Things to Do in North Coast
The ancient city of Chan Chan, in Peru’s Moche Valley, was once the largest city in the Americas. For nearly 600 years, this metropolis of adobe buildings was the seat of the Chimú Kingdom (1000–1471 AD) and home to around 60,000 people. Today, the ruins constitute one of the world’s most important archaeological sites.
Across the arid Moche Valley, the two Temples de Moche (Huacas de Moche) are Trujillo’s most important sites remaining of the once powerful Moche Empire. Though still quite imposing, the twin pyramids are weathered and rounded by time and heavy rains and were built around 500 AD, a while seven centuries before the nearby city of Chan Chan.
Temple of the Dragon (Huaco el Dragon) is an immaculately preserved Chimú temple just outside Trujillo. The pyramid-shaped adobe structure features intricate frieze murals depicting rainbows, dragons, and figures that have valiantly stood the test of time. Less known than other Chimú sites, this anti-seismic temple is an engineering marvel.
In 1987, locals were found with lavish gold artifacts, tipping off police that there might be a grand discovery nearby. An archaeologist came and found the pristine tomb of the Lord of Sipán (“The King Tut of Peru”)—forgotten in the desert for over 1,700 years—and heralded as the greatest discovery of the last 50 years of archaeology.
Huanchaco, a sleepy coastal suburb of bustling Trujillo, is known for its long slow waves and is one of the best surf spots along the Peruvian coastline to learn how to ride a wave. Stroll along the town’s oceanfront promenade, watching fisherman come in with their catch on traditional reed boats called caballitos de totora.
Unearthed in 1987, the Moche tomb of the Lord of Sipán stands as one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. On display at the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán are the ancient artifacts and riches of the “King Tut of Peru,” including dazzling gold and silver and jeweled headdresses and armored plates.
Home to 26 pyramids built over 1,000 years ago—with one, the Huaca Larga, being the largest pyramid ever built in the world—Túcume might be the most fascinating site that most people have never heard of. Though heavy rains have reduced these ancient behemoths to dusty mounds, important archeological discoveries continue to be made in the burial chambers below.
Sitting in Trujillo’s Plaza de Armas—the large square that forms the heart of the city’s historical district—there is a surreal feeling knowing this is the spot from which modern Peru began. On the Spanishconquistadores’ push through the continent in search of silver and gold, the city of Trujillo was founded when this square was created in 1534. Nearly 300 years later, in 1820, it would be from right here in the Plaza de Armas that Trujillo would become the first city in Peru to announce its independence from Spain.
Despite the fact that modern day Trujillo is one of the largest cities in Peru, the historical center around the Plaza de Armas has retained its Colonial charm. The distinctive architecture of 17th century Spain forms a ring around the square, and colors such as the pastel yellow of the Trujillo Cathedral and the deeply rich blue of the Archdiocese, infuse the square with a sense of life which seems to permeate everyone who visits.
In the center of the square, interspersed amongst the throngs of pedestrians and locals on a midday stroll, the Freedom Monument springs from the crowd in an artistic form of defiance. Set atop a granite base, the uppermost statue of a man with raised fist is an enduring symbol Trujillo’s quest for liberation and independence. By night, the Colonial buildings around the Plaza de Armas are bathed in hundreds of lights, and walking through the illuminated Plaza de Armas is one of Trujillo’s most romantic displays.
After the fall of the Moche Empire circa 700 AD, the inhabitants of the Lambayeque region formed a culture now known as Sicán. Exceptionally skilled in metallurgy as well as a unique form of ceramics, the Sicán metal workers are credited with bringing the Bronze Age to northern Peru. Their incredible ceramics, metal work, and tombs are displayed here.
The arid shoreline of northern Peru has been the historic site of thousands of years of civilizations. Empire in Trujillo has risen and fallen like the sand dunes along the coast. Essential cultural artifacts and artistic relics are still being discovered in this unique coastal desert, many of which are on display at the National University of Trujillo Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History.
More Things to Do in North Coast
El Brujo Archaeological Complex offers a fascinating look at Peru’s pre-Inca Moche culture. More than 2,000 years ago, the Moche people ruled over a sprawling empire along the coast in the Chicama Valley. Archeologists are only now beginning to unearth the secrets of their civilization.
Located along Trujillo's central Plaza de Armas, this striking royal blue colonial mansion offers a rare glimpse into the political history of the city. Magnificently restored, its courtyards and rooms are furnished in the ornate style original to the early 17th-century, with a small collection of gold and ceramics from the Chimu and Moche empires.
Built in 1966, Brüning National Archaeological Museum houses 1,500 remarkable artifacts from pre-Hispanic and pre-Inca cultures of Peru. Fascinating exhibits include those on indigenous arts and crafts, such as textiles and jewelry, as well as ceramics, pottery, weapons, tools, masks, and a room filled with gold objects.
Located in the heart of Trujillo’s historic center, this cathedral (aka the Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary), brightly painted yellow with white wedding-cake piping and twin bell towers, is a stalwart representation of the city’s colonial past. Highlights are its noteworthy altarpieces and religious paintings in the cathedral’s art museum.
Historically, Chiclayo is an epicenter for the gathering of shamans and healers. Within the Witch Market’s cluttered and odiferous alleyways, healers hawk everything from dried snakes and monkey skulls to pieces of Andean condors, and you’ll find all manner of exotic herbal remedies and exotic cures, including hallucination-inducing cacti and frog juice promising virility.
Stretched out over an entire block, the lovely El Carmen complex includes a church, a Carmelite convent and a museum that includes the most important collection of colonial art in Trujillo. Its white facade, punctuated with bright red trim is a colonial masterpiece, a fitting home for the baroque and rococo paintings inside.
Poking out from a carpet of carob trees, forming the largest dryland forest on South America’s west coast, are the eroded tops of brown pyramids—all that remain of Sicán tombs once packed with gold. Archaeologists say over 90% of Peruvian gold in private collections was looted from what is now the Batán Grande archaeological complex.
Here, 36 pyramids built by the Sicán people are spread out over 23 square miles (69 square kilometers) of forest. Their heavily eroded peaks rising above the branches of the dryland forest, these pyramids have housed some of the greatest archaeological finds in the history of northern Peru.xa0Climb to the top of a 1000-year-old pyramid for a panoramic view.
Reflecting the city’s modernity, the Gustave Eiffel-designed Chiclayo Cathedral was not constructed until 1869, and despite its relative youth, the neoclassical cathedral with its twin bell towers and white cupolas exudes a sense of grandeur and stands as one of the most striking buildings in Chiclayo.
At the center of Chiclayo is the city’s main square, the Parque Principal (also known as Plaza de Armas). Spanning the compact area between the city’s double-domed neoclassical cathedral and the Republic-style city hall, this attractive green space buzzes with activity, music, and food vendors at all times of the day.