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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.

Huanchaco Beach in Peru

Huanchaco Beach

Breakfast in Huanchaco Beach

Huanchaco Beach

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.

Boobie Birds in Huanchaco, Peru

Fishing Boats in Huanchaco

Boats in Huanchaco, Peru

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.

Trujillo Town at Christmas

Trujillo Town at Christmas

Trujillo Town at Christmas

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.

Trujillo, Peru

Trujillo, Peru

Colonial Trujillo

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.

Trujillo, Peru

Colonial Trujillo

Colorful Trujillo, Peru

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.

Colonial Trujillo

Colonial Trujillo

Colorful Trujillo, Peru

Colorful Trujillo, Peru

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.

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

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.

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

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 Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan charmed us. History buffs, ocean activists and artists alike should add this quirky, lesser-known ancient city to their bucket lists.

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

Chan Chan Ruins, Peru

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.

Practical Info

Where I stayed: Nylamp Hostal 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 Cruz del Sur 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.

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40 Comments...
  • Shaun
    January 16 2014

    What’s travel if you can’t stop to smell the roses? Such a laid back South American thing, caballito de totoras…why both improving it? They work until they don’t.

    Chan Chan looks like the best sand castle ever!
    Shaun recently posted..How I saved $22K & spent it in an hour

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      You know when you read something and you think, “Why didn’t I write that?” I’m totally thinking that right now about the description “best sand castle ever.” Love it!

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    January 16 2014

    I’m absolutely in love with the colors of the walls in Trujillo. Actually all three destinations look great and I love Peruvian ceviche!
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..A DIY Trip Down to the Mekong Delta

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      Then you would have been in heaven here Ashley! I felt guilty every time a Peruvian asked me about ceviche and I had to explain I didn’t eat fish. They were horrified!

  • Annie of TravelShus
    January 16 2014

    wow, these ruins look amazing. You’ve been helping Peru climb up higher on my travel wishlist… this definitely would have to be on my itinerary.

    love it – great photos as always.
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..Impressions of a New Country: Aruba

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      Thanks Annie! Peru definitely deserves to be on every traveler’s bucket list and lesser-known destinations like this? Even more so!

  • Tyrhone
    January 16 2014

    The scaffolding thing is funny, when I went to Greece and saw the acropolis it was covered head to toe in scaffolding, which kinda takes away the magic. We’ll likely be driving a similar route so thanks for the tips on where to stop.

    Oh and $45 for machu pichu?! That’s ridiculous.
    Tyrhone recently posted..What would eighty year old you do?

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      There was a lot of scaffolding when I was at the acropolis too. My grandma has a photo of herself sitting on one of the fallen columns. Amazing how times change!

  • Erica
    January 16 2014

    Awesome photography, Alex! Loving all the building colors 🙂
    Erica recently posted..Roadtrippin’ to Nashville, TN

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      Thanks so much Erica! I was so inspired and couldn’t stop snapping!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    January 16 2014

    I love your photos! So cheery! Chan Chan looks awesome too, I missed that due to food poisoning. The only picture I got in Trujillo was of a giant white concrete Jesus with a billboard for McDonalds in the background. That’s about all I remember since I was so sick. So I’m glad to see it through your lens 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Budget Breakdown: Goodbye Jungle!

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      Mkay well the little detail I left out of this post was that after our disaster at the nice restaurant we were about to pass out from hunger and sprinted straight to McDonald’s 🙂 So we did have some shared experience!

  • Caity
    January 16 2014

    Hi Alex,
    I have been an avid reader of your blog for almost a year now. The honesty and vulnerability in your recent post was very touching and in a weird way has urged me to step out and stop being such a ‘passive reader’.
    While I wouldn’t dream of trying to impart any wisdom I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for putting this blog out there! You are without doubt truly loved…by all your readers!
    Your blog to me, is unique and this post really encapsulates what is so fantastic about it! The originality, frivolity and curiosity that makes a traveller!! And to top it all off…an adorable pup pic! Perfect!
    I hope that you are on the road (no pun intended) to recovery and that you take solace from the comments of your readers! Xxx

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      Hey Caity! I am so glad to “meet” you 🙂 And now I have yet another benefit of writing that post — getting another reader out of the woodwork! I’d love to hear from you more often, you really made me smile here! x

  • Jimmy Dau
    January 16 2014

    Those buildings remind me of Merida and Oaxaca City in mexico. I loved Peru and wish I explored more of the history and diversity.
    Jimmy Dau recently posted..My Travel Photography Gear

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      And yet another reason for me to get to Mexico! I’m adding those cities to my “someday” list!

  • Dad
    January 16 2014

    You know I am sucker for history and ate up your visit to Chan Chan

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      You truly would have loved it!

  • Jade
    January 16 2014

    I can’t believe I didn’t know about Chan Chan when I was in Huanchaco! We were there over 5 days as there was a bus strike and a spot of culture and sightseeing would have been wonderful, especially as it looks so fascinating.
    And you stayed at Nylamp, where I stayed! Was there still a pet tortoise roaming around the place?

    • Alex
      January 17 2014

      No! I don’t know if it was you or someone else but someone told me about this damn tortoise and I was devastated when it never appeared, lol. Bummer you didn’t hear about Chan Chan! They really need a better marketing team!

  • Wow stunning pictures! Love the colours. So festive!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..How to Get More out of Travel

    • Alex
      January 18 2014

      Thanks Michelle! I couldn’t get enough of those primary colors…

  • Corinne
    January 17 2014

    Gorgeous photos…as always! I can see why you wanted to hit these three…I am putting them on my list for the next time I’m in Peru. Awesome!
    Corinne recently posted..The Colorful Chocolate World of Ritter Sport in Berlin – Take the Kids!

    • Alex
      January 18 2014

      I’m glad to hear that Corinne! I’m really so surprised more travelers don’t make it up here.

  • Sofie
    January 17 2014

    I love how you still visited three different places while you stopped mid-way to take a break:p

    Does it say something about me that I like the picture of the fruit salad best?:D
    Sofie recently posted..The Kalmthoutse Heide, a great place to catch up

    • Alex
      January 18 2014

      Ha, well they were all neighbors 🙂 And I don’t blame you, that was an amazing fruit salad!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    January 18 2014

    The colorful buildings remind me a lot of Leon, Nicaragua.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..A Day in the Life: A Travel Festival Organizer

    • Alex
      January 19 2014

      Nicaragua is so high on my must-visit list! I hope I can sneak it in soon…

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 20 2014

    Trujillo looks gorgeous! I love colonial cities like that. How annoying about the sandwich though. I would have left without paying too.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Looking after your travel money – comparing costs and crime in a selection of countries

    • Alex
      January 21 2014

      I am normally way to passive to do something like that… so I must have been really riled up to go through with it!

  • Ian
    January 22 2014

    Great photos! Definitely putting these places on my list of places to visit. How’s the people in Peru?

    • Alex
      January 22 2014

      Thanks! To answer your question, Peru is a very diverse country, and so the people are different everywhere! This is a country with big cities, remote jungle, and traditional highland. It’s so incredibly diverse it would be impossible to generalize!

  • Jacki
    February 1 2014

    I called Huanchaco home for two weeks and loved it. I wasn’t interested in the party crowds of Mancora.
    You should also note that this is the THE PLACE for surf lessons. SO cheap and so many options.
    You start out on the ‘right’ side of the pier as a beginner and can move to the left side for more waves. There are also trips to other more challenging spots.

    The ceviche was very good and simple, nothing elegant which is fine by me.

    I stayed at Mccollum lodging house and surf hostel Meri and liked them both.
    I made many friends and we frequented the unlimited spaghetti dinners at My Friend Hostal for s/10. It was a filling dinner after a day of activity. Not to mention an evening relaxing on the beach with 3 liter beers for s/11. All in all a fantastic low key option!
    Note: for the ladies buy your feminine products in Lima as oddly enough there are only ONE type, and it’s NOT the type you want if you are spending your days in the ocean or in a bikini.. weird right!?

    • Alex
      February 2 2014

      I did the spaghetti dinner at My Friend Hostal too! And a very good tip at the end 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Jacki!

  • Fiona Martinez
    March 24 2015

    My husband and I are off on a long awaited trip to Peru this summer for just over four weeks and your blog has been a constant source of inspiration – thank you!! One big question: how do we choose where to spend our time?! All of the locations you’ve chosen look wonderful – are there any you would skip, or perhaps one which is a definite favourite?

    Your advice would be so useful!

    • Alex
      March 25 2015

      Well, I was in Peru for about ten weeks but I did return to some locations multiple times! Also, I went to both Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado — for most travelers I would recommend choosing between the two. Unless you are continuing on to Ecuador, Mancora and Trujillo are quite out of the way, which may help you make a decision. Hope that helps!

  • Emily and Andrew
    June 19 2015

    We’re leaving Ecuador for Peru in a couple of days have been scouring blogs this afternoon looking for inspiration for the northern part of the country – this post helps immensely! Thanks.

    • Alex
      June 21 2015

      Glad I could be of service 🙂 Northern Peru is awesome and well worth a few stops!

  • Andrea
    September 16 2015

    Hi Alex,
    I am from Peru and I have to make a travel blog for a school project. Could you give me any tips or anything that could help me make a blog like yours please? By the way, your pictures are amazing!! And I’m glad you liked your visit to Peru 🙂

    • Alex
      September 17 2015

      Hey Andrea! Check out my obsessions page for all my blogging resources 🙂 There should be plenty there to get you started. Best of luck!

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