I want to take a moment to thank you all for your overwhelming responses to my last post. You amaze me with your wisdom and warmth!
After returning from the jungle, our next mission was to travel up the coast to Máncora, Peru’s most happening beach town. There, we’d cap off our Peru travels with a much-needed break from constant motion. However, eighteen straight hours of bus travel from Lima? That did not appeal to us. So we broke up two overnight bus journeys with a three-day stop at the halfway point of Huanchaco.
Actually, we were equally interested in a trio of close-by destinations: the colonial center of Trujillo, the beach town of Huanchaco, and the ancient city of Chan Chan. Huanchacho had what appeared to be the most appealing accommodation options, so we set our backpacks down there.
What we found was a small strip of beach mostly populated by domestic tourists, with a few foreign surfers rounding out the crowd. While the beach itself is mediocre, Huanchaco has three claims to fame: The first is the ceviche, which as non-seafood eaters we weren’t tempted by. The second is the excellent surf, which as warm water wusses we can’t quite vouch for. The third is the abundance of traditional fishing boats specific to this region, known as caballito de totoras. Each one of these intricately crafted watercrafts lasts only a few months before it becomes waterlogged and must be replaced. Those, we loved.
Super laid-back Huanchaco turned out to be a nice base. In our short time there I went for two runs along the boardwalk and caught up on plenty of work while soaking up a beautiful ocean view.
One day we took a local combi for about twenty five cents each into neighboring Trujillo, just seven miles away. Being the major “city,” this is where our bus from Lima had arrived, and where our bus to Máncora would depart, though we had no interest in sightseeing with our big packs on.
Luck was truly on our side, because moments after stumbling into the Plaza del Armas a major religious procession emerged from the main cathedral.
Founded by Francisco Pizzaro in 1534, this insanely colorful colonial city has changed little since its inception. While Trujillo’s importance in Peruvian history is secure — it was the first city in the country to declare independence from Spain and has been a breeding ground for bohemianism and revolution ever since — this destination rarely makes it onto the itinerary of travelers through South America.
Perhaps it was because we were the only backpackers we could spot throughout the city, but we truly felt like we had stumbled on a hidden gem.
One word of warning if you decide to come too — don’t eat at Casona Deza. We were charmed by the guidebook recommendation and the lovely courtyard, and after ordering lunch settled in contentedly with smoothies. Seventy minutes later — after asking the waitress for an update and watching her turn and run away — we were feeling a little restless. Finally, Ander’s long awaited sandwich arrived. And it was literally a small piece chicken on a dry piece of bread. Which we had waited over an hour for.
When I went up to complain — where was the tomato and lettuce and the mayonnaise and that the menu had mentioned? — the the waiter had the audacity to roll his eyes at me. We left without paying, raging with annoyance and ravenous hunger.
I fell hard for Trujillo’s bright primary color scheme and quaint colonial architecture. I didn’t see anything like it anywhere else in Peru, and that alone made it well worth the stop. (Plus, I mean, did I mention the eighteen hour bus ride?)
I can only implore them to work on their restaurant-based customer service.
Our final destination sat halfway between Trujillo and Huanchaco — The Chan Chan ruins. I had been so unimpressed when our original taxi into Huanchaco passed by them that I almost didn’t want to return. What a massive mistake that would have been.
Chan Chan has the boast-able statistics of being not only the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas, but the largest adobe city in the world. Built in AD 1300, it was the cornerstone of the Chimú culture. While the ancient capital consists of ten walled cities, most in the process of being studied and restored, only one is ready for the public — our guidebook contained a blunt warning about the risk of muggings at the others.
We couldn’t help but compare the experience to visiting the mighty Machu Picchu, Peru’s more famous lost city, where the crowds are reminiscent of Disneyworld and tickets run around $45USD. Here, we were passed other tourists every ten minutes or so, and paid around $3.50 to enter.
When we paid our entrance fees, an old man with a grandfatherly smile and an official badge offered us his tour guide services, and I couldn’t resist. For another $10 each, we had a private guide who proudly informed us of his forty-five years of experience.
It was obvious to me that the famous images I’d seen of Chan Chan were taken before scaffolding was tacked up as far as the eye could see, which made photography challenging.
Still, the details were amazingly impressive to this sea lover. Unlike the sun-worshipping Incas, the Chimú were seafarers and venerated the moon instead, because of its control over the ocean tides. Chan Chan is covered in aquatically-inspired carvings — seabirds and otters, fishing nets and tidal waves. Our guide was quick to point out the symbolic significance of the detailed carvings, like the fish patterns in two different directions symbolizing the competing currents off the coast.
Chan Chan charmed us. History buffs, ocean activists and artists alike should add this quirky, lesser-known ancient city to their bucket lists.
Perhaps because I was expecting nothing more from this trio of destinations than a place to break up two butt-numbing bus journeys, I left enchanted by all three. They are the perfect bite-sized and equal servings of atmosphere, culture, and history, and wouldn’t be nearly as nice if they weren’t tied up so neatly together in a little traveler’s bow.
Travelers heading up or down the coast of Peru, I implore you to step off the bus for a night or two to explore the colors of Trujillo, the time travel of Chan Chan, and the laid back vibes of Huanchaco. Believe me — your bum will thank you.
Where I stayed: in Huanchaco. Pros: Oceanfront, good restaurant and nice common areas. Cons: Though we booked the dorms they were so unpleasant we upgraded to a private room immediately.
Where I ate: There were no standouts worth mentioning — but stay away from Casona Deza in Trujillo!
How I got there: For the nine hour ride from Lima we took the luxury bus for around $35 and it was fantastic as usual. For the supposedly nine hour bus ride to Mancora we took Ormeño for around $20 and it was miserable — the driver got lost, tacking on an extra two hours.
Bonus Tip: Take a combi between Trujillo and Hunchaco when possible for a mere 50 cents per person — as opposed to $7 for a cab.