This 14-day trip will take you to the best cities and historic places of interest on the north coast of Peru. From the fascinating archaeological sites around Trujillo and Cumbemayo, to visits with local woodcarvers and environmentalists, you'll get an in-depth experience with this little-visited area. Along the way, you'll hike to one of the world’s highest waterfalls, make some cocktails, visit superb museums, and sample delicious local cuisine.

Highlights

  • Explore Chan Chan, the world's largest adobe city, a UNESCO world heritage site
  • Visit the Mummy Museum in Leymebamba
  • Discover the fortress of Kuélap, the Machu Picchu of the North 
  • Get insight into local coffee farming
  • Hike to the Gocta Waterfalls, one of the world highest waterfalls!
  • Walk through the Pyramids of Tucume

Overview

This two-week journey in northern Peru crosses mountains, jungle, and desert from the Pacific Ocean to the Peruvian Amazon – reaching destinations that are far off the beaten path. The journey includes the region's archaeological highlights, such as Kuélap and Chan Chan, plus natural wonders such as the 771 m high Gocta Waterfall. The itinerary also has cultural offerings, including a rodeo, cooking class, and a visit to an indigenous community. The trip starts with a flight to Trujillo, makes a loop inland to Chachapoyas by vehicle, eventually coming back to the coast at Chiclayo. 

Brief Itinerary

Day  Highlights  Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima Lima
Day 2 Tour Trujillo, horse riding show, and cocktail class Trujillo
Day 3 Visit a Moche village and the Sun and Moon Temples Trujillo
Day 4 Visit Chan Chan, cooking class in Huanchaco Trujillo
Day 5 Exploation of Cajamarca Cajamarca
Day 6 Visit archaeological site of Cumbemayo Cajamarca
Day 7 Visit the workshop of a wood sculptor Leymebamba
Day 8 Mummy museum, hike to Mausoleum of Revash ACP Milpuj
Day 9 Visit Fortress of Kuélap ACP Milpuj
Day 10 Explore Chachapoyas, hiking in Canyon de Sonche Chachapoyas
Day 11 Hike to Gocta Waterfall Cocachimba
Day 12 Drive through the Andes Mountains Chiclayo
Day 13  Valley of the Pyramids in Túcume Chiclayo
Day 14 Departure to Lima  

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima

View of Lima from the neighborhood of Miraflores.

Arrive in a Lima and transfer to your hotel, there are a number of good boutique hotel options in the city. If time permits, take a walking tour of Lima Centro to visit some highlights of the Peruvian capital.

The place to start your visit is Plaza de Armas, also called the Plaza Mayor, where Lima was founded in the 16th century by Francisco Pizarro. Around the plaza, you'll find impressive government buildings and Lima's main cathedral. From here you can continue to Plaza Bolívar and Mercado Central (the central market), visiting a handful of museums, monasteries and parks along the way. Enjoy dinner at one of Lima's excellent restaurants and turn in early to your hotel to prepare for a domestic flight tomorrow.  

Day 2: Enjoy a horse riding show and cocktail class in Trujillo

Cathedral of Trujillo, first built in 1647, contains frescoes and a museum.

Board a morning flight from Lima to Trujillo. Upon arrival, you'll be picked up by your driver and English-speaking guide. Transfer to your hotel for some rest. 

Around noon, pick-up at the hotel for lunch in a local restaurant with regional and national dishes before attending a typical Caballo de paso (horse riding competition) in Trujillo. Return to your hotel for an afternoon rest.

Later you can enjoy a city tour of colorful Trujillo. We will discover the history of the city through its colonial and republican buildings, its churches, majestic cathedral and the archaeological museum.

In the evening, at the Museo Café Bar Algenmira, we will learn to prepare Peruvian cocktails with pisco and algarrobina (a syrup made from a Peruvian tree, the Proposis). Peruvian piqueos (appetizers) will be optional. 

Day 3: Pre-Incan archaeology: Sun and Moon Temples and El Brujo

Wooden statue in Chan Chan.

In the morning, we will go to a Moche village near Trujillo and visit the García family. They will welcome us in their house-workshop, known as “El Rostro Inconcebible” (the Inconceivable Face) to show us their millennium ceramic art and their handicrafts. The Moche represented their environment through realistic and expressive ceramics. In their workshop, we will produce our own ceramics, using traditional tools and techniques.

The Temples of the Sun and the Moon and the Moche Temples Museum will be our next stop. The Moon Temple consists of several temples built on top of each other over the course of several centuries. The temple also features 12,000 sq meters of polychrome murals. Its rich iconography and aesthetics are of outstanding value, reflecting a pattern that was created over seven centuries. Multicolored religious symbols – the most important is Aiapaec or “God of the Mountains” – can be seen in the adobe brick walls. 

After lunch in Trujillo, we will travel to the archaeological site of El Brujo in Magdalena de Cao city. This is one of the most valuable archaeological sites on the northern coast of Peru. It has a long cultural sequence of occupation that began in the pre-ceramic period (3000 B.C.).

Moche culture (0-700 A.D.) left many pieces of evidence in this area. Two discoveries have given a greater meaning to this complex. One is a 30 m high adobe pyramid with a bas-relief image of the El Brujo (The Decapitator). You can also view the tomb of the Lady of Cao (discovered in 2006), also known as the Lady of the tattoos. Archaeologists discovered here pottery and ornaments of gold, silver, and copper. This was the first discovery in Peru of a female mummy with its own outfit of the warrior aristocracy.

After returning to Trujillo (about 1.5 hours) we'll have a rest and then another cocktail lesson, this time at the pub El Boticario. We will learn to prepare cocktails with some Peruvian herbs. Piqueos will be optional.

Day 4: Chan Chan World Heritage Site and local cooking class

Traditional fishing boat in Huanchaco.

Today we will visit in the morning another great archaeological site of the Northern coast of Peru – Chan Chan and the Nik-An palace. Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimú Empire which thrived in the region after the Moche’s collapse.

After a detailed visit to this fascinating place, we head to Huanchaco, where we will have a cooking class: we will prepare ourselves the classic recipes of the Cebiche de Pescado and Pisco Sour.

In addition, we will learn the secrets of this local meal and temporarily become professional bartenders. After all that work, we have the pleasure to eat our creations.

After lunch, we discover an old tradition, still perpetuated by Huanchaco’s people in their daily life: the construction and use of caballitos de totora (reed boats). The building technique and use of these boats have stood the test of time and come from the Moche and Chimú cultures.

Day 5: City tour of Cajamarca

View of Cajamarca, founded by the Incas in the 15th century. 

Departure in the morning from Trujillo to Cajamarca (about 6 hours). Lunch on the road. 

After a rest in Cajamarca, the first place to visit is the Ransom Room. This is the only Inca historical site preserved in the city – it is perhaps the most important archaeological site in northern Peru. This room served to store the gold pieces and silver offered in exchange for the freedom of Inca Atahualpa. Today it represents the end of one of the most important cultures of humanity and the start of mestizaje in Peru.

Your final stops for the day are visits to churches of different religious orders that were built during the colonial era between the 17th century and the mid-eighteenth century.

Day 6: Visit the Pre-Columbian site Cumbemayo 

Ventanillas de Otuzco.

In the morning you will be picked up from your hotel and depart to Cumbemayo.  The Cumbemayo archaeological site, located 14 km from Cajamarca city and 3500 m above sea level, is framed by a unique landscape that includes a beautiful stone forest.

The archaeological site is considered one of the most remarkable aqueducts in the Andean region. It was built around 1500 B.C., making it one of the oldest manmade structures in South America. The site includes a 9 km-long aqueduct, tunnels, and intriguing petroglyphs. Return to Cajamarca for lunch.

In the afternoon, you will the Ventanillas de Otuzco, a spectacular pre-Incan cemetery from the Cajamarca culture. The individual and family graves are built into the stone and look like windows from far away (“Ventanillas” means little windows in Spanish).

Day 7: Visit a local wood artist workshop

Woodcarver Miguel Huaman explains how to paint your Sarcophagus

Departure to the Amazonas region, we pass by Celendin city and ascend to Abra de Gelic (3,100 m). We'll view the Valley of the Marañon and the surrounding mountain ranges, and then descend to the village of Balsas (900m). We pass over the Rio Marañon. We will have lunch at a local restaurant along the road.

Our drive ascends to Abra Barro negro (3,600 m) and then descends to the valley of Atuen River. We then travel to Leymebamba district (2,200 m).

Upon arrival, we visit Miguel Huaman, a local wood artist who does all the replications for the Museum of Leymebamba. He is a self-taught wood-carver according to the Chachapoyas tradition. He will explain his technique and you can learn something of his craft by painting your own Sarcophagus.

Day 8: Mummy Museum and the Mausoleums of Revash

Mausoleum of Revash

In the morning, visit the Museum of Leymebamba, famous for housing hundreds of mummies found in the Lagoon of the Condors, 40 km from Leymebamba.

You will see a collection of 219 perfectly preserved mummies and archaeological pieces of the Chachapoya culture, including fabrics, ceramics, and wooden statues. You will also see examples of quipus, which were Incan knots used in record keeping.

We then leave Leymebamba and drive for about one hour to the district of San Bartolo (2800 m).

From there we hike about 30 minutes (3 km) to see the Mausoleum of Revash (2600 m altitude), built for funeral purposes by the Chachapoya. The mausoleums are situated on a mountain cliff, between one and three levels, decorated with symbols such as the Andean cross.

After our visit to Revash, we descend back into the Utcubamba Valley to reach the conservation center ACP Milpuj. Owners Lola and Perico will welcome you here for two nights.

Day 9: Discover the Fortress of Kuélap

Fortified city of Kuélap, the "Machu Picchu of the North"

From Nogalcucho we will travel 20 minutes to El Tingo district. We arrive at the boarding bus to the cable car. Then we travel 10 minutes to the starting platform, board the cable car and travel another 20 minutes (4 km).

We arrive at the tourist center La Malca and walk for another 2 km. We visit the fortified city of Kuélap (3000 m): Built from 400 A.D. in an area of 6 hectares, with more than 500 circular structures and other important buildings with particular purposes such as the major temple, El Torreon, discovered in 1843.

The buildings of Kuélap are decorated with friezes, diamonds and stylized beings, representing the major deities. We have lunch here and then journey back to ACP Milpuj.

In the afternoon we discover this beautiful conservation area and discuss with Perico the importance of preserving the ecosystem.

Day 10: Colonial Chachapoyas and the Sonche Canyon

Chachapoyas, colonial-style city and capital of the region Amazonas

Today we leave Perico and Lola for new adventures. After a one-hour drive, we will arrive in the colonial town of Chachapoyas, where you will have the opportunity to visit the local market.

We start our guided city tour after lunch, with stops at Independence Park and Plaza de Armas, the pedestrian area with its mansions and colonial-style balconies. 

Later in the day, we drive for 20 minutes to Huancas, a village known for its pottery. We view an exposition of pottery and then hike about 1 km to the viewpoint of the Canyon de Sonche, the highest canyon (980 m) in the Peruvian Amazon. We visit the Viewpoint of Luya Hurco with an amazing view of Chachapoyas and the majestic mountains around. 

Day 11: Hike to the 771 m high Gocta Waterfall

The Waterfall of Gocta cascades 771 m in two falls.

Today we descend to the valley of the Uctubamba River. We then travel one-hour before arriving at the Cocachimba community.

From here we walk and/or ride 6 km to the waterfall, seeing small farms en route. We then cross the dense vegetation typical of the cloud forest, a habitat for the spatuletail hummingbird, cock-of-the-rock (national bird), plus orchids and bromeliads. We reach the base of the waterfall where brave visitors can go for a swim.

Finally, we hike back to Cocachimba and have lunch. Time to relax at the swimming pool with a view of the waterfall.

Day 12: Travel to Chiclayo

Calm and serenity in the fields of northern Peru.

After breakfast, we leave Cocachimba for a 7-hour drive to the coast of Northern Peru, more precisely to Chiclayo.

From the lush vegetation of the cloud forest, we will pass the lowest summit of the Andes (Porculla Pass), before descending on the other side into the desert-like landscape.

Day 13: Explore the Pyramids of Tucume 

Museum Tumbas Reales in Lambayeque.

Today we will visit the Valley of the Pyramids in Túcume. This archeological site was the last capital of the Lambayeque and Chimu kingdom that flourished before the arrival of the Incas in northern Peru.

This complex is one of the most important pre-Hispanic monuments of the north coast of Peru. Its magnitude and extent are about 220 acres. Walking around the site, you'll see the remains of patios, canal systems, walls, and other structures that indicate a complex social structure and urban planning.

Here Túcume lords resided with the luxuries of semi-gods in huge palaces decorated with drawings of mythical and ritual content. They wore exquisite jewelry, surrounded themselves with priests, administrators, servants and skilled artisans.

In the afternoon we visit Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán (Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum), certainly one of the most impressive and modern archaeological museums in South America. The museum displays the wealth and ostentation in which the Lord of Sipan was buried: gold and silver, fine weaving, religious emblems and military power, and many ceremonial utensils.

Day 14: Departure day

Ancient pottery at the Museum in Tucume.

The end of the long journey. Today you will be picked up from the hotel and transferred to the airport for your flight back to Lima and beyond.