Must see attractions in North Coast

  • Top ChoiceSights in Barranca

    Caral

    Before metal or ceramic was invented and well before the Maya and Inca cultures ruled, there was Caral, the oldest civilization in the Americas. Having dominated Peru’s coast from 3000-1800 BCE, Caral (also referred to as Norte Chico) would leave behind a massive complex, less than 130 miles from Peru’s modern-day capital, Lima. Constructed when the first pyramids of Egypt were taking shape, the ancient urban center spans over 150 acres of dry desert, overlooking the verdant Supe valley. The Caral archaeological site is impressively well-preserved (perhaps because it was rediscovered less than a century ago) and visitors will note its complex architectural designs and advanced city planning in longstanding earthen and stone structures such as sunken circular plazas, a 28m-high temple, residential and elite dwellings, and ditches to channel water. Caral was the blueprint of Andean civilization and yet the Unesco World Heritage Site receives just a trickle of tourism. Slightly isolated and historically crucial, embrace the absence of crowds when going off the typical tourist route and visiting Caral. History of Caral Buried under desert sand dunes until rediscovered by American archaeologist Paul Kosok in 1948 and extensively studied by Peruvian archaeologist and anthropologist Ruth Shady since the 1990s, Caral is believed to have developed 5000 years ago. The site is one of the largest in the Americas and its creators, the Caral, one of the most important cultures in the world. The Caral civilization (also referred to as Caral-Supe or Norte Chico) thrived on agriculture and fishing, as they were dwellers of Peru’s northern coast. They established themselves in today’s Barranca region around 3000 BCE with small, dispersed settlements that would interact through trade. Evidence-based findings support the idea that Norte Chico members also traded products, resources and knowledge with distant communities based in the jungle and highlands of Peru. The diverse relationships and gained perspectives no doubt contributed to this ancient society’s advanced scientific and technological know-how. The Caral complex was likely built around 2700 BCE and, perhaps for the first time in the Americas, managed to unite settlements in a sacred urban center. Much mystery remains about the civilization but it is believed that at its height Caral was home to an estimated 3000 residents. Details in the architecture, such as stairways that align with stars and altars with fire pits, point to religious and ceremonial occurrences. The absence of a walled closure is the first sign of this society’s peacekeeping trait and in fact archaeologists have yet to find any evidence of warfare in their diggings. Instead, musical instruments made of animal bones and a knotted textile apparatus used for accounting called quipu, popularly associated with the much later Inca culture, have been found in the grounds of Caral. Experts like Shady point to extreme climate change as the cause of Caral’s collapse. Prolonged drought dried up the Supe river and turned what was once a lush valley into the arid dunes that greet visitors today. Archaeologists have found evidence of various other extreme natural phenomena that would have scared Caral locals away (such as earthquakes and floods), leaving Caral abandoned around 1800 BCE. And while Caral is certainly the best preserved and studied example of this pioneering civilization, remnants of 18 neighboring ancient cities have been discovered by archaeologists in the past few decades. In other words, there is much to be discovered about the cradle of Andean civilization and Caral just so happens to be the gateway. How to get to Caral Located north of Lima, about 115 miles along the PanAmerican Highway, Caral can be reached by bus or private car. A four-hour drive, it is doable as a full-day excursion from the capital city; however, travelers should embark on the trip as early as possible in order to enjoy their time at the archaeological site. In a private car, head north along the Panamericana Norte highway until reaching the district of Supe (Barranco) at kilometer 187. From there, drivers are guided by signs to take an exit to the right in order to reach the archaeological site. Considering that renting a car in Peru is extremely expensive and the driving culture unsafe for the unaccustomed, the best option is to visit Caral by bus. Bus companies such as MovilBus and Turismo Barranco operate daily and leave Lima as early as 5:30am and offer return shuttles from Supe until 5:15pm. Round trip tickets are about S/50, depending on the company. The buses only go as far as Supe however, which means travelers need to then take a taxi or colectivo (shared taxi) from the bus stop to the Caral site. From Supe’s main square, walk a few blocks towards the district market and ask for “colectivos a Caral.” A colectivo is by far the more budget-friendly option as it will likely cost less than S/10 for the 40-minute ride, while a taxi can charge up to S/50. Tip: Ask the colectivo or taxi driver to wait for you as you tour Caral, since hailing a taxi in the middle of the desert is not easily done. Tickets to Caral Caral can be visited Monday to Saturday, from 10am-4pm. General entrance to Caral costs S/11 for adults, S/1 for children under 12 years, and S/5.50 for seniors (60 years and over). Tickets must be paid in cash (Peruvian sol) at the on-site ticket booth. Though signs in English are available throughout the site, local guides are available for hire on-site for S/20 to ensure a deeper experience. The site can be accessed by wheelchair although the paths are rocky so caution is advised. Though there are on-site shops, often the only thing open is the ticket booth. Pack a sun hat, sunscreen and plenty of water as you’ll be navigating this open desert site for 2-3 hours by foot.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Around Trujillo

    Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

    If there's one must-see archaeological site in the region, this is it. The Temples of the Sun and the Moon, attributed to the Moche period, are more than 700 years older than Chan Chan, yet parts of the complex are remarkably well preserved. Located on the south bank of the Río Moche, the main attraction here is the Huaca de la Luna with its phenomenal multicolored friezes. The entrance price includes an English-speaking guide; individual travelers need to wait for a group to fill. The larger Huaca del Sol is closed to visitors.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lambayeque

    Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán

    Opened in November 2002, the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán is the pride of northern Peru – as well it should be. With its burgundy pyramid construction rising gently out of the earth, it’s a world-class facility specifically designed to showcase the marvelous finds from Sipán. Photography is not permitted and all bags must be checked.

  • Sights in Lambayeque

    Brüning Museum

    This museum, once the regional archaeological showcase, is now overshadowed by the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, but it still houses an excellent collection of artifacts from the Inca, Chimú, Moche, Lambayeque, Vicus and Chavín cultures, amassed by Hans Heinrich Brüning, after whom the museum is named. It is a good place to get an overview of the different groups that have inhabited the region.

  • Sights in Around Chiclayo

    Museo Nacional Sicán

    Located in Ferreñafe, this splendid museum displays replicas of the 12m-deep tombs found at the Sicán site at Batán Grande, among the largest tombs found in South America. Enigmatic burials were discovered within – the Lord of Sicán was buried upside down, in a fetal position, with his head separated from his body. Beside him were the bodies of two women and two adolescents, as well a sophisticated security system – the red sinabrio dust, toxic if inhaled – to ward off grave robbers.

  • Sights in Around Trujillo

    Museo Huacas de Moche

    Houses many objects excavated from Huacas del Sol y de la Luna and has descriptions in Spanish and English.

  • Sights in Around Trujillo

    Chan Chan

    Built around AD 1300 and covering 20 sq km, Chan Chan is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world. Although it must have been a dazzling sight at one time, devastating El Niño floods and heavy rainfall have severely eroded much of the city's outer portions. You can still visit the impressive restored Palacio Nik An complex and revel in the broad plazas, royal burial chamber and intricate designs that remain.

  • Sights in Around Chiclayo

    Reserva Ecológica Chaparrí Wildlife

    This 34,000-hectare private reserve, located 75km east of Chiclayo, was established in 2000 by the community of Santa Catalina and the famous Peruvian wildlife photographer Heinz Plenge. It offers a unique atmosphere for this coast – it's one of the few places in the world where you can spot the rare spectacled bear in its natural habitat; 25 or so have been accounted for (there are also two in rehabilitation captivity).

  • Sights in Around Chiclayo

    Túcume

    This archaeological site, around 30km north of Lambayeque on the Panamericana, is not particularly well known, but it's the most impressive collection of ruins in the region. A vast area, with more than 200 hectares of crumbling walls, plazas and 26 pyramids, it was the final capital of the Sicán culture, who moved their city from nearby Batán Grande around AD 1050 after that area was devastated by the effects of El Niño.

  • Sights in Tumbes

    Parque Nacional Cerros de Amotape

    The tropical dry forest ecosystem of Cerros de Amotape is protected by this 1515-sq-km national park, which makes up the lion’s share of the Reserva de Biosfera de Noroeste. It's home to flora and fauna that includes jaguars, condors and anteaters, though parrots, deer and peccaries are more commonly sighted. Large-scale logging, illegal hunting and overgrazing are some of the threats facing this rare habitat. Independent visitors must get advance permission from the Sernanp office in Tumbes and contract a guide.

  • Sights in Piura

    Chulucanas

    Located about 55km east of Piura, just before the Sechura Desert starts rising into the Andean slopes, Chulucanas is known Peru-wide for its distinctive ceramics – rounded, glazed, earth-colored pots that depict humans. Chulucanas’ ceramics have officially been declared a part of Peru’s cultural heritage and are becoming famous outside the country.

  • Sights in Tumbes

    Santuario Nacional los Manglares de Tumbes

    This national sanctuary was established in 1988 and lies on the coast, separate from the other three dry-forest areas. Only about 30 sq km in size, it plays an essential role in conserving Peru’s only region of mangroves. The sanctuary and the surrounding area is one of the few zona-rojas (red zones) left in Peru and it's imperative to check the security situation before heading out. It's best to visit at low tide, when the animals come out to feed.

  • Sights in Around Trujillo

    Museo Arqueológico Municipal de Moche

    Not to be confused with the Museo Huacas de Moche at the Huaca de la Luna site, this museum on the main square in the town of Moche houses around 500 ceramic pieces from the Chavin, Chimú, Lambayeque and Moche cultures curated from a private collection owned by Italian immigrants. The pieces were formerly on display at the Museo Cassinelli under a gritty gas station in Trujillo, but their new home is far more conducive to contemplation.

  • Sights in Trujillo

    Casa Ganoza Chopitea

    Northeast of the cathedral, this c 1735 mansion, also known as Casa de los Léones, is considered to be the best-preserved mansion of the colonial period in Trujillo. The details are stunning, from the elaborate gateway at the entrance to 300-year-old frescoes and Oregon-pine pillars.

  • Sights in Chiclayo

    Mercado Modelo

    This is one of Peru’s most interesting markets, sprawling over several blocks. Most notable for tourists is the mercado de brujos (witch doctors’ market) in the southwest corner. This area is a one-stop shop for brujos (witch doctors) and has everything you might need for a potent brew: whale bones, amulets, snake skins, vials of indeterminate tonics, hallucinogenic cacti and piles of aromatic herbs.

  • Sights in Trujillo

    Casa de Urquiaga

    Owned and maintained by Banco Central de la Reserva del Perú since 1972, this beautiful colonial mansion’s history dates to 1604, though the original house was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1619. Rebuilt and preserved since, it now houses exquisite period furniture, including a striking writer’s desk once used by Simón Bolívar, who organized much of his final campaign to liberate Peru from the Spanish empire from Trujillo in 1824.

  • Sights in Pacasmayo

    Puemape

    This clean beach, accessed by a spur road south of the town of San Pedro de Lloc, has a fine long left break and has become a popular spot for those in the know. While the small village here is a bit of a ghost town, the arrival of electricity, set to happen by the time this edition is printed, is likely to lead to new construction. But for now it's blissfully quiet, with a couple of accommodations options and basic eateries.

  • Sights in Trujillo

    Museo de Arqueología

    This well-curated museum features a rundown of Peruvian history from 12,000 BC to the present day, with an emphasis on Moche, Chimú and Inca civilizations as well as the lesser-known Cupisnique and Salinar cultures. It’s also worth popping in for the house itself: a restored 17th-century mansion known as La Casa Risco, which features striking cedar pillars and gorgeous painted courtyard walls.

  • Sights in Around Chiclayo

    Pimentel

    The poshest of the beach towns near Chiclayo, Pimentel has a long pier, a broad malecón (boardwalk) fronted by high-end, glassed-in houses, and the nicest beach for miles. Unfortunately the waves here are rarely surfable – conversely they are highly swimmable – but an afternoon stroll along the boardwalk and through some of the stick-frame, centuries-old houses is a fun retreat. If you plan on spending the night outside Chiclayo, there are more facilities here than in neighboring villages.

  • Sights in Trujillo

    Palacio Iturregui

    This imposing gray early 19th-century mansion is impossible to ignore. Built in neoclassical style, it has beautiful window gratings, 36 slender interior columns and gold moldings on the ceilings. General Juan Manuel Iturregui lived here after he famously proclaimed independence.