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Traveling southwest out of Piura, the desert oasis fans into fields of cotton and forests of carob lining either side of the highway. Some 12 kilometers (7.2 mi) away is Catacoas, called the Tierra de Encanto, Sol y Algarroba (Land of Enchantment, Sun and Carob). This area had long been inhabited by the Tallán nation, who in turn had been conquered by the Chimú, Inca and Spaniards. In 1615, the priest Juan de Mori i Alvarado bought from the Crown great extensions of land in the region, which he then gave to the indigenous people.

Today the flower-filled central park of this small village is a pleasant place to sit beneath the trees and take a breather after wandering through the crafts markets. On one side is a white-trimmed green Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, said to be a replica of Rome’s Sistine Chapel. Along the roofline are statues of Jesus and his 12 apostles, including Judas Iscariot clutching a bag of shekels. Inside, the nave is broad with no columns to separate it from the aisles. Painted on the barrel vaulting are scenes from Christ’s life.

Surrounding the plaza and down Jirón Comercio are dozens of shops and stalls offering the artisan work for which Catacaos is renowned. You can spend hours wandering along the streets and into the labyrinthine mini-malls. The ceramics are produced with pre-Hispanic techniques. Straw items, like hats and fans, are other famous products produced by the village’s craftswomen, some of whom are willing to give a visitor a lesson in weaving. Spectacular jewelry and statuary created with silver and gold filigree are surprisingly affordable. Other artisans now also do woodcarving and leatherwork. On Jirón Comercio is the Casa de la Cultura, which has a small museum displaying local artesanía, paintings and archaeological finds (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-8 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Jr. Comercio 748. Admission: free).

Catacoas showcases its traditions during its founding day celebrations on March 24. Additionally, it has one of the more rollicking pre-Lent carnivals in the region. As well, its Semana Santa is noteworthy, with masses, processions and a gastronomic fair featuring the algarroba, or carob products it is also well-known for. Another major religious festivity is the Bajada de Reyes, or the arrival of the Three Kings on January 6, in the nearby settlement of Narihualá.

Narihualá, a mere five kilometers (3 mi) away, is an ancient village, dating to 1000 BC. The partially excavated adobe ruins include a ceremonial plaza and several buildings. Atop a small hill, the Spaniards had built a church, which is now abandoned. The entire site is now scarred by erosion. The small museum displays ceramics and other articles found at the site, and an explanation of Tallán culture (Tuesday-Sunday 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tel: 322-307, E-mail:, URL: Admission to site: adults $0.75, high school and university students $0.40, primary school students $0.20. Local children will guide for a tip.)

(Population: 54,171, Altitude: 25 m/81 ft, Phone Code: 073)


Other places nearby Catacaos: Zorritos, Zaña, Chiclayo, Tumbes, Cabo Blanco, Ferreñafe, Caral, Piura, Máncora and Paita .

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

23 Apr 2012

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