There are many archaeological sites in the Chachapoyas region in northern Peru. The Karajía archaeological site (sometimes spelled Carajía) was one of our favorites thanks to a collection of cliffside funeral sarcophagi that are larger than life. Don’t miss our drone travel video near the end.
Exploring the Karajía archaeological site
The star attraction at the Karajía archaeological site (5 soles or US$1.45 per person to enter) is a set of six well-preserved and easily-seen sarcophagi (one was toppled by an earthquake) up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) tall.
The mud, clay, grass, and wood structures depict a human form including a mask-like head and a pronounced jawline. The head is sometimes topped with a human skull which experts think may indicate that the person buried there was a warrior.
The sarcophagi, which were made by the Chachapoyas people in the mid 15th century not long before the Inca arrived and took over, are placed in a niche 78 feet (24 meters) off the ground. Despite the difficulty of reaching them, looters have removed offerings that were placed inside the sarcophagi along with the body of the deceased which was mummified in the fetal position. Very, very well-preserved examples of those mummies can be seen in the Chachapoyas Museum in the town of Chachapoyas.
The large, standing sarcophagi are believed to be the final resting place of nobles from Kuélap. To the left of the standing, sentinel-like sarcophagi there’s a less elaborate construction in the rockface which experts believe may have been the burial place of lesser members of Chachapoyas society.
There’s also a cave-like niche with a large, curved, formation across the front with a clearly visible face on it (pictured above right).
Our drone travel video, below, gives you a closer look at the sarcophagi at the Karajía archaeological site.
How to get to the Karajía archaeological site
It took us about two hours (each way) to drive between Chachapoyas and the Karajía site along a mostly-dirt road that was quite potholed and rocky in places.
To see the sarcophagi, we walked about 20 minutes down a trail to the viewing area below the sarcophagi. The trail was steep at times. Allow 30 minutes back up. The trail takes you directly under the sarcophagi and offers a few good vantage points from which you can see them, but you’re never very close to them so bring binoculars and a good zoom lens.
The wide mud, clay, and rock path is also used by locals to get to their quinoa and potato fields. We saw a man tilling a plot with a plow pulled by two enormous bulls. As he worked the plow he issued encouraging “shhh” sounds from behind the animals.
In 2019, the Karajía archaeological site was submitted for UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is currently on the list of tentative sites as part of a grouping of archaeological sites in the region including Kuélap, Yalape, Macro, and Revash.
Here’s more about travel in Peru
Here’s more about Archaeological Sites