A brightly coloured and unique Plaza de Armas, friendly locals, inexpensive and delicious food and dirt cheap tours. Trujillo was a diamond in the rough. At this time of year Trujillo is unbearably hot and only 3-star and upwards hotels seem to have A/C. Peruvians don’t seem to mind living in extreme temperatures without climate control. We decided that after spending Valentines day on an overnight bus the night before (from Lima), that it was worth treating ourselves to a little comfort. We spent 150 S. (twice our usual budget) staying at Arvo Hotel. Despite our splurge it was still impossible to break the daily budget. We found decent daily menu’s for 6 S., and a full day tour costs just 25 S. That’s if you take a tour with a Spanish guide, an English speaking guide costs double. You could possibly do it even cheaper yourself taking collectivos, which appeared to go to all the sights we stopped at.
Museo Huacas de Moche
This museum has impressive displays of artefacts from the Moche civilization. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos, but the ceramics, ornaments and earthenware were both unique and in impeccable condition given the civilisation collapsed more than 1250 years ago.
Huaca de la Luna
Walking distance from the museum, the tickets include a guided tour in English or Spanish. Again the art and design of this temple is different from anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Nearby is the Huaca del Sol (temple of the Sun) but it is still under excavation and it is not possible to visit at the moment. Unfortunately it was destroyed by the Spanish in the 17th Century while the moon temple was mostly spared, although the northernmost platform was partially ruined by looters.
Huaca del Dragón (Huaca del Arco Iris)
After Huaca de la Luna, we were taken back to Plaza de Armas in Trujillo for lunch. We declined the 15 sole lunch the tour was offering and were glad we did. Everyone else complained about it. The next stop was Huaca del Dragón, located in a suburb of Trujillo it belong to the Chimú culture, who appeared after the Moche around 900 AD. It’s a small temple and many of the carvings have worn away. What remains is worth a visit.
Chan Chan was the Capital of the Chimor (Chimú) empire before it finally surrendered to the Inca only 50 years before the Spanish arrived. It once spanned 20 km² and was home to between 40,000 – 60,000 people. Most of the excavation site is now covered by roofing, presumably to protect it from the weather. This means I wasn’t able to capture the impressive photos I saw online before visiting. Despite this the intricate carvings and the detail in the architecture is incredible. This section of Chan Chan is where the wealthy upper class would have lived. Much of the ancient city remains covered by sand or eroded, and many of the lower class would have lived in simpler dwellings.
Our last stop was to seaside Huanchaco. Many visitors choose to base themselves here and it certainly felt more touristy than Trujillo. In my view it is overcrowded, expensive and dirty. There’s rubbish everywhere and parts of dead fish on the beach. Still it is worth a short visit if only to see the caballito de totoras (the reed fishing vessels used by Peruvian fishermen for thousands of years) lined up neatly along the beachfront. The red and white jetty makes for some good photo opportunities and stroll along, ice cream in hand. We gave swimming a miss, though what looked like half the population of Peru was revelling in some relief from the heat.
Feeling unable to withstand another overnight bus so soon, we decided to break up the journey from Trujillo to Mancora with an overnight stop in Piura (the only direct buses travel overnight). Not a bad place to to regroup, Piura’s central area feels safe and is lively, with a few restaurants selling cheap burgers and tasty tamales and humitas. Knowing we had to move quickly the next morning we went straight to the nearby bus stops and on to Máncora. There are buses leaving at least hourly as well as tourist shuttle buses. Both cost around 25 S.
Peru isn’t exactly famous for beaches, but with its position right on the highway, we figured it couldn’t hurt to take a peek at Peru’s most popular beach. I’m not exactly sure what the appeal is. Máncora is not an attractive place. The photo makes it look much prettier than it is. If you want to party, there’s no shortage of weed and other more potent substances. I guess we don’t look like the drug-taking types so no one approached us but I’ve heard the moto drivers double as drug dealers. There’s a Loki hostel here so that says it all. We spent the night in extremely basic accommodation which was hot, mosquito-ridden and had the most uncomfortable bed we’ve slept on (aside from the hay beds in La Paz). All that for over 100 S. no breakfast and it was the best rated place in town (the owners w). I dread to think what the other accommodations are like.
We cut our two nights down to one and tried to make the most of it. Sipping beers by candlelight on the beach isn’t so bad. There are some excursions you can do to nicer beaches nearby, including swimming with turtles. As we travelled up to Tumbes in a collectivo we saw a number of little villages and pretty beaches with accommodation. Although they won’t have the restaurants, nightlife or conveniences of Máncora they are within easy reach by colectivo. For us it was also a matter of time, with only 3 weeks left in South America we wanted to make it Ecuador as quickly as possible.
Be careful changing money!
Counterfeit money is a problem all over Peru, but we came across some particular suspicious characters in the north. In Trujillo, a money-changer tried to short change us by giving us 170 S. instead of the 192 S as per the exchange rate. I picked it straightaway and called him on it. He gave us the extra, but then I noticed he didn’t give us a receipt or stamp the money which official changers ALWAYS do. I looked at the money and it just didn’t look right. I asked him to return my USD and changed it elsewhere. In Piura there were guys out on the street hollering, offering to change USD to Soles at a rate of 3.5. Given the official rate is currently 3.25 they are best ignored. Official changers sit behind windowed stalls, give you the dollar rate before the exchange, and stamp the money and give you a receipt for it at the end.