Please be aware that all the archaeological sites presented in this article in Northern Peru are very old. Much older than the Machu Picchu and the Inca history that you probably know already very well.
But Peru is not only Inca. There existed many other cultures before them and they lived in the Northern Regions of Peru and in Ecuador. We are lucky today, as they have left us an incredible wealth of ruins and archaeological mysteries.
Apart from these important visits, I propose you as well my personal selection of places. I am sure there will be something for everybody : Birdwatching in Huembo, Canoe-Tour in a Nature Reserve in Tingana, Culture with indigenous Quechua-Lamistas in Lamas or some rest at a Fisher Village. The possibilities of travels in Northern Peru are just infinite !
1) The adobe city of Chan Chan
This impressive archaeological site is situated close to Trujillo, on the coast of Northern Peru. It was built from 850 after JC onwards by the Chimu culture. With over 24 ha surface, it is the biggest city ever built in Adobe bricks. Today there are only 14 ha left and from these you can only visit a small part. But the visit is fascinating. The Chimu culture was very sophisticated, they even managed to prosper in this arid and dry region.
The Chan Chan site was named Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1986.
2) Chachapoya citadel of Kuelap
The fortress of the Chachapoya culture is in the current region of Amazonas. This is in Northern Peru in the Andes mountains at an altitud of 3 000 m. It was built between 500 and 800 after JC. Archaeologists believe that at its peak up to 3 000 people lived there. The fortress of Kuelap is surrounded by up to 20 m high walls. Over 450 ruins of round houses were found in its interior on the two levels. It was a highly religious and administratif place for these Cloud Warriors, as the Chachapoya people were also called.
Kuelap was abandoned by its inhabitants so that they would not get conquered by the Incas. The Chachapoya joined the Spanish in order not to surrender to the Incas.
3) Conservation area of Huembo
Huembo is an ecological reserve close to the Pomacochas Lagoon in the Amazonas region. It is situated on the birding road of Northern Peru. In this beautiful reserve you are most likely to see the famous Spatuletail Hummingbird, one of the most spectacular ones in the world.
With its spatules, the male makes a huge effort to impress his “chosen-one”. To see this mating dance will be certainly one of your best souvenirs from your trip to the North of Peru. Also keep in mind that the Amazonas region is the only place in the world where you can see the Spatuletail Hummingbird. This is thanks to its unique ecosystem between dry forest and humid mountain forest.
4) Huaca de la Luna y del Sol
The Sun and Moon Temples are close to Trujillo on the Northern Coast of Peru and can be easily visited with a local guide. This exceptional archaeological site was built by the Moche civilisation that lived in this dry region between 100 and 800 our time. The Sun Temple (that can’t be visited) is supposed to be the biggest adobe (mud bricks) building of South America. Its construction used more than 140 millons of bricks for a size of 345 m long, 160 m wide and 30 m high.
5) Museum of Tumbas Reales
This museum is situated close to Chiclayo and is one of the best museums in Peru. It contains the excavations of the archaeological site of Sipan since 2002. The Museum of Tumbas Reales is known for the many gold, silver and copper pieces that are worked extremely fine. The Lord of Sipan lived around the years 300 as the Supreme Lord of the Moche population. His grave was found in one of the Truncated Pyramids, that are so typical for the Moche architecture in this period.
6) Waterfalls of Gocta
The waterfalls of Gocta in the Amazonas region in Northern Peru were shown to the world in 2002 when the German Stefan Ziemendorff realised the impressive height of this waterfalls in two parts ! After measuring, it turns out that the Gocta waterfalls have a total height of 711 m and they are under the highest waterfalls in the world ! The hiking to the waterfalls takes around three hours through fields and cloud forest where you can see colorful butterflies, wild orchids and, if you are lucky, the famous Spatuletail Hummingbird or a Gallito de las Rocas, the Peruvian national bird.
7) Moyobamba – the nature reserve of Tingana
The ecotourist reserve of Tingana in the region of Moyobamba in Northern Peru is a completely different world. After a 45-minute drive, and another 45-minute by speed boat, you will arrive at the reserve, which is a net of waterways that can only be used by canoe. The tour is magique, without any noise, with only the wind in the leaves, the flying insects and the whispering of the guides as they show you monkeys and birds in their natural environment. A place to see and to preserve !
8) Fishermen village of Huanchaco
This fisher village close to Trujillo on the Northern coast of Peru still has all its charme. In the morning you can walk on the quiet beach and even see the fishermen come back from their daily work. Later on, locals and Peruvian tourists enjoy the beach to relax and get a nice sun tan, as the water is rather cold to have a swim.
The relaxed ambiance and the good food at the Coast (Peruvian Ceviche and fresh fish) will make you love Huanchaco before continuing your trip to other exceptional sites.
9) The community of Lamas, close to Tarapoto
Another village, but different assets. Lamas is in the region of San Martin in Northern Peru, at about 15 km from the town of Tarapoto, on a hill with a great view of the surrounding valley. In the village you can learn about the history of the indigenous Quechua-Lamistas in the Museum Chanka before meeting them personnally in their part of the village.
This is where you can see their handicraft shops or take a tour at the association Warmi Wasi where you learn the different technics of producing bracelets out of grains, pottery or weaving. Another curiosity in Lamas is its medieval castle on the third level of the village. And for chocolat lovers , have a stop at the Fundo Ecoperlacha, just at the entrance of Lamas on your left. Here you will get all the explanations about cacao production and you can taste some as well ! (reservations only).
10) Beaches of Northern Peru
I can’t finish this Top 10 without talking about the beaches where you can swim ! For this you have to go as far North as possible, because otherwise the water is too cold. But around the towns of Mancora, Zorritos or Punta del Sal, you can find kilometers of sand, little villages on the sea (tourist, but with charme) and a summer ambiance: Swim, Surf, relaxing, the ideal destination to have a rest between two archaeological visits !