While most travelers head straight for Cusco, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, and Machu Picchu in southern Peru, northern Peru is still a hidden gem for travelers to venture off the beaten path. In Northern Peru, you will find amazing ruins with hardly any other people around, discover unique landscapes, and learn about ancient pre-Inca cultures in Peru. “El norte” is a multicultural and colorful destination full of contrasts with a fascinating, diverse culture, history, geography, biodiversity, and gastronomy, from the coastal lands of the capital city to Lima up to Trujillo, crossing the Andes Mountain Range by Cajamarca up to the Peruvian Amazon. Northern Peru offers a wide range of things to do and see. Let’s plan a trip to Northern Peru!
Most likely, you will arrive in the capital city of Lima y plane (or cross the borders when traveling overland to Peru from Ecuador. From Lima, you can take a flight to Trujillo or Cajamarca (a flight of approximately one hour and a half) and start your trip in Northern Peru!
Here is a brief overview of some of the top things to see and do in this beautiful area to Plan a trip to Northern Peru:
What to do in Northern Peru
- Visit the ruins of Chavín de Huantar, an ancient ceremonial center and UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to 900 BC.
- Take a tour of the Tucume Pyramids, a group of 26 adobe pyramids built by the Lambayeque culture.
- Explore the beautiful coastal city of Trujillo, known for its colonial architecture and beaches. Some of the top sights to see here include the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral of Trujillo, and the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Read more below.
- Head to the city of Cajamarca in the Andes mountains, the place of the Inca emperor Atahualpa’s capture by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Cajamarca is also home to several colonial-era buildings and hot springs. Read more below.
- Take a day trip to the Kuelap ruins, a pre-Inca fortress in the Chachapoyas region. The fort is known for its circular stone walls and many underground tombs. Read more below.
- Visit the Gocta Waterfall, the third-highest waterfall in the world, located in the Amazon rainforest near the town of Chachapoyas.
- Take a boat trip on the Maranon river, which is one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, to see the diverse range of wildlife in the area.
When planning your trip to Northern Peru, remember that northern Peru can be pretty hot during the day, especially in the coastal regions, so it’s best to plan your activities for the early morning or late afternoon.
Additionally, some sites and activities, such as the Kuelap and Gocta Waterfall, are located in remote and mountainous areas, so be prepared for rugged terrain and possible altitude sickness or soroche. If you have been to cities like Cusco, Arequipa, or Machu Picchu before traveling to the north, you should still be acclimatized.
How to visit Kuélap in Peru
Kuélap is a pre-Inca fortress located in the Chachapoyas region of northern Peru. The fort is known for its circular stone walls and many underground tombs. To visit Kuélap, here are some tips:
- Getting there: To reach Kuélap, you’ll first need to fly to the city of Chiclayo, Cajamarca, or Tarapoto, all of which have airports that receive flights from Lima. From there, you can take a bus or private car to the town of Chachapoyas, the closest city to Kuélap. Finally, you can take a bus or taxi from Chachapoyas to the village of Tingo, where the fortress is located.
- Best time to visit: The best time to visit Kuélap is during the dry season, which runs from April to November. During the rainy season, which runs from November to April, the road to the fortress can be more challenging to navigate, and the fort may be closed.
- Entrance fee: Entrance fee for Kuélap is US$12 for foreign adults and US$6 for students
- Guided tours: It is recommended to take a guided tour of Kuélap as the guide will provide you with information about the site’s history and architecture and take you to the most exciting parts of the fortress not allowed to access without a guide. You can arrange the tour in Chachapoyas or book a Kuélap Tour with a tour agency or travel agent in advance
- Altitude and Physical condition: Keep in mind that Kuélap is located at an altitude of about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above sea level, so you may experience some symptoms of altitude sickness such as headache, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Make sure to take it easy, rest often, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. And also, keep in mind that Kuélap is an ancient site built on the mountain; it may need some physical effort to climb and visit the site.
- Safety: As Kuélap is located in a remote area, take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety. Let someone know your itinerary, and bring a fully charged cell phone and emergency contact information. It’s also a good idea to wear comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather.
Visiting Kuélap is a unique and worthwhile experience of your trip to Peru you will enjoy a lot.
What to see in Cajamarca
Cajamarca is a charming city located in the Andes mountains of northern Peru. It is known for its rich history and beautiful colonial architecture.
Here are some of the top sights to see while visiting Cajamarca:
- Plaza de Armas: This is the main square in the city and a great place to start your visit. The square is surrounded by beautiful colonial-era buildings, including the Cathedral of Cajamarca and the Palacio de la Real Audiencia.
- Ransom Room (Cuarto del Rescate): This is where the Inca emperor Atahualpa was held captive by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Inside the room, you can see the famous “Ransom Room,” where the legendary Inca gold and silver were kept to get the Atahualpa release.
- Baños del Inca: This ancient Inca bath complex is still in use today. The hot springs here are believed to have healing properties, and you can take a dip in the pools while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
- Cajamarca’s archaeological sites: There are a few Inca and pre-Inca ruins around the city, like the Ventanillas de Otuzco and the Cerro Santa Apolonia.
- Belen Church: This beautiful church is located in the city’s heart and is a great place to see some of Cajamarca’s colonial architecture. The church is also known for its intricate wood carvings.
- The handicrafts market: Cajamarca is known for its traditional textiles, ceramics, and handicrafts; you can find some of the best examples of these at the local markets, like the famous handicraft market on Calle Real.
- Surrounding area: The city of Cajamarca is surrounded by beautiful Andean landscapes, and there are many opportunities to explore the area with one-day excursions, visiting the Porcon Lake, hot springs, and many more.
Cajamarca is a great place to visit and offers a variety of cultural and historical experiences. It is known for its charming colonial architecture, rich history, and beautiful scenery. There are also many great restaurants and cafes in the city where you can try some of the local cuisine.
What to do in Trujillo and surroundings
Trujillo is a beautiful coastal city in northern Peru with a rich history and culture. Plan a trip to Northern Peru and check out some of the top things to see and do in Trujillo and its surroundings:
- Plaza de Armas: This is the main square in Trujillo and a great place to start your visit. The square is surrounded by beautiful colonial-era buildings, including the Cathedral of Trujillo and the Palacio de la Merced.
- Chan Chan Archaeological Zone: This is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America and a UNESCO World Heritage site located about 20 kilometers west of Trujillo. The town was built by the Chimu culture and is known for its intricate adobe structures and carvings.
- Huaca del Sol y la Luna: These are two ancient Moche pyramids outside Trujillo. The Huaca del Sol is the most extensive adobe construction in the Americas. The Huaca de la Luna is known for its intricate murals.
- The Royal Tombs of Sipan: This is an archaeological site located about 60 kilometers northwest of Trujillo, where the tombs of the Moche elite have been uncovered, it is considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries of South America, and it is a must-see for history and archaeology enthusiasts.
- El Brujo Archaeological Complex: This site is located about 70 kilometers northwest of Trujillo and was built by the Moche culture. It contains several pyramids, plazas, and murals. It is also famous for its Lady of Cao, a Moche mummy found here, which is now part of the National Museum of Anthropology collection in Lima.
- Peruvian Beaches: Trujillo is known for its beautiful beaches, like Huanchaco, the famous surfing spot, and the nearby beaches like El Estero, where you can go for a relaxing day in the sun.
- The Historical Centre of Trujillo: Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is a rich and beautiful place where you can see a lot of colonial architecture and take a walk around, visiting the traditional houses and churches of the city.
- Local Peruvian Food: Trujillo is known for its seafood and ceviche, especially the famous “ceviche de conchas negras” (black shells ceviche) and other traditional dishes like “arroz con pato” (rice with duck) and “chanchito al horno” (oven-roasted pork).
Trujillo offers a great variety of things to do and see, from ancient ruins and colonial-era architecture to beautiful beaches and delicious local cuisine. The city and its surroundings are rich in history and culture, and there’s plenty to explore for history, archaeology, and culture enthusiasts.
Overall, northern Peru offers a wide variety of cultural and natural experiences, from ancient ruins and colonial-era architecture to beautiful beaches, hot springs, and waterfalls.
Do you need help planning your trip to Northern Peru? We’d love to help you Plan a trip to Northern Peru!
Feel free to contact Dos Manos Peru Travel.
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