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Northern Peru Travel Guide

by on 29th June, 2020

THE NORTH OF PERU 

The north of Peru is brimming with treasures and it is much less travelled than the southern hot spots of Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Northern Peru travel never fails to surprise and impress, it is a fascinating part of this wonderful country well worth exploring.   

There is masses to see and do here so I would recommend a good amount of time. If you can I would dedicate a week as a minimum and ideally two weeks to a tour to the north of Peru.  

Have a read of “Our Travel Guide to Northern Peru – Best Places to Visit” to get some insight into who should go, when to go, where to go and what to see. 

Northern Peru Travel Guide – Top Places to Visit 

Who should go to the north of Peru? 

For anyone with an interest in history and culture the coastal desert towns and pre-Inca sites are a must. The north of Peru was host to several widespread important pre-Inca cultures such as the Moche, Chachapoyas, Chimu and Sican.

Just some of the archaeological highlights are the ancient pyramids of Tucume, the Huacas of Sol y Luna, the adobe ruins at Chan Chan plus the exceptional Museo de Tumbes Reales where the Lord of Sipan and his treasures are housed.  

Jewel in the crown of northern Peru has to be the ridgetop site of Kuelap, home of the Chachapoya culture.   

For birders and nature lovers the vast wilderness area of cloud forest is biodiverse and home to plentiful wildlife. Peru’s north is also home to tropical dry forest and vast swathes of Amazon rainforest. 

For relaxation, rest and respite take to the northern Pacific coast for warm waters, surfing and some beach life at Mancora or Punta de Sal.  

Puerto Lopez beach, Ecuador 

When is good to go to Peru’s north? 

The north of Peru can be visited at any time of year. On the coast the days are warm and sunny (25C), with a gentle breeze off the sea. December to March are the warmest months. 

Inland it can be wet from November to March. Chachapoyas has 800mm a year. If you want to do some walking then it would be best to avoid February and March. It is generally pleasantly warm throughout the year. 

 

Highlights of the coast of the north of Peru 

Trujillo – what to see  

The lively colonial city of Trujillo or the nearby beach resort of Huanchaco is the best place to stay for exploratory forays to visit the Moche sites, the Huaca del Sol and the Huaca de La Luna. The Moche culture dominated on the northern Peruvian coast from AD200 to AD900.   Trujillo is also close to the pre-Colombian site of Chan Chan, the vast adobe city of the Chimu culture.   

 

Totora Reed Boats Huanchaco Trujillo Peru

Huanchaco 

Huanchaco is a small fishing village with excellent sea food and where you can see totora reed fishing boats.  known as caballitos or little horses.  These rather precarious looking boats are similar to those  you see on lake Titicaca. They are used by local fisherman, who ride them back to the beach through the surf after they have been out fishing, an impressive sight. Some 2500 year old ceramics depict these reed fishing boats and they seem remarkably unchanged.  

 

Chan Chan   

This huge pre-Hispanic city made of millions of adobe bricks is just a few kilometres from the centre of Trujillo.  It was the capital of the Chimú culture.  The site was occupied from AD1100 to AD 1470, consists of houses, store rooms, decorated walls, pathways and pyramidal temples.   There were probably around 40,000 people living here at its peak.  The city was built on the coast because of the dependency of the Chimú people on the sea.  You will see that sea birds, fish and sea weed figure in their decorations.    

 

Entrance Chan Chan Peru

 

Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna 

Just 5km south of the city of Trujillo next to the River Moche you will find two impressive Moche temples, the Huacas of the sun and the moon.  This was the Moche culture’s principal administrative and religious centre.  The huacas are pyramidal and stepped construction of multiple levels, giant structures made of innumerable adobe bricks.  The construction of such huge temples was only possible because of the control over water and labour, held by the Moche leaders.   

 

Chiclayo – what to see 

Chiclayo, 700km north of Lima and 209km north of Trujillo is one of Peru’s largest cities. The city itself is not attractive, but is a good base for visits to the archaeological and historical gems of Lambayeque (12km north), TúcumeSicán and Sipán.  For food lovers try the typical dishes of coastal Peru such as Arroz con Pato, Seco de Cabrito and the very best of Peru’s ceviches. 

Carved adobe Chan Chan Trujillo Peru

 

Museum of Royal Tombs – Sipán 

Over the years unscrupulous collectors and grave robbers have unearthed and stolen invaluable objects from Peru’s sites before archaeologists have been able to get.   In 1987 archaeologists were alerted to a range of artifacts appearing on the black market that indicated a robbery on a grand scale. This led to the exciting discovery of the intact tomb of the Señor de SipánSipán is just southeast of Chiclayo. A tomb was found, a  soldier, whose feet had been cut off, carrying a shield and wearing a gold helmet.  Further down they found w 

a small figure of gold and turquoise, amazing ornaments, and the deteriorated body of the Señor de Sipán.  Subsequently the tombs of thirteen others were unearthed at Sipán.  His death has been carbon dated to AD290.  

 The Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán in Lambayeque, near Chiclayo, is the superbly put together museum that houses the fascinating Señor de Sipán collection. This vast museum, which contains by far the greatest intact discovery of gold artifacts in the Americas, is shaped like the pre-Columbian pyramid under which this amazing tomb was found in 1987.  

 

Bruning Museum – Lambayeque 

The Bruning Museum, also in Lambayeque, is home to an interesting collection of artifacts spanning the Chimú, Moche, Chavín and Vicus cultures. 

 

Túcume – Sican 

The desert site of Túcume is South America’s largest accumulation of pyramids, 26 of them. Just to the north of Chiclayo, this was one of the main cities of the Sicán or Lambayeque culture (AD700 to1400), successor to the Moche. Started in AD1000, the impressive site continued to expand under successive waves of conquest, first the Chimú and then the Incas, until finally falling into ruins within a few years of the Spanish conquest. The plains of Túcume are part of the Lambayeque Valley, the largest valley of the north coast of Peru. The valley boats scores of natural and man-made canals and waterways and Túcume is surrounded by fertile agricultural land. 

 Thor Heyerdahl, the well known Norwegian sailor and explorer, become involved in excavation and protecting this site in the 1980s.  Thor Heyerdahl’s interest had been sparked because of his fascination with Peruvian water-craft. In 1947 he had sailed on a balsa raft, the KonTiki, from Peru to the Polynesian Islands to prove that this could have been done by ancient Peruvian sailing vessels. He was able to secure funding that has enabled archaeologists to piece together evidence and make some educated guesses about the function of the site and about the lives of its inhabitants.  

 

whale-watching-in-puerto-lopez-manta-coast

Piura / Tumbes – what to see 

The city of Piura has a dry tropical climate. The Pacific fishing off Piura has broken world records for black merlin and swordfish.  

Within easy reach of Piura there are some good beaches, which are becoming more and more popular. Surfers also are increasingly attracted to the warm waters of northern Peru.  November to March is best for surf. The sun shines most of the year and the temperature is consistently warm. 

From august to November it’s possible to go and watch humpback whales that migrate to breed nearby. There are boats trips also to see dolphins, rays, and snorkel with turtles. 

Cabo Blanco, Mancora and Punta Sal are the best know and popular amongst Peruvians and Ecuadorians as well as a few international tourists. Accommodation ranges from luxury ecolodges, bungalows to back packer hostels.  

For birders and wildlife lovers there are several parks nearby excellent for interesting species. The Cerros de Amotape has transitional forest from dry to tropical and pre-montane and is great for birds, crocodile and otter. 

 

bike tour coast Lima peru

 

Highlights of northern Peru, inland.

Cajamarca – what to see

Cajamarca is a lovely colonial town similar in many ways to Cuzco, though smaller and much less touristy.  Wander the town centre to see 17th and 18th century colonial buildings with red rooves, wooden balconies, doorways and white painted facades.  The Plaza, with the imposing San Francisco Cathedral is well cared for and a relaxing place to sit and watch life go by.  It’s lively in the evenings with lots of people wandering around and plenty of shops, bars and restaurants. 

Cajamarca was key to one of the most momentous events in Peru’s history, the beginning of the end for the Incas.  Here Atahualpa was captured, ransomed then put to death, in July 1533, at the hands of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro.  Evidence shows early settlement and strong cultural influences from many other regional cultures.   Today Cajamarca is a rich agricultural area producing huge quantities of milk and dairy products for the national market.  It is well known for its craft work in wool, leather, wood, clay, straw and stone.  Cajamarca has dozens of festivals, Carnival in February, Easter week and Corpus Christi in May or June are especially fun to see. The largest gold mine in Peru is nearby. 

Baños del Inca  

Near to Cajamarca are some fabulous hot springs. Communal pools or private, of varying standard, generally clean and fun.   

Cumbemayo 

This forest of stones (bosque de piedras) “Los Frailones” is an amazing rock outcrop dramatically located high above the town on the ichu grass covered windy moorland.  The rocks have been shaped by erosion forces into weird contorted figures.  There are also some pre-Inca remains, including a very 8km long impressive aqueduct carved out into stone and cave paintings.   The canal carries water from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side of the mountains.  There is some lovely trekking here too, 4 days through cultivated valleys, small adobe villages, surrounded by lofty mountains, well off the beaten track. 

Ventanillas de Otuzco 

A pre-Inca funerary site 7km from the city that has dozens of niches thought to have been for burying mummies, carved out of the solid rock.   

Cuarto del Rescate  Right in the centre of Cajamarca is the room where Atahuallpa was held hostage while gold was collected for a ransom.   

long-steps-kuelap-peru

 Chachapoyas – what to see

Chachapoyas is a small market town in northeast Peru. It is a remote area with vegetation typical of ceja de selva (eyebrow of the jungle) full of wildlife especially humming birds. This is home to the pre-Hispanic Chachapoya culture, from AD 800.  There are several Chachapoya sites to visit with expert local guides.

  

Kuelap  

The Chachapoya culture dominated in this area around AD800.  A guided tour of the sites left by this culture gives some indication of the way the people lived, in villages of up to several hundred people, in circular houses.  Typical here are tombs on inaccessible cliffs, agricultural terraces and cities on ridges in the cloud forest. The site of Kuélap, an almost impregnable fortress, is situated at an altitude of 3,100m, overlooking the river Utcubamba.  This is a beautiful site to spend some time exploring. The unusual maze of round stone houses, watch towers and stairs, now crumbling are overgrown with ever advancing cloud forest.   

family-at-gocta-waterfall-north-peru

Gocta Falls 

Also in this area are the beautiful Gocta Falls, a half day walk takes you through verdant cloud forest to this long drop fall.  

revash northern-peru

Sarcophagi of Karajia 

The Sarcophagi of Karajia are coffins of the Chachapoya people, high up on the cliff side. There are just a few left now, the rest looted by graverobbers.  

sarcophagus-replica-north-peru

Leymebamba 

The excellent Museum of Leymebamba houses a collection of mummies, wooden sarcophagi, Inca quipus and other artefacts. The mummies were found in nearby Laguna de los Condores in 1997 (a full day’s hike away). The Chachapoya buried their dead inside wooden sarcophagi, wrapped in cloth and with a face sewn on. 

 

north-peru-lady-peru

 

Andean Trails suggested tours to northern Peru 

Our Northern Peru Special Adventure holiday takes you to the highlights on a 14-day adventure tour. If you love wilderness, adventure, archaeology and culture this could be just the holiday for you: 

A shorter tour suitable for all ages seeing adventure is our Gocta Waterfall & Kuelap Tour. This seven day trip takes in the long drop Gocta waterfall in north Peru,  pre-Inca ruins of Kuelap, cliff side burial chambers of Revash, the Mallqui museum and town of Leymebamba. You drive through vast wilderness areas of superb wildlife rich forest covered mountains. We see coffee and cacao plantations and keen birders may even be able to spot the Spatula Tail hummingbird. 

 Ask us for details of any of our tours or a bespoke tailored made itinerary to suit your travel plan.

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