Many South American backpackers endure a painful 30 hour bus ride all the way from Ecuador to Lima to start their trip in Peru. While it is true that northern Peru does not have the huge tourist draws of the south, there are still good ways to break up this trip. We explored the northeastern part of the country and found five places to visit on your trip south.
After crossing the Aguas Verdes border into Peru following our month in Ecuador, we found ourselves in a pickle. We needed to get to the far south to visit the famous areas of Colca Canyon, Arequipa and Machu Picchu, but didn’t want to endure over twenty four hours in a bus to reach these areas. International flights from Ecuador into Peru are VERY expensive which forces many travelers into tackling the journey by bus. While some people may be happy to sit in a bus for a full day and night, that isn’t for us. We spent several days working our way down eastern Peru and found these five places to help break up this trip.
Stop 1: Zorritos for Beach Time and Seafood
Many ocean goers know about the tropical beach town of Mancora an hour south of the Ecuador / Peru border. While this area is said to be nice, it is also more developed and expensive, lacking a genuine Peruvian feel. If you are looking to spend a day by the ocean, the no frills town of Zorritos could be the ticket. This is what a beach town looks like when it isn’t trying to attract tourists, meaning it is a local hangout spot with affordable seafood. We found a private room with an oceanfront view for around $20 USD per night and spent some time relaxing after a packed month of hiking in Ecuador.
Getting to Zorritos – Anyone crossing the Aguas Verdes border into Peru must first stop in the town Tumbes. From here, buses, collectivos or taxis are readily available for the trip to Zorritos. We got into Tumbes very late after a painful border crossing, so were forced to find a private taxi for the forty five minute trip. This cost us 35 soles after negotiation, or less than $11 USD.
Stop 2: Chiclayo for the Incredible Ceviche Scene
We made a stop in Chiclayo mainly to visit the nearby museum of Sipán, but ended up finding the best seafood in Peru. This town has essentially no tourism scene so many restaurant gems are waiting to be discovered.
The local specialty is ceviche, which is center to most meals. The town takes this dish very seriously, and tiny cevicheria shops can be found all over town. Many sell solely ceviche which they serve with a fried corn cake or yucca ball. The going price for a small plate is 5-6 soles, or $1.50-$1.75 USD.
Other local treats include papa rellenas (stuffed fried potato balls), arroz con mariscos (rice mixed with seafood) and chicharron de pescado (crispy fried thin strips of fish). During our two days of ceviche bar hopping, we uncovered two shops serving the best platters in town.
La Fish Cevicheria has an innovative take on the popular dish. They make several different varieties, including yellow pepper, picante and chimichurri. Another, Pez Chévere, serves huge triple platters including all of the best options for 15 soles. The chef takes serious pride in his ceviche, whipping up every batch to order and seasoned to perfection.
Getting to Chiclayo – If you are coming straight to Chiclayo from Tumbes or Mancora, there will be a ton of buses making this route directly. If you are coming from Zorritos like us, the trip is a little more confusing. The only bus company that travels this route is El Dorado, which is incorrectly shown on Google Maps. The office is located on the south side of the main road through town, the Panamerican Highway, at the intersection of Av. Miguel Grau. It is right next to the small park between the roads with a large statue of a boat. There are a handful of departures daily.
Stop 3: Lambayeque for the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán
Peru has one of the richest cultural heritages in South America, having been home to many ancient civilizations. While there are museums aplenty devoted to various cultures throughout the country, the Museo de Sipán is in a category of its own. An incredible exhibit of Mochica culture, the artifacts on display were unearthed from the giant tomb of the Lord of Sipán and are the best preserved and intricate we have seen. Thousands of impeccable ceremonial vessels, jewelries and ahead of its time artwork fill this historical gem.
The museum is multi-story and can take a couple of hours to visit. It is located in Lambayeque, a town nearby the large city of Chiclayo. Cost of entry is 10 soles and includes a thorough security check. No bags, cameras or phones are allowed inside, and all must first be left in their locked storage room. As such, photos are strictly prohibited.
Getting to Lambayeque – The town of Lambayeque is a 15 minute ride from the large city of Chiclayo, which we used as our base. Getting there is easy by collectivo cars or vans, which leave from the northeastern corner of the Plazuela Elias Aguirre. By car, it costs only 2 soles and by van around 1.5. Cars leave when they have four passengers, and make the trip direct, while vans pick up and drop off along the way.
Stop 4: Trujillo for the Ruins of Chan Chan
While Peru is by far best known for Machu Picchu and the Incas, it has been home to many other predating civilizations. The country is covered in ancient cities dating back many hundreds of years which are just waiting to be explored.
The otherwise average city of Trujillo has several of these, including the pre-Inca Chimú civilization ruins of Chan Chan. Around 600 years ago, this giant city reined as the largest in the Americas before it was conquered by the Incas and left to crumble. As the city is entirely built out of sand and sits in the middle of the desert, it now looks like an endless expanse of eroded sandcastle. Entry is 10 soles which allows a visit to a small (in relation to the giant city) partially restored portion and a museum. You need to make this trip before it literally crumbles back into the desert.
Most travelers who come to this area are destined for Huanchaco, a small surfing town located nearby on the ocean. We stayed here as well, but found it to be dirty with sub-par and overpriced food. We even found a dead sea lion on the beach among the piles of trash. While a stay in Trujillo is not as fashionable, it would likely have more authentic food at better prices. It would also allow the opportunity to see world’s longest mosaic wall at the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo. We unfortunately only saw it from our bus window, but it was quite a site.
Getting to Trujillo – From Chiclayo, we took a direct bus with Emtrafesa. The trip cost 21 soles and takes less than 4 hours. If you are staying in Huanchaco, you will then need to hop on one of the yellow and red mini buses heading west from Trujillo with Huanchaco above the window. The trip is 2 soles.
Stop 5: Huaraz for Laguna 69 Hiking
While history, beaches and food are all great, our favorite areas are those deep in the mountains. As such, our side trip to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range was amongst the most rewarding thing we did on our way south to Lima.
The town of Huaraz is the main base for many mountain treks and hikes in the surrounding Andes. Several single and multi day routes are available, including the path to the jaw dropping Laguna 69. This glacier ringed lake, similar in beauty to the famous Torres del Paine, is such an intense color of blue that the pictures don’t look real. In fact, we would argue that Laguna 69 is the Most Underrated Hike in South America.
In addition to Laguna 69, many other day hiking routes are available including Wilcacocha, Churup Laguna, Laguna Llaca, Quebrada Cojup and Aguac Carhuac Laguna. If you are trekking inclined, also look into Santa Cruz and Huayhuash.
Getting to Huaraz – Huaraz is easily reachable on a direct but painfully slow bus from Trujillo. The company Transportes Linea runs the route with one mid-morning and one nighttime departure. This is one of the most comfortable and professional companies in Peru. The trip takes close to 8 hours and costs 30 soles. In Huanchaco, tickets for this bus can be purchased from the money changer window across from the police station without a commission fee, or you can purchase them online. If you are coming from Huanchaco, you will first need to take one of the red and yellow letter “H” buses without the red heart on the sign (sin corazón). The cost is 2 soles.
If you are linking your trip in Peru with Ecuador, we have a dozen places to visit in our One Month Ecuador Hiking Itinerary. And if you are planning on continuing into Bolivia, we have all the information a US citizen needs on How to Apply for a Bolivia Visa in Lima, Peru.
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