Trujillo, Chanchán y las Huacas


Yet another overnight bus took us 500+ km north of Lima to the city of Trujillo, founded in 1534, and known as the City of Eternal Spring (although it´s a pretty steamy summer right now).  Trujillo lies in northwestern Peru, close to the coast, but otherwise surrounded by desert.  This area, the Moche Valley was a center of the ancient Moche and Chimu cultures. Later, the city was originally Spanish-only, and remnants of the city wall that kept everyone else out are still visible in a few places.  The colonial architecture is very well-kept and restored (surprising, since there are many earthquakes in the region).  Many old buildings now house modern offices and shops, while others are museums filled with art and original furniture and decor.

Plazas and Museums of Trujillo

Trujillo is a good walking city, and there’s plenty to explore. The historical center is centered around the main square.  Like a traditional Spanish city, the Cathedral, the City Hall, the offices of the national university, and architecturally interesting buildings like the houses of the families Urquiaga and Bracamonte are located around the Main Square, the Plaza de Armas. The Cathedral was built between 1647 and 1666, and rebuilt between 1768 to 1781. Be sure to look inside as well as admire the architecture from outside. The Casa de la Emacipación (House of Emancipation, where  Independence was sworn on December 29th, 1820), just off the Plaza Mayor features lots of columns, ironwork, ample inner patios and bright colors.  The temporary exhibit when we visited was of the art and sculpture of an artist who created many public works in Trujillo, Chiclayo, Lima and beyond.  In the center of the suqare is the Freedom Monument, by sculptor Edmund Möeller.

Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol

From the city, we head southeast to two important ruins of the region, Huaca (temple, or sacred place) de la Luna and Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Moon/Temple of the Sun), both about 1500 years old.  At the time, only the Huaca de la Luna was currently open to visitors, and was still under major uncovering, investigation and cleaning.  Everything has been left exactly as it was found, and the museum they were building when we visited is now open. The museum contains a great deal of information on Moche culture. These two areas are both found in the Campiña de Moche, and many descendants of the ancient Moche culture (which flourished from 100-800 AD) still live here.  In between the two sacred areas, there are remnants of what used to be the Moche urban center.  Most of this is yet to be uncovered.  It´s speculated that the Huaca del Sol was more administrative and political, while the Huaca de la Luna was more religious or ceremonial.  Sacrifices were performed here in times of unusual weather (too much or too little rain, mostly) to placate the deities who controlled such things and to ensure a better harvest.  The complex is made up of five buildings, one built on top of the next.  A building was used for a hundred years or so, then completely sealed inside and out and a new structure built around it, ensuring greater stability and increasing in complexity and size with each stage.  All construction here was with adobe blocks in two different sizes.  In different areas there are carved figures, depictions of ancient society and what was important.  There are many reflections of deities, agriculture, fishing and ceremony.  The predominant colors were yellow, red, blue, pink and white, and there is a fair amount still visible, especially on inner walls that have been more protected from the elements.  These structures were rediscovered fairly recently, so more development is sure to happen with more funding.


Dragon (Rainbow) Temple

After lunch back in the city (ceviche, of course), we head north to the Huaca El Dragón or Arco Iris (Rainbow).  This structure is important, as it was built at the beginning of the Chimu culture between the 10th and 11th Century AD.  The pyramid was found in the 1940s by treasure hunters, and worked on by archaeologists a few years later.  They uncovered fantastic carvings of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures, believed to have a role in ceremonies of fertility, the rainbow and other natural phenomena.


Chan Chan

Our last archaeological stop of the day was at the vast site called Chanchán or Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world.   Chanchán covered a huge area of about 18 km sq. (the largest in pre-ColumbianAmerica) and was comprised of nearly 10,000 structures between the hills and the sea.  It became a World Heritage Site in 1986.  It was the capital of the Chimú empire, and you can make out residences, stores, workshops, great walls, avenues and temples.  The walls are decorated with different geometrical shapes, many representing fishing nets, as well as fish, birds and other animals.  Some walls were left open to let in light and air, while others were closed to provide protection and privacy.  Of the ten walled citadels, one is open to the public. There is also a museum on site.  In one area, 44 tombs were discovered, including that of the ruler, but the mummies had been hidden before the Inca arrived and took over, integrating Chimu culture in 1470.  After that, Chan Chan was abandoned until it was rediscovered and stripped by Spanish conquistadors and other tomb raiders and antiquities robbers later on.


Huanchaco Fishing Village

We ended our long day of information overload with a very informative guide at Huanchaco, a fishing village know for unique boats made of reeds.  The name comes from a word that means “beautiful lagoon of the golden fish.” We watched the surfers and the sun set on the beach before heading back to Trujillo.

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About the author

Tamara and Donny have wandered together since 2004, with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust. They write about discovering new destinations including beautiful photography, plus budget travel tips and how to give back through travel.