Posted by: Jessie Kwak | October 19, 2009

Wherein we see the world’s third highest waterfall

When Kevin of England told Rob and I that we were only a few hours’ journey from the world’s third highest waterfall, we knew we had to visit.  Gocta is 770 meters in total, broken into two segments of 230 on top and 540 down below.

The people who lived nearby believed that a “mystica sirena,” a mermaid, lived in the waters, waiting there to lure and enchant, granting gifts of plentiful fish with gold in their mouths, then destroying the river and the fish when angered, and so no one went to the base of the river until 2006, when a German man hiked out and spent the night there for the first time ever, introducing Gocta to the world.

In three short years a tourism infrastructure has sprung up in the nearby town of Cocachimba.  There is a collective of guides and other tourism industry workers, and the 14 or so guides take turns working a day each week, leading tours for 20 soles.  Our guide, Señora Teo, was knowledgeable about history and plants, a good storyteller and a sturdy walker—important in these parts.  She pointed out the improvements being made in the area for the expected increase in tourism:  a large hotel with all the modern amenities that, when finished, could probably house the entire small population of Cocachimba; a few restaurants, both in town and one along the trail; and a small hotel about an hour’s walk along the trail, with all the amenities, where one could relax for a few days enjoying the wildlife, the scenery, and birdwatching.

Hangover hiking.

Hangover hiking.

The hike there was long and grueling, uphill and down, uphill and down.  As we started, Sra. Teo told us that the total elevation change would be less than 100 meters, a deceptive number that doesn’t take into account the mountainous terrain that separates the town of Cocachimba from the waterfall.

The trail itself was quite well-developed and excellently built.  It led through fields of sugar cane, corn, beans, beets, pineapple, banana, potato and carrot.  The production of sugar cane juice and its dry condensed form, panela, is important in the area.  We passed several sugar cane mills where the cane is pressed in a giant wringer powered by oxen, the juice extracted, then boiled for six hours to form panela.

Sugar cane mill

Sugar cane mill

From cultivated land we passed into old growth jungle.  Sra. Teo pointed out orchids both in bloom and still growing (we’re still too early in the season to see many of them).  With the construction of the trail much of the wildlife has made itself scarce, but the first tourists to arrive in the forest had been confronted by large yellow monkeys, Sra. Teo said, which surrounded them in the trees and screamed at them, throwing sticks.  Giant ferns rose up beside the trail, eerily prehistoric.  I felt as though I was in a dinosaur movie.

We hiked to the base of the bottom fall, where the water did not strike the ground, but simply dissipated as a mist swirling down in waves and eddies.  The waters created a wind of their own that was chilly in the sunlight.

At the base of the falls is a pool, beautiful for swimming but with a hole in the center that draws in water and spits it out two kilometers downstream.  It can draw in swimmers, as well.  The water of the pool and the river was a deep shade of rust fading to black—a result of the iron in the stones of the cliff.



The hike itself took 6 hours, though that’s taking into account Rob’s photo pitstops, and the time relaxing beside the river.  From Chachapoyas we took a combi for S/.10 which left us in Cocachimba, but as we didn’t arrange transportation back we ended up walking 5K down to the main road and hitchhiking back to Chachapoyas (getting a ride is ridiculously easy here, despite the general lack of traffic).  I’m sure as tourism to the area picks up it’ll be easier to reach Cocachimba, but for now it’s still a wild and unpaved adventure.  Just like we like ’em.




  1. […] great this under-explored region is. The grand fortress of Kuelap, the Machu Picchu of the north. Towering hidden waterfalls. Ancient mausoleums. Spectacular roads. Mummies! Fantastically beautiful trekking. The Amazonas […]

  2. […] great this under-explored region is. The grand fortress of Kuelap, the Machu Picchu of the north. Towering hidden waterfalls. Ancient mausoleums. Spectacular roads. Mummies! Fantastically beautiful trekking. The Amazonas […]

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