NORTHERN PERU. THIRD PART: CAJAMARCA - HUARAZ - LA BALZA (ECUADOR)

The north of Peru, much less frequented by travelers than its southern counterpart, has it all too: charming cities and towns, landscapes of all colors and unique archaeological sites of pre-colonial cultures. There are amazing places everywhere, so it is essential to visit its jungles, mountains and coast. Precisely, the fact of being less visited is what makes it more special, since you will have the opportunity to share with the Peruvians in a more intact way and scenario than the one in the southern zone. What beautiful people live in Peru.

 

This third part combines Andean and coastal places. Cultures as rich as different from each other. To be highlighted:

 

  • Cajamarca

  • Trujillo and Chan Chan

  • Huascarán National Park

  • Chiclayo

Cajamarca

In a valley surrounded by mountains, at 2750 masl, stands the capital of the homonymous department. One of the most important centers of the Andean area... And one of the most beautiful cities in the country. However, if there is something for which this city is known it is because it was here where the last Inca king, Atahualpa, was captured (and murdered) by Francisco Pizarro. You can visit La Habitación del Rescate (The Rescue Room), where Atahualpa spent the last seven months of his life. Apart from the beautiful center with a handful of stately buildings, there are other interesting places to visit nearby: the Baños del Inca, famous for the hot springs where the Inca used to bathe; the Ventanillas de Otuzco, a group of crypts that once served as funerary enclosures (50 a. C. - 500 d. C.).

 

By the way, the road that links Leymebamba, south of Kuelap, with Cajamarca goes through unforgettable Andes.

Huascarán National Park

This Park exudes beauty in every river, lake and mountain. Located in the department of Áncash, the Huascarán National Park is home to pretty villages clinging to the mountains, the highest peaks in the country (up to 16 peaks exceeding 6000 masl), and exciting hiking trails. Lakes of impossible colors, glacial rivers, red queñua forests, pastures blooming with wild flowers, inhospitable areas... All of that awaits in the mountains (especially in the Cordillera Blanca section), making this place one of the most beautiful in Peru, in South America and in the world. A paradise for hikers and climbers.

 

There are dozens of excursions, for every taste: easy, moderate, difficult... One day, more than a week... Many start from areas near Huaraz and Caraz (towns worth visiting, especially the second). The entrance ticket to the Park is valid up to 21 days, so make the most of it (if you have time)! I stayed a few days and only hiked a couple of routes, but I wish I come back one day for more. The ones I can recommend first hand are: Laguna Llanganuco and Laguna 69, two beautiful glacial lakes where time seems to stop. You can do both on the same route in two or three days, as they are close (there are a couple of free campgrounds). To get there you can take a taxi or hitch up to the entrance from Yungay. The most popular long trek is the Santa Cruz route, which takes on average three or four days, passing through landscapes of all colors: mountain passes, icy waterfalls, rivers, valleys…

 

The beginning is near Caraz. It is also recommended to visit the Pato Canyon (continuation of the Callejón de Huaylas), where a river runs for 40 km splitting the mountains in two: on one side the Cordillera Blanca (this is, the White Range) and on the other the Cordillera Negra (Black Range). At the end is the charming little town of Huallanca. 

 

A curious fact: If the measurement is made from the center (nucleus) of the Earth, the Nevado Huascarán is the second highest mountain on earth (after the Ecuadorian Chimborazo volcano), surpassing the height of Everest by almost two kilometers!

Trujillo and surroundings

Great metropolis at the foot of the Pacific Ocean that enjoys an interesting mix of modern and ancient cultures. The capital of the department of La Libertad deserves your visit because: it is very beautiful, with colonial architecture; it has an important historical legacy: pre-Columbian, with the Mochica and Chimu cultures, fundamentally, and after colonization, with the early foundation of the city by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 (it is considered the cradle of the Judicial Power of Peru); there are fascinating places around. To be highlighted:

 

  • Chan Chan. The most emblematic site of the Chimu culture (it was the capital of the kingdom) is a must if you are visiting this area. It is a huge adobe city (the largest in the continent, second in the world), amazingly preserved, in front of the wild Pacific. Apart from enjoying this spectacular city, you will learn a lot about the Chimu people, active between 900 and 1400 AD (probably defeated by the Incas). It is only 5 km north of Trujillo.

  • Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna. Two great adobe works of the Mochica culture, being Huaca del Sol the highest adobe pyramid in the world. This pyramid represented the political organization while Huaca de la Luna had religious purposes. Between them was (back then) the Urban Nucleus, where all the citizens lived, except for of the upper classes, who resided in the Huaca del Sol. These sites are located 10 km south of Trujillo.

  • Huanchaco. If you are looking for sun and beach, this is your ideal destination. Village with a relaxed and happy atmosphere beach where you will find a handful of surfers and hippies. Just 10 km (north) of the city.

Chiclayo

The strongest point of this city a few kilometers from the ocean is not its beauty and architecture. The capital of the department of Lambayeque stands out for the legacy that some important cultures left in their desert lands. Especially the Mochicas. It is a great destination for lovers of pre-Columbian cultures, clear in places like the Brüning Museum (large collection of objects, and information, on the cultures that lived here), or the Tombs of the Lord of Sipán (an ancient Mochica ruler of the third century).

 

Also, it is a good destination to come and relax on the beaches of its surroundings and get to know a little the local beach culture. The village of Pimentel, with a long sandy beach, is ideal for swimming in cold waters, watch the fishermen go fishing in their caballito de totora boats (legacy of their ancestors), watch the spectacle of pelicans filling the skies and the sea, and, of course, eat a wonderful ceviche.

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