63 Best Sights in The North Coast and Northern Highlands, Peru

La Collpa Farm

Cajamarca is famous for its dairy products, and you can experience this industry up close at this charming farm 11 km (7 miles) outside town. In addition to sampling the farm's cheeses and sweet manjar blanco, you can also visit an artificial lake and check out Peru's biggest all-clay church. The highlight is the "calling of the cows," in which Rosa, Betsy, and Flor answer to their names as they line up to return to their pens. Perfect for kids of all ages.

Lake Parón

The largest lake in Huascarán National Park glows with the same miraculous turquoise hue as its sister lagoons farther south—but with very few visitors to spoil the solitude. The placid waters are surrounded by peaks that climb 20,000 feet into the clouds. Lake Parón is more easily accessed from Caraz, and many hikers take the opportunity to explore Mt. Artesonraju to the north.
Caraz, Peru

Mercado Central

For a down-to-earth look at Andean culture, head to this market, where you'll see fruits and vegetables grown only in the highlands, as well as cuyes, chickens, ducks, and rabbits, all available for purchase alive or freshly slaughtered.

Entrance at Jr. de la Cruz Romero and Av. Cayetano Requena, Huaraz, Peru

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Mirador de Rataquenua

The lookout point has an excellent view of Huaraz, the Río Santa, and the surrounding mountains. It's a 45-minute walk up, and the directions are complicated, so it's best to hire a guide or, better yet, take a taxi.

Av. Confraternidad Inter Sur and Av. Confraternidad Inter Este, Huaraz, Peru

Monasterio El Carmen

Still used as a nunnery, this handsome edifice, built in 1725, is regarded as the city's finest example of colonial art. It has five elaborate altars and some fine floral frescos. Next door is a museum, the Pinacoteca Carmelita, with religious works from the 17th and 18th centuries and an interesting exhibition on restoration techniques. Be warned: visiting hours are sporadic.

Museo Arqueológico de Ancash

What draws visitors to this small museum is the park out back, which has a delightful assortment of pre-Hispanic statues from the Chavín and Recuay cultures. The musicians, warriors, and gods here will keep you company as you reflect on the mummies and ceramics you've examined in the museum's inner rooms. Upstairs, numerous skulls bear the scars (or rather holes) from trepanation, the removal of bone from the skull. There are also textiles, metalwork, and a room dedicated to ancient Andean beliefs about the afterlife.

Museo Arqueológico Municipal de Moche

This small but well-curated museum is the new home to the Cassinelli collection, one of the most impressive assemblages of Moche and other artifacts in Peru. Mummies, pottery that imitates bird calls, and a bewildering array of stirrup vessels are among the highlights. The museum is on the third floor of the Municipal Building of the village of Moche, just a short cab ride from downtown Trujillo.
Cl. Bolognesi 359, Trujillo, Peru
044-465–471
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Rate Includes: S/5, Closed Sat.

Museo Arqueológico Nacional Brüning

While not as exciting as the Sipán museum next door, this archaeological museum opens a window onto daily life as it transpired among different pre-Inca civilizations. Excellent interpretive displays show how the Moche, Lambayeque, and other pre-Inca cultures such as the Cupisnique, Chavín, Chimú, and Sicán fished, harvested, and kept their homes. There's also a wonderful photography exhibit detailing the archaeologist Hans Heinrich Brüning and his experiences in Peru beginning in the late 1800s. Descriptions are in Spanish, so an English-speaking guide is recommended.

Museo Cassinelli

A major collection of archaeological gems in the basement of a shuttered gas station? Well, yes, and it's very much worth a visit—if you can catch it when it's open. The original owner, Jose Luis Cassinelli, amassed a 2,800-piece collection that is internationally renowned among specialists, but since his death the museum's opening hours have been notoriously spotty. If you do get lucky and find it open, you'll see some spectacular portrait vases from the Moche civilization and whistling pots, which produce distinct notes that mimic the calls of various birds. The museum is located on the right-rear side of the now-closed REPSOL station in the traffic circle next to the highway.

Av. Nicolás de Piérola 607, Trujillo, Peru
044-246–110
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Rate Includes: S/6, S/7

Museo de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia UNT

Originally built in the 17th century, this museum displays pottery and other artifacts recovered from the archaeological sites surrounding Trujillo. There are excellent reproductions of the colorful murals found at the Huaca de la Luna, the pyramids southeast of the city, as well as a lovely courtyard.

Jr. Junín 682, Trujillo, Peru
044-249–322
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Rate Includes: S/5, Closed Sun.

Museo del Juguete

Puppets, puzzles, toys, games—what could be more fun than a toy museum? This private museum houses a large collection of toys from all over the world and shows the transformation of toys through the centuries. The toys from pre-Colombian Peru are especially interesting, giving a seldom-seen view into the daily lives of ancient people. You can't play with the toys, so it may not be appropriate for very young children.

Museo Leymebamba

One of the most striking museums in all of Peru, the Museo Leymebamba, which opened in 2000, is situated in a small village 60 km (37 miles) south of Chachapoyas. Inside are more than 200 mummies, some dating back over 500 years, that were discovered high on a limestone cliff above the Laguna de los Condores in 1997, together with other artifacts from the Chachapoyas culture. Day-trips are available from downtown Chachapoyas; otherwise you can take a Cajamarca-bound bus (via Celendin) and ask to be let off at Leymebamba.

Museo Nacional Sicán

Offering insight into the culture of the Sicán people, this interesting museum also has unique exhibits on such topics as the El Niño effect and where the pre-Inca civilizations fit into world history. Visual timelines hammer home just how far back Peruvian history goes. The displays introducing the Sicán (also known as the Lambayeque) touch on everything from common eating utensils to ceremonial burial urns, with models of what their homes might have looked like and a central room full of amazing headdresses and masks. The replicas of the tombs are especially cool.

Museo Vicus

This archaeological museum, sometimes called the Museo Municipal, was extensively renovated during the first decade of this century. It houses the city's collection of pre-Columbian ceramics and gold artifacts, primarily from the Vicus culture, as well as changing art exhibits.

Palacio Iturregui

One look at the elaborate courtyard, with its two levels of white columns, enormous tiles, and three-tiered chandeliers, and you'll know why this is called a palace rather than a house. From the intricate white-painted metalwork to the gorgeous Italian marble furnishings, every detail of what was once considered the most exquisite house in South America has been carefully restored and maintained. Remodeled from an earlier mansion in 1842, it's now the home of the private Club Central de Trujillo. Unfortunately, the club only allows visitors limited access, and permission to enter seems to depend principally on the guard's mood for the day. If you do go, prepare to be impressed.

Pañamarca

Several ruins can be found near the town of Casma, but the heavily weathered Mochica city of Pañamarca is the one to see after Sechín. Located 10 km (6 miles) from the Pan-American Highway on the road leading to Nepeña, Pañamarca has some interesting murals. If they're not visible right away, ask a guard to show you, as they are often closed off. The site was later occupied by the Incas. A taxi will take you to the ruins for about S/20 an hour; negotiate the price before you leave.

Casma, Peru
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Rate Includes: S/6, includes admission to Sechín

Paramonga

With its seven defensive walls, the gigantic pyramid at Paramonga is worth a look. Nicknamed "the fortress" for its citadel-like ramparts, it may have only been a ritual center for the Chimú people back in the 13th century. In any case, it was already in ruins when the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1532. A small museum has interesting displays on Chimú culture. The archaeological site sits just off the Pan-American Highway, about 3 km (2 miles) north of the turnoff for Huaraz. For a few soles you can take a taxi to the ruins from the nearby town of Barranca.

Paseo Las Musas

For some fresh air and great people-watching, head to this pedestrian walking path. It borders a stream and has classical statues depicting scenes from mythology.

Pastouri Glacier

A popular day-trip from Huaraz is a visit to the Pastoruri Glacier, where you can hike around the 8-square-km (3-square-mile) berg. The rapidly shrinking ice field, which could disappear within the next few years, has become a symbol of global climate change. On this trip you'll ascend to well above 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), so make sure you're used to the high altitude. Wear warm clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses, as the sun is intense. Drink lots of water to avoid altitude sickness. The easiest and safest way to get here is with a tour company from Huaraz. The tour costs about S/30 to S/40 and takes eight hours. You can also hire diminutive horses to take you up to the glacier from the parking lot for about S/15. It's not the most spectacular glacier in the world, but if you've never seen one up close, it's worth the trip. The glacier is 70 km (43 miles) south of Huaraz, off the main highway at the town of Recuay—a journey of about three hours.

Playa Huankarote

This wide, rocky beach south of the pier is less popular for swimming, but there's good surfing. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude, surfing.

Playa Malecón

North of the pier, this is the town's most popular beach, and it is filled with rows upon rows of restaurants. Local craftspeople sell their goods along the waterfront walk, and fishermen line up their caballitos de totora, the reed fishing rafts that are used more as a photo op or to rent to tourists than for actual fishing. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: sunset; surfing; swimming; walking.

Playa Tortugas

An easy drive from the Sechín area, this small beach is a low-key base for exploring the nearby ruins. A ghost town in winter, it is much more pleasant, in terms of both weather and people, in summertime. The stony beach, in a perfectly round cove surrounded by brown hills, offers limited hotel and restaurant options, but with its fleet of fishing boats and pleasant lapping waves, it's a relaxing destination. Facilities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming.

Plaza de Armas

Brightly colored, well-maintained buildings and green grass with walkways and benches make this one of the most charming central plazas in Peru. Fronted by the 17th-century cathedral and surrounded by the colonial-era mansions that are Trujillo's architectural glory, this is not, despite claims by locals, Peru's largest main plaza, but it is one of the nicest.

Plaza de Armas

This main square occupies the same location where Pizarro had his dramatic encounter with Atahualpa, and though all traces of Inca influence are long since gone, it's impressive to stand on the spot where Latin American history began. Today, the fountain, benches, and street vendors make the square a nice place to hang out.

Plaza de Armas

This pretty square is the key spot for people-watching in Huaraz. The cathedral looks splendid when lit up at night, and tiendas artesenales (artisanal kiosks) border the central fountain.

Pozo de Yanayacu

This small, rocky natural hot spring a few blocks west of the Plaza de Armas isn't much but is nice to look at. It's said the spring magically appeared during a visit from Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo.

Puerto Pizarro

This small fishing port, 14 km (9 miles) north of Tumbes on the way to the Ecuadorean border, sits near the point where the Río Tumbes and the Pacific Ocean meet and not far from the Santuario Nacional Manglares de Tumbes. The mix of fresh- and saltwater is ideal for mangroves, not to mention the aquatic creatures that thrive among their roots. Tour operators in Tumbes and Mancora sell half-day or full-day tours starting from the port, but it is just as easy to come here and arrange a trip directly. Prices are based on the time and the number of stops, which include bird and wildlife watching in the mangroves, a small reptile zoo, and tiny islands with pleasant beaches and informal beach-shack restaurants.

Purunllacta

About 35 km (22 miles) southeast of Chachapoyas are the ruins of Purunllacta, a good place for hiking. With pre-Inca agricultural terraces, dwellings, ceremonial platforms, and roads extending for more than 420 hectares (1,038 acres), but few tourists, this can be a peaceful spot, but somewhat boring as you have no explanation of what you're seeing. To get here, drive to the town of Cheto. From the town it's a one-hour walk uphill to the site. Few people know about this or go, so ask in Cheto for directions to the trailhead, and don't be alarmed if you have to ask more than one person.

Sechín

The origins of Sechín, one of the country's oldest archaeological sites, remain a mystery. It's not clear what culture built this coastal temple around 1600 BC, but the bas-relief carvings ringing the main sanctuary, some up to 4 meters (13 feet) high, graphically depict triumphant warriors and their conquered, often beheaded enemies. Some researchers have even speculated that this was a center for anatomical study, due to the sheer number of detached body parts engraved on the rocks. The site was first excavated in 1937 by the archaeologist J.C. Tello. It has since suffered from looters and natural disasters. Archaeologists are still excavating here, so access to the central plaza is not permitted. A trail leading up a neighboring hill provides good views of the temple complex and the surrounding valley. A small museum has a good collection of Chavín ceramics and a mummy that was found near Trujillo. To get to the ruins, head southeast from Casma along the Pan-American Highway for about 3 km (2 miles), turning east onto a paved road leading to Huaraz. The ruins sit about 2 km (1¼ miles) past the turnoff.

Casma, Peru
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Rate Includes: S/6, includes admission to Pañamarca

Túcume

Archaeology aficionados looking to see some ancient sites in their crude state will enjoy this pyramid complex, located 35 km (22 miles) north of Chiclayo. Grand but largely unexcavated, it's the site of Huaca Larga, one of the largest adobe pyramids in South America, as well as dozens of smaller structures spread across a dry desert. Most are badly deteriorated. A small museum, Museo de Sitio, offers tours with English-speaking guides to learn about the history of the complex.

The rugged desert landscape, sprinkled with hardy little algarrobo (mesquite) trees, is probably very similar to what it looked like when—so the legend goes—a lord called Naymlap arrived in the Lambayeque Valley and with his dozen sons founded the Lambayeque dynasty. It was this line of Sicán rulers who built the pyramids seen today. Keep an eye out for burrowing owls as you make your way from the entrance toward the pyramids.

Adjacent to the archaeological site is a lovely hotel designed from adobe and algarrobo wood, Los Horcones de Tucume (951/831–705, www.loshorconesdetucume.com), whose architect-owner seamlessly incorporated pre-Columbian designs into the walled complex. There are 12 airy guest rooms with private terraces and a small pool at the hotel. The staff can arrange various horseback-riding trips through algarrobo forests and meetings with local curanderos, or shamans.

Chiclayo, Peru
076-422–027
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Rate Includes: S/10