The Gocta Waterfall in Peru, commonly known as Gocta Falls, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. This 2,530-foot (771 m) waterfall has just two drops, and the powerful free-fall from the second drop is among the tallest in the world.
Named after the closest settlement, the local communities have appreciated the Gocta Waterfall for centuries. “Discovered” by an outsider in 2002, this impressive waterfall has only been on the world’s radar for a short time. With improved infrastructure in the area, the Gocta Waterfall is garnering more popularity than ever before.
History of Gocta Waterfall
The Catarata Gocta, its official Spanish name, or La Chorrera, its local name, sits in the Amazonas department of Peru near the city of Chachapoyas. Flowing into the Cocahuayco River, the Gocta Waterfall is in full view from nearby villages and has been for centuries.
However, the world didn’t know it existed until 2002 when German researcher Stefan Ziemendorff and a group of locals took an expedition to the waterfall. Following their visit and subsequent pressure on the government, the waterfall was finally measured in 2006. Since then, thousands of domestic and international tourists visit each year and tourism makes up a large part of the area’s income.
Its official rank among the tallest waterfalls in the world has varied and changed over time. According to the World Waterfall Database, this soaring waterfall currently ranks 17th by overall height and 4th by tallest free-falling drop. The second drop free-falls an impressive 1,772 feet (540 m).
Two other waterfalls in Peru, Las Tres Hermanas and Yumbilla, are taller by overall height, but the Gocta Waterfall is the most well-known and easiest to access.
Local Legends about Gocta Waterfall
The world has only known about this waterfall’s existence for a short time. The waterfall gained some fame in 2002 after an outsider visited the area with some locals, but it wasn’t until the official measurement in 2006 that the world really took notice. Before this, only locals knew of the Gocta Waterfall.
But why didn’t the locals tell others about such a beautiful place in their backyard? In short, the local people feared a curse if they got too close.
Legend has it that a beautiful blonde mermaid, protecting a pot of gold, would curse whoever approached her waters. At the bottom of the waterfall, the water even splits into a U-shape, mimicking the mermaid’s hair. Making matters worse, a giant snake, the mermaid’s bodyguard, inhabits the pool below.
Today, many travelers reach the falls without experiencing a curse or seeing these mythical creatures. Nonetheless, the enchantment and disappearance of a local farmer named Juan Mendoza strengthens the claim of this local legend.
Best Time to Go
There is no bad time to visit the Gocta Waterfall, as it flows year-round. However, the recommended time to go is on the cusp of the rainy season and dry season, from April to June. As the rainy season comes to a close, the falls are still full and powerful, but the likelihood of getting rained on is less.
If traveling during the rainy season from October to April, you can expect a full and powerful waterfall, but be sure to bring a rain jacket or poncho along. During the dry season, from May to September, there’s less rain and more sunny days. However, this is when the waterfall has less water rushing through.
While there are never that many tourists in this area, the busiest months are July and August. We recommend beginning your Gocta Waterfall hike early in the morning, around 7 or 8 AM, to beat any small crowds.
How to Get to Gocta Waterfall
To reach the Gocta Waterfall, you must first travel to the remote Amazonas region of Peru. There are four possible routes from Lima through the cities of Jaén, Tarapoto, Chiclayo, or Chachapoyas.
The short flight to Jaén (JAE) from Lima (LIM) is one of the best ways to reach Gocta, Kuelap, and other nearby sites. A few flights depart daily with a handful of airlines, such as our top pick for domestic flights in Peru, LATAM. Upon arrival, you can reach lodges near the Gocta Waterfall in about 3.5 hours and the city of Chachapoyas in 4 hours.
Head to Tarapoto (TPP) in the Peruvian jungle via a direct flight from Lima. Early the next day, depart from Tarapoto heading up to Chachapoyas. This 8-hour drive explores the Amazon Rainforest and its gradual meeting with the Andes Mountains.
Chiclayo (CIX), a top destination in northern Peru, is well-connected with Lima. There are several direct flights in and out each day. However, Chiclayo is about 10 hours away on an overnight bus from Chachapoyas. While it is possible to visit the Gocta Waterfall the same day, if you have time, we recommend waiting until the following day after a good night’s sleep.
The most direct route to this region is also the most infrequent. Unfortunately, flights to Chachapoyas, the capital of the Amazonas region, only run two or three times per week from Lima. While only one small national airline currently makes this trip, future renovations at the airport should open up this route to larger planes and more airlines.
If you happen to catch this direct route, you are a short distance from the main plaza of Chachapoyas and about an hour to the lodges near the Gocta Waterfall.
Gocta can be visited on a day trip from the city of Chachapoyas or nearby hotels. While two routes reach the falls, the most accessible and common route is via Cocachimba. From there, you are 3.4 miles (5.5 km) away from the waterfall. Walking into the forest, you are in a prime spot to see the national bird of Peru, the Cock of the Rock, along with other interesting species.
Hiking to Gocta takes about five to six hours round trip, depending on your pace. The hike is of moderate difficulty, but there are lots of uphill and downhill sections in both directions. If needed, you can rent a horse to ride part of the way. The horses can travel about 2/3 of the path. The last section must be on foot.
The altitude in Cocachimba is 5,900 feet (1,800 m) above sea level. At this height, altitude sickness is not a concern.
WHAT TO TAKE ON A GOCTA WATERFALL TOUR
- Bring bottled water and light snacks.
- You will come across mosquitoes and other bugs. Put on insect repellent and bring some to reapply after getting wet.
- Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.
- Wear good hiking shoes or sneakers. The clay along the trail can be slippery, so make sure they have good traction.
- Regardless of the rainy or dry seasons, you will get wet close to the waterfall, so bring a waterproof jacket or poncho.
Gocta Waterfall Hotels
Cocachimba, the base town of the main trail to Gocta, has several lodges and hotels to choose from. As the area is rather remote, there are no 5-star luxury hotels available. Part of the charm in visiting this region is staying at a more rustic location. However, that does not mean you can’t have a comfortable stay.
The 3-star Gocta Andes Lodge stands out as our top pick hotel. Each room has a view of the Gocta Waterfall from their private terrace or balcony, and the beautiful infinity pool overlooking the falls cannot be beat.
Nearby, you can also find the 3-star Gocta Natura Reserve. This picturesque lodge offers a comfortable stay in one of five private cabins. Views of the waterfall from each cabin and a small pool add to the experience.
You can find other budget hotels and hostels in town. If you prefer a busier scene, check out options in nearby Chachapoyas, the capital of the Amazonas department.
Other Activities in the Area
The Amazonas region is one of Peru’s best-kept secrets. Full of unique and unforgettable things to see, there is something for everyone. Learn more about our recommended day trips after visiting the Gocta Waterfall below.
A trip to the Chachapoyas area is not complete without a visit to Kuelap Fortress. Kuelap is an enormous archaeological complex constructed by the Chachapoyas civilization between 900 and 1100 CE, with some structures dating back to the 6th century. The circular houses surrounded by finely-worked stone walls are unlike anywhere else. For its spectacular size, ingenious design, and unparalleled state of preservation, Kuelap is beginning to rival Machu Picchu as a must-see for travelers to Peru.