North from Lima to Trujillo

North from Lima to Trujillo

This route heads North from Lima along the Panamericana highway, with desert and beaches on the left, and the foothills of the Andes on the right. We describe a number of routes which strike up into the mountains, leading to important locations such as the Huaraz valley. Equally, we discuss the coastal towns and the resorts which they support. This area was the home of a number of major centres of civilisation, and we discuss the archaeological sites which they have left.

The primary route can be covered by any vehicle, and is travelled by frequent public transport of virtually all quality. The option to follow this route by sea exists but has never, to our awareness, been exploited for tourism.

This is a long, thin route and the map reflects this. We have made it as small as is compatible with reading it, so please scroll up and down to read it.

Close to Lima

Let us begin with a diversion. The bulk of this route runs North to Trujillo. We do, however, describe several diversions to the East, the first of which is to Canta, following the Río Chillon.


This region lies at or above 3000m, and the ascent is winding and steep. Despite its proximity to Lima, this is a remote region. The road passes Santa Rosa de Quives,a site of international pilgrimage. The saint in question was the first Latin American to be beatified and is the patroness of Lima and Perú, her patronal on August 23rd is a major event, both in the city and in this remote town. She is also patroness of the Philippines, and notionally of the whole of the Americas. Isabel Flores de Oliva (1586-1617) became a nun in 1606, taking the name of Rosa and living in the mountain retreat provided by a Dominican monastery. Her asceticism, mystical ecstasies and medical mission attracted international attention.

Canta (2800m) is a little more than 100km from Lima, located in pretty countryside scattered with dairy cows, fields and Eucalyptus. The nearby village of Obrajillo has good camping grounds near the river. Both are quiet dairy towns, with colonial houses and winding little streets. Cantamarca (3500m) is another tranquil colonial town, only 15 km from Canta. It has an archaeological site left by the little-studied Atahuallos, and provides a major festival between 1-3 May. The site itself is an hour's walk from the village, and offers a fine view down to the coast over the Chillon river. The nearby Yanacocha gully and village of Huaros have stands of the strange Puya raymondii plant, with its eight metre flower stalks and clinging hooked leaves. It is possible to find accommodation here, but of the most basic kind. These towns are served with daily public transport and are reached on a tarred road.

Heading North.

Routes out of Lima are congested by the weight of local traffic, and it is a relief to escape this around Ancon. Building has spread at a remarkable rate (particularly given the waterless desert on which they are spreading) and tentacles of the city now touch the once-remote Ancon. The road passes through a piaje toll booth and then rises over a spur, reaching 600m. This area is often obscured by coastal mist and, particularly in Winter, you may see plants growing in the desert. It is worth noting that these - and the trees planted on the road side - are entirely fed by condensation. The road drops down into the first definitive area of coastal cultivation at Chancay. This is one of the oldest areas of settlement along the coast, with leavings from many cultures. The specific Chancay culture is described here.

The road that leads right here goes to the market town of Huaral, a centre for citrus - based around the ancient settlement and later hacienda of Huando - as well as vegetables and cotton. This is probably the closest place to Lima where you can see coastal agriculture and the culture that goes with it. The town has at least one adequate hotel.


A remote but impressive archaeological site is found at Rúpac (3400m). A road leads inland to Florida, following the Río Chancay. This is a rough route, served only by trucks which leave Huaral around 09.30 on Thursdays and Fridays. It takes around four hours of climbing and winding to reach the melon fields of Florida, and the site is at least six steep hours walk from there. The road trip is around 80 km, the walk a further 70 km. You will need to bring camping equipment, although guides and pack animals can easily be found in Florida - ask in the main square.

The walk itself passes the deserted town of Salvador de Pampas, with its bleached white church with grass growing in the aisle. This is a sensible place to camp. A further three hours brings the fortress of Marco Kullpi, surrounded on all sides by precipices, and this guards the entry to Rúpac. The town itself was built by the enigmatic Atahuallos around 700 years ago, and is known as "Lima's Machu Picchu". Ten metre stone structures hang over a precipice, many with domed roofs which still stand. The site is virtually unknown on the tourist circuit and you are unlikely to meet other visitors.

Chancay and surrounding attractions

Chancay itself is on the main highway, at Km 82. It has a little port, and is a busy shopping centre as well as the national centre for egg production. There is a small museum which reflects the Chancay culture and local history. This said, whilst the town has a distinctive feel of the Perúvian coast, it lacks any attractions or focus. Its fish and chifa restaurants are good, making it a good luncheon stopping point. One can hear the local farming community setting the world to rights in the curtained booths of the main chifa. The sea front has an odd converted castle-like structure in which the town's sea food is well-served. The best restaurants do tend to be on the Panamericana rather than in the town itself.

A road turns inland to the East at Km 103, on the Río Seco, leads by a pretty route to Sayán. Picoy has a pretty semi-Gothic church and a well-established Plaza de Armas. Churín (2600m and 150 km from the coast) is a picturesque sierra town which has developed into a destination for Perúvian tourists because of its curative hot springs.

The consequence is that there are a number of much better hotels than might be expected for this high and remote region. The area has the little-known ruins of Ninash, Kukun, Antasway and Kuray. The nearby town of Huacho sin Pescado (really San Francisco de Huacho, but local humour has had its way - "Huacho with no fish") is close to the fine snow peak of Yarahuayna, also the site of the strikingly well preserved pre-Inca ruins of Antamarca and Chaulín. The nearby Wayo lagoon is full of trout and the massive Cordillera Raura is virtually untrekked by foreigners.

Oyon (3000m) is a larger town located in chopped-up landscape. It has less charm than Churín, but also has mineralized hot springs. The region is said to have a substantial underground system of caverns and water channels, but nothing published has been done to explore these. Oyon is host to a major spectacle between 23 and 17 July, in the patronal of Apóstol Santiago. The core of this is a dance re-enactment of the fatal events that took place in the five days at Cajamarca when Pizarro confronted and killed Atahualpa, the last independent Inca. This ceremony was gratuitously bombed by the Sendero Luminoso in 1988, with mass casualties. It has now been revived and is a central attraction along the whole sierra.

The road beyond Oyon gives access to Cerro de Pasco and the way to the jungle beyond - if one turns right - and to the stone forests of Huancahuasi on the right. Bother have been discussed elsewhere.


Let us return to the coastal road, heading North. There is an entry to what may be the strangest national park in the world at Km 105. This is the lomas of Lachay, an area in which an entire ecology is supported by condensation of the icy mists that blow in from the sea. They are open between August and October, and you must have a 4x4 vehicle to cope with the sand roads. (Be very certain of the quality of the road surface before taking any conventional vehicle off a tarred surface and onto the coastal desert sands.)

There are around 67 of these lomas in Perú, concentrated in the Central and Southern region. The coast was probably less arid during past ice ages, and these lomas represent much-altered islands of the vegetation which once covered the desert. The area was occupied by around six waves of immigration, leaving behind textiles woven from Bromeliad fibres and the remains of simple habitations, terracing and livestock. Contemporary lomas are much-affected by local people who graze goats on them, and the vegetation is largely reduced to cactus. In Lachay, however, the situation is brighter and although the park covers only 5070 hectares, much of the strange landscape is conserved. Humidity is frequently at saturation, and mist deposits around 17cm of water per annum. The wettest and greenest month is October. Lichens, mosses and cactus have developed special spines that help to precipitate the mist onto their particular patch, and you can see a patterns of drops in the sand surrounding each of the twisted, moss-laden tara trees. A quite amazing range of plants grow in this environment, as well as nearly fifty more or less specialised birds, reptiles and hundreds of kinds of insect.

Leaving Lima behind

Passing this, however, the road continues to head North, passing into increasingly pure desert. A beach development called Playa Paraíso occurs just before the towns of Huacho and Huara. The main road from Cerro de Pasco joins at Huacho, and the town is dedicated to the commerce and truck repair that this brings. It has good hotels, but offers limited reason to stay in them. It does, however, have a port that guarantees excellent seafood, and is a jumping-off point for beaches such as Hornillos and Colorado. There are also archaeological sites at Colorado, at Hualmay, Runtur Cochas and Mazo.

Huara was the town in which San Martín proclaimed independence in 1820 (as opposed to the location fifty kilometres to the North, where his colleague and rival de Bolivar did the same thing.) Huara is altogether a more pleasant place that Huacho, and the town abuts on the surfing beach of Centinela, described here. The town is surrounded by irrigated fields of cotton and other crops, dotted with the bright yellow of marigolds. These are grown to give a natural yellow to eggs. Chickens fed chiefly on anchovy meal tend to produce pallid eggs with a fishy taste, and whilst the coloration is easy to understand, the deodorization is less so.

There is a road marked to Caral where the fields fade into desert North of the town. This is the site of one of the oldest ruined cities in the country, situated on the Río Supe. Recent work has shown that Caral is one of a complex of constructions in the valley, dating to between 4000 and 3600 years ago but perhaps reaching as far back a 2700BC. The main site has six large mounds - probably once pyramids - with two sunken ceremonial plazas and a wide range of other buildings. One of the pyramids was as large at its base as a football field. Middens show that the inhabitants ate seafood, beans and squash. The site has no artifacts associated with it - no pottery, for example - and only the remains of woven reed matting. For this reason, it has been little disturbed by looters and is only now revealing its secrets. Thsi site is closely linked to the ancient remains at Norte Chico and Cabalette, discussed below. Few tourists visit Caral.

Km 174 marks the lagoon of Medio Mundo, a newly-formed 7 km sweet-water lake right next to the sea. It is much favoured by waterfowl and bird watchers. Colombian rosy ducks are a major feature, as are the usual pelicans and cormorants. There are even fresh water fish that somehow survive, called things like pintadillas and mojarras. The area is developed as an amenity for Huacho and there are restaurants, boats to hire and some accommodation.

The town and port of Supe at Km 189 has developed two beaches for surfing (La Isla and El Faro or Faraón.) Supe runs into Barranca, Km 193, which is another commercially-focused town of limited charm. It does have good hotels and excellent restaurants and many use it as a lunch point in their journey north, or to Huaraz.

Click here to see a series of images There are also a number of developed beaches, such as Chorrillos. Barranca and Supe have, however, come to recent prominence for the extensive and extremely ancient archaeological site at Norte Chico - map above - in the Pativilca valley. This site has been known since the 1990s, but its significance stems from its recent precise dating, which has now been established as the third millennium BC (2900BC to 1800BC). This makes this cluster of towns and ceremonial sites one of the oldest centres of civilisation in the world, and certainly the oldest large site in the Americas. There are at least 20 residential centres, interspersed with major monumental architecture, chiefly stepped pyramids. It has to be assumed that the form was invented here, and diffused North to the later cultures that used it in, for example, Mexico.

Archaeologists are particularly excited by the site because if its cultural independence from all other developments around the world. It is thought that civilisations develop around sources of surplus - excellent land, fine waterways or the like. Mounds of fishbones point to the importance of the rich fishing grounds in the Humboldt current as the source of settled civilisation in the Americas. Relatively few artefacts have been unearthed, but one item shows a close similarity to reprtesentations of the Sun god, Huiracocha (Wira- Vira-cocha) worshipped by the Inca. This suggests a 4000 year continuity of iconography and belief, something that can be maintained only by cultural isolation.

Pativilca exists for sugar, and the Fortaleza valley leading East from it, slightly to the North of the town, is filled with cane. The road to Huaraz follows this valley, a trip which is treated elsewhere. The sugar refinery of Paramonga lies on the right of the road, the latest in centuries of exploitation in the valley. The road passes the large and well-preserved pre-Incan fort that gives its name to the valley and the river at Km 210. The fort consists of a small and a large stepped pyramid, the larger flat-topped construction probably walled for defence. The walls of the pyramid have traces of brightly coloured paint, and the upper of seven tiers of the major pyramid are set with masonry slabs. The site marks the East-most boundary of the Chimú culture. Into whose territories the road now penetrates. The Chimú had maintained their culture for many centuries, but were conquered by the Inca under Pachacútec shortly before the arrival of the Spanish.

The road now travels through stark (and rather beautiful) desert, punctuated with a variety of roads begging you to visit beach developments. The Río Fortaleza valley hides the large, ancient Caballete archaeological centre, referred to above, which is another part of the Norte Chico complex. At Km 255, the road winds up through dunes into the unearthly Tamborero cutting. Little roads wind down to the Tamborero cove, with its pretty little beaches. This is a favoured camping site, although you will need to bring everything, including water. It offers interesting scuba diving amongst the rocks.

Cultivation without much settlement follows, and a side road to Puerto Lobitos, a charmless port used for the transshipment of metal ore from Antamina, 5000m up in the sierra. Huarmey follows at Km 293, a wayside town with a number of beach developments, hotels and restaurants. The main beach is a little further, at Tuquillo (Km 301) and a succession of others, all made more interesting by small islands just offshore. These beaches are noted for their clear if cold water and good fish.

Casma (Km 375) is a pleasant farming town, with its own port. It is located in an area where the foothills of the Andes come close to the sea, and this gives it a more interesting feel than the previous towns, located on sandy plains. Fields and trees come to and at times into the town and the cultivation of cotton, fruits and asparagus extend up the valley of the river Sechín. Casma used to be the main port for the Callejón de Huaylas, but the improved road network - and failed rail project - had weakened it long before the 1970 earthquake flattened the town entirely. It has been rebuilt with low buildings on wide shady streets. The seafood is fine and there are a number of adequate hotels.

Click here to see a series of images The key to Casma is, however, that it was the centre of the Sechín culture, which flourished around 1500BC. This was absorbed by and much influenced the Chavin empire, which in turn was absorbed by the Moche and eventually the Inca and Spanish. Each of these has left its imprint on the valley, but by far the most impressive are the Sechín remains.

The temple complex is entered at Km 374, and is 2 Km from the main road. It lies by the river at the foot of an arid hillside, and consists of a plaza - probably containing ceremonial buildings - guarded by a wall of flat-faced monoliths. These are carved with hundreds of engraved images that show scenes of conquest and warfare. Two groups of grimacing warriors approaching from either end. Scenes of massacre, decapitation and torture are interspersed with the naked captives, severed limbs and mutilated bodies. Images were slowly ground into the rock, rather than engraved in them, and the process must have been slow and probably ritualistic.

A temple in which uses adobe construction shows lighter scenes - specifically, those of the sea and the fish which can still be caught in the region. That this was, nonetheless, an aggressive warrior society is further emphasised by the formidably fortified villages whose remains run along the valley. The central site covers 5 hectares, but the complex as a whole extends to 10 square Km. The Pampa de Las Llamas-Moxeke Complex consists of a nearby mound capped with some dressed stone. There is a small museum, although the major artifacts have been relocated to Lima.

A road leads East from Casma to Huaraz in the Callejón de Huaylas. Enquire before using it, as it can be cut by rock falls. The trip takes about five hours, and passes over the Cordillera Negra, with spectacular views ahead to the snow peaks and back to the coast. Punto Callán is the highest point, around half an hour from Huaraz.

Beaches and desert

Continuing North, however, the road winds into deep desert once again. This is more hilly than before, and an ideal spot to take photographs of this extraordinary environment. A turn off the road at Km 392 leads to the balneario de las Tortugas, Turtle Beach. This is a set of fine beaches around a pretty desert bay, much favoured for safe swimming and scuba. There are seasonal restaurants and some primitive accommodation.

There are other commercial beaches in the area, and a short drive West to the fishing port of Nepeña-Samanco (Km 405). This is an interesting place for a meal and a visit. The same crossroads also leads East to the Moche pyramid of Pañamarca. This site rises abruptly from cultivated land, and consists of a much degraded and raided adobe brick pyramid and a complex of smaller buildings. There are images of warriors and the subjection of slaves, a feature of much of the Mochican ceramics that are not given to gentler subjects. The Moche were war-like traders and slave owners, who flourished from 100-700AD., and were centred on what is now Trujillo in the North. This site was probably one of their trading outposts. The same road leads up and into the Callejón de Huaylas but should be attempted only with a 4x4 vehicle.

The road North passes more beach turn-offs before entering Chimbote (Km 427). This is a modern industrialised city and a major fishing port. The brick red Hotel de Turistas overlooks the bay and its fishing fleet, but - other than its seafood - there is little else to charm one in the town. A large refugee population from the time of the Sendero Luminoso has settled semi-permanently on the outskirts and a glance at these cardboard shacks in the desert will warn you that there is a local security problem, born of desperation.

A poor road travels East from Chimbote to the Callejón de Huaylas. However, another road which is accessed at Santa, 10 Km north after passing through the Coishco tunnel, passes through deep, arid cañónes to follow the Río Santa up to the Cañón del Pato entrance into the valley. The road is a tour de force, requiring 35 tunnels and innumerable hollowings-out of the cliff faces. It takes about six hours to get to Huaraz. This is also the setting-off point for another interesting route, this time that alleged to have been followed by Pizarro towards Cajamarca. We describe this little-travelled route elsewhere.

North again, the Panamericana passes scattered settlements that use Andean run-off to cultivate maize and rise. These yield to desert, with rocky outcrops over which it is necessary to climb before again dropping to the cultivated areas around Virú (512 Km). Various Moche remains poke out of the maize fields, for this is an area of ancient settlement. More desert follows, with turns to hopeful beaches and the industrial port of Salaverry; and then the freeway that leads into Trujillo begins as a welcome relief. One has seen a lot of desert during this trip.

Moche and Chimú sites

The Moche and the later Chimú built their capital in a sprawl across the land now occupied by Trujillo. The overall site covers around 20 square kilometres, and has been called the "city of the long walls" - referring to the mural-covered mud walls and labyrinths that have been uncovered - and more fancifully as the city of the Moon. This said, the focus is on two large Moche pyramids, which are now called the Huaca del Sol y de la Luna, the Temple of the Sun and the Moon. These are located around 5 km from Trujillo, at Km 556.

Click here to see a series of images The Sun temple is constructed from huge numbers of sun-baked mud bricks - estimates suggest around 150 million. It was certainly the largest artifact in the Southern hemisphere when it was built, requiring an estimated quarter of a million person years for its construction. Around a third of its original mass remains, but it would have measured around 350m x 160m, and would have been 30m high.

The smaller but more elaborate Moon temple measures 290m x 210m. It retains friezes that once covered the ramps and low walls that once abutted onto it. The "deck" structure of three platforms and four courtyards defined various areas - living, ceremonial, storage - for high status individuals. The walls were elaborately decorated with friezes of a chiefly geometrical nature, brightly painted and interspersed with niches for funerary urns. The Sun temple, by contrast, may well have been a place set apart, for sacrifice and display. It faces a massive plaza, on which - presumably - markets were undertaken and parades and other celebrations mounted. The pattern of life may well have been similar to that adopted by rural Peruvians in respect of the church and Plaza de Armas.

There is more on the Moche here. They were important from around 0 AD to 400 AD, when they were weakened by climate change and internal warfare, and finally conquered by the Huari. (This warlike group spread out from the Southern Midlands.) The Huari culture also failed, again chiefly through their incapacity to manage internal dissent, and the Moche revived in a new form. These people called themselves the Chimú, and they flourished from 700AD. It was this people who built the city of Chan Chan, the city of the long walls referred to above. The Chimú are described here.

Click here to see a series of images Chan Chan is a vast sprawl of mud-walled enclosures and alleys. It has been proclaimed a World Heritage site. The name means Sun-Sun in the Chímu language and it almost certainly grew on Moche and Wari antecedents. The city is centres on the Moche fort of Cayhuac and the pyramid of El Higo. However, the layout shows no obvious plan, and mixes cemeteries and grand houses, ceremonial plazas and workshops without obvious order. The grander areas had walls that rose to great height, often to at least twelve metres, decorated with bas reliefs showing geometrical forms or zoomorphic designs. It probably supported a population of around 25,000 - a large city in those times - supplied from local farming and by caravans of llamas from the interior.

After a period of armed coexistence, the Chimú were in turn felled by the Inca under Pachacútec. The Moche and subsequent Chimú empire extended from Ecuador to the central coast, and probably blended in with the various sources of power that existed in the highlands. They were skilled workers in metals, ceramics and stone, and they greatly influenced the entire Inca culture.

The Moche were themselves preceded in the Trujillo area by the Cupinesque culture, which was the first of the pottery-using groups in the North. The Templo de los Reys (Temple of the Kings) is located at a site high up the Moche river called the Quebrada del Caballo Murto (Dead Horse Gulch). It is a 200 hectare temple complex which appears to have been constructed 2000 years before Chan Chan.

The main road into Trujillo passes through this layered history, dropping down towards the sea where you will see signs to Chan Chan and Huanchaco, the Moche port.


Diego de Almagro founded Trujillo in 1535, doing so in what must have been a thriving complex of by-then Inca settlements, ceremonial centres and ports. Very little of this remains in the town itself, which is nonetheless both attractive and a welcome respite from the road. Trujillo enjoys good port facilities and constant water supplied in an area where the Andes dip to create a wide area of accessible fertile land. The city has, therefore, always been a point of access and trade. The early settlers managed much of the overall trade from the interior, and of course had access to the excellent agriculture of the immediate area around the city. They did very well for themselves, and have left us numerous monuments to their prosperity. (Indeed, given the superiority of terrain, port facilities and climate, one has to wonder why Lima was selected over the Trujillo as the capital.) The weather is a striking point: with almost constantly blue skies and and average temperature of 19°C, Trujillo is attractive for almost every month except those of mid-winter, June-August.

Spanish Trujillo has always been a place to which people of means came to relax, and something of this has seeped into the local culture. People project an open, somewhat passive disposition; and customs are more liberal than in much of the rest of the coast. Nevertheless, the town rebelled against the Spanish during the war of independence, was the last to surrender during the Chilean invasion and was the source of insurrection during the 1930s. The region has been prone to earthquakes, and was under threat from pirates for much of the Seventeenth century. It feels itself distinct from the rest of Perú much as does Arequipa, but with a significantly different outcome. It is home to around 750,000 people.

Click here to see a series of images The town has a wealth of architecture dating from the colonial period. The Plaza de Armas is probably the largest in the country. The nearby Plazuela de Recreo is smaller, but graced with ancient fig trees. The cathedral was completed in 1666, but flattened by an earthquake in 1759 and rebuilt in the decades which followed. It follows the traditional colonial style, with baroque ornamentation and polychrome statues. It has a remarkable collection of Cusco school devotional paintings, and an adjacent museum.

The Carmen monastery was completed in 1724, and is a large, pleasing collision of buildings. It has a wide collection of images in golden frames, and carvings from Ecuador in the North and Cuzco in the South. The churches of Santa Clara and San Agustin were built in 1548 and 1558 respectively, and are noted for the extraordinary fineness of their wooden altarpieces. The Belén church has a façade covered in carving, showing San José (Joseph) and the Christ Child. Inside, it has a ivory white pulpit, many paintings. The Iglesia de la Compañía is another Seventeenth century religious establishment, in this case a Jesuit convent, with fine tiles in its inner courtyards. The San Francisco church has a wealth of detail but is famous for being the site where San Francisco Solano predicted the 1619 earthquake, which flattened the city but spared the church. There are many more similar churches which an enquiring eye can soon discover.

In addition to ecclesiastical architecture, Trujillo retains whole districts of secular buildings from the same period. These have exteriors which are marked with elaborate stone door frames, balconied windows that are enclosed by bars or fretwork screens and by metal-studded doors. The interiors have arcaded courtyards, and one feels oneself very much in Andalucia or Extremadure in Spain. There are many such houses, some converted into hotels or restaurants, and it may be invidious to pick out a few from the many. However, the Palacio Iturregui, the Casa de Mayorazgo with its coin collection, Casa Urquiaga, Casa del Mariscal de Orbegoso, Casa Bracamonte and Casa Ganoza are definitive of the style. The Ganoza has particularly fine wall tiles, probably Seventeenth century in origin. The Palacio Iturregui is a Nineteenth century neoclassical structure within which Trujillo's informal sources of power gather: it is the home of the elite Club Central. It can, however, be visited and it worth doing this to see its huge patio, ancient well and shuttered windows and balconies.

The town has an extensive Museum of Archaeology. Its collection of Moche and Chímu artifacts - pottery, metalwork and textiles - is unrivaled. The smaller but choice private Cassinelli collection is well worth a visit if this is your area of interest. The Toy Museum (Museo de Jugete) covers children's toys and games from pre-Hispanic times to the 1950s. It is the only specialised museum of this type in South America.

Trujillo is not particularly notes for craft work, although the entire region produces the best leather-work in the country. One area of focus is, however, the paja work - durable white or beige items such as hats, woven from lightweight rushes. This area - and Ecuador, in fairness - are the origins of the so-called 'Panama' hat, which famously can be rolled tight enough to pass through a signet ring. However, paja is now used in a wide range of items, from household containers to handbags.

The region North of Trujillo has a cuisine which focuses on the sea. Menus are laden with many kinds of ceviche, fish pickled in lime juice and eaten with shallots, boiled maize, yam and topped with chili and cumin leaves. Those of this region are "muy picante" or, in plain language, hot. The shambard is a soup made from hulled wheat and beef. The cesina is made from sun-dried beef which is marinaded and then fried, served with the same ingredients as a ceviche. A concoction called sangre de pantera is a fish ceviche mixed in a blender with sour little oranges.

Trujillo is a great centre for those who enjoy horses. The land around is ideally suited for hacking and it is easily possible to hire horses that are up to weight. The area is also a centre for the smaller de paso horses, a breed that has developed over four hundred years in Perú and which is characterised by its fluid gait: see here for more on this. The Concurso Nacional de Caballos de Paso Peruanos begins on 29 September and is a part of the Fiesta de Primavera, below. Other Concurso de Caballos de Paso occur frequently, and it is necessary to enquire if there are weekend events in train.

The fixed calendar of festivals begins with the Concurso Nacional de Marinera in January, which celebrates all things to do with dance - the name comes from the traditional dance from, the marinera. Teams of dancers from all over the country compete for awards by age and category, and also for the supreme title. There is also a beauty queen elected and paraded in her traditional dress. March 19th is also the Fiesta de San Isidro El Labrador - meaning 'field worker', not the breed of dog! The Malabrigo beach celebrates and international surfers' get-together called the Campeonato de Tabla Hawaiana in March. The huge left waves are particularly strong in March, and the sea is warm from Summer.

April 24th is the Fiesta de Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo. July 29th is the patronal of Fiesta del Señor de Caña in nearby Chiclin. The Festival Internacional de la Primavera 2-30 September is a mixed event, involving Caballos de Paso and other equestrian events, cock- and bullfights processions, and arts events involving local and international talent. December 3rd is the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe.

Click here to see a series of images December 13-15 is the all-out celebration of Fiesta de la Virgen de la Puerta in nearby Otuzco. The Virgin is the patroness of the North of the country and considered the world's Queen of peace. The origins of this are that the city was under siege by pirates in the sixteenth century, and the inhabitants brought the image to the city gates, so miraculously repelling the invaders. The last day is the climax, known as “el Día del Día”, the day of the Goddess.

Around Trujillo

Click here to see a series of images The important Northern area of Lambayeque is described here. The pretty old port of Huanachaco has been in use for millennia. This is flagged by the continued use of "cabellitos de totora", 'little horses of reeds' for fishing. These surf-board shaped bundles of rushes are put together in a few tens of minutes and launched on the ocean. Perú has a good claim to have invented surfing. The port offers fine sea food, with particular reference to the local crabs. The old church of the Virgen de Perpetuo Socorro is a point of pilgrimage and regarded as miraculous. It is decorated with the totora rafts. Also nearby is the port-and-resort of Pimentel, much favoured by surfers. This is described here, as are other beaches such as Chicama, the internationally famous Malabrigo, Las Delicias and Buenos Aires.

There is a photoseries here which covers the dry montane ecology near Lambayeque known as the Bosque Seco: wild turkeys, bears and foxes.


Chan Chan and the Sol y Luna complex have already been discussed. Lesser known but well-preserved and decorated sites are El Dragon and Arco Iris. There is an on-site museum. Esmeralda has pleasing terraces decorated with animal figures. The Pakatnamu complex is located on a little rise which was occupied by the Moche, Chímu and Lambayeque cultures. (The Lambayeque culture was a Northern system of organisation which existed during the gap between Moche and Chímu: see here for a chronology.) It covers one and a half square kilometres, and is surrounded by high walls overlooking a steep drop. It was plainly a fortress, but - unusually for Perú - it shows signs of having been used for systematic human sacrifice.

El Brujo is located further from the city, higher up the Chicama valley at Magdelena de Cao and around an hour's drive. It has a 30m pyramid that dates to around 500AD, and bas reliefs showing scenes of aristocratic Mochica life, dancing and what may be representations of Mochica cosmology. The walls contain niches for funerary urns, and it seems probable that the gradual nature of construction resulted from the equally gradual expansion in the need for these. Also in the Chicama valley is the Huaca Prieta, believed to date back to the very first agricultural settlements in the valley. Farming probably supplemented fishing and hunter-gathering around 6000 years ago, so this makes it a very old site indeed.

Galindo is a late settlement, made when the Moche were in decline. It has been suggested that the climate had changed significantly in the same period, and Galindo appears to have been a planned resettlement of people rather than a site which - like mst Moche centres - grew spontaneously. It was constructed around 750AD, and was evidently a major political centre. It has its own temples of the Sun and the Moon.

Ports to the North

Chicama is half an hour North of Trujillo, and it is interesting for its old haciendas. The Casagrande was owned by the Gildemeister family before land reform, and once held land across a vast expanse of territory and the lives of the people living on it, reaching as far as the interior jungle. The area is dedicated to sugar cane culture, and otherwise rather dull. The water for the cane comes in part from a Moche canal, which has faithfully survived the inexorable rise in the land that drives up the Andes, and many earthquakes.

The port of Chicama is called Malabrigo. This has a major surfing beach with left waves as big as the most challenging in the world. This is discussed above. It was once a point of entry for slaves shipped in from Africa. An ancient railway line runs in from the Casagrande complex.

San Pedro de Lloc is a little village which saw out the last days of the explorer Antonio Raymondi, now remembered chiefly for the strange puya plant of the sierra which he named. The port is named for an area near Barcelona in Spain. It has a strange cuisine, including roast iguana. It is a national centre for the production of the elaborate traditional equipage used in caballo de paso, each set of which takes a skilled man two months to make.

Nearby, the beach of Pacasmayo attracts many from Trujillo in Summer. The town is commercial, but the stretch of road between the two settlements passes many little-used beaches. Boats from Pacasmayo and Puerto Mori visit the guano islands of Guañape, now notable for wildlife that includes many birds, seals and marine iguanas. Dolphins are often sited in this area.