Top 7 Things To Do in Peru

I have been in Peru for three weeks, and feel as though I have lived a lifetime of experiences. I have surfed the longest wave in the world. I have been to the archaeological site of the most ancient people in the Americas. I have held ancient human remains which were desecrated by grave robbers. I have seen sacred mountains and valleys. I have heard ghost tales passed down a millennia. I have danced with Peruvians and joined in the music which always wafts through the streets. I have found sea glass washed ashore by the Pacific Ocean. I have had my heart broken as my peers and I meet with natural disaster victims each week, and had it lifted again at their hope and love and strength. I have learned from traditional healers and shopped for medicinal herbs. And I want everyone to be able to experience life in this beautiful country!

Of course, not everyone can live in Peru long enough to experience everything, so I’ve put together a list of must-sees and must-dos (including some must-eats!) in La Libertad, Peru.

Top 7 things to do in Trujillo and Huanchaco:

  1. Visit the Plaza de Armas in Trujillo. This historic town square was the center of Spanish colonialism, as seen in the incredibly well-preserved architecture and art. It is also the site where Peru declared its independence from Spain (giving the region its name “La Libertad”). The shops, artisans, and cafes will not disappoint. 

    cathedral plaza de armas trujillo

    This is the original cathedral built by the Spanish in the late 15th century. It is located in the Plaza de Armas in Trujillo and is open a few times each day for mass, confession, other church functions, and tours.

  2. Visit the archaeological site Chan Chan. Chan Chan is a site of the Chimu people (the civilization just before the Incas). There are nine palaces across this 14 square km city, each with original engravings, art, ceramics, and rich histories. Here you will learn about the importance of the ocean in Chimu religion: the water provided everything (food, transportation, protection, etc.). Waves, fish, and pelicans (which showed fisherman where the fish were) are engraved in nearly every room. Duality is also an important element of Chimu religion: male and female, sun and moon, sea and sky.
    • A bonus feature of Chan Chan is most (if not all) of the site of wheelchair accessible! This is because the governor of the city was not supposed to have his feet touch the ground. He was carried everywhere by 4-6 men. If he were carried up or down stairs, he would have fallen off, so the palaces are constructed with flat paths and ramps. 
      original engravings chan chan

      A famous wall in Chan Chan showing the original engravings. It depicts some of the most important symbols in the Chimu culture and religion: horizontal lines represent the ocean waves; the fish are important because they were the largest food supply; and the birds at the bottom are pelicans, which helped fisherman locate where the fish were swimming.

      system of rooms in chan chan

      A large system of rooms in Chan Chan with original artwork engraved in the adobe. The holes in the walls were meant to give light in an otherwise dark space, and are designed to look like fishing nets.

  3. Visit Huaca de la LunaHuaca means temple. This is the temple of the moon, which lies on one side of an ancient city, while the temple of the sun (Huaca del Sol) lies on the other side. This archaeological site was once inhabited by the Moche people (the civilization which pre-dates the Chimu). Huaca de la Luna is full of incredible murals and tombs with the original paint still on the adobe. 

    original mural huaca de la luna

    A mural in the Huaca de la Luna spanning the length of an enormous room. The paint and engravings are the originals made by the Moche people. The face depicted on the mural is that of the greatest Mochica god, Ai Apaec. He has owl eyes (representing the sky or heavens), the teeth of a feline (representing the earth), hair like waves (representing the ocean), and is surrounded by serpents.

  4. Go to El Brujo/Museo de Cao. This is another archaeological Moche site, but with an exciting twist! Most of the archaeological record in Peru shows male rulers and healers. However, at this site, a powerful woman was found! Señora de Cao was either a Moche ruler or a high-ranking priestess, which challenged the idea that only Moche men could hold such positions. She passed away at age 25, possibly due to complications in childbirth. Her body was so well-preserved that her skin and hair remain in-tact, so much so that her extensive tattoos are still clearly visible.
    • Buying souvenirs at the gift shop on site is pretty expensive. However, souvenirs of equal quality can be found at the nearby city of Magdalena de Cao. 
      senora de cao tomb and mossoleum

      The mummy of Senora de Cao was found buried here (marked by logs over a rectangle in the ground) beside a grand, painted mausoleum. An adolescent girl was found buried in the same tomb, a high priest was buried with a another adolescent near the tomb, as well as a fisherman buried very near Senora de Cao’s.

      senora de cao replica

      A replica of what Senora de Cao may have looked like and the clothing and ceremonial dress she wore.

  5. Spend some time on the beach in Huanchaco. Huanchaco has been a settlement for thousands of years, originally by the Moche, or Mochica. As such, it has an incredibly rich history. Huanchaco is famous for having the longest surf in the world (more than a mile long!) There are plenty of excellent surf shops which can provide lessons, boards, and wet suits for a VERY low price! While on the beach, you’ll also be able to see the traditional (2,500-3,000 year old) caballitos de totoro or “reed horses” which are long slim boats made of dried reeds Fisherman use them as wave riders, and these boats are likely the earliest form of surfing. 
    my friend walking on the beach at sunset

    A picture of my friend walking along Huanchaco beach at sunset. We were collecting sea glass brought in by the ocean on the northern shore.

    reed boat on traditional fisherman house

    This is a smaller version of the traditional caballito de totorro. The house is sticks, adobe, and thatched reeds and grasses- a traditional home of a fisherman along the coast (because it is quick and simple to rebuild if the tides flood it). The boat is being dried after heavy use in the water.

  6. Eat Ceviche.  This famous Latin American dish has its origins in Peru nearly 2,000 years ago! It is a meal of fresh raw fish cured in lime juice and spiced with aji (a peppery hot sauce). Order some chicha morada (a sweet beverage made from purple corn) to wash it all down. It’s a must!
  7. While you’re here, don’t forget to enjoy the incredible street art! Peruvians have found a way to turn graffiti into absolute masterpieces. Take some time to go on a walk during siesta and look at the paintings decorating nearly every wall and building in the country.

These things are just the beginning. The possibilities for your adventures and your studies are endless in Peru! If you’re interested in archaeology, you’re in luck: La Libertad region is rich with as-yet undiscovered evidences of ancient civilizations. If you are passionate about art, the entire coast is filled with artisan shops. If cooking is your path, there are incredible chefs everywhere. If you are going into medicine, you might be interested in learning from traditional healers about medicinal herbs and healing practices. I hope if you come to Peru you’ll find it as thrilling as I have. There is so much to learn and so much wonder to see!

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Filed under McKinley in Peru, south america

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