Around Trujillo

Huacas del Sol and de la Luna, also

A few kilometres south of Trujillo a new 3.2-km access road leads to the huge Moche pyramids, the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna. The Huaca del Sol was once, before the Spanish diverted the nearby river and washed a third of it away in a search for treasure, the largest man-made structure in the Americas, reaching a height of 45 m. It consisted of seven levels, with 11 or 12 phases of construction over the first six centuries AD. Built from 143 million adobe bricks, it was the political centre of the site. The ceremonial platforms have been further eroded by the weather and visitors, but climbing on them is now prohibited. Today, about two-thirds of the pyramid have been lost.

The Huaca de la Luna, 500 m away, was a 'religious pyramid'. It received relatively little attention compared to its larger neighbour until more than 8000 sq m of remarkable mural paintings and reliefs were uncovered since 1990. The yellow, white, blue, red and black paint has faded little over the centuries and many metres of the intricate geometric patterns and fearsome feline deities depicted are virtually complete. It has now been established that the pyramid once consisted of six levels, each possibly pertaining to a different ruler-priest. When each priest died he was buried within the
and a new level was built covering up entirely the previous level. The number of levels suggests that there were six ruler-priests over a period of approximately 600 years.

The highest mural is a 'serpent' that runs the length of the wall, beneath it there are repeated motifs of 'felines' holding decapitated heads of warriors, then repeated motifs of 'fishermen' holding fish against a bright blue background and, next, huge 'spider/crab' motifs. The bottom two levels show dancers or officials grimly holding hands and, below them, victorious warriors following naked prisoners past scenes of combat and two complex scenes, similar to those at Huaca Cao Viejo at El Brujo .
Below the bottom end of the north/south ramp the second level shows a 5-m-long reptile approaching a life-sized human figure apparently defending human figures holding hands. Combined with intricate, brightly painted two-dimensional motifs in the sacrificial area atop the
, Huaca de la Luna is now a truly significant site well worth visiting. The project was awarded an EU prize as the best in Latin America in 2006. Some US$10 million has been allocated to the building of a new site museum, a prerequisite to becoming a World Heritage Site.

Between the two
lie the remains of a once sizeable settlement, maybe as large as 20,000 people, now mainly lost beneath the sands; excavations are taking place.

The visitors' centre has good toilets, a video/lecture hallcafé showing videos and
Artesanías del Norte
souvenir shop selling modern ceramics, T-shirts, postcards, etc. Books and videos are sold at the ticket office. In an outside patio craftsmen reproduce ceramics in authentic designs from northern Peru. Good local food is prepared on Sunday in the nearby town of Moche.

Chan Chán

This crumbling imperial city of the Chimú is the largest adobe city in the world and lies about 5 km from Trujillo. Heavy rain and flooding in 1925 and 1983 damaged much of the ruins and, although they are still standing, eight palaces are closed to visitors. Thankfully, UNESCO donated US$100,000 and protection work ensured that the 1998 El Niño had little effect. Conservation work has uncovered more friezes since then.

The ruins consist of nine great compounds built by Chimú kings. The 9-m-high perimeter walls surrounded sacred enclosures with usually only one narrow entrance. Inside, rows of storerooms contained the agricultural wealth of the kingdom, which stretched 1000 km along the coast from near Guayaquil, in Ecuador, to beyond Paramonga.

Most of the compounds contain a huge walk-in well that tapped the ground water, raised to a high level by irrigation higher up the valley. Each compound also included a platform mound that was the burial place of the king, with his women and his treasure, presumably maintained as a memorial. The Incas almost certainly copied this system and transported it to Cuzco where the last Incas continued building huge enclosures. The Chimú surrendered to the Incas around 1471 after 11 years of siege and threats to cut the irrigation canals.

The dilapidated city walls enclose an area of 28 sq km containing the remains of palaces, temples, workshops, streets, houses, gardens and a canal. Canals up to 74 km long kept the city supplied with water. What is left of the adobe walls bears well-preserved moulded decorations showing small figures of fish, birds and various geometric motifs. Painted designs have been found on pottery unearthed from the debris of a city ravaged by floods, earthquakes and

Ciudadela of Tschudi
 is a 20-minute walk from the main road and has been restored. The site museum on the main road, 100 m before the turn-off, has a son-et-lumière display of the growth of Chan Chán as well as objects found in the area. It also has a chronological chart of the cultures of the region.

W Sometimes a singer waits in the Plaza Principal of the Ciudadela to show the perfect acoustics of the square (she expects a tip).

Huacas El Dragón and La Esmeralda

The partly restored temple,
Huaca El Dragón
, dating from Huari to Chimú times (AD 1000-1470), is also known as
Huaca Arco Iris
(rainbow), after the shape of friezes that decorate it. It is on the west side of the Pan-American Highway in the district of La Esperanza. Take a combi from Avenida España y Manuel Vera marked 'Arco Iris/La Esperanza', from the Ovalo Mansiche, or, if on the east side of the city, from Huayna Cápac y Avenida Los Inca.


A popular alternative to staying in Trujillo is the fishing and surfing town of Huanchaco, which is full of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants (scant nightlife). It has great beaches to the south; to the north are reed beds good for birdwatching. The town is famous for its narrow pointed fishing rafts, known as
(little horses), made of totora reeds and depicted on Salinar, Gallinazo, Virú, Moche, Lambayeque and Chimú pottery. These are still a familiar sight in places along the northern Peruvian coast. Unlike those used on Lake Titicaca, they are flat, not hollow, and ride the breakers rather like surfboards. You can see the reeds growing in sunken pits at the north end of the beach, the Reserva Los Balsares de Huanchaco.

The town, now developed with beach houses and homes for wealthy Trujillanos, is overlooked by a huge
, one of the oldest in Peru (1535-1540), from the belfry of which are extensive views. The
also gives good views. In winter it is very quiet.

Chicama Valley

North of Trujillo is the sugar estate of
Hacienda Cartavio
, in the Chicama Valley (43 km). The plant includes a distillery and rum factory. Visits are possible by appointment only. One of the biggest sugar estates in the world, also in the Chicama Valley, is the
Casa Grande cooperative
. It covers over 6000 ha and employs 4000 members. Visits (guided) are only possible before 1200; many buses and combis go there from the Santa Cruz terminal in Trujillo.

El Brujo

Sixty kilometres north of Trujillo, is considered one of the most important archaeological sites on the entire north coast. The complex, covering 2 sq km, consists of Huacas Prieta, Cortada and Cao Viejo. It is collectively known as El Brujo and was a ceremonial centre for perhaps 10 cultures, including the Moche.

Huaca Cortada
(or El Brujo) has a wall decorated with high-relief, stylized figures.
Huaca Prieta
is, in effect, a giant rubbish tip dating back 5000 years, which once housed the very first settlers to this area.
Huaca Cao Viejo
has extensive friezes, polychrome reliefs up to 90 m long, 4 m high and on five different levels, representing warriors, prisoners, sacrificer gods, combat and more complex scenes, with a total of seven colours in reliefs. The mummy of a tattooed woman,
La Señora de Cao
, dating from 450 AD, has also been found. Her mausoleum, with grave goods, can be visited and a related museum was due to open in the second half of 2008. In front of Cao Viejo are the remains of one of the oldest Spanish churches in the region. It was common practice for the Spaniards to build their churches near these ancient sites in order to counteract their religious importance. The excavations will last many years at the site. Photography is allowed. There are exhibitions in the Chan Chán site museum and Museo de la Nación in Lima.

North of Chicama

Seventy kilometres north of Trujillo, Puerto Malabrigo (Chicama) is a real surfers' hang-out, as it's the best surf beach in Peru, claiming that it has the longest left-hand point-break in the world. There are several basic places to stay and eat. Combis and
go there from the Santa Cruz terminal in Trujillo. Pacasmayo, port for the next oasis north, is 102 km north of Trujillo, and is the main road connection from the coast to Cajamarca. The paved 180 km road to Cajamarca branches off the Pan-American Highway soon after it crosses the Río Jequetepeque.

A few kilometres northwest on the other side of Río Jequetepeque are the ruins of Pacatnamú, comparable in size to Chan Chán. It consists of pyramids, a cemetery and living quarters of nobles and fishermen, possibly initiated in the Chavín period. There is evidence also of Moche and Chimú occupation. No explanations at the site.

Where the Pan-American Highway crosses the Jequetepeque are the well-signed ruins of Farfán, separate from those of Pacatnamú, but probably of the same period. It has yielded important Inca burials in recent years.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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