Peru – A trip around the North

From Trujillo I travelled to other cities in the North of Peru. I will start  by telling you more about the Mochica culture.

In the village of Lambayeque, near Chiclayo, I visited the Museum of the Royal Toms of Sipan. In the area around the village of Sipan, an important archeological site was discovered in 1987. There were violent clashes between archeologists/police and huaqueros (tomb looters) for the “treasure”, even a few of them ended dead.

Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan

The museum shows some of the objects found at the site. It also features a reproduction of the toms of three top leaders of this civilisation: the Lord of Sipan, the Priest and the Old Lord of Sipan.

The visit is organised in the same order that objects were found during the excavations, rising steadily in importance, so that you can share the upbeat mood archeologists must have felt while identifying more and more “characters”, and finally, realising this was no less than the royal tomb.

Apart from the main occupant, the toms contained jewelry, ceramics, food and other objects that could be of use to the Lord in the afterlife. There were also animals, like a headless llama, and several women (concubines), a boy and a guard (who had his feet cut so that he couldn’t move from his post). Once the Lord died, several other people were killed and had the “privilege” of being buried alongside their master, in a carefully prepared layout.

From Chiclayo I travelled inland, to the city of Chachapoyas. The scenery here was completely different. While the coast is arid, almost desert, the Andean landscape is lush green and mountainous.

Kuélap fortress

The first day, I visited the Kuelap fortress, located a 3-hour scenic drive from Chachapoyas. This landmark of the Chachapoyas civilisation is located on top of a mountain and surrounded by a stone wall, for protection. The entrance to this city is through a very narrow alley, aimed at containing potential attacks. Despite having constant threats from their neighbours, particularly those of the Amazonas region, this fortress enabled the Chachapoyas to withstand their attacks for centuries, until they too were conquered by the emerging Incas around 1470.


It is considered to be one of the best ruins of pre-Columbian Peru, aside from Machu Picchu. It is certainly less shocking than Machu Picchu, but still very impressive. It is also surrounded by Andean mountains everywhere, making a spectacular landscape. Naturally, the number of tourists you come across here is 0.000001% of those in Machu Picchu, so there are no hassles and it preserves an air of authenticity in a very remote location (and it is A LOT cheaper).

Gocta waterfall

The next day, I went for some trekking and to visit the Gocta waterfall. Several waterfalls claimed to be “the tallest in the world”, so they were measured in 2005 concluding that at 771 metres it ranks as the third tallest free-leaping waterfall in the world (contested). Anyway, competitions aside, it’s a very scenic trek through narrow mountain paths, recommended.

I also had a little fright here, due to my inexperience and bad planning. I went with a 66-year old German man whom I had met in Kuelap. He’s a retired experimental physicist. He’s left his wife (who’s still working) at home and now travels around South America couchsurfing. You always meet interesting people while travelling. Thank goodness he lives in Switzerland and is a good mountaineer, because the trek was really hard, I left exhausted. The combi from Chachapoyas left us in the middle of the road, and from there it is quite a long walk to the falls. It took us over 4,5 hours to get there, non-stop and through mountainous paths with steep ups and downs. I had already bought my outbound bus ticket (mistake!) for 7 pm that evening, I was certain to miss it, and we also feared that it would get dark in the middle of nowhere, with no transport available for the city after a certain time. When we finally got to the waterfall, we almost didn’t stay there and rushed back to the road through a different path. Thank goodness, the return was “just” 2,5 hours. We got to the main road and it was already getting dark. There were no combis available at that time but we hitchhiked to get back in town. Running to the bus station, I got there just in time! 🙂

Travelling in this area of Peru is really worth it. There are many opportunities for trekking, just as in the region near Cusco. But tourism here is far less developed (or should I say overcrowded?), and thus there are fewer people, it is more authentic and much cheaper.