Lima to Chimbote

Between Lima and Pativilca there is a narrow belt of coastal land deposited at the mouths of the rivers and, from Pativilca to the mouth of the Río Santa, north of Chimbote, the Andes come down to the sea. The Pan-American Highway parallels the coast all the way to the far north, and feeder roads branch from it up the various valleys.

Pasamayo sand dune

Just north of Ancón. The old road that snakes above the sea is spectacular, but is now closed except to commercial traffic and buses. The new toll road, which goes right over the top, is safe and gives spectacular views over the nearby coast and valleys.

Chancay Valley

Though the Chancay Culture once extended across many valleys to the north of Lima and much evidence of ceramic artefacts can be seen in museums, there are no significant remains in the valley. There are, however, two curiosities to distract the traveller. As the old coastal road descends into the valley a complex of strange, decorated, conical structures made of adobe comes into view (Km 63).
Eco Truly Park
,, is run by the Hare Krishna movement and consists of a temple complex, vegetarian restaurant, organic farm and rustic accommodation for visitors in the
(conical constructions
, also camping, meals extra). Mediation, t'ai chi and other courses are run regularly.
Chancay 'castle'
, built by a bohemian descendant of the last viceroy in the 1920s, is located on the cliff tops in Chancay town. Once visited by the elite of Lima, it is now a decaying recreational centre with restaurants, bars, pools and a museum containing many Chancay culture artefacts.

Just inland from the coastal town of Chancay is
, which gives access to the Chancay Valley, up which are the extraordinary, little-visited ruins of
. Chiprac is a 2½-hour climb from
. The Salvador family has accommodation and Carlos is a recommended guide for the ruins, though a guide is not strictly necessary. It is a good day's walk there and back with time to take photographs and eat. Huascoy celebrates the
Fiesta de San Cristóbal
in the week before Independence (28 July), with a procession, masses, dancing, fireworks and football matches.
is best reached from La Florida. Its ruins are the best preserved of the group, though less extensive than Chiprac. All the ruins have complete roofs, which is unique in Peru. For
, go to Huaral as for the other ruins, then get transport to Huayopampa (basic accommodation) or La Perla from where the ruins can easily be reached. Get a guide to take you there from either village.

Loma de Lachay National Reserve

One kilometre north of the southern turn-off to Sayán is a sandy track signposted to the
Loma de Lachay
(5070 ha). It is 4 km, a one-hour walk, up to the guard post.

This small reserve is a typical example of 'loma' habitat, and it holds several important species. Loma vegetation is formed during the winter months, when fog caused by the Humboldt Current drives inland, rises and condenses, and forms a dew on the surrounding landscape. This dew is sufficient to sustain the seasonal loma or 'fog vegetation' that is the home of birds such as the endemic Raimondi's yellow-finch and thick-billed miner. Within just 5 km the landscape changes from barren desert to a green carpet, resonating with the sound of birdcalls. In September and October the plants are in bloom and very beautiful. There is a visitors' centre, trails and picnic areas. Camping is permitted at the visitors' centre in the heart of the reserve, 2 km beyond the guard post, US$3.50 for up to three days, bring all food and water, especially in the dry season (January-March). The reserve is very popular with Lima residents at the weekend.


At Km 101 is Huacho, where you can turn off the Pan-American and head west to Puerto Huacho, which is the outlet for cotton and sugar grown in the rich Huaura Valley. There are cotton-seed oil and other factories. The port and sea are sometimes alive with huge jellyfish. There are several basic hotels at Huacho (none at the port). A turn-off at Km 135 leads to
El Paraíso
, where endless, empty beaches and calm, clear waters attract campers in summer. There is good fishing and windsurfing. Birdwatchers should go to the nearby lagoon, formed by run-off from an irrigation project, where over 100 species have been recorded.

Huacho to Churín

The journey inland from Huacho, up the Huaura Valley, is spectacular.
, 30 km inland, is an attractive agricultural town at the base of the Andean foothills. It would be a nicer place to stay en route to Churín than the coastal towns, if there were more choice in the way of hotels. Combis go every half hour to Huacho from Avenida Balta. Buses from Lima for Churín stop at the bridge.


Beyond Sayán the road follows the Huaura Valley which narrows almost to a gorge before climbing steeply to Churín, one of Peru's best-known spas, with hot, sulphurous springs used to cure a number of ailments. The climate is dry, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 32°C. The area is famous for cheese, yoghurt and other natural products. Churín is popular with Limeños. Accommodation and buses are fully booked at holiday times.

A highly recommended excursion can be made up a side valley, 5 km below Churín, to
. The new Huancahuasi baths include a pool that ex-President Fujimori swam in (hot, US$1 per person), while on the opposite side of the river the new
baths include excellent private pools carved out of the rock (hot, US$0.50 per person). Snacks such as
are available at riverside stalls. The trip includes a stop-off at Picoy, which has a remarkable colonial church with a highly carved façade, and at
Chiuchin baths
, are now rather neglected and run down.

Huacho to Barranca

The town of
on the north bank of the Río Huaura, has grown little over the last 200 years but remains hugely significant in the annals of Peruvian Independence. It was here that General San Martín first proclaimed the country's independence from Spain, eight months prior to the official declaration of Independence in Lima. The house with the balcony from which he made the proclamation is now a small
. Stand on the balcony yourself and re-enact the declaration.

The road passes from the valley of Mazo through the irrigated valley of San Felipe. There is more desert and then the cotton-fields of San Nicolás lead to
at Km 187, and nearby Puerto Supe, a busy port shipping fishmeal, cotton, sugar and minerals. At
El Aspero
, near Supe, is one of the earliest prehistoric sites in Peru .

(Km 195), 1 km below the town, lies the long, sandy Chorrillos beach, which is windy but popular with surfers. Banco de la Nación accepts traveller's cheques, but at poor rates.


A few kilometres before Barranca, a turning to the right (east) leads to Caral, a city 20 km from the coast whose date (3200-3000 BC) and monumental construction are overturning many of the accepted theories of Peruvian archaeology. It appears to be easily the oldest city-state in South America.

The dry, desert site lies on the southern fringes of the Supe Valley, along whose flanks there are many more unexcavated ruins. On the coast the fishing port of Bandurria is believed to be the place from where the people of Caral traded. Caral itself covers 66 ha and contains eight significant pyramidal structures. To date seven have been excavated by archaeologists from the University of San Marcos, Lima. One remains unexcavated, a rounded mound of stone and sand showing no discernible sign of its likely inner contents. The seven pyramids investigated reveal a stone and mortar construction with a yellow and white wash being the most common finish, small areas of which remain visible. Archaeologists are undertaking careful renovation upon the existing foundations to re-establish the pyramidal tiers. It is possible to walk around and, in some cases, up on to the pyramids. A viewpoint provides a panorama across the whole site.
Pirámide de Anfiteatro
(11 m high), on the north side of the small pyramid, is a large amphitheatre from which a series of ceremonial rooms rise.
de la Huanca
(12 m high) is constructed in three tiers with a 23-step staircase leading up to the ceremonial platform. It takes its name from the large stone obelisk (
) in the centre of the plaza, which it overlooks. The residence of the elite, a complex of well-built adobe rooms, abuts the pyramid.
Pirámide de la Galería
(the gallery pyramid, 17 m high) has a nearly 7-m-wide stairway leading up to a room sunk into the ceremonial platform lined with huarango wood and containing eight huge whalebone vertebrate seats.
Pirámide Menor
(7.5 m high) is the smallest of the pyramids.
Pirámide Mayor
(the great pyramid, 153.5 by 110 by 28 m) is the largest pyramid with a sunken circular plaza on its south side.

(obelisk-sized stones) frame the two entrances to the plaza and a further
sits atop the pyramid which is reached by an impressive 9-m-wide stairway from the plaza.
Pirámide de la Cantera
(the quarry pyramid, 13.5 m high) is the only pyramid partly straddling a rock outcrop, much of which was used in its construction. A 4.2-m-wide stairway with 32 steps ascends to the summit, on which is a round, walk-in altar with an outer wall 8 m in diameter and an inner wall 3.7 m in diameter, inside which there was a central fireplace. In addition, there is a long building containing 18 internal niches along each facing wall.
El Templo de Altar Circular
(4 m high) consists of at least 13 rooms in at least two groupings. Inside one square room there is a 2.7-m-diameter walk-in altar with a central fireplace. Some later adobe ruins of the Chancay era fringe the site. Detailed, illustrated Spanish/English information panels are located around the site, which is well organized, criss-crossed by paths that must be adhered to. Allow at least two hours to visit the site.

Pativilca to Huaraz

The straggling town of Pativilca (Km 203), has a small museum and a good, cheap restaurant,
. Just beyond town, a good paved road turns east for Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca .

The road at first climbs gradually from the coast. At Km 48, just west of the town of
Restaurante Delicias
) it reaches Rumi Siki (Rump Rock), with unusual rock formations, including the one that gives the site its name. Beyond this point, the grade is steeper and at Km 120 the chilly pass at 4080 m is reached. Shortly after,
comes into view, where the Río Santa rises. Delicious trout is available in Conococha village. A dirt road branches off from Conococha to
and the Cordilleras Huayhuash and Raura to the southeast. After crossing a high plateau the main road descends gradually for 47 km until
, where another road branches east to Chavín and on to the Callejón de Conchucos . Huaraz is 36 km further on and the road then continues north through the Callejón de Huaylas.

Four kilometres beyond the turn-off to Huaraz, beside the Panamerican highway, are the well-preserved ruins of the Chimú
temple of Paramonga
, set on high ground with a view of the ocean, the fortress-like mound is reinforced by eight quadrangular walls rising in tiers to the top of the hill. It is well worth visiting. No buses run to the ruins, only to the port (about 15 mins from Barranca), a taxi from Paramonga and return after waiting costs US$5, otherwise take a Barranca-Paramonga port bus, then it's a 3-km walk. The town of
is a small port, 3 km off the Pan-American Highway, 4 km from the ruins and 205 km from Lima.

Between Pativilca and Chimbote the mountains come down to the sea. The road passes by a few very small protected harbours in tiny rock-encircled bays -
Puerto Huarmey
Puerto Casma
. Between Paramonga and Huarmey there are restaurants at Km 223 and 248.

Casma to Huaraz via Pariacoto

Casma, largely destroyed by the 1970 earthquake, has since been rebuilt, partly with Chilean help. It has a pleasant Plaza de Armas, several parks and two markets including a good food market. Sechín ruins are only 5 km away and it is a much nicer place to stay than Chimbote. The weather is usually sunny, hence its title Ciudad del Sol Eterno (City of Eternal Sun).

From Casma a road runs inland over the
Callán Pass
(4224 m) 150 km to Huaraz. It's a difficult but beautiful trip, and worth taking in daylight. Few buses take this route, so check before leaving.

From Casma the first 30 km are paved, then a good dirt road follows for 30 km to
. From here to the pass the road is rough, with landslides in the rainy season, but once the Cordillera Negra has been crossed, the wide, gravel road is better with spectacular views of the Cordillera Blanca. To catch the best views, before the Cordillera Blanca becomes covered in cloud (usually in the afternoon), take the earliest bus possible. Sit on the right-hand side of the bus.


This is one of the most important ruins on the Peruvian coast. It consists of a large square temple completely faced with carved stone monoliths - probably over 500 of them - representing two lines of warriors marching towards the principal entrance from opposite sides. Between each warrior are carvings of men being eviscerated, heads with blood gushing from eyes or mouths, dismembered legs, arms, torsos, ears, eyes and vertebrae.

The mural is thought by some to narrate the results of a battle, with the fates of the conquerors and the conquered graphically depicted. Others believe it shows ritual rather than actual combat. Either way, the style is unique in Peru for its naturalistic vigour. The importance of the site lies in the fact that it is one of the oldest centres in the country to demonstrate war-like activity, ceremonial or otherwise, and the extent to which extreme violence was a part of life.

Within the stone temple is an earlier, pre-ceramic mud temple with painted walls. The complex as a whole forms a temple-palace associated with the development of the local pre-Chavín Sechín culture, dating from about 1600 BC. Three sides of the large stone temple have been excavated and restored. You cannot see the adobe buildings inside the stone walls, which belong to an earlier period. They were later covered up and used as a base for a second storey which, unfortunately, has been completely destroyed.

Some experts think the temple and surroundings were buried on purpose. Others believe it was engulfed by natural disaster. The latter theory is supported by finds of human skeletons. Tombs have been found in front and at the same level as the temple. A wall of a large adobe building under excavation runs round the sides and back of the temple.

There is an attractive, shady picnic garden. Photography is best around midday.
Max Uhle Museum
by the ruins has an interesting display of Sechín artefacts and a replica of the façade of the inner adobe temple. If you need a guide ask in advance for Wilder León or Carlos Cuy, who speaks English and French. Outside the museum is a map showing the location of the different archaeological sites in the Casma area.

Two kilometres further along is
Sechín Alto
, two pyramids of the late Chavín period, but these have not yet been extensively excavated. Follow the track to the west (left) at the Km 4 post past the first, smaller pyramid and the farmhouse. The second pyramid is huge, measuring 300 x 250 x 25 m, covering 50 ha, and once consisted of three levels. Though most of the stone façade has turned to rubble, small sections of the exterior wall and huge entrance stones on the north side are visible. Recent investigations have uncovered some storage chambers and adobe platforms built from unusual conical adobes atop the pyramid.

Among numerous other sites in the area, there are two of particular interest, but a mototaxi is needed to visit them. At Km 15 on the Pariacoto road there are several lines and figures etched in the desert surface, as at Nazca. Though nowhere near as impressive as the Nazca Lines, the figure of a 'warrior' is clearly visible from a nearby hilltop. The lines are up to 25 m long, 20 cm wide and have been dated to 1000 BC. Archaeologists are uncertain as to their purpose.

, located off the Panamericana at Km 361, is a 2300-year-old fortress on a hilltop. It consists of three concentric stone walls with rectangular and circular buildings inside the interior wall. Some of the original carob tree supports remain. If driving there off the Panamericana, 4WD is recommended, otherwise ask for directions from the Sechín museum from the road to Huaraz.

Playa Tortugas

Located 2 km east of the Pan-American Highway at Km 391, 18 km north of Casma, Playa Tortugas is a fishing village on a nice bay with calm water and a rocky beach.
leave Casma when full from Plaza Poncianos between the Plaza de Armas and the market, 0500-2000, US$0.75, 15 minutes. From the north end of the bay the road continues to
Playa Huayuna
, a windy, closed bay with a sandy beach and a scallop farm. From the south end of Tortugas a road goes to
Rincón de Piños
, a beach with wild surf. To the south of Casma, at Km 345, are the sandy beaches of
La Gramita
Las Aldas


Not only is Chimbote Peru's largest fishing port, it is also the smelliest city in the country, with the powerful stench of the fishmeal plant permeating every nook and cranny, and one of the least desirable places, with a palpable sense of danger lurking around every corner. There are no tourist attractions as such, although it has a spacious
Plaza de Armas
with the cathedral and the modern Municipal building, which has a small
art gallery
. The best thing about the place is the Terminal Terrestre, 4 km south of the centre on Avenida Meiggs. When transferring from Trujillo, Huaraz, Casma or Lima, there is no need to leave the bus station.

The Nepeña Valley

About 25 km south of Chimbote, at Km 405 on the Pan-American Highway, a paved road leads east to the Nepeña Valley, where several pre-Columbian ruins including Cerro Blanco, Pañamarca and Paredones can be found. The valley is dominated by the vast San Jacinto sugar plantation. The village of Capellanía is 11 km from the crossroads. Just beyond are the ruins of
. The site includes a two-storey stone structure, built on a hill, dating from the formative period (2000 BC-AD 100) and many adobe structures from the Moche period, including three pyramids. Remains of polychromatic murals and animal sculptures can also be seen. Twenty kilometres from Pañamarca, via the villages of San Jacinto and Moro, is the site of
, a large stone structure, with 4-m-high granite walls and a very impressive gateway known as 'Portada de Paredones' or 'Puerta del Sol'. It is believed to have been a Chavín palace.

Chimbote to Huaraz

The route from Chimbote to Huaraz passes through the
Santa Valley
and the spectacular Cañón del Pato, one of the most thrilling bus trips in all of Peru. Just north of the smelly port, a road branches northeast off the Pan-American Highway and, joining another road from the town of Santa, goes up the Santa Valley following the route, including nearly 40 tunnels, of the old
Santa Corporation Railway
. This used to run as far as
(Ancash - not to be confused with the town of the same name southeast of Huaraz), 140 km up the valley, but the track was largely destroyed by the 1970 earthquake. At Chuquicara, three hours from Chimbote, some 60 km before Huallanca, is
Restaurante Rosales
, a good place to stop for a meal (you can sleep here, too, but it's very rough). The road from Chimbote to Chuquicara is paved, but after that it becomes a track, very bumpy, stony and dusty (hard driving). The road goes between barren hills and passes poor mining camps. The geology is fantastic, with ravines, whorls, faults and strata at all angles to each other. The varying colours of the rock are also amazing. At the next village,
, there is lodging, places to eat, fuel and a police station.

At Huallanca is an impressive hydroelectric plant, built into a mountain, which cannot be visited. There is accommodation and fuel is available. Everything closes early.

At the top of the valley by the hydroelectric centre, the road turns right to go through the
Cañón del Pato
. After this point the road is fully paved. Soon you reach the Callejón de Huaylas and the road south to Caraz and Huaraz .

An alternative road for cyclists (and vehicles with a permit) is the private road known as the 'Brasileños', used by the Brazilian company Odebrecht who have built a water channel for the Chavimochic irrigation scheme from the Río Santa to the coast. Permits are available from the company HQ in San José de Virú, or from the guardian at the gate on Sunday. The turn-off is 35 km north of the Santa turning, 15 km south of the bridge in Chao, at Km 482 on the Pan-American Highway. It is a good all-weather road to Tanguche, 22 km from the turn-off, where it continues up the north bank of the Río Santa, crosses a bridge 28 km from Tanguche, to meet up with the public road.


Chimbote is not safe by day or night. Travellers are often attacked and robbed
here. Take extra precautions. Although it's small enough to walk around, don't; take a taxi, except for going out to eat near your hotel. On no account walk from the bus station to town.

North of Chimbote

The highway crosses the valleys of Chao and Virú and, after 137 km, reach the first great city of Northern Peru, Trujillo. The Virú Valley contains the largest single sand dune in South America, known as
Pur Pur
. Between Virú and Trujillo the desert is being turned 'green' with asparagus and other crops, thanks to the huge Chavimochic project. It is hard to believe that the irrigated land was once as lifeless as the desert that surrounds it. For different reasons, both Virú and Chavimochic are proposing to promote their tourist potential, the former for its little-known archaeological sites and adventure sports, the latter for its economic and social developments. There is basic lodging available and places to eat in both Chao and Virú.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Peru Handbook

Peru is home to more archaeological sites than any other country in South America. However, with...

South American Handbook 2016

South America is epic. Home to the world's highest waterfall, the longest mountain range and the...

Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador Handbook

Tracing the range of the Andes - the geographical and cultural spine of South America - Peru,...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!