While the bulk of international visitors travel Peru’s southern loop—usually taking in Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, Arequipa, the Nazca Lines and/or Colca Canyon—the north beckons with its own amazing ruins, rainforests, beaches, and culinary delights.
The region’s urban center is Trujillo, capital of La Libertad Department, and the third-largest city in Peru (after Lima and Arequipa). Though festive, it isn’t exactly the quiet, colonial destination one tends to associate with Peru; it’s a big, messy, modern city, attractive to the casual traveler primarily for its easy access to some of the nation’s historical gems. Tourist often prefer the smaller towns of Chiclayo, about 200km (124mi) north of Trujillo on the Pacific Coast; or mountainous Cajamarca (about 100km/62mi) northeast of Trujillo, 2-3hrs), famed for the final battle between Incan Emperor Ahuatalpa and the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro.
Worthwhile destinations nearby include the magnificent Lord of Sipan museum and archaeological site, replete with gold and artwork; fantastic Chan Chan, the sprawling, adobe capital of the Kingdom of Chamor, polished by centuries of sea winds rolling in from the crashing Pacific just outside the ancient city walls; scores of hot springs, and several pretty beaches.
Despite having all this to offer, northern Peru still fails to woo international visitors the way the southern half of the country has done. That might be about to change.
Trujillo, the “City of Eternal Spring,” as tourism professionals have cheerfully dubbed it, will be hosting the 2013 Bolivarian Games. These Olympics-style sporting competitions, though they share Simon Bolivar’s name with the left-wing ALBA political block led by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, are apolitical and far older, dating to 1838 and Bogota, Colombia’s 400th anniversary. Now held every four years, they field international competitions in everything from archery, equestrian games, gymnastics, and judo, to mountain biking, canoeing and beach volleyball.
Trujillo and Chiclayo (which will be co-hosting the games) are now being entirely retrofitted in anticipation of the events, including the construction of Elias Aguirre Stadium Complex in Chiclayo. As costs mount—current estimates of 280 million sols (US$105 million) seem woefully inadequate—other member countries send support and advisors.
This year, in addition to the usual roster of countries, all personally liberated by Simon Bolivar—Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela—several new nations will be participating. These include Spain, Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, and Argentina, making these the biggest games ever, with more than 6,000 athletes competing.
The end result will be a newly revitalized northern loop, with a wider range of hotels, restaurants, and other tourist infrastructure to welcome curious travelers to the Peru less traveled. We can’t wait.