Northern Peru is often overlooked by travellers in favour of the more popular south however, it’s history is rich with pre-Incan civilisations so with that in mind, we got off the ‘gringo trail’ and went in search of something just a little different. And cheese…I heard there was going to be cheese…
Located 760 kilometre’s from Lima, Chiclayo was the starting point of our Peruvian adventure. Arriving late in the morning off an overnight bus from Cuenca, Ecuador, we freshened up before heading into town for a look.
~Mercado Herbolario, also known as Mercado de Brujas (Witch Market). Really it’s just like every other Latin American market we’ve been too except you’ll find goats feet, animal heads and skins and other strange curiosities used by local shamans to cure their patient’s ailments. We weren’t feeling overly adventurous so no healings for us, just a fresh juice at a fruit stand and a little splurge on some homemade honey.
~Sipán. Take a collectivo to Lambeyeque (s/1.5) and walk a few metres down the road to the Museum of Sipán (entrance s/10). Photography inside the museum isn’t allowed due to an agreement with National Geographic but you can still easily lose an hour or two walking around the exhibits that display the funerary items of Lord Sipán, described as the King Tutankhamun of South America.
Lord Sipán was found buried with the biggest cache of treasure in Peru along with 3 women (one believed to be his wife), a child, a dog, a decapitated llama, his Chief of War, and another poor sod who’d had his feet chopped off. While we speculated that it could have been to stop him running away in the afterlife, Justin is firm in his belief that the burial space they dug for him was too small so they made physical adjustments to the deceased to get him in there. One day we’ll have the right answers I’m sure.
~Pyramids of Túcume. From Lambeyeque, take another collective (s/2.5) to Túcume. The pyramids are about 2.5 kilometres from the drop off. We walked but tuk tuks are available for s/3. Entrance into the site starts at s/8 for Route A or Route B. If you wish to do both it will set you back s/12.
To see everything, you really need both Route passes however, as there was no one checking tickets past the entrance, you could probably get away with purchasing one Route and just wandering around. The pyramids themselves are back-dropped by Mount Purgatory and were built with a strong resemble to this giant rock. Human and animal sacrifice was a common practice and if things went wrong (as they often did), the tops of the pyramids would be cleansed by fire after the inhabitants had abandoned them. In total, there are 26 pyramids at Túcume, however more than 200 exist in the region.
Bird lovers will also get a kick out of this place. These are some of the ones we saw on our walk.
~Eat, Stay be merry. In Chiclayo, we stayed with Caroline at Hostal Satelite. A tasty breakfast is served daily, the internet is good, and while there is no kitchen, the café next door sells typical menus for s/6.
This part of the region is also famous for arroz con pato (duck and rice) and cabrito (goat). Both are available for s/10 at the restaurant across the road from Hostal Satelite.
Taking yet another overnight bus, we headed to Chachapoyas in the Peruvian highlands. We made the mistake of taking the last two tickets available on Civa’s economic service and had a very uncomfortable 11 hours of travel before arriving at 5am in the morning to our hostel. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long for them to open and let us into the warmth and a ridiculously comfortable bed.
~Revash Mausoleum. Nestled within the cliff faces around the town of Revash, these mausoleums were the resting places of the ancient Chachapoyan people. Made from mud brick and decorated with red paint made from crushed achiote seeds mixed with aloe vera, the fact some of these little houses have survived 1,500 years is rather impressive.
It is possible to do Revash without a tour but be prepared to do some hiking. We decided to go with a local agency to take the thought out of the logistics. Prices are between s/60-70 per person plus entrance s/10, and lunch s/10-15. The tour also stops in Leymebamba to visit the museum housing some of the 219 mummies found in the mausoleums around Lake Condor. Entrance is s/15 and most of the information is in Spanish so having a good English speaking guide is recommended.
~Kuelap Fortress. Set atop an intimidating mountain, this impressive pre-Incan fortress is a must see in Chachapoyas. Again we chose to do a tour which set us back s/40 each plus entrance of s/20 per person. We did however take a packed lunch because we couldn’t be arsed with spending another s/15 on a typical menu.
The size of this fortress and the views of the surrounding valleys and mountains is breath-taking. Especially when the clouds pass over and everything disappears around you. Take a jacket because it’s absolutely freezing!
~Huancas. This small little village a 20 minute drive from Chachapoyas is the gateway to the Sonche Canyon. Collectivos make frequent trips here for s/3 per person. Entrance to the canyon is also s/3. We took the walking path to the right of the look-out and enjoyed peaceful wanderings with no one else about. There are more walking trails to the left but as it was getting cold we decided to head back to town.
If you want our honest opinion, the Sonche Canyon was way better than the Grand Canyon so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Other things to do in the Chachapoyas district:
~We stayed at Hostal Norte Backpackers. With a kitchen and good wifi we ate in every night and slept in absolute comfort. Every hostel needs beds like this one!
~ Getting in or out. Getting here from Chiclayo was slightly difficult as many bus companies had sold out but try Civa & Movil who operate daily overnight buses to the region.
Getting to Cajamarca was much simpler. The Virgen del Carmen has two daily services, 6am and 7:30pm for s/45. You can also take a mini-van from 5am or check out Amazonas Express with two daily services at 5:30am and 7:30pm (s/45 per person).
Let’s be honest. I went there for the cheese. It’s my naughty little addiction. Unlike Chiclayo and Chachapoyas, Cajamarca has plenty to do in the city and it is a beautiful city, if not a little too crowded.
~ Convento de San Francisco s/5 entrance. Open from 4pm, you can wander the catacombs said to be the burial place of the last Incan, Atahualpa. What you will see is the open graves of several unknown people with their bones scattered around. Much more impressive is the museum where they have displayed many Christian artworks. My only disappoint was the lack of preservation efforts because these paintings are in some serious disrepair.
~Belen entrance s/5. Purchased as a 5 ticket combo, this will get you entrance into the Belen Church (very beautiful), Women’s Hospital (not much to see), Archaeological Museum (few pots and ceramics), Ethnic Museum (little bit of history) and the Ransom Room (where Atahualpa was held by the Spanish for ransom before they deceived and killed him). We bought our ticket at the church and the little old lady liked us so much, she told us we were students and tickets were only s/2 each!
~Cumbe Mayo. This pre-Incan aqueduct really is an engineering feat if ever we saw one! Before modern technology and tools, the people of this region cut a perfectly square aqueduct into 20 kilometres of hard rock. The tour itself is pretty average and will set you back s/20 (Spanish) or s/25 (English).
~Santa Apolonia entrance s/2. A great place to have a cheeky wine with all the cheese you’ve purchased! To save the entrance fee, walk around to the back of the hill and head up that way.
~Eat, Stay and be merry. We stayed at a nightmare hotel to begin with before moving to the much more pleasant Hospedaje Chota. At 30 soles a night for a double room, we couldn’t really complain. There was no wifi though…
For food, check out the street market around the corner from the hotel or do as we did and just gorge yourself on cheese. We tried a smoked, semi-mature one, an Andino fresco, white fresco, and suizo. All very tasty with a local bottle of wine J
~ Getting out. We travelled with Acaurios bus lines (s/20 per person) because they were the only company we could find running a day service. Movil and Civa also operate between Cajamarca and Trujillo but at night.
After all that running around, it was time for a holiday. As soon as we got off the bus in Trujillo from Cajamarca, we jumped in a taxi bound for the nearby beach village of Huanchaco. So far, we’ve done diddly squat but drink beer and rum and that’s fine by us because we can’t be exciting all the time.
We also had a good friend, Penny, volunteering at a hostel around the corner so it was a perfect opportunity to hang out again!
~ Huanchaco Inn offers double rooms for s/50 per night. We got him down to s/35 a night to stay the week. That’s less than AUD $6 each a night. There is a large kitchen, reasonable wifi, and a swimming pool.
~ Chifa Flor de Loto offers great value service and tasty Chinese cuisine
~ Menu Land is brilliant for that late night burger fix
~ Jan Pix is party central on Thursday & Saturday nights
~ Speak to Abel at Mao Tattoo if you feel inclined to get inked up while up in town
~Dulci Nelly has the best desserts in town for s/5 each. We've almost tried everything on the menu...
~ Visit Chan Chan (s/10). The ticket gives you entry to the museum, ruins and two other Huancas.
~ Getting out. We chose Transportes Cromotex to continue our travels south to Lima. They have a nightly service at 9:00pm. 1st Level is s/70 and 2nd Level is s/50 per person and includes onboard entertainment, meals, refreshments, snacks and in VIP, a blanket and pillow for your comfort.
Other companies to consider are Civa, Movil, Oltrasur, Flores, and Cruz del Sur. All have similar services but we found the service to be rather complacent.
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