In a previous Peru Unplugged post, Mike Safley published his “bucket list” Peru itinerary. The 2-week tour included Arequipa and Puno (the centers of the alpaca universe), as well as Machu Picchu and the Manú jungle reserve.
I’d like to expand on that idea, with an itinerary intended for people who have visited Peru already, and probably visited those star attractions. Based on my travels, I promise that there’s much more waiting to be explored in northern Peru. I have led small-group trips to southern Peru since 2012, but am itching to share a few secret places in the north, featuring little-known archeological sites, stunning natural wonders – and adding yet another dimension to Peru’s culinary reputation!
I’ve created my own itinerary, which I call “Peru 2.0,” aimed at people who’ve already seen Machu Picchu, Arequipa, and Lake Titicaca, and are looking for more. For you, this is an introduction to another Perú.
Let’s go north!
The area around Trujillo, Peru’s third-largest city, offers archeological treasures and some beautiful beaches. Only 350 miles north of Lima, the Chimu culture left behind the great city of Chan Chan, built in about 850 A.D. and thriving up until the time of its conquest by the Inca around 1470. At the time of Columbus, Chan Chan was the largest city in the Americas, constructed entirely of adobe bricks. The arid climate has helped preserve the site for centuries, although powerful El Niño rains 8 years ago caused serious damage.
Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol, near Chan Chan and less than three miles from Trujillo, are giant adobe pyramids attributed to the Moche culture, pre-dating Chan Chan, and offering astounding artwork, much of which was deliberately buried, as successive generations added on to the sites.
The unique regional artwork is a prime feature of both Chan Chan and Huaca de la Luna. Influenced by their proximity to the coast, their stunning murals depict deities in the forms of crabs or octopuses. Chan Chan’s walls feature friezes formed from molds, depicting fish, turkeys, and more. Some of those molds have been excavated intact, meaning you can buy replicas created from 1,500-year-old designs.
A short distance from Trujillo, the town of Huanchaco offers beaches perfect for strolling. It’s also a great location for surfing, with classes offered daily, depending on weather conditions. Huanchaco is a good place to see the “caballitos de totora,” traditional reed boats made from designs that date back to the time of the Moche. They are still emblematic of the region.
Further north, the city of Lambayeque features the “Museo Tumbas Reales,” a modern museum devoted to the remarkable treasures found in a 1,700-year-old burial site. The “Lord of Sipán” was termed one of the most significant archeological finds in South America in the last 30 years. The tomb of a Mochica nobleman, buried with golden treasures and much more, lay undisturbed by looters until it was excavated in 1987. The focal point of the museum is a reproduction of the tomb as it was found, with many of the original golden ornaments and decorations. The display is well conceived and executed. The original excavation also has a display at nearby Huaca Rajada.
Chiclayo, Peru’s fourth-largest city, is known as “the pearl of the north.” It is surrounded by archeological sites from the Moche and Wari cultures, including the pyramids of Túcume, and others. It features a warm, sunny climate and a lively nightlife.
The regional cuisine features seafood, including ceviche, but also specialties such as arroz con pato (rice with duck), and cabrito a la norteña, a regional favorite featuring goat meat.
Trujillo and Chiclayo are both accessible via short flights from Lima, or by interregional buses.
My next installment will focus on the remarkable archeological and natural wonders in the region of Chachapoyas, also part of the Peru 2.0 itinerary. For a closer look at that itinerary, visit my website at www.encounterperu.net .