Trujillo, eight hours north of Lima, looks every bit the oasis it is, standing in a relatively green, irrigated valley bounded by arid desert at the foot of the brown Andes mountains. Despite a long tradition of leftist politics, today Peru's northern capital only sees the occasional street protest, and is more recognized by its lavish colonial architecture and colourful old mansions. The city is lively and cosmopolitan, known for its friendly citizenry and small enough to get to know in a couple of days. The coastal climate here is ideal, as it's warm and dry without the fog you get around Lima, or the intense heat characteristic of the northern deserts.
From the graceful colonial mansions and Baroque churches at its heart, Trujillo's grid system gives way to commercial buildings, light industry and shantytown suburbs, before thinning out into rich sugar-cane fields that stretch far into the neighbouring Chicama Valley. At the city's centre is its dominating force – the university La Libertad. Founded by Bolívar in 1824, the picturesque school is surrounded by elegant, Spanish-style streets. Gamarra is the main commercial street, dominated by ugly, modern, brick and glass buildings. The other main avenue, older and more attractive, is Jirón Pizarro, where much of the city's nightlife is centred and which has been pedestrianized from block 8 to the pleasant Plazuela El Recreo. Life for most Trujillanos still revolves around the old town, centred on Plaza Mayor.