The surf town of Huanchaco

Huanchaco, a coastal town in northern Peru, is just a thirty minute taxi ride from Trujillo’s bus station. Arriving at our hostel well after 9pm (blame the buses again), we were graced with a group huddled around a 32” plasma TV mesmerised by a bad copy of the new Spiderman. Patiently we waited at the reception until eventually one of the audience tore themselves away from the flat screen. It took the staff member a few moments of studying us and our baggage before concluding that we wanted a room. The en-suite room we reserved was the best they had; twelve-foot high double glass doors which opened onto the communal courtyard, hanging from the ceiling were retro-looking egg-shaped chairs, walls were hollowed out for shelving space and a soft inviting queen-sized bed sat in the centre of the room. Initially perfect, we found that privacy was a concern as two thin strips of material were attempting to cover the length and breadth of the large transparent doors. Pondering comfort over privacy we went out to find some food, leaving the world to peer into our room.

10:30 on a Monday night and everything was closed. Walking up and down the main strip we finally found a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint selling pre-made pizzas warmed in a tiny metallic toaster oven. We ordered take-away and it was there at the shack we decided to change rooms. We returned to our hostel with food and our decision, the same obtuse employee was procrastinating when we arrived and when informed of the change could not comprehend why a lack of personal space would be a problem for a private room. Eventually after some reiteration of our worries we were handed another set of keys and with that we moved our bags into our smaller home for the next few days, ate some greasy under-cooked pizza and went to bed.

Over the following days we grew to enjoy the complete negligence and incompetence of the hostel’s employees, with an open door policy we were constantly guessing who was working, who was staying and who was homeless. By the end of our time the only certainty was the cat who like most of the other suspects spent the majority of the day sleeping.

Between Huanchaco and Trujillo lies the ancient pre-Colombian city of Chan Chan, built in the mid-8th century AD it lasted six centuries before being conquered by the Incan empire in 1470. Looters and sea erosion have battered the world’s largest adobe settlement for centuries, but restoration work is now underway and in 1986 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking from the main road to the ancient city takes a moment for your eyes to differentiate between the reddish-brown walls and the surroundings. When you make the separation you begin to see the scale of Chan Chan, moving closer and standing next to the smooth towering walls is equally breathtaking. Foolishly we arrived when the sun was at its hottest and after an hour of trudging around the city we were badly in need of some air conditioning.

A Chan Chan restorer takes a break from work


We spent the next day cooling off with a surfing lesson. We took to the water and after several attempts rode a couple of waves. On my third success I lost my balance and fell into the water, tailbone first, a large pointy rock was there to break both my fall and batter my back. Agonisingly I hobbled and crawled my way back to the beach and enviously watched Alicia catch wave after wave before our time ran out.

These large birds hogged the limelight

As with most coastal towns and cities, beach side resorts, surfing schools, seafood restaurants and sensational sunsets are plentiful, Huanchacois no different. We spent time in the coffee shops, bars and restaurants that lined the coast. We fell in love with a seafood dish called ceviche (freshly caught soft fleshy white-fish that is skinned, gutted and boned then served raw in lemon juice with a selection of side dishes to feast on). We watched as families, lovers and loners cast their lures into the Pacific Ocean on the rickety old pier in the centre of town, huge birds posed for photographs before fighting fisherman on their reed boats for fish.

A popular spot to catch a few fish or to sit back and watch surfers catching a wave

And we watched the sun disappear under the horizon every night in a blaze of bright reds, oranges and yellows.

A surfer catches the last waves of the day as the sun sets over the horizon.

We were sad when the day came to leave. We’d bought ‘VIP’ bus tickets to take us into Lima where we would change buses for Nazca. Spending a little more money on the overnight bus meant we were given a meal and comfortable reclining seats. Upgrading also meant that thankfully for the first time in Latin America we’d be arriving on time.

© John Brownlie 2012

You can see more of Huanchaco and Chan Chan on our Facebook page.

  • Getting to Huanchaco from Trujillo bus station is around s./20 ($8) by taxi, although with a bit of haggling we were able to get it down to s./17.
  • Huanchaco’s tourist office is located at the entrance of the pier.
  • Getting to Chan Chan from Huanchaco is straight forward, mini-buses run there every 10-15 minutes costing S. /4 ($1.5). Stand on the main road and flag one down, just ask for Chan Chan.
  • The entrance fee for Chan Chan is around S. /10 ($4). Tour guides are available at the entrance for S. /25 ($10).
  • Buses from Trujillo to Lima are frequent, we chose the overnight LINEA bus leaving at 10:30pm. A semi-cama (the VIP option with 165-degree reclining seats with plenty of space) costs around S. /60 ($24) with snacks and meal included. It takes around eight hours.

Piura to Trujillo: An introduction to Peru

A traveler’s nightmare is to fall foul to a stomach virus whilst in a 3rd world country. The difficulty of finding good medical attention and sanitised meals in an unfamiliar place, coupled with the feeling of helplessness and the inability to continue as a prisoner to the bathroom are all overwhelmingly troublesome. So when we arrived in Piura at nightfall and found the symptoms of Baños had returned, but this time to me, we were both understandably concerned. With the added pressure of an unreturnable deposit on a room in Trujillo, some six hours away, we had to find a solution.

Fortunately for us we had the help of an English doctor whom we befriended on the way. His writings on a scrap of paper gave us a list of the medication needed for a speedy recovery. All we had to do was buy the items from any local pharmacy, but as we’ve come to find, it’s never quite that simple in Latin America.

The next morning we set off early heading towards Piura’s downtown in the search for some medicine.

The first pharmacist we came across was a couple of miles from our hostel, they just pointed us to an identical pharmacy next door. I handed the good doctor’s scribblings to them and they looked blankly for a moment before handing it back to me shaking their head. Persisting with the assistant, I drew the attention of her two colleagues who joined in, both giving the same reaction. The trio unable to speak English and I Spanish had us at a stalemate, to combat this I read the writings aloud slowly as you would do to a small child. Seeing a flicker of understanding I pushed on, ‘Soy enferma’ (I sick), holding my stomach and doing a genuinely pained face. The expression had them giggling ‘Blood…’ I said, squatting, ‘no sick’, pretending to vomit whilst saying no. Not knowing the word blood, I pointed to my veins ‘Roja’ then motioning slitting my wrists and imaginary red stuff spurting out. Nothing… ‘You know Twilight? Vampires?’ I showed my teeth and made a pincer with my hand, ‘Blood… roja’ I showed them my canines and shoved my contorted hand to my neck and mimed more blood spurting. ‘Blood? OK’ came the response – although that may have been the fear – ‘OK, blood, toilet, no sick, oww… pain… stomach… hot… fever’ acting out the symptoms, ‘Cuantas dias? was the bemused assistants reply. I pointed to the calendar giving a detailed account of when the symptoms occurred through mime.

Eventually fifteen minutes into my theatrical debut in Peru we had an understanding. They gave me the medication and carefully wrote and explained (in Spanish) the quantity and amount to take.

Running back I grabbed a coffee to wash down the meds. Within an hour they were working, we checked out and made our way to the bus station for the midday bus to Trujillo. Consistent with all our previous journeys in Latin America, the six hour bus ride took longer than expected. Luckily for me, the drugs held. We made it to our sea-view hostel after 9pm.

© John Brownlie 2012

* LINEA buses run from Piura to Trujillo. Expect to pay around s./30 ($14)