Planning Your Time
It’s a common dilemma: How can I see Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the ruins of the north coast? Even though Peru’s two richest archaeological regions are at opposite ends of the country, it is possible to see both within two weeks.
The logical start is to fly to colonial Trujillo, see Chan Chan and the Moche huacas, and then take a bus to Chiclayo for the Lords of Sipán treasures, Túcume, and the Museo Sicán. After this immersion in pre-Inca history, travelers can fly from Chiclayo to Lima, and then Lima to Cusco, to continue on with Inca and Spanish history.
For those with more time, the principal attractions of the north can be thought of as a sideways U, starting in Trujillo. The first leg of the journey is to Cajamarca, which serves as a launching point for the journey through the Marañón Valley to Chachapoyas. Whereas Cajamarca, Trujillo, and Chiclayo can be visited in as little as two days each, the remote and spread-out ruins of Chachapoyas require several days at the minimum—especially considering the effort it takes to get there. InkaNatura in Lima and Gran Vilaya Tours in Chachapoyas offer well-organized tours that follow this basic sequence.
For most, Peru’s northern beaches are an inessential side trip. But surfers and beach lovers jet from Lima to Peru’s northernmost city of Tumbes, then take public transport an hour or two south to Máncora. After just a morning’s travels, they are walking on white sand and eating ceviche, having left the ruins to the archaeologists.
Still another option is to head east after you've had your fill of sand and surf and travel the dramatic route into the Amazon Basin to Tarapoto and Yurimaguas, from where cargo boats leave daily for a three-day journey to Iquitos. Getting from the north coast to Iquitos is a stunning journey of a week or more, taking in nearly all of Peru’s climates, with an easy escape flight back to Lima.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition