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Casma, Peru: Relaxing in the Tranquility of the Secluded Fishing Cove of Tortugas

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
The Beautiful Fishing Cove of Tortugas, near Casma, Ancash, Peru

Tortugas is one of those places you want to share with everyone you know, while also being a little selfish and keeping its charm to yourself. With so much coastline along the Pacific ocean, there are lots of beaches to choose from when visiting Peru. Limeños flock to the beaches an hour or two south of the capital, like Punta Hermosa, Asia, and Pulpos, while foreigners often head north to the beaches of Piura and Tumbes, especially party-central, Máncora. The fishing village of Huanchaco, outside of Trujillo, is increasingly popular, especially among surfers, but what happens if you just want to relax and get away from the crowds?

Posing at Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Posing in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

That’s where Tortugas comes in.  Tortugas is a small fishing village located around a beautiful bay in the department of Ancash. Ancash has a number of notable sites; beyond Casma and the ruins of Cerro Sechín, it is also home to the major archeological site, Chavín de Huantar, the city of Huaraz, and the amazing lakes and mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. With such popular neighbors, it’s no wonder that Tortugas remains a bit of a secret.

Tortugas first came on my radar back in 2013, where I came across a couple of articles naming Tortugas one of the most beautiful beaches in Peru and basically calling it paradise. My interest was piqued.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Setting Sun in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

After checking out the nearby ruins of Sechín, my friend Enzo and I boarded a combi (small bus) heading to Tortugas.  The combis leave regularly from a parking lot right off the main plaza, and it takes about 20 minutes to get to Tortugas.  The route takes you through the barren desert lining the main roads, no water to be seen anywhere, before finally reaching the turnoff and the long paved road to Tortugas, which is located about 2-3 kilometers from the Panamerican highway.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Fishing Boats at Dusk in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

It didn’t look like much as we approached, but then the combi came to a stop at the entrance to the town, right in front of the bay. We arrived just as the late afternoon sun was illuminating the hills surrounding the bay, coating everything with a golden glow. How could you not fall in love with this little village?

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Sun Setting Over the Beautiful Bay of Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

We wandered up the main road, finding a restaurant that doubled as an hostal with rooms for rent in the back. After dropping off our things, we headed back outside to catch what ended up being a gorgeous sunset.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Sunset in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

Tortugas, which means turtles or tortoises in Spanish, received its name due to the quantity of the creature that used to swim in its waters one hundred years ago. Today, it is known for its beautiful views, relaxed environment, and plentiful ceviche. There are a number of restaurants and kiosks selling quick meals, but the town maintains its laid-back feel, catering mainly to those who have summer homes here and the occasional tourist.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Sunset in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

There’s not much to do in Tortugas besides take it easy and enjoy the views. We walked up and down the main road after nightfall, appreciating some downtime to talk about what had been happening in our lives over the past year. With a couple of playgrounds and plenty of viewpoints to sit and listen to the water, there is enough simple entertainment to enjoy a relaxing evening.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Fishing Boats in Casma, Ancash, Peru

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up early to enjoy some time in the water before heading back to Casma. In the morning light, I saw the visual appeal of Tortugas: the water is incredibly clear and a shade of gorgeous shimmering blue.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Malecón in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

We retraced our steps of the night before, walking further away from the center of town to get a nice view of the entire bay. From this vantage point, you see just how many buildings have sprung up around the base of the mountains, but there is enough space for everyone, no high rise hotels blocking the view.

Plaza de Casma, Peru
Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

The water in Tortugas is incredibly warm, making swimming super pleasant. As I waded into the water, I had one of those special moments that I still remember today, appreciating the reality of being somewhere lovely, in good company, where everything is perfectly okay. I felt lucky to have the chance to get to know Tortugas before beginning my new job later that month.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Adorable Hospedaje (Lodging) in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

Plaza de Casma, Peru
The Fishing Village of Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

After a pleasant stroll around the perimeter of Tortugas, we headed back to the center of town to get our things and catch a bus back to Casma. It was a good thing we got up early, as we managed to see the clear blue skies illuminating the cove; the coastal clouds began to roll in as we were leaving.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Fishing Boat in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

As you can see, Tortugas is a postcard of tranquility, a nice escape from the crowded beaches elsewhere along the coast, and well worth a visit if you are passing through Casma en route to Chimbote, Huaraz, or Trujillo. This is a place to plan to spend a couple of days relaxing, taking in the incredibly warm waters of the bay, and reading by the water or catching up with friends or family. It might be even a nice place for a do-it-yourself writing or meditation retreat, or a place to spend quiet time with your partner if you need to reconnect away from the distractions of the city.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Playground in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

Tortugas is one of my favorite small towns in Peru and is an easy trip from Lima. While its charm comes from the fact that it is quiet and uncomplicated by the tourism industry, it deserves a visit from independent travelers looking to experience coastal Peru as locals do.

Recommendations for Tortugas, Ancash, Peru:

  • Tortugas is located near Casma, a small coastal city located just off the Panamerican highway.  To get to Casma from Lima, you can take a bus from Plaza Norte; Erick El Rojo and 3 Estrellas are two commonly used bus companies. For other potential transportation options, please read my post on Sechín, the archeological site just outside of Casma.
  • Once in Casma, there are combis (small buses) and colectivos (shared taxis) which leave from a parking lot just off the Plaza de Armas in Casma, near the municipality building. Ask anyone to point you towards the buses for Tortugas.  The bus cost about S/. 4 in January 2015; the current cost should be posted on the front windshield of the bus. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and takes you along the Panamericana before turning towards Tortugas and heading the 2 kilometers towards the water.
  • There are several hostales and hospedajes in Tortugas, many of which are attached to restaurants. Around the new year, camping on the beach is also common; this is a low-budget destination for many Peruvian families and groups of friends.
  • There are several restaurants serving all kinds of fish, especially ceviche, but if you want something a little more budget friendly, there are several outdoor food stands located up in the residential area. This is also where the buses back to Casma leave from, and a good place to buy fresh fruit.
  • The weather in Casma is warm, and the water of the bay is incredibly pleasant. Make sure to bring your bathing suit!
[Tortugas, Ancash, Peru: January 8-9, 2015]

Casma, Peru- Relaxing in the Tranquility of the Secluded Fishing Cove of Tortugas

Casma, Peru: The Ruins of Cerro Sechín on the Northern Coast of Peru

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Ruins of Cerro Sechín, Near Casma, Ancash, Peru

When I decided to spend a couple of weeks in Lima before moving to Chile, I knew I wanted to take advantage of my completely open schedule and sneak up the coast to Casma. I had read about the ruins at Sechín in Hugh Thomson’s fascinating book, A Sacred Landscape, and was curious about the gruesome carvings depicting beheadings, sacrifices, and soldiers. I hadn’t managed to make it there in 2013 so didn’t want to miss this opportunity to get back into the travel mode. I’d also heard that the nearby beach of Tortugas is one of the most beautiful in Peru, and decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Casma is located about five hours north of Lima in the province of Ancash, but it can take some work to find a bus company that actually stops in Casma rather than continuing up the coast to Trujillo or inland to Huaraz. Alternatively, there are combis that hit the major towns on the coast and you should be able to find one that heads to Casma by stopping in one of the transit towns like Supe or Barranca. (More travel information in my recommendations, below.) The ride up the Panamericana passes the entrance to Caral, and the scenery is consistent with the northern coast; the sea to one side, sandy desert hills to the other.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Museum at the Ruins of Sechín, Ancash, Peru

It’s worth mentioning that there are three archeological sites in the area: Cerro Sechín, which is commonly referred to as as Sechín, as well as Sechín Alto and Sechín Bajo, which are being studied but are not easily visited by casual tourists.  There is also the Río Sechín, so it may help to specify “El Templo” (the Temple) or “El Museo” (the Museum) when discussing your destination.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Archeological Relics in the Museum at Sechín, Ancash, Peru

The archeological site of Cerro Sechín is located about 6 kilometers from Casma, and the easiest way to get there is to find a mototaxi willing to take you out to the site. At the site, the friendly guards directed us to the museum, where we paid our entrance fee and toured the sparse museum containing relics gathered from the major sites located in the area.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Landscape Around the Ruins of Sechín, Ancash, Peru

From there, we walked over to the small set of ruins, following a well constructed pathway which provides great views of the surrounding landscape. As in Trujillo and Chiclayo to the north, there are broad fields of green trees and patches of empty brown desert mountains. Taking in the scenery, I was reminded of how much I love northern Peru.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Ruins of Sechín, Ancash, Peru

The site of Sechín itself is very small and still under investigation. My friend Enzo and I were the only ones touring the ruins in the late afternoon sun, though we could observe a number of workers going about their daily routines below.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Posing at the Viewpoint above Sechín, Ancash, Peru

Although it’s challenging to make out to the untrained eye, archeologists have determined that the site has one main building, surrounded by stones, and filled in the center with adobe structures.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Pathway At Cerro Sechín and Its Views

The hill above the site once had other residential or administrative buildings, which have been destroyed by heavy rains over the centuries.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Workers Finishing Up for the Day at the Ruins of Sechín

After completing our circuit around and above the ruins, we descended to get up close to the elaborate carvings depicting intriguing ancient ceremonies.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Carvings at Cerro Sechín Leading to the Entrance to the Temple

The images that line the entrance to the temple represent human figures, most likely warriors or perhaps priests, involved in what appears to be a fierce battle. None of the figures represent gods or other mythical creatures: just humans.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Carvings at Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

While some of the figures possess their entire bodies, there are also many disembodied heads and all kinds of body parts, leading many researchers to suggest that these carvings describe human sacrifice. Other ideas are that they record violent combats experienced by the Sechín culture, or even that all these different images of various appendages could represent a medical encyclopedia.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma

Disembodied Head Carving at the Ruins of Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

Whatever the story, the figures show gritted teeth and swollen eyes, what appears to be blood or energy flowing out of their heads, grimaces and signs of suffering.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma

In these photos, you can see some of the body parts, some of the complete figures carrying what appears to be weapons or holy staffs, and examples of the faces both in profile and head on. There are so many images that it’s difficult to really observe all of them, especially in the brutal sun of the northern desert.

These images are located within pathways that appear to continue around the perimeter of the temples, telling stories.  One big question mark for me after my visit is that these walls appear to be reconstructed.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near CasmaI’m not sure if these monoliths were found standing independently, and then archeologists reinforced the structures with like-colored stones and adobe, or if the walls had crumbled.  I know from my visit to Caral that reconstructing original structures is a painstaking, detail-oriented process, and I learned at Chan Chan in Trujillo that previous preservation attempts actually meant re-carving and replicating the original images, which had deteriorated from the adobe walls after years of rain and wind.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma

Posing at the Ruins of Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

We wandered through the perimeter pathways, taking in all the different variations on what appeared to be quite a violent theme. I laugh when I see the photos of myself posing there because I appear to be enjoying my visit to what historically was likely a gruesome site.

There is a lot to take in, and I applaud the authorities for making the images accessible to visitors even as they continue to study the ruins and unearth more information about what took place here.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Entrance to the Palace at Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

The visit ends in front of the entrance to the palace, which is off-limits to visitors. According to this fascinating article (in Spanish), the inside of the palace has painted adobe walls displaying images of fish, particularly carnivorous ones, as well as shamans and dead or dying human figures. These images suggest some sort of connection with worship of the sea or concern regarding rainfall in this desert climate.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Mototaxis Waiting at the Entrance to Cerro Sechín

In any case, my brief visit left me wanting more information about these ruins and the nearby sites of Sechín Alto and Sechín Bajo. (There are a couple of displays giving basic information about these archeological sites near the small parking lot where these mototaxis were waiting.) While many of the carvings have characteristics in common with the more well-known Chavín culture, represented in great detail at Chavín de Huantar (blog post forthcoming!), it has been determined that Sechín came much earlier. Visiting Sechín helped me place these ruins in my mental timeline of the pre-Incan cultures that once inhabited Peru.

En Route to Casma, Peru
Heading Back to Casma from Cerro Sechín

After finding the last mototaxi not waiting for one of the workers at Sechín, we headed back to Casma, enjoying the wind blowing in our faces as we passed through the agricultural fields along the hills.

Plaza de Casma, Peru
Plaza of Casma, Ancash, Peru

Back in Casma, we took a stroll through the pleasant plaza, grabbed a quick snack, and looked for the combis that would take us to Tortugas, a fishing village known for its beautiful bay. We had finished appreciating on of Peru’s ancient cultures for the day, and it was time to relax by the water.

Recommendations for Sechín, Ancash, Peru:

  • To get to Casma from Lima, take a bus to Casma using the company Erick El Rojo, which leaves from the Plaza Norte bus terminal in Lima.  You can get to the bus terminal using the Metropolitano, so it’s pretty straightforward.  In 2015, the buses left Lima at 7:30AM, 9AM, and 11AM, but you should definitely double check the schedule.  Bring snacks – there is often traffic on the highway the bus stops frequently in urban areas to pick up more passengers.
  • Alternatively, you can try taking a bus that is heading to Chimbote, Trujillo, or Huaraz and asking the driver to let you off at the crossroads to Casma.  From there, you can take a mototaxi to Casma or to the ruins of Sechín.
  • Your last option would be to take a bus or combi to Supe or Barranca and then find another combi to Casma.  A good place to start would be to check with are Turismo Barranca and Turismo Paramonga, which also leave from the Terminal Terrestre Plaza Norte.
  • To get back to Lima, you can go to the office of Erick El Rojo on the main road entering Casma. We were able to book our bus back at the last minute, as the buses come from further north and pass through the town.
  • The entrance fee to the ruins of Cerro Sechín cost me S/.5 in 2015, but I have seen the price listed as S/.6 in other locations.
  • If you get off the bus in Casma, you will need to take a mototaxi to the ruins.  This should cost about S/.5.  You can try asking the mototaxi to wait for you or return for you at the ruins at a set time. There are several mototaxis that wait for tourists – if it is late in the day, like it was for us, they will probably charge you S/.6.
  • I’m not sure if the museum offers guided tours or if there are sometime guides lingering around, but there is no signage so it may be nice to try to find someone to give you some background.  I had read about Sechín in Hugh Thomson’s A Sacred Landscape so had enough background to understand what I was seeing.  Having toured the larger, more popular ruins around Trujillo, I know how much a guide can help shed some light on the excavation and restoration process.
  • If you read Spanish, Wikipedia, Arqueotur, and Arquelogía del Perú (the most detailed and educational) provide some more information on the ruins, which helped inform my understanding a little more.
[Sechín, Ancash, Peru: January 8, 2015]

Casma, Peru- The Ruins of Cerro Sechín on the Northern Coast of Peru

Easter Sunday in Huaraz, Peru

Main Plaza of Huaraz on Easter Sunday
Main plaza of Huaraz on Easter Sunday 2013

Last year, two of my fellow volunteers and I traveled to Huaraz, Peru for Semana Santa (Easter Week), as it is considered one of the top places to see Easter-related festivities.  The celebration is one of the more traditional in Peru and the city was packed with tourists and locals.

Semana Santa en Huaraz; Easter Week in Huaraz - Easter Sunday Procession
Procession from one church accompanying Jesus

On Easter Sunday, two processions begin from Huaraz’s two churches.  Jesus approaches from one part of the city, while Mary approaches from the other.  The processions combine in front of the main plaza in an emotional reunion between Jesus and his mother.

Semana Santa en Huaraz; Easter Week in Huaraz - Easter Sunday Procession
Procession from another church accompanying Mary

The entire town comes out to support these processions.  The processions are accompanied by mournful horns, children, lots of incense, flowers, and devotion.

Semana Santa en Huaraz; Easter Week in Huaraz - Easter Sunday Procession
Jesus rising

Semana Santa en Huaraz; Easter Week in Huaraz - Easter Sunday Procession
Celebratory release of purple balloons

As the processions meet in front of the plaza, there is a powerful reenactment of Jesus rising from the dead, accompanied by the release of purple balloons and lots of pigeons.  Even though I am not religious, I was deeply moved by the shared emotion of the packed crowds.

Semana Santa en Huaraz; Easter Week in Huaraz - Easter Sunday Procession
Main plaza of Huaraz in the sunshine

On this particular Easter Sunday in 2013, the sun came out in Huaraz, bringing warm temperatures and allowing us to appreciate the beauty of this town set in the Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru.  Huaraz is a must-visit destination in Peru, and Easter was a perfect time to get to know this city and its traditions.