Responsible Ecotourism in the Utcubamba Valley

Responsible Ecotourism in the Utcubamba Valley is a guest blog by our friend Steph Dyson-Worldly Adventurer, inspired on her recent trip to Northern Peru that we had the chance to organize for her. Let Steph to tell you the story in her own words.

Kuelap may be 2018’s hottest Peruvian archaeological site according to the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go list, but the whole Utcubamba Valley is a veritable treasure trove of barely-discovered ruins and dramatic natural landmarks, many of which are overlooked by those who only come here to see this stone fortress.

But an original trip to the Utcubamba Valley and the city of Chachapoyas isn’t complete without visiting the handful of sustainable and responsible initiatives led by proactive members of the local community, which are proving that ecotourism can – and should – work for everyone.

Here are three responsible travel projects in Peru that you shouldn’t miss on a trip to the Utcubamba Valley in the Amazonas region.

Responsible travel projects near Kuelap

Milpuj: homemade honey and ecological biodiversity

The first ACP (Private Conservation Area) in the Amazonas department, Milpuj is a Peruvian leader in combining responsible and sustainable tourism with thoughtful conservation, and is run by the energetic Pedro (Perico) and his mother Lola.

Both originally from Lima, Lola moved here in 2000, contracting local workmen to build a house in the middle of the forest, before Perico joined her later. Since then, they’re been reforesting the land with native tara trees, as well as inviting experts from around the globe to study the fauna and flora that inhabits their reserve – with fascinating results.

Not only are there 117 types of birds, 10 of which are endemic, resident in Milpuj, they’ve also encountered a new species of glass frog (named as such because they’re transparent and you can see their internal organs). But perhaps one of the most exciting discoveries was when they captured video footage of the colocolo on camera traps around the forest. A native species of cat, the colocolo is believed by archeologist to have been used in the iconography of the Chachapoyas people, who built Kuelap, and this animal is now the symbol of the Milpuj reserve.

With its comfortable, rustic bedrooms in high-ceilinged stone buildings, constructed using the same methods as the houses at Kuelap, and nutritious, organic meals on offer – 80% of which is grown in their kitchen garden plot, Milpuj is the perfect place to stay on a unique trip to Peru. Not only can you learn from the enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable Perico and Lola, who are passionate about introducing their visitors to the wonders of their natural environment, but it’s a wonderful location to get back to nature. Guests can enjoy rural tourism at its finest with treks through the forest accompanied by Perico and his two friendly dogs, helping out on their organic farm or trying their hand at beekeeping by helping make honey.

Responsible travel projects near Chachapoyas

Gocta Natura: magical views and reforestation of the cloud forest

North of the Kuelap ruins and hidden away into the folds of the mountains just beyond the village of Cocachimba, the 771m Gocta Falls are some of the most dramatic waterfalls in Peru. But for a truly unique vantage point from which to admire them, spend a few nights at Gocta Natura, a boutique hotel with truly incomparable views.

The hosts of the lodge, Rocio and Augusto, moved from Lima to Cocachimba in 2009, having discovered what they refer to as “a piece of paradise” while holidaying in the region. Since arriving, they’ve quickly became involved in supporting the community to develop sustainable environmental projects. They’ve worked to reforest stretches of farm land to help the recovery of the native cloud forest, as well as on a range of educational projects aimed at encouraging young people to value the environment. During a stay at Gocta Natura, guests can support the local community too by taking either a cookery class or weaving workshop led by members of the village.

The five boutique cabins at Gocta Natura are set in 12 hectares of reforested grounds, and are both stylish in design and lovingly finished, with elegant decorative touches Delicious home-cooked meals are available, but the real cherry on the top of a stay here is watching the sun set over Gocta from the comfort of a deck chair on your own private terrace.

Yumbilla Falls: hiking and community-led tourism

On the other side of the mountains, Yumbilla Falls are barely known by most tourists, but make for a truly original and off the beaten path adventure in Peru. The guide office on the main square of Cuispes, the closest village, is run by the enthusiastic Agliberto and can organise a local guide to take you along the path that climbs through the cloud forest and to the foot of the waterfalls.

No one is in agreement about the ranking of Peru’s tallest waterfalls: Gocta regularly appears on international lists even though Yumbilla, at 896m, is actually 126m taller. But visiting the latter, which you practically stumble upon as you emerge out into a clearing in the forest, is just as dramatic.

A hike to Yumbilla Falls is certainly an exciting feature of a unique trip to Peru; still relatively unknown on the Chachapoyas tourist circuit, you can expect to see but a handful of other hikers on the three-kilometre, one-hour long gently climbing trail that leads to the base of the falls. You also pass by two further waterfalls, Medio Cerro and Cristal Falls, en route.

What’s more, entry fees go directly into the pockets of the local community meaning that not only do you get a remarkable travel experience, but you’re also able to support the development of responsible travel and ecotourism at the same time.

Would you like to dive deeper into the other attractions of the region? check our Destination Guide for Chachapoyas

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