For most travellers visiting Peru, the main draw is famous archaeological site Machu Picchu. In fact, this is so true that if you asked most people to name another attraction in the country, they probably couldn’t. Even for intrepid adventurers, most tend to start their Peruvian journey in Lima and then focus their attention on the traveller hotspots south such as Huacachina, Arequipa and Cusco.
Wondering why everyone is always so keen to skip the North of Peru, I decided to dedicate a month to check out what highlights, if any, this part of the country has to offer. Spoiler: there is plenty of attractions and you will regret missing them!
Suggested time: 5 days
This beachside cross-party town is a firm favourite with South Americans. More chilled that it’s Ecuadorian counterpart Montañita, Máncora is a great place to relax on the beach, catch some waves and stuff your face. The main beach itself is sadly not the cleanest but the surfing opportunities are great. Just a short way up the coast there are plenty of stretches that are much prettier and quieter.
Máncora is a great place to surf and there are plenty of places to rent boards for cheap and organise lessons. Highly rated Laguna Camp offers cute bamboo bungalows along with surf classes.
Los Organos beach
This beach is without a doubt the nicest in the area. Located south of Máncora, catch an Eppo bus there for just 1.50 soles. The journey takes around 15 minutes.
Suggested time: 2-3 days
In all honesty, the city of Chiclayo isn’t anything special. It is simply another run down Peruvian business hotspot with chaotic backstreets. You won’t need too long here as there aren’t many things to do however, Chiclayo does make a good base from which to explore the surrounding areas. There are definitely a couple of attractions nearby that you will not want to miss!
Mercado de Brujos
More commonly known as the witch market, a stroll around here will be like nothing you’ve seen. Vendors sell everything from animal organs to San Pedro cactuses which when boiled down, create a drink with hallucinogenic properties.
The original burial site of the Lord of Sipán, a Moche nobleman and warrior. To date, fourteen tombs have been discovered here and much of the treasure held has been recovered. Many grave robbers returned their findings to the government for fear of retribution and the vast majority of these artefacts are now housed in a museum in Lambayeque.
Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán
Mentioned above, this museum holds much of the original treasure that was discovered at Huaca Rayada. Lord Sipán and his tomb were dripping with gold so prepare to stare in astonishment at the treasure found. This museum also where Lord Sipán’s mummy is kept for viewing.
Suggested time: 5 days
A hugely underrated city, Chachapoyas is truly the ultimate gem of the North. Surrounded by lush mountainous cloud forest, there are some stunning hikes in the area as well as little known historical sites. The city and surrounding areas offer a welcome break from the bedlam that characterises most Peruvian cities and is a great place to get back to nature.
This ancient citadel is located around an hour from Chachapoyas and has recently been christened as the Machu Picchu of the North. A remarkable amount of the site is still intact and surrounded by stunning scenery. The walk up to Kuélap can be demanding owing to the altitude so take plenty of water. Tours can be arranged in Chachapoyas or you can grab a minibus from the main bus station there. Look out for transport that says, ‘Nuevo Tingo’ on the front, minibuses come every hour.
This natural wonder was a local secret until its discovery by a German explorer in 2002. This incredible waterfall is 771 m high and depending on your source, one of the tallest falls in the world. There is a challenging hike from the nearest village which takes around 2 to 3 hours depending on your level of fitness. The views are well worth it though!
Suggested time: 3 days
This colonial city is not only pretty but also a hub for foodies. There are cheap almuerzos on every corner and no shortage of tour agencies to take you to the surrounding sights. Despite the culinary appeal of this city, the vast majority of the travellers come to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Chan Chan Ruins.
Chan Chan Ruins
These ruins are located on the outskirts of Trujillo and were built by the ancient Chimu civilisation around 1400AD. The site is vast and there are plenty of opportunities to arrange tours here from Trujillo. Be warned, you will need to specify that you require an English guide if you are not fluent in Spanish because this is the default language offered.
This beautiful lake located just forty minutes from Trujillo is both a great place for a boat ride and surprisingly, sandboarding lessons. The area behind the lagoon is characterised by tall sand dunes that form a dramatic backdrop. Whether you’re a beginner or a complete pro, this is guaranteed to be a fun break from the city!
Suggested time: 3 days
Located just a fifteen-minute drive from Trujillo, this relaxed beachside town is the perfect place to eat seafood and watch the famous reed boats bob on the waves. Huanchaco is similar to Máncora in that it is another surfing hotspot although there is a bigger emphasis on wellness and meditation here. All of the above highlights close to Trujillo can also be accessed whilst staying in Huanchaco but you will need to account extra time for this.
Ride a reed boat
Although this isn’t generally advertised, it is possible to get a ride on one of Peru’s most famous modes of transport by simply asking a local fisherman on the seafront. Growing tourist numbers have seen a huge increase in interest in these boats and you can now find fishermen who will show you how they are made too. Speak to the locals to gauge who to talk to about this.
Huanchaco is teeming with bars and restaurants which overlook the sea. Many of these do very reasonably price daily menus (usually around 15 soles) which include a drink, ceviche to start, followed by a typical Peruvian dish. The coast is undoubtedly the place to get your fill of seafood and you won’t find it fresher anywhere else!
Have you seen the highlights of Northern Peru yet?
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