This Peru travel itinerary features the best of what to see Northern Peru in two weeks.
A region overshadowed by the jewel of the South - Machu Picchu, Northern Peru has so much to offer and yet is often only visited by other South American tourists. And while it doesn't have the flash and luxury of Lima or Cuzco the prices are bargain basement and many times you'll find you're the only tourist around. For that reason it is one of my top recommendations for South America.
Below is a great itinerary for 10-14 days if you're coming in from Ecuador. If you're coming in come Lima simply do the North-South itinerary in reverse!
Mancora 3-4 days
Mancora is most often visited by travelers coming from Ecuador or tourists who have just hiked Machu Picchu and want to relax on the beach. With a reputation of being a world class surfing site it attracts a big surf crowd. If you're looking to surf all day and party all night then stay in town.
For those looking for a more relaxed holiday, take a cue from Peruvians and visit one of the quieter beaches just outside Mancora. The beach hotels are much less expensive, as are the restaurants and if you want to head into town taxis are only $1-2.
Chiclayo 2-3 days
This is not a pretty city but it is a great stopping point to see the Lord of Sipán collection, often called the King Tutankamon of the Americas because his tomb was found in impeccable condition.
The museum is new and rivals any modern museum in the world with only an admission price of $10 to see the exhaustive collection of gold, copper and silver. You can take a day trip out to the tomb which is currently being excavated. Discover more about Chiclayo.
Cajamarca 3-4 days
My absolute favorite place in Peru and one that few tourists know about. I only discovered it on a bus ride when the woman next to be insisted that I go.
This small town, hidden in the mountains, is well known to Peruvians for its delicious cheese and chocolate. Many Peruvians travel to Cajamarca to visit its natural hot springs, pre-Colombian aqueduct and pre-inca necropolis. As most tourists are Peruvian, day tours are very inexpensive at $5-8.
One final tip - do not leave without trying sudado, tomato based fish stew.
Trujillo 2-3 days
A pretty colonial city, it is nice to simply walk around and enjoy the views. However, it is also a great home base for taking day trips to ancient ruins.
Most people come to Trujillo to see the famous Chan Chan, which are ruins are an ancient city built from mud but with tours ranging from $5-10 I highly recommend spending a few days to visit others such as the Moche Pyramids (photo above). Read more about Trujillo.
Piura 2 days
Spend a bit of time in Northern Peru and you will inevitably hear locals discuss how Lima has stolen their cuisine and is passing it off as their own. In a typical, big city vs. rural country battle Northern Peruvians are very proud of their tradition for the best ceviche in the country and unhappy big city Lima is passing it off as its own.
Those in "the know" visit Pirua which is home to the best ceviche in the country and where chefs from Lima find their inspiration. Conchas negras or black conch ceviche is the crowning jewel and must be sampled.
If you aren't a seafood lover you may want to pass on Piura as it doesn't have much to offer outside culinary prowess and could be in the running for the ugliest city in Peru.
Read Ceviche 101
Travel Tip: Buses in the North are very cheap, relatively safe and average about $2/hour. However, try to bus directly from the bus line as costs can double when travel agencies see foreigners walk through this door.