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Trip Report Northern Peru with Ancient Summit

We recently returned from a fantastic trip to Northern Peru and the Amazon, organized by Nina Fogelman at Ancient Summit (www.ancientsummit.com). We had travelled with Ancient Summit to the usual highlights (Lima, Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, Lake Titicaca) two years ago and enjoyed it so much that we decided to go back to Peru and visit the less developed sites in the North – and combine that with an Amazon cruise out of Iquitos.

One of the challenges when organizing such a trip is knowing how long it takes to travel between places, how long to spend at each location, and where best to stay. Nina developed our itinerary specifically for us and helped us experience the history and culture of the North coast of Peru. We were fascinated to discover how many archeological sites there are – and that most of these have only been being “explored” since about 1990.

Our Northern Peru itinerary included Trujillo, El Brujo, Chan Chan, Chiclayo, Chaparri Nature reserve, Sipan and other interesting historical sites.

We travelled from May 14 to May 29 – the choice of time was based mostly on the Amazon part of the trip since that time would be high water allowing water access to a lot of areas, but past the rainy season.

Our trip originated in Toronto, Canada, and we flew direct on Air Canada to Lima (the only Airline that flys direct from Toronto to Lima) , We connected – after a bit of a layover - directly from Lima to Trujillo.

In Trujillo we were met by a guide and driver that Ancient Summit had organized – and who took care of us for our entire Northern Peru stay – and taken to the Hotel Libertador which is on the Plaza de Armas, the beautiful main square of Trujillo. The Libertador is a wonderful hotel with great rooms and service and very central. Trujillo itself has an active nightlife and is certainly safe to walk around.

While staying in Trujillo we visited the Temple of the Sun and Moon (Huaca del sol y luna) . Although they just look like two big mounds, they are actually huge structures that were built out of adobe brick and hence have as “somewhat” weathered appearance from the outside. However, INSIDE there are a wealth of architectural artifacts and many other artifacts (gold, silver, pottery) have been recovered may of which are presented at a museum at the location. This was a trend we found with all of the archeological sites we visited – under unassuming large earth mounds are a wealth of historical treasures. Our guide was tremendous, and had a thorough knowledge of the history and archeology of the area and could communicate that knowledge extremely well. Other tourists who had been at the site at the same as us, and we ran into in the hotel later, commented on how good he was (better than their guide).

One of great things about visiting these sites in Northern Peru is that they are significantly less busy, usually we saw only a few other tourists, allowing us to fully enjoy observing and taking in the information. Its also worth noting that because the area isn’t as highly touristed, much of the material in the museums is only in Spanish, which is where a good guide is very helpful (unless your Spanish is better than mine)
We also visited the Museo de Arqueologia de la Universitad Nacional de Trujillo - housed in a magnificent old building in downtown Trujillo that has many more pottery and metal artifacts, and historical information – several historical houses in Trujillo, and the beachside community of Huanchaco.

And near to Huanchaco is the massive archeological complex of Chan Chan. This complex consists of 9 “citadels” or palaces – each from different eras. Of these only one – the Tschudi Palace - is open to the public, but it is truly impressive in scale, covering 13 hectares (33 acres) and with perimeter walls up to 10 meters in height.
Not usually on any tourist agenda, but definitely worth checking out, is the massive mosaic mural that is being created on the wall around the Universitad Nacional de Trujillo. The wall is about 1 mile and a half in length, and the mural, begun in 1994, depicts Peruvian culture from the caveman, to the present, and will be the longest mural in the world.

Our next stop was the Chaparri Nature reserve outside of Chiclayo – about a 5 hr drive from Trujillo. On the way we stopped at the El Brujo Archaeological Complex, just north of Trujillo, another site of significance in understanding the Moche and Chimu cultures with excellent architectural reliefs and well preserved artifacts. Archeology is an ongoing process here. The drive itself in on the Pan American Highway – not what one would call the most scenic road, but it was interesting to see the desert like nature of areas without irrigation contrasted with huge sugar cane and rice fields.

The Chaparri Nature Reserve, known for its birds and wildlife, is in a “dry forest” area east of Chiclayo. It is rather remote and the access road is, shall we say, a bit rough. But it’s certainly worth the trip. The accommodations are simple but charming and comfortable, and the food – always served outdoors – was excellent. We spent time hiking in this spectacular forest and saw many bird species, fox, pecarries, and the Andean Spectacle bear..
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Then back to Chiclayo, stopping along the way at the Royal Tombs of Sipan, a temple site where many tombs have been unearthed including that of the “Lord of Sipan” with relics that rival those of King Tut.

In Chiclayo we stayed at the Casa Andina Select (formerly the Gran Hotel). Having been just acquired it is undergoing renovation and was, at times, very noisy. It is certainly well appointed and has everything you need. Chiclayo itself is not a particularly attractive city, or conducive to an evening stroll. We had lunch at one of the leading local restaurants, the Fiesta, which has absolutely wonderful food – unless you’re a vegetarian. They seemed to be unable to, or uninterested in, accommodating a vegetarian menu request – two choices, omelet or plain uninteresting vegetable salad. The restaurant was also somewhat lacking in ambiance..

The next two days were spent visiting more historical sites – the Sican Museum, Batan Grande, the Pyramids of Tucume, and the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum – all of which were fascinating. We finished with a trip to the Chiclayo market which has two parts, the regular food market and the “witches” market where they sell the items (herbs, candles, elixirs) used by the Peruvian curanderos or witch doctors.

All in all it was a tremendously interesting and educational experience - from the vegetation, wildlife and culture, to the history and archeology. Everything was very well organized and we couldn’t have had a better guide.

From Chiclayo we returned to Lima to travel to Iquitos for the Amazon portion of our trip.
The Amazon report will follow in a separate post.

For a visual dialog, we've posted some of the vast number of photographs we took...

Northern Peru: http://youtu.be/7taqjTtRDlw
Amazon video : http://youtu.be/Y_z2oJSu1lU

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