Driving In Northern Peru: Cities to Stay in, Where to Eat Vegan, and Hostels to Stay in

Northern Peru is enormous. As such, there were many—and I mean MANY—times when we either had to buck up and do really long ride days, or stay in random cities multiple times in a week. We did a combination, and here is a route of where we rode, where we stayed, and what the driving was like. Oh, and of course, how vegan friendly Northern Peru is or isn’t.

Where To Stop Between Major Cities When Driving in Northern Peru

1. San Ignacio; 2. Chachapoyas; 3. Leymebamba; 4. Cajamarca; 5. Huanchaco

1. San Ignacio; 2. Chachapoyas; 3. Leymebamba; 4. Cajamarca; 5. Huanchaco

*Drive Times do NOT include stops. They are a calculation of drive time only.

1.  San Ignacio

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 2/5 STARS

We stopped in San Ignacio because the drive from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas (our first intentional destination in Peru) was far too long. San Ignacio is not very big, but it is very busy. There are tuk tuks and people everywhere, and for a minute I thought I was in India or Southeast Asia. There isn’t much to do here besides stay the night. We recommend visiting Piconi, a café with a super nice owner and delicious, piping hot coffee.

DRIVE RATING: 2/5 TIRES, 1 Hour From the Border

It took us about 3 hours from Vilcabamba to the border, and the roads were twisty and unpaved. The views were, however, stunning. Unfortunately the Peruvian Immigration system was “down” all day, and we weren’t able to get stamped in. We had to drive the hour to San Ignacio, stay the night, and return to the border the next day for our stamps. The roads in San Ignacio are steep and narrow, and tuk-tuks run rampant. So be very aware while driving.

VEGAN RATING: 1/5 BANANAS

Yikes. No vegetarians here. there are a couple chinese restaurants where you can get vegetarian pastas or rices, and there is a fruit market as well. don’t expect to eat super healthy.

ACCOMMODATION, Gran Hotel San Ignacio  2/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $25 for a private room with shared bathroom. Full restaurant, breakfast included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a basic hotel in San Ignacio with a restaurant and clean rooms. Don’t expect any ambience or travelers. There is a big lobby and a small courtyard in the back (where we parked our motorcycle). The restaurant is open all day and has a fairly full menu, but not much for vegan/vegetarians.

2. Chachapoyas

View of Chachapoyas from the Mirador at sunset.

View of Chachapoyas from the Mirador at sunset.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 3/5 STARS

This is a very cute town with small, walkable streets, a big central square, and white white white everything. this is a jumping off point for several day tours, including Gocta falls, Yumbilla falls, and the Kuelap ruins. There are tons of small cafes and a central market with fruits, veggies, cooked beans (VEGAN WIN), nuts, and candies. A very cute spot in the Amazon, but it is not a backpacker zone so don’t expect much social life.

DRIVE RATING: 4/5 TIRES, 5 hours from San Ignacio  

The drive from San Ignacio was both gorgeous and rough. the first three hours we were in scorching heat, but the views were incredible. we traversed tropics, rode next to a bright blue river for hours, and saw dozens of mountains, each different than the one before.  The streets of Chachapoyas are all one ways and subject to random closures, so navigating in town with a vehicle is slightly stressful.

VEGAN RATING: 3/5 BANANAS

There is a vegetarian restaurant in town with Almuerzos and a la carte items, which is cheap and fairly tasty. we also frequently visited a café on the main square with a few vegan items on the menu and the best soy milk I’ve ever tasted. They also have a nice ambience and sell beer/wine/liquor, so it makes for a nice dinner spot. The markets all sell pre-cooked beans (garbanzo, chocho, pinto, and more) which make for a cheap lunch or great snack.

Favorite Lunch Spot:  El Eden
Favorite Dinner Spot: Café Fusiones (the great soy milk spot)

ACCOMMODATION, Hostal el Angel  2/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $15 for a private room with shared bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is not a hostel, it’s more of a cheap hotel that travelers stay at. The owner is very sweet, but speaks no English. The rooftop is the only true common area, but don’t expect a typical hoste. This is someone’s home with a hotel built in. The rooms are very small, but the showers have hot water so that’s a plus. It’s also very cheap. Good location, only two blocks from the main square and one block from the stairs to the mirador.

3.     Leymebamba

The square in Leymebamba at 6:30am

The square in Leymebamba at 6:30am

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 2/5 STARS

Leymebamba is a very small town that doesn’t attract tourists. There are several expensive eco lodges nearby which I imagine draw retirees and wealthy Peruvians, but these are nestled high up on the hills out of town. Leymebamba was simply a stopover for us, and the town reflected that sentiment.

DRIVE RATING: 4/5 TIRES, 2 hours from Chachapoyas  

We drove here from Chachapoyas and stopped in Keulap on our way. The road was a single lane, windy road along the river with some speed bumps and a few unpaved sections, but overall an easy road to drive on. Leymebamba doesn’t have many cars, but many one way roads. It was easy to navigate.

VEGAN RATING: 1/5 BANANAS

Good luck getting anything other than rice, beans, and French fries for dinner here. That’s all.

ACCOMMODATION, Hospedaje Virgen del Carmen 2/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $10 for a private room with shared bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a basic Peruvian hotel. The room was big and we had our own bathroom, which was nice. This hotel (and many others in Leymebamba) is not bookable online, we just rode up and asked for a room. The streets are loud all night long, and we heard all of it. We were also woken up at 4am by someone accidentally coming into our room.  

4.     Cajamarca

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 3/5 STARS

Cajamarca is a large, busy city. Tuk tuks and collectivos blast down the one way streets. Women wear large white top hats and sell chocolate on the corners. The central square is enormous and very well kept. Other than walking around the streets, we didn’t do much in Cajamarca, and we felt like we didn’t miss much. To be fair, we were exhausted from so many ride days and used this as an opportunity to relax for a few days.

DRIVE RATING: 2/5 TIRES, 6.5 hours from Leymebamba  

We read a lot about the ride from Leymebamba to Cajamarca, and since I was having some health problems, we decided Josh would make the ride alone and I would take the bus. The bus was more like a van, and took almost 9 hours with all the stops we made. Josh told me when he arrived in Cajamarca that the road was the scariest/sketchiest he had done—the single lane road wound it’s way 13,000 up into the mountains (with stunning views mind you), where he had several close calls turning blind corners. The temperature dropped and rose dramatically, and there were few towns to stop in for a bathroom break or snack.

In Cajamarca, the roads are insane. We can barely cross the street by foot without getting hit by something on wheels. Driving in this city would be hectic, and all the one ways would make it even more impossible. We were glad to be staying outside the city and avoid riding the motorcycle inside the bustle of it all.

VEGAN RATING: 2/5 BANANAS

There is one vegetarian restaurant in Cajamarca, but it was closed the one day we tried to go so we didn’t’ get to try it. Any other restaurant we found on Trip Advisor or Google Maps ended up being permanently closed or simply not at the stated address. We ended up eating at Salas Restaurant, a chain restaurant in the city that had several side options we could eat (sweet potatoes, rice, steamed veggies, yucca) and vegetable soup and salads.  

We also found the only lady inside the Mercado Central selling pre-cooked beans and lentils, and we bought three dinner’s worth of legumes for less than a dollar. To find her, enter the Mercado (the entrance is in the middle of Jr. Amazonas street, not on the corner as indicated in Google Maps) and immediately turn right, then left, then right again. She is hiding between some of the meat stands, so look the other way!

ACCOMMODATION, Tetem Backpackers Hostel  3/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $22 for a private room with shared bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a family run hostel in Baños del Inca, a 20 minute collective or taxi from Cajamarca. The hostel has enormous private rooms, a kitchen (shared by the family), and a jacuzzi-style pool. There were only two other guests here, and as this is one of only two hostels in Cajamarca I got the vibe it’s not a very backpacker-y city in the first place.  

View of Playa Huanchaco from Atma Hostel’s rooftop.

View of Playa Huanchaco from Atma Hostel’s rooftop.

4.     Huanchaco/Trujillo

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 4/5 STARS

Huanchaco is a sleepy surf town in Northern Peru. The main boardwalk is sprinkled with souvenir stands and there are a several restaurants and tiendas along the way. This time of year it’s quite overcast and foggy most days, but you’ll still catch surfers in wetsuits catching waves. There isn’t much to do here besides visit Chan Chan and chill on the beach, but we enjoyed the quiet beach vibes.

DRIVE RATING: 4/5 TIRES, 5.5 hours from Cajamarca  

The ride from Cajamarca was scenic and diverse. We dropped out of the mountains on a windy road and ended up in the desert. The majority of the ride is on a major highway, with some small roads in small towns interspersed on the ride. Huanchaco is easy to navigate as it is quite small and not very populated.

VEGAN RATING: 4/5 BANANAS

There are several restaurants in Huanchaco that serve fully vegan and vegetarian meals, and not just rice and beans folks! We’re talking veggie burgers, burritos, curry, and thai food. Hell yes. There are also dozens of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Trujillo, the neighboring (giant) city.

Favorite Lunch Spot: Moksha
Favorite Dinner Spot: Mi Casa Thai

ACCOMMODATION, Atma Hostel 5/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $22 for a private room and bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a well decorated hostel just a block off the beach. With many common spaces, bathrooms, a shared kitchen, and daily yoga, this hostel is giving lots of goodies for the price. Our private room was spacious and the bathroom was new and clean (hot water too, yippee!). They also sell vegan treats and homemade peanut butter (yum!). No complaints here!

Have any questions about driving in Northern Peru? Want to know more about eating vegan in Latin America? Let us know in the comments!