Gocta Waterfall (also known as Catarata de Gocta in Spanish) is one of northern Peru’s finest natural gems. The waterfall stands at an impressive 771 metres high and is located close to Chachapoyas, one of the gateways to the Peruvian jungle.
Hiking Gocta Falls has become a must-do activity for travellers heading to the area but because Chachapoyas remains off the backpacker circuit, this a part of the country that attracts far fewer visitors than it deserves.
The Chachapoyas area is perhaps most famous for the ancient citadel of Kuélap (dubbed the Machu Picchu of the north) that is hidden in the cloud forest. Of the travellers who come to visit this ancient ruin, even fewer of them make the hike to Gocta Waterfall.
The cloud forest is a wonderful setting for the trek and the views around the waterfall are stunning. Hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the verdant forest as are howler monkeys, although these animals are very good at hiding!
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The History of Catarata de Gocta
The local community of Cocachimba has known about the existence of Gocta Falls for centuries. However, owing to old superstition and fears regarding the curse of the white-haired mermaid who is rumoured to live in the water, the locals always kept its presence a secret from the wider world.
Everything was to change in 2002, when a German economist Stefan Ziemendorff, discovered the waterfall along with his Peruvian expedition companions. Ziemendorff insisted that the Peruvian government measure the falls and after their height was announced, he stated that Gocta should be ranked as the third-highest waterfall in the world.
Although the waterfall was measured by officials, there was much controversy regarding how to classify it in comparison to other falls around the globe. Gocta has multiple tiers so people have long argued about what point is the correct place to begin the measuring from. The World Waterfall Database currently ranks Gocta as the 17th tallest waterfall in the world.
Reaching the start of the Gocta Falls Hike
Visiting Gocta Falls without a guide
To visit Gocta without a guide, head to the Terminal Terrestre bus station in Chachapoyas. From there, it is possible to get a collectivo (minibus) to the village of Cocachimba for around 5 soles. The journey itself takes around 45 minutes but can be seriously cramped if there are lots of people going.
The driver will drop you on a side road where you can either walk the 5 km to the entrance or get a moto-taxi for around 10 soles. From the ticket point, it will be another 5 km of hiking until you reach the bottom of the falls.
If you cannot find a collectivo heading to Cocachimba (things don’t always run regularly in Peru), instead see if you can find one to Pedro Ruiz village. The journey costs 5 soles and you will be dropped in a village called Cocahuayco. From here, you can take a moto-taxi to the start point of the hike. The moto-taxi will usually cost around 10 soles.
Visiting Gocta Waterfall on a tour
If navigating your way to the falls using collectivos and moto-taxis feels like too much hard work, you can travel via a prearranged trip. Tours to Gocta Waterfall can be booked all over Chachapoyas. Most tours will include transport to and from Cocachimba in a comfortable minibus, the entrance fee, a guide (you’ll need to specify English speaking if necessary) and lunch.
Expect to pay between 60 and 80 soles (around $20USD) for the trip, depending on who you book with. Although a guide is not necessary for the trek, going via a prearranged tour can be an easy way to guarantee spacious and comfortable transport to and from the falls.
There are a couple of different hikes to Catarata de Gocta which I will explain in detail in a moment. If you are considering visiting by tour, you should know that most tour companies opt for the shorter trek to the falls which starts in Cocachimba.
A note about the altitude…
As with many other destinations in Peru, Gocta Waterfall is located 2,000 metres above sea level. This means that anyone who is intending on hiking Gocta Falls should take precautions concerning the altitude.
Some of the hills are very steep and can be made much more challenging by the shortness of breath brought on by the altitude. Remember to bring plenty of water and take breaks when you need them.
I advise spending a few days in Chachapoyas to acclimatise beforehand, especially if you are travelling from somewhere located at sea level, such as Lima. To get the most out of your visit, make sure you know how you can acclimatise naturally. This is the key to a happy trek!
Catarata de Gocta entrance fee
The Gocta Falls entrance fee is 10 soles, regardless of where you start. This is the standard cost to visit one level of the falls.
If you want to visit both the upper and lower tiers of the waterfall, you will need to pay double, bringing the total to 20 soles.
There are stations in both San Pablo and Cocachimba where you can purchase your entrance tickets.
Hiking Gocta Falls
There are three hikes that you can do to Gocta Cataracts.
Starting in San Pablo
Gocta Falls Hike 1
The first trail leaves from San Pablo and totals around 17 km. It finishes in the village of Cocachimba. This is the least used of the trails and is generally much quieter. This route will take pretty much the entire day so remember to bring plenty of water with you and get there early!
This trail will take you on a challenging hike to the very top of Gocta Waterfall. This route combines both the first and second tiers of the falls. As there is no connection between the two, you begin at the first before hiking down to the second. This means that hikers will have to descend back along their original path until they reach the start point of the hike. From there, they can continue onto trail two, which can be done as a standalone hike.
Gocta Falls Hike 2
The second trail follows a well-marked and generally well-maintained trail to the middle tier of the falls. Although there used to be issues with navigation around this area, the introduction of an entrance fee has seen an improvement to signage and trail maintenance.
This hike is easier than the first but can still prove challenging with the altitude. The journey to the middle tier is around 5 km. If you don’t want to do the whole trek, you can return to San Pablo from this point.
Those wanting to continue to the bottom tier will need to endure some steep downhill before they can meet the trail from Cocachimba and follow it back to the village.
Although this second hike is shorter than the first, following this trail will take most of the day.
Whilst it is possible to do the San Pablo hikes in reverse, most of the tours begin and return from Cocachimba, meaning that it is easier to hitch a lift back to Chachapoyas from there. This is also something to remember when deciding what time to head to Gocta. Don’t leave it too late or all of the tour minibuses will have left.
Starting in Cocachimba
Gocta Falls Hike 3
Most tour companies opt for the shorter third trek to the falls which starts in Cocachimba. The hiking path is undulating and this combined with the altitude can make the hike challenging in places.
Hiking Gocta Falls along this route will take around two hours each way, depending on your level of fitness. There are some very steep ascents which can be tricky in the wet season. The weather changes very quickly here so make sure you bring a rain poncho just in case.
If you prefer, it is possible to rent a horse for the first 3 km of the 5 km journey to the waterfall. Horses can also be arranged for the same stretch on the return journey.
When hiking Gocta Falls you will hear the waterfall long before you see it up close but this should give you some indication as to how far along the trail you are. It is possible to journey to the very bottom of the falls but be warned, you will get wet. For the really brave, it is also possible to swim at the base of the falls although the water is very cold!
What to pack for your Gocta Waterfall hike
- Hiking shoes/boots – I prefer shoes because they are cooler in this kind of climate.
- Rain poncho – The weather in the jungle is never reliable so it is best to plan for all eventualities.
- Wet pack or dry bag – Great for storing electronics and other valuables.
- Hiking poles – If you’ve included these on your Salkantay packing list and still have them, they would be great for this hike.
- Camera (with waterproof casing) – As you can probably guess from the photos in this article, it was very wet the day we did our Gocta hike. So wet in fact, that our camera actually broke when we were at the lower tier of the falls! Don’t make the same mistake as us and make sure you can protect your camera from the rain.
- Suncream – As always when at altitude, come prepared.
- Insect repellent – Remember my jungle survival guide? Put simply, things want to bite you.
- Water – This trek can be hot and tiring. You will need to carry a decent amount of water.
- Snacks – There are very few places stock up on snacks after leaving San Pablo or Cocachimba so don’t get caught out!
Where to stay close to Catarata de Gocta
There are few places you can stay close to Gocta Waterfall. Be warned though, these are not recommended for travellers on a shoestring budget.
Located in Cocachimba, Balcon de Gocta is known for its fantastic view out towards Gocta Waterfall. It is conveniently located close to the starting point of the hike and the owner Roger is a fount of local knowledge.
There is everything you need in the local town and the staff are available if you need help booking onward transport. Double, twin and family rooms are available and begin at 105 soles per night (around $30USD). This is more costly than many of the options that you will find in Chachapoyas but worth the extra for a special experience.
Perhaps the most famous of the local accommodation options is the Gocta Miradors Hotel. Unlike Balcon de Gocta which is located in the centre of Cocachimba, this hotel is slightly out of the village, giving this place a tranquil vibe.
All of the rooms showcase stunning views of the falls and the main trail is just outside the property. As well as being very modern, the hotel is also clean and family-run. It is another slightly costly option (as you should expect with anywhere that offers views of the falls), starting at around 95 soles per night (around $27USD).
Where to stay in Chachapoyas
Most travellers on a tighter budget prefer to explore Gocta as a day trip from Chachapoyas. The city has a few accommodation options, all catering to different budgets. Here are a few which come highly recommended.
This is the perfect place in the city which caters to backpackers and those on a lower budget. There are a variety of rooms including privates and dorms plus plenty of communal areas in which to hang out.
During my stay here, they allowed us to check-in early and sleep (we had got a night bus from Chiclayo) which was much appreciated. There is a kitchen for guest use and they also run tours directly from the hostel. Prices start at 20 soles ($5USD) for a night in a dorm.
Set in a beautiful colonial-style building, this hotel is in a fantastic spot in the middle of the city. The staff are very welcoming and they can arrange tours to the main sights. All of the facilities at the accommodation are rated very highly, with each room having its own ensuite bathroom.
There is free WiFi although guests have reported that coverage can be a bit spotty. All of the rooms are private but also reasonably priced, beginning at 40 soles ($11USD) for a double room for one guest. Breakfast is available for an extra cost.
This stunning guesthouse is a great option for those who are looking for a sleek and modern option. It is situated in the city centre, close to several restaurants and shops. This place is known for its friendly owner who is happy to go the extra mile for guests.
All of the rooms have WiFi access, an ensuite bathroom and flat-screen television. A twin room starts at 280 soles ($80USD). A tasty breakfast is included in the room rate and varies every day.
Would you consider hiking Gocta Falls or have you already done it?