Off the well-beaten track in northern Peru

If you want to get off the well-beaten track in Peru, try the Moche Route in the north, featuring archaeological sites, local traditions, great food and beaches. Peru’s most loved attraction, Machu Picchu, is further south and has up to 2,500 visitors a day trekking up its stone steps. That site is accessible by a zig-zagging train or a demanding trek to 2,430 metres above sea level.  But the Peruvian authorities want to build a highway to the UNESCO-listed wonder.
No idea how the picture of llamas in sunglasses fits in, but I just liked it so moving on…. Northern Peru is home to fascinating pre-Incan sites of the Moche culture who ruled much of this area from 100- 800 AD.  This ancient culture is most present in the museums and archaeological sites of the northern region and in exciting discoveries which are still being made. Sites along the route include El Brujo in the lower Chicama Valley, Chan Chan by the banks of the Moche River in the La Libertad region, and Huaca of the Sun and of the Moon located just 15 minutes south of Trujillo.

The El Brujo site dates back to the first and seventh centuries AD and was the final resting place of Señora de Cao, who lived around the year 450 A.D, while Chan Chan spans an area of 20km² and is the largest mud-brick citadel dating back to the pre-Hispanic era.  Huaca del Sol y Huaca de La Luna are distanced 500 metres apart from one another and are two of the most impressive Peruvian pyramids, built for ceremonial purposes by the Moche around 500 AD.

The Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum in Lambayeque also offers a fascinating insight into the history of the Moche people. According to studies, the Lord of Sipan died 1,770 years ago and it is estimated he lived for about 40 years and was buried in an elaborate ceremony. The museum is a 10-minute drive from the city of Chiclayo, the capital city of the Lambayeque region, and houses some of the best exhibition rooms in the world.

Less than one hour north of Lima by air, Trujillo, the colonial city of the north, provides the gateway to the Moche Route.  Trujillo is the capital of the La Libertad and sits on the banks of the Moche River. It is a vibrant city with plenty to offer visitors to the region.  For the outdoor enthusiast the north offers a year-round warm climate and beautiful coastline where a popular surfing culture thrives.  Here many Moche cultural practices are still very much alive today. ‘Caballitos de Totora’, reed watercrafts used by the Moche people for fishing, are now used to surf the waves.

Among other activities available, try riding a paso fino horse or visit the many local farms in the area that breed these beautiful animals. Then try the food! The popular and tasty ‘ceviche’ (pictured above)combines fresh fish and seafood mixed with onions, lemon juice, salt, and a touch of chilli.

Machu Picchu is also known as the lost city of the Incas, and this year is the 100th anniversary of its rediscovery. Floods in 2010 trapped 4,000 tourists in the towns of Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes for five days when the railway was washed away, and they had little to eat and not enough shelter. The Peruvian Congress approved the highway last September, but since then there’s been a lot of arguing about the merits, with some experts arguing too many tourists could irrevocably damage the  site.

The Associated Press reported this week that hundreds of unticketed tourists have been turned away from Machu Picchu. Angry tourists blocked a bridge for two hours on Monday in the town of Aguas Calientes at the entrance to the ruins. That impeded buses which ferry visitors to the hilltop site. Apparently there was confusion over some travel agencies failing to inform visitors that they should get tickets in advance because of the daily load limit of 2,500 people.
Authorities established the limit for Peru’s main tourist attraction in 2005 as a conservation measure.

CHECK LIST:

  • Peru’s roads are among the most dangerous in South America with about 3,000 dying each year. Mountain roads, poor driver skill and vehicle maintenance is blamed. Just thought you should know.
  • TripAdvisor named Machu Picchu as the world’s third favourite travel destination for 2011.
  •  In January, tickets  went online. The site, www.machupicchu.gob.pe, can be slow to access.

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