachapoyas.
This clockwise direction of the loop was advised to us by a local guide. The point is to first see the waterfall upon reaching it, which brings the most sensational effect; the disadvantage is the steep way uphill at the end, when you’re already tired. If you hike in the other direction, please tell us how it was in the comments!
Visit more around Chachapoyas: The pre-Inca city of Kuélap
Gocta Waterfalls – Hike from Cocachimba
The Steep but Shorter Trail
This is what the Tourist Officers advise their audience and is supposed to be more family-friendly. At the end of the day, it’s still a 5h hike return with some very steep up and down passages. Be prepared!
From Cocahuayco, you can take a mototaxi to the village of Cocachimba for s/ 10.00 total (divided in as many passengers) or walk 1.5h on a flat-ish dirt road. From the village, it’ll be a 2,5h hike right until the very feet of the waterfall. Alternately, you can hire a horse to do the job if you’re not in a walking mood.
The path first ascends, then steeply descends and offers almost no viewpoints on the beautiful valley around (but a few shelters in case of need). You will hear the waterfall long before you will be able to see it through a clearing in the trees, after about two thirds of the way. On the other hand, the view on the lower leap at the end of the path will take the remaining of your breath away! Enjoy, rest, eat, take pictures —when you’re ready, you can just go back the same way.
Note! that from here you will not be able to see the upper leap.
About 30 min before reaching the viewpoint, you probably saw a path going left. If you’re craving for more, you can take it to a bridge crossing the river, which gives another view; or even walk 1h more up to another mirador.
Here is where this whole article finally becomes interesting! (No, it’s not the diarrhea part yet.) aka…
The Cheapest Way to do the Gocta Waterfalls Hike
Officially, when you arrive to either San Pablo or Cocachimba, you are supposed to register at the local office of the Tourism Association. The entrance price is s/ 10.00 per waterfall per person, meaning if you do the shorter trail to the lower viewpoint, you’ll pay s/ 10.00; and if you do the whole loop, you’ll pay s/ 20.00. If you are 7 people, 3 of you go the long loop, 2 stop at the 1st mirador and 2 give up halfway, how much will you pay? Right.
Costs per person:
- Minibus return: s/ 10.00
- Mototaxi return: s/ 20.00
- Entrance fee: s/ 10.00 or s/ 20.00 for the loop hike
If you start in Cocachimba, there is no way you avoid the Association officers. But if you start in San Pablo, and especially if you walk the way up there, there is a road along the cemetery that will take you right to the path entrance. The important part is not to cross the village (if locals see gringos, they will direct you to the office).
Also, you can try to hitchhike, especially on your way back from Cocahuayco or one of the two furthest villages. At the end of the day (around 5 or 6 pm), some people working there will drive back to Chachapoyas so you might get lucky.
So that would leave you with only the morning minibus to pay, for a total price of s/ 5.00.
This area is simply beautiful! The variety of landscapes, the views on the valley, the multifarious flora… I promise that you would enjoy the hike for itself even without the prospect of the majestic cataract.
Ah, one last thing. Make sure you bring enough water with you. See that water in those clear little streams there? It’s not safe to drink. I swear, it is not.
Where to Stay When you Visit Gocta
There are several possibilities for staying overnight around Gocta, according to your budget. That can come in very handy if you want an early start, or for a well-deserved rest after the hike.
The prestigious Gocta Andes Lodge is probably the most famous of the higher-tier accommodations in the area. It is located in Cocachimba and will reward your dollars with luxury services, an outdoor swimming pool and among the best views on the surroundings.
If you don’t need luxury this time around, you’ll find many hotels and guest houses in Cocachimba, and also a few in San Pablo.
If you have a tent, rejoice: it is possible to camp inside the area, for as long as you want. Just stop at one of the many shelters along the way, which are probably large enough to welcome your tent.
As for us, we decided to stay in Chachapoyas:
The small colonial town is a comfortable base to explore the area. Everything here is at walking distance: the bus terminus for every excursion is close-by; the historic walking street (jirón Amazonas) is lively and beautifully lit up at night; the whitewashed central square is great for people-watching or to book a tour; the popular market for your fruits & vegs is also nearby. On the western part of town, the viewpoint of Luya Urco offers a pretty evening stroll above all the little lights of this pretty town.
Our tip for the best cake in town? Try out Cafetaria San José, in jirón Ayacucho: finger-licking and affordable!
After visiting Gocta, don’t run away at once. There is still much to see in the region! Don’t miss out the pre-Inca city of Kuélap, the sarcophagi of Karajia, the archeological museum in Leymebamba, the cave of Quiocta, the mausoleum of Revash and the Sonche canyon. A goldmine for both nature lovers and history enthusiasts!