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Exploring Northern Peru

by Monica Conrady

n our trip to Peru last November, we did not follow the so-called ‘gringo trail’ to Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lake Titicaca. Been there, done that. Instead, we headed first to the Amazon (as reported in the Spring issue) and then to the northern cities of Cajamarca, Chiclayo and Trujillo.

Our home base between trips was the Hostal El Patio in Lima’s Miraflores area—a charming spot with comfortable rooms opening onto flower-filled patios and terraces.

To pay their leader’s ransom, the Incas filled a whole room with gold …

With numerous small restaurants and cafes nearby, plus an upmarket deli and an internet cafe—both open 24 hours—what more could we ask for?

We flew first to Cajamarca, a colonial city in the northern highlands. Our hotel, the El Portal del Marques, formerly a family mansion, was a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas, the main square.

It was in this plaza that a pivotal event in Peru’s history took place. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro’s men captured the Inca ruler, Atahualpa, and brought about the fall of the Inca empire. To pay their leader’s ransom, the Incas filled a whole room with fabulous gold and silver objects—but the Spaniards executed poor Atahualpa anyway. These days, the Cuarto de Rescate (the ransom room) is all that is left of the Inca buildings.

Four miles out of town are the Banos del Inca, some natural hot springs where Atahualpa and his solders camped before their fateful meeting with Pizarro. We spent Thanksgiving afternoon there, wallowing happily in hot mineral water in our own private bathhouse. We later celebrated at the Don Paco restaurant. just off the plaza, not with a turkey dinner but with a delicious roast duck concoction.

Next on the agenda was Chiclayo, a fourhour bus ride away, down the mountainside, almost to the coast. A friendly city, Chiclayo is best known for the wonderful archeological sites found nearby. The Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan, a world-class museum which opened in 2002 in the town of Lambayeque, is dedicated to the royal tombs of Sipan. The museum is shaped like a Moche pyramid. You start at the top and work your way down, just as an archeologist would. The subtle lighting enhances the stunning gold masks, scepters and jewelry from the royal Moche tomb, discovered only in 1987 by the archeologist Walter Alves. Taking over most of the first floor is a reconstruction of the burial tomb of the Lords of Sipan. The discovery of these treasures must have been on a par with the unearthing of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to check out the local markets. In Chiclayo, along with the regular market, there is a Mercado de Brujos, a witchdoctors’ market. Here I found strange herbs, potions, salves, snakeskins and animal parts — all ingredients used by the curanderos.

Our last stop was Trujillo, a three-hour bus trip south from Chiclayo. Along with its historic colonial center, Trujillo is close to two of Peru’s Northern Peru's major archaeological sites — Chan Chan, a World Heritage Site, and the Temples of the Sun and Moon. We booked a morning tour to the latter and were suitably awed at the treasures to be found under those mounds of sand.

That afternoon, we visited Huanchaco, once a small fishing village and now a lively beach town close to Trujillo. Huanchaco is famous for its cabillitos(little sea horses), the reed boats still used by local fisherman today. Trujillo’s colonial charms are best experienced on foot, so starting at the lovely Plaza deArmas, we strolled around enjoying the sights, stopping for a farewell nightcap at the elegant Hotel Liberator back at the Plaza. Next morning it was back to Lima and our home base, the welcoming Hostal El Patio.

Hostal El Patio: www.hostalelpatio.net;
Peru Tourist Office: www.visitperu.com.

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The Mythical Ruler: Naylamp
Monica Conrady photo

The Flower-filled Terraces of
Hostal El Patio

Monica Conrady photo