Only until recently, the Gocta Waterfall has been virtually hidden from the world (and even Peru). Despite its discovery almost two decades ago in 2002, this spectacular 771 metres free-leaping waterfall – with two major drops still doesn’t attract as many waterfall chasers as you may think.
Amongst one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, the Gocta waterfall somehow still maintains high levels of anonymity. Most probably due to its secluded location, reaching the waterfall isn’t as simple as booking a tour online or even “making a quick afternoon stop” from Lima. But for those who make the effort to seek it out, the experience and sights are truly world-class worthy.
What you should know
First off, it’s not particularly convenient to visit the Gocta Waterfall. The waterfall is actually quite out of the way from the usual Peru travel trail of Lima, Cusco or Arequipa. The closest notable town is Chachapoyas, which is in northern Peru, close to Ecuador. And Chachapoyas is still over 45 km away from the waterfall! But on the bright side, there are a lot of frequent transportation options to choose from, making the journey a little bit more bearable.
And once you get to Chachapoyas, there are also various of other fascinating activities to do in the area. Such as visiting Keulap, the fortress in the clouds or Sarcofagos de Karajia, a cliff-side burial site guarded by impressive giant sculptures. You can find more information about those sights in my post here.
As I mentioned above, Chachapoyas is the closest town to Gocta waterfall with hospitality options, and is a great choice if you plan to spend any overnight stays. There are a couple handful of accommodation choices, restaurants and tour agencies in Chachapoyas, but don’t expect anything more than the basic here though.
If you’re coming from the south such as Lima, the easiest way to get into Chachapoyas is through Chiclayo, the northern capital of the country. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do in Chiclayo, so a quick stop will suffice and then head on over to Chacapoyas. Both flights and buses travel to Chiclayo several times a day from Lima.
From Chiclayo to Chachapoyas, the most common option is by bus. There are numerous of bus companies that offer this 8+ hours route.
Once in Chachapoyos, travellers can either visit the waterfall with a tour agency or on their own. The great thing about going with a tour agency is that it’s as easy as apple pie.
Option 1 – tour agency
The easiest way to visit Gocta waterfall is with a tour agency. There are a handful of tour agencies around the Plaza de Armas de Chachapoyas offering daily tours to visit the waterfall. Most of them offer the same thing; half-day expedition, round trip transportation and entrance ticket. However, tour agencies only visit the bottom tier of the waterfall.
Tours are around s/60, but if you want to go by horseback for the difficult bits of the hike, then prices would reflect that.
With a tour, the hike will begin at the town of Cocachimba. From the town, it is about a 5 km hike to the waterfall. The trail is fairly easy, with sections of uphill and downhills. But the trail is distinguished and predominately maintained.
Option 2 – on your own
If going independently is your desire, then the easiest and most straight-forward way is hiring a taxi. But that’s going to cost you a good chunk of change.
A more economical option is taking public transportation. In Chachapoyas, head towards the bus terminal. It’s about 1 km from the Plaza de Armas de Chachapoyas and there’s only one, so everyone will know it.
Take a collective towards the towns of San Pablo or Cocachimba, whichever you decide. The town of San Pablo will take you higher up the mountain, while Cocachimba is lower on the hillside.
If you’re planning on visiting the top tiers of the waterfall, its best to go to San Pablo. This way, the majority of the trek will be downhill.
Let the bus driver or bus agency know you’re visiting the Gocta Waterfall and which town you want to start at. For San Pablo, you’ll actually be taking the collective towards Pedro Ruiz, just getting off before the final destination. Again, let your driver or agency know ahead your final destination. This way, they’ll tell you when to get off (which is a very non-descript spot, beside a billboard on the side of the street). But it also means they’ll most likely help you coordinate your next transport.
After being dropped off at the side of the road, there will probably be a motor taxi waiting to take you to the actual town of San Pablo. It’s a pretty significant hike up the mountain, and considering the long expedition ahead to the waterfall, I’d highly recommend taking the motor taxi. It’s about 10 minutes and around s/10.
The motor taxi will drop you off at the tourism office, where you’ll need to pay the entrance fee of s/20.
Starting at Cocachimba
Hiking to the waterfall from Cocachimba is really straight-forward. The town, consisting of a main square and a handful of dirt roads really serves one purpose; a pit stop for visitors to the Gocta waterfall. Just follow the path towards the forest.
The trail is well-maintained, and some are even cobble-stoned. The hike from Cocachimba is about 5 km one way.
Starting at San Pablo
The advantage of starting at San Pablo is that it is a lot easier to visit the top two tiers of the waterfalls.
Reaching the top tier of the waterfall is a moderate to difficult hike. It is also recommended that hikers start at San Pablo early because there is no connecting path from the top tier to the second tier of the waterfall. Instead, hikers will need to go back to San Pablo before making their way down the waterfall.
The hike to the second tier of the waterfall is an easy to moderate 5 km hike from San Pablo. The path is also well-maintained and clearly indicated.
There’s no need having to head back to San Pablo to head down to the lower tier of the waterfall at this point. There’s actually a connecting trail between the two, which is great as it not only saves time, but it also gives you some of the best views of the waterfall.
The trail down to the lower part of the waterfall is slightly hidden and not very well indicated though. It’s best to pay attention for a path diversion, about 1 km back towards San Pablo. Once on the trail, get ready for the decent. It’s a steep 7 km downhill, switch-backing beside the cliff of the mountain.
This path will eventually lead you to the Cocachimba trail. There aren’t any signs of which way to go once you intersect with the Cocachimba trail. I remember turning left, but it’s best to ask fellow hikers. As there’s no other indication which way would be towards the waterfall, it would be a shame to accidentally walk towards to the town first.
Especially if you’re planning on visiting more than the bottom tier. Hiking from the town of San Pablo to the second tier, down the connecting trail to the town of Cocachimba is about 20 km. Even though I arrived at San Pablo around 9 am, I was already advised not to visit the top tier because I wouldn’t have enough time.
It’s also best to plan to finish your hike in the early afternoon unless you have previously secured your transport back to Chachapoyas. Tour agencies usually finish around 3/4 pm. And after tour agencies leave, so does most of the other services. Shops would start to close up and so does the taxi and motor taxi drivers.
Aside from that, keep yourself fuelled up with lots of water and snacks. And don’t forget to bring swim wear. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall might be cold, but its also the perfect refresher after a long hike!