Terrain and Weather
The region is mostly desert terrain, including 800 miles of coastline and the 72,000-sq mile Sechura Desert between Piura and Chiclayo. In places, the Andes and the Pacific meet. Though coastal weather is pleasant year-round and usually sunny, most visitors prefer the summer months, starting in November and ending in May. Surfers on Peru tours will have to choose between warmer temperatures and smaller waves from December to February or larger waves but cooler, windier weather from March to November.
For the outdoors enthusiast, the northern coast of Peru has much to offer. Its protected ecosystems include Los Manglares de Tumbes, 7,400 acres of subtropical coastal mangroves filled with a wide array of seabird species, and Cerros de Amotape National Park that protects 224,000 acres of wildlife-rich tropical dry equatorial forest, a place where visitors may glimpse neo-tropical otters, white-winged turkeys and the endangered Tumbes crocodile. The park has no tourist services and is best visited from April to September.
In the far north, whitewater rafting is popular on the Tumbes River May to October where Class II and IV rapids are found between the towns of Figuerosa and Rica Playa. Rafters get the added thrill of encountering crocodiles, otters and iguanas. It was the Spanish who first brought the paso horse to Peru. With its distinctive, comfortable gait and endurance, the paso took on commercial importance, in travelling the immense plantations and haciendas that once dotted the region. Today the paso is a leisure horse, the pride of Peruvian horse fanciers, and a special treat for visitors on Peru tours to enjoy country sightseeing in the saddle.
Surfing and Beaches
Some of Peru's most popular surfing destinations are found in the north, in part, because unlike the central and southern coast, the northernmost departments of Tumbes and Piura do not become enshrouded in the garua mists. The choice of many advanced surfers is Puerto Chicama, fifty miles north of Trujillo, where reputedly, the longest wave in the world is found, or Bayovar, on the Illescas peninsula, half-way between the cities of Piura and Chiclayo. Surfing enthusiasts who are looking for more than waves in their Peru travel may prefer the white sand beach of Mancora or the less crowded Los Organos, a few miles south, both resort towns with nightlife. Southern Explorations offers a four-day tour extension to Mancora Beach so surfers (and sunbathers) may enjoy these sunny climes on their Peru tours to other regions of the country.
For sunbathers, the pristine sands and turquoise waters of the resort town, Punta Sal, fifteen miles north of Mancora, can't be beat. Further down the coast, the town of Colan offers rental beach houses on stilts. Among the Trujillo area beaches, Huanchaco is unique because here the local fishermen's boats are rafts constructed of tortoro reeds, ridden surfboard-style.
Three of the north’s major cities, Chiclayo, Trujillo and Chimbote, are linked to the capital by the Pan-American Highway that runs the length of Peru’s coast. Chiclayo, Peru's fourth largest city is an agricultural center known for its excellent cuisine. During their Peru travel through the region, visitors to Chiclayo often stop in the nearby village of Monsefu, known for its music and crafts market. The country's third largest city, Trujillo, has some of Peru's best preserved colonial architecture and plenty of cultural offerings. Simon Bolivar lived here for a time. Chimbote is a large fishing port. All three cities are a convenient base for exploring the region's most important archeological ruins and its beaches on Peru tours.
The region's smaller cities include the port of Piura which pre-dates Lima and where 70% of Peru's oil is produced, and Tumbes, a city of 94,000 near the Ecuador border on the banks of the Tumbes River, where the conquistadors first landed. Collectors of ceramics may wish to stop off in the village of Chulucanas near Piura in their Peru travel where pottery using the techniques of ancient culture, has been revived and is today exported from Peru.
While the northern region has its share of Incan ruins, it is best known for the remnants of earlier civilizations. A trip up the Pan-American Highway from Lima to Chiclayo on your Peru tours will put you in the vicinity of the most fascinating of these ruins.
Until recently thought to be the Americas' oldest citadel, the urban settlement of Caral is located in the Supe Valley, about sixty miles north of Lima. The 163-acre site, dating back to 2500 BC, contains eight tomb pyramids ranging from 25 to 504 feet, seven of which have been excavated. Further up the coast, 230 miles north of Lima, the Casma Valley holds many archeological treasures, some of which are still to be discovered. Visitors to the Sechin Alto complex on Peru tours may now view what remains of the city's temples, tombs and plaza, some of which date back to 3500 BC, making it the oldest settlement in the Americas. At nearby Chanquillo, the hilltop set of thirteen towers is thought to be the world's oldest solar observatory.
Of the important sites surround Trujillo, the largest is Chan Chan just west of the city in the Moche Valley. Chan Chan was the capital city of the Chimu people whose empire stretched from the tip of northern Peru to Lima until the Incas arrived to make it there own. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the spectacular eight square mile adobe city is divided into four sections within walking distance of one another. A population of 100,000 may have once lived here, surrounded by irrigated gardens. Among the most interesting sights in the complex are the Tschudi Palace and emperor’s tomb.
North and south of the city are remnants of the Moche civilization that existed in this coastal region from about 1 AD to 800 AD. To the south are the two famous pyramid tombs, Huaca del Sol which before decay and pilfering occurred, stood some 148 feet tall, and the shorter but more colorful companion, Huaca de la Luna. El Brujo, a ceremonial center for the Moche and several other groups, is located thirty-seven miles north of Trujillo.
The Royal Tombs of Sipan, encased in pyramids, were discovered twenty-two miles east of Chiclayo in the Lambayeque Valley. These Moche tombs, some in good condition and others decayed, are being excavated and restored. The Brujo and Sipan Museum on the site contains Moche artifacts including the distinctive narrative ceramics for which the civilization is known.
At Tucume, north of Chiclayo, is a 494-acre complex consisting of twenty-six pyramid tombs and other structures of the Lambayesque, a civilization taken over by the Incas. The Sican Pyramids of the Lambayesque culture are located a few miles further to the northeast. These artifacts are located in the 14,547-acre Santuario Historico Bosque de Pomac that also protects the wildlife of the algarrobo forest.
East of Huarez in the Conchucos Valley lies the Chavin de Huantar, a fortress temple with carved heads and other stonework, belonging to the Chavin, one of Peru's earliest civilizations. The complex, dating back to 1200 to 800 BC, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is still under excavation.
Many tourists plan their Peru travel to attend the outstanding festivals of the region they are visiting on their Peru tours. There are many to choose from on the northern coast. In January, the National Marinera Festival, a celebration of Peru’s national dance, takes place in Trujillo, and the Feria Internacional de los Reyes occurs in Sullana. The best places in the region to be for Holy Week are Chiclayo and Chimbote or the village of Catacaos near Piura where you may wish to check out the gold and silver filigree crafts. In June, the Festivity of San Pedrito takes place in Chimbote, the International Lemon Festival is held in Olmos on the eastern edge of the Sechura Desert and the San Pedro y San Pablo Dance Festival is celebrated in Huanchaco. The agricultural areas of the region celebrate the San Juan and San Pedro Festival in June at the end of harvest season, coinciding with the burning of the fields. In September, Trujillo's major Festival Internacional de la Primavera is held, consisting of parades, a beauty pageant and a paso horse show. In October, the Festival Nacional de Marinera y Tondero takes place in Piura. For All Souls Day in November, the place to experience the candlelight procession to the cemetery is the village of La Arena, a few miles south of the city of Piura.