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Northern Peru is sadly underappreciated as compared to the vastly more popular south. In fact, most of the region -- with the exception of the north-central Cordillera Blanca and Callejón de Huaylas, beacons to international mountain climbers and trekkers -- is virtually unknown to most foreigners who travel to Peru. The few who make the effort to get to know the north are mainly those with a specific interest in ancient Peruvian cultures, or hikers and adventurous travelers (including surfers) looking to get out into the rugged country, beyond the reach of the majority of gringos who trod well-beaten paths in the Andes and southern Peru. If you make it to this part of Peru, you might be in for the not unwelcome treat of being one of the few.

You wouldn't know it from the paucity of foreign visitors, but the northern coastal desert of Peru holds some of the country's greatest archaeological treasures: Chan Chan, the great adobe city of the Chimú civilization; 1,500-year-old Moche temples; and the royal tomb that brought the great Lord of Sipán to the world's attention in 1987 -- Peru's very own King Tut. And the region continues to make news: In 2007, a 4,000-year-old temple and mural -- among the oldest discoveries of their kind in the Americas -- were uncovered in the Lambayeque Valley. If archaeology isn't your thing, northern beaches along the vast Pacific coastline -- particularly those in and around Máncora, the coast's hot new destination -- draw surfers to some of the best waves off South America, and nestled in the sierra is one of the country's most charming and beautiful mountain towns, Cajamarca, which could fairly be called the Cusco of the north.

Gringos of a rugged ilk and style of outdoor performance gear do make it in significant number to the Cordillera Blanca, which boasts some of the most beautiful peaks in South America and some of the finest and most challenging trekking and mountain climbing on the continent. Huaraz is the primary base in the Callejón de Huaylas for excursions into the valleys and mountain ranges of the northern Andes. For years, the destination has been favored principally by sports and adventurer travelers, especially hard-core hikers, but the range of trekking destinations and activities is opening up and appealing more to other travelers who also want a taste of Peru's great outdoors.