(From June 28)

Today, I visited the world’s third biggest waterfall. Yes, this is already a well-known tourist destination, but I had an open day before a night bus and I absolutely love waterfalls, so I figured it’d be a great day trip.

It really was. I found out from a volunteer in the area that going to Gocta through a tour agency is only a couple dollars more than using public transport, and much more reliable. It was a nice change to hand over the lump sum and simply jump on pre-arranged transport, that left on-time, put only one person in each seat, and didn’t troll the streets looking for more passengers. I popped in some music and enjoyed the ride.

Chachapoyas, Peru

On the way to Gocta

(Btw, I know you’re wondering: the biggest waterfall in the world is Angel Falls in Venezuela and the second biggest is Tugela Falls in South Africa. Also, Wikipedia is telling me Gocta is 5th, not 3rd biggest. Hmm)

Before the hike began, I strolled around the town and talked to local artisans, store owners, and restaurant owners about tourism. They were all born in the community (or nearby) and all seemed genuinely pleased to have tourism every day. The artisans said they made a decent amount of money each day selling their hand-made products. While an outside company brought us to the town, our guide was a local man, who explained that there were 18 local guides, organized into a group that rotated guide duties each day. No guide took more than 10 people at once and no more than 200 tourists are allowed on the trail each day. Again, this is a well-known destination, but as far as I could tell, it was a genuinely beneficial enterprise for the community, employing local people, without destroying the surrounding environment.

Peru, ChachapoyasAnyway, responsible tourism analysis aside, it was also a great hike. Lots of up and downs, hiking along valley ridges, changes in landscape, parts passing local homes, and parts totally immersed in near-jungle. I chatted interchangeably with a Kiwi/Australian couple and a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) and her friend, who was visiting from the States (ironic that one of the only days I didn’t seek out a PCV on this trip and I met one anyway).

As we neared the falls, I was talking with the guide about how he got into guiding when I literally stopped and sputtered out a short “Whoa.” We had been seeing Gocta from a distance since the beginning of the hike but all of a sudden it was right in front of us and it…well it made me stop short and say Whoa.

From a distance, it looks like it is falling down the side of a flat ridgeline, but up close you realize that it is indented into a sort of natural amphitheater, created by the sheer cliffs on every side. Even without the waterfall, it would be a beautiful valley, but as it is, Gocta totally dominates the visual contest.

Peru, Chachapoyas

Gocta

I mentioned this already but I love waterfalls. I’m not sure exactly why but they captivate me the way a campfire captivates just about anyone I’ve ever met. Like a fire’s dancing flames, I can stare at the falling, crashing water for quite a while, totally engrossed and utterly entertained. Waterfalls also humble me more than most natural phenomena. The water looks so calm coming off the ridge and floating towards the ground, until the moment it slams into the rocks below, an unending torrent of falling power.

One of the first things I did was spider-crawl across the slippery rocks of the river and get as close to Gocta as possible. I’m a firm believer that you need to get right under a waterfall to really appreciate it. If it’s too big to literally stand underneath, you need to at least feel the pounding, drenching force of the mist coming off the rocks. You haven’t really seen a waterfall until your entire body is soaked and your face hurts from the pelting of thousands of water pellets. To be fair, once you’ve done this, you’ll be soaking wet, but it’s totally worth it.

I highly recommend Gocta to anyone visiting the north of Peru. And I can’t wait to stand underneath Tugela Falls in South Africa and Angel Falls in Venezuela.

Peru, Chachapoyas

Under Gocta