Most people barely give Trujillo a second look as they use this city as a connection to continue north or south. After an arduous bus journey from Chachapoyas that should have taken 13 hours but ended up being 18 instead, I arrived and wasn’t overly impressed with Trujillo at the beginning.
At my hostel, I met Leng Oy, a 71-year old Malaysian-Australian who puts a lot of travelers to shame. In 10 weeks, she had been all over the northern part of South America staying in hostels and roaming around like a 20-something. She’s amazing, and she became my travel buddy in Trujillo.
She let me have free rein over our dinner choice. To appease her foodie kids and to let her try something extremely Peruvian, we went to El Rincón de Vallejo, a somewhat posh restaurant that didn’t serve just almuerzos. On the menu, I found cuy (guinea pig).
My other two tries with cuy were in Ecuador, and both weren’t exactly very satisfying experiences. But, then again, I was eating roadside cuy. We ordered cuy guisado (stewed guinea pig) and shared some chicha morada (spiced purple corn drink). The plate may be a bit off-putting. I mean, you can see the paw resting on the rice, and the head was clearly visible. But the meat was so soft and tender. There was definitely no gaminess like roadside cuy. Leng Oy and I devoured the plate. Fancy restaurant cuy is a must, and it was only 33.90 PEN ($10.15), which was about the same price as roadside cuy!
As we walked back, we passed through Trujillo’s Plaza de Armas. Unlike the one in Chachapoyas, this place was very alive and filled with people. We went inside the Cathedral Basilica Menor de Trujillo where a wedding just happened to be taking place. This church began construction in 1647 and took 19 years to complete. The frescos on the ceiling of the church are quite dramatic.
We stumbled upon a parade with what looked like ladies in gypsy costumes dancing the Los Gitanos way. I later found out it was the 15th day of the Fiesta Patronal de la Virgen de la Puerta (The Festival of the Door Virgin). Back in the 17th century, the small town of Otuzco feared there would be a piracy attack on Trujillo. Residents got an image of the Virgin at the entrance of the village to protect them. And miraculously, no attack took place in Trujillo. On 15 December, the Virgin of La Puerta “meets” her people with dancing los gitanos (gypsies) in tow. It was very interesting to watch the locals be in awe of this Virgin.
Leng Oy and I got a bit lost on the way back to the hostel and ended up next to a hospital. There was a lady selling emoliente, an herbal drink with healing and medicinal properties. We got el especial for 2.50 PEN (75¢), which contained a whole lot of mystery ingredients. The vendor said el especial contained a mix of herbs, barley, dried horsetail, flaxseed, plantain leaves, alfalfa sprouts, and aloe vera. She also threw in some chia seeds, maca root powder, and lemon juice. It was warm, thick, and slimy. It didn’t taste too bad, more of a gooey sludge that is supposed to be good for you.
The next day, Leng Oy and I headed to Huanchaco, a beachside town located 16km away. This place is famous for their caballitos de totora (reed horses), or reed boats. These boats were first made by the Motche people some 2,500 years ago. Fishermen would sit on these boats (or more rafts) as if they are riding a horse. These reed boats have a lifespan of a couple of months and are now filled with Styrofoam to help keep it afloat.
Things to do in Huanchaco
Huanchaco doesn’t have the prettiest of beaches. The beach was filled with lots of shells and pebbles, but the waves were calm making it a great place to go surfing.
We walked on the pier and saw a bunch of people fishing. One of the vendors was selling a paddle with fishing wire and a bag of shellfish. He claimed that I could get a fish to bite within 15 minutes. I didn’t try at the end, but I watched others give it a go without much success. I never really understood fishing, but that’s just me.
Things to eat in Huanchaco
We noticed a lot of vendors selling an orange cookie called chumbeque. It’s more of a nougat than a cookie and is made of flour, egg, oil, sesame, cinnamon, sugar, and layers of honey. For 2 PEN (60¢), we shared this sticky mess. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t go back for seconds.
Since we were by the ocean, we had to get ceviche. We went to El Punto Marino Restaurant and got a ceviche mixto for 35 PEN ($10.48). I’ve already had a few Peruvian ceviches in Mancora, but this one was amazing. A mountain of scallops, prawns, clams, and a crab came all on a plate, and it was only meant for one person! The seasoning was perfect, not too vinegary but with a bit of spice. It was painful at the end, but we finished.
How to get to Huanchaco
- Colectivos with Huanchaco written on them can be found on Avenida Espana, except on Sundays. A trip from Trujillo to Huanchaco will cost 2 PEN.
- Returning back to Trujillo, look for a bus labeled Linea B. It should take you the closest to Plaza de Armas.
Heading back to Trujillo, I stopped off at Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city in South America. It was the capital of the Chimor people until the Incas defeated them and later incorporated into their empire.
Chan Chan means “sun sun” in the Chimu language, and after looking at my sunburn, I know why. It’s hard to imagine people living here at one point in time. All that is left are the walls made of adobe with intricate patterns of fish, pelicans, and fishnet carved in them. There was a Chan Chan Museum, but of course, it was closed for renovation. If I had more time, there were more archeological sites around Trujillo to be explored. Perhaps, next time.
How to get to Chan Chan
- The same colectivo route to Huanchaco will take you to Chan Chan making it easy to combine both places in one day.
- The colectivo will drop you off at the start of the road, but it’s a good 1.5 km walk to the entrance with no protection from the sun.
- The entry fee for Chan Chan is 10 PEN. It is also good for the museum if it’s open.
- English or Spanish tours are available for a fee of 10 PEN from tour guides hovering by the entrance. You can also buy a pamphlet in Spanish for 2 PEN or in English for 3 PEN and do the tour yourself.
My time in Trujillo was short, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I had great food, nice company, and saw a lot. What more can I ask for a place that most guidebooks say to pass?!