Whilst Southern and Central Peru are well-trodden by travelers seeking the most popular sights like Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu, only the more adventurous and discerning travelers explore the north. Of course, these discerning travelers are greatly rewarded with an incredible selection of activities that provide an insight into the history and culture of Peru like nowhere else. Northern Peru is a treasure trove of ancient Peruvian history that far predates the Inca Empire. On a Northern Peru Itinerary, you could step foot in the tombs of ancient Sipan lords, admire the architecture of a ruined adobe city, and enquire about the symbology of Moche art. Meanwhile, the Tambopata National Reserve awaits to share the Amazon’s secret natural world with you. Should your curiosity lean towards indulging in a luxury Peru tour, you’re invited to discover the selection of adventures that Totally Latin America has available.
In this article, we dive into the details of the best places to visit in Northern Peru. Whether you are intrigued by the country’s history, art, culture, or natural world, there are many excursions you’ll want to add to your Northern Peru Itinerary. Which ones will you not want to miss?
Huaraz (3 days/ 2 nights)
As the second largest city in the Peruvian Andes, Huaraz offers an unequivocal insight into traditional and modern Andean culture and daily life. Positioned at just over 3,000 meters above sea level, it is surrounded by mountains in all directions which are trailed by mind-blowingly beautiful hiking routes. Exploring further afield, remnants of the region’s ancient past are found in abundance. En route to the star attraction of its pre-Colombian era, Chavín de Huántar, you’ll discover the pre-Inca culture of the Recuay people, as well as relics of the Callejón de Conchucos.
Chavín de Huántar
Chavín de Huántar is one of Peru’s oldest and best-preserved pre-Colombian archeological sites. It was built as a place of worship for Andean communities and, over time, became a center for the practice of the region’s ideology, culture, and religion. On your private tour of this ancient complex, your knowledgeable guide will inform you about its fascinating history, architecture, and lithic art. You’ll also get a little-known insight into the symbology of the iconography scattered around the site like forbidden clues to an alternate world.
Laguna 69 Hike
This 7.5-mile (12 km) (5-6 hour) hike to this picturesque turquoise lagoon backdropped by snow-capped Andean mountains is one of the best hikes in Peru. With a steady climb from 3,800 to 4,600 meters, the ascent and altitude make the hike moderately difficult, although easier if you’ve taken some time to adjust to the altitude beforehand. However, most find that the views of rolling mountain ranges, waterfalls, and wildflowers en route are more breathtaking than the altitude itself. Not to mention the rewarding views of Laguna 69 at the top. The best time to embark on this remarkable journey is during the dry season, typically from May to September, when the weather is most favorable and the trails are at its best. Find out more about the best time to visit Peru: month by month.
Chiclayo (4 days/ 3 nights)
Chiclayo is the coastal capital of the Lambayeque region, an area once considered a powerful cultural and spiritual center for pre-Colombian settlers including the Sinca, Chimú, and Ica peoples. While remnants of its ancient past surround Chiclayo, the city center harks back to its Colonial era with an Old Town full of handsome Hispanic buildings. When you’re not sightseeing in and around the city, you can spend your time relaxing or surfing on the city’s best beaches.
Witch markets of Chiclayo
Witchy rituals may seem like voodoo nonsense to the Westerner but for the Chiclayo people and many other Peruvians, it’s a respected practice ingrained deep within their ancient roots. To see it practiced in the modern day is simply fascinating. The rituals require a personalized concoction of materials like wool, wax, glittering pigments, skulls, icons, and stones that are acquired at the local witch market. No visit to Chiclayo is complete without a private guided tour of these markets where you get an up-close insight into the rituals’ spiritual meanings and practices, and the life of local shaman.
Lord Sipan’s Tomb
Lord Sipan’s Tomb is a tomb containing the bodies and highly prized possessions of the noblemen of the ancient city of Sipan, dating back to the Moche period between 50-700 AD. Only discovered in 1987, the tomb is one of the greatest recent archeological findings in Peru. Although many of the riches were looted, the remains of Lord Sipan and his relatives are on display along with some of the jewelry and armory he was buried with. As one of the few ancient sites in Peru with human remains, it evokes a significant sense of historical understanding to all who see it.
Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum
Many more of the artifacts from Lord Sipan’s tomb have been restored, preserved, and displayed in the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum. The museum’s three floors represent the three layers of the tomb’s excavation, featuring the artifacts that were found at each level. Each of these speaks volumes about the culture, skills, and livelihoods of Sipan’s elite. Among the incredible artifacts are jewelry featuring human faces and spider webs, an owl-shaped headdress made of copper and feathers, gilded animal figures, and burial regalia.
Nicknamed ‘Purgatory’ by locals, Tucume is one of the most historically spiritual sites in all of Peru. It is a mud-brick settlement consisting of 26 enormous pyramid structures occupied by multiple pre-Colombian settlers between the 10th and 15th centuries, most recently the Incas. These impressive structures are thought to hold ancient powers which local shamans evoke in their rituals. When you explore these pyramids and their mural art, you’ll no doubt feel the power they possess too.
Trujillo (3 days/ 2 nights)
Known as the ‘city of eternal Spring’, Trujillo is a blooming and bright city on the coast of northern Peru. Its historic center is full of exemplary colonial buildings and top-notch local Peruvian restaurants. Trujillo is an ideal jumping point for the region’s magnificent ancient archeological sites and monuments including the Moon Huaca and Chan Chan. Between sightseeing, the nearby Trujillo and Chicama beaches are an excellent destination to begin or practice surfing.
El Brujo Archaeological Complex
El Brujo Archaeological Complex is a must-visit for all those hoping to gain unparalleled insight into Peru’s ancient Moche settlers, and their spiritual beliefs and practices. The complex features three well-preserved huacas which can be privately toured with an onsite archeologist to discover their history, artistic symbology, and cultural significance. Among them includes the ‘decapitator’ motif, which is repeated throughout Moche artwork. After exploring the huacas, the tour ends with a look inside the Cao Museum where the legendary mummified Lady of Cao lays in waiting.
Sun & Moon Huacas
Positioned between Trujillo and Chan Chan along the Moche River, the pyramid-shaped Sun & Moon Huacas are another significant Moche-period ruin. They were named due to their foundations facing opposite each other, just like the sun and moon. While the Sun Huaca (one of the world’s biggest adobe structures) is thought to have been an imposing fortress or temple, the Moon Huaca is smaller and thought to have been the religious and ceremonial center of the Moche era. On a tour here, you will get a valuable and enriching insight into the Moche culture.
The impressive Chan Chan archeological site is one of the few remaining places in the world that offer insight into the ancient Chimu culture, established around 900 CE. The giant 20-square-kilometer complex is the continent’s largest adobe city and features many well-preserved buildings from temples to houses. As you tour this vast piece of archeology, you’ll get to learn about the group’s unique religious beliefs and values, including their worship of the Pacific Ocean.
Iquitos – Amazon Jungle (1 week +)
Iquitos is a city at the heart of the Peruvian Amazon that acts as a gateway to the rainforest and its exceptional spectrum of biodiversity. Expect to discover rarely sighted wildlife such as capuchin monkeys, macaws, tapirs, sloths, and jaguars. Rather than indulgence, Iquitos’ accommodation focuses on ecotourism, giving visitors the chance to immerse in the Amazon’s incredible nature without imposing on the ecosystem. Trips in the rainforest are both fun and adventurous, and engaging and educational. Anyone that visits will come away with first-hand insight of the Amazon and its conservation, as well as those precious once-in-a-lifetime kind of memories.
Iquitos jungle experiences:
- Jungle walks
- Piranha fishing
- River cruises
- Tribe visits
- Evening lectures
- Medicinal plant trails
- Mountain biking
With the exciting and diverse range of activities and experiences available in the Amazon, it’s easy to spend at least a week there. Each of the excursions is led by exceptionally knowledgeable naturalist guides to give you deep insight into the places you go and things you see. TLA can build you a captivating private guide-led itinerary alongside an eco-lodge jungle retreat experience that will provide you with a rare Amazon adventure.
Click here to find out more about experiencing the Amazon.
Create a bespoke Northern Peru Itinerary with TLA
Now that you have all the useful information and inspiration you need to explore Northern Peru, it’s time to create a bespoke Northern Peru Itinerary that speaks to your travel soul. TLA can include any and all of the above sights and activities in your itinerary, and combine it with itineraries for exploring other parts of Peru and South America. To get started, reach out to Totally Latin America messaging us here or calling on +1 855 217 9045.