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Chan Chan, Trujillo: Visit The Most Incredible Archeological Site in Peru

Coming down from Bolivia, we stopped on our way to Huaraz in a lovely colonial town called Trujillo with an aim to see Chan Chan.

The North of Peru is usually overlooked by travelers, but we urge everyone to discover this region. The most significant advantage is that there aren’t too many tourists around and it has many unique places. Just like the incredible archaeological site of Chan Chan near Trujillo.

When we walked around the ancient ruins of the Chimu and the Moche culture we felt like Indiana Jones.

All you need to know about Chan Chan in Trujillo

TRUJILLO

Trujillo is first and foremost the gateway to Chan Chan and the Moche pyramids. However, Trujillo has a few things to offer as well.

Trujillo, it is also a great stopover if you are traveling to visit Huaraz. If you are planning to visit Huaraz, make sure to read our posts on Laguna Paron and Laguna 69, one of the most beautiful lakes in Peru.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN TRUJILLO

Therefore, make sure to walk around the city center and the main square Plaza de Armas.

If you are staying a bit outside of Trujillo, for instance in the seaside town of Huanchaco, you can easily get an Uber to Plaza de Armas. From there, you can reach the most important places in Trujillo. Also, you don’t need much more than one day in Trujillo itself.

You will find, unlike in other Peruvian towns in northern Peru, some colonial architecture.

red, blue and yellow house in Trujillo, Peru
Lovely colourful streets in Trujillo

ABOUT TRUJILLO

Trujillo was founded in 1534 by no other then conquistador Pizarro and named the city after his hometown in Spain. Pizarro and his men brought an end to the Inca, one of the most fascinating ancient cultures the world has ever known.

The point we want to stress is that while being a child of his time, he and his fellow conquistadors were greedy, gold-hungry and sneaky brutes. In their quest for wealth, they naturally didn’t care for ancient cities and cultures.

We want to focus on the reason why you came to Trujillo: the ancient constructions left by cultures that are even older than the Inca and outlasted the Spanish conquistadors.

READ MORE: THE BEST PLACES TO SEE IN PERU

CHAN CHAN, TRUJILLO

One of the most popular things to do in Trujillo is visiting nearby Chan Chan, which is the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas.

woman walking around brown adobe road in Chan Chan near Trujillo
Welcome to Chan Chan

ABOUT THE CHIMU & CHAN CHAN

Chan Chan was built by the Chimu culture around 1300 AD and it served as the Chimu kingdom’s capital.

Can you imagine that at the height of this empire stretching from the border of Ecuador down to Lima somewhere around 60.000 to 100.000 people lived here?

arial shot on brown earth in Chan Chan, one of the greatest archeological sites in Peru
Chan Chan from above

Quite impressive if you consider that most cities in Europe were smaller at that time. Chan Chan is also known as the largest adobe city in the world. No wonder that Chan Chan is an important archeological site recognized by UNESCO.

The Chimu culture is known for its monochromatic pottery and fine metal works made out of gold and other metals and lasted until 1460 when it was conquered by the Incas.

fish elements on the brown adobe stones

The Inca were not able to defeat the Chimu in battle but diverted the river Rio Moche to take away Chan Chan’s water supply which subsequently led to the downfall of the Chimu kingdom. The city was partially destroyed by the Inca and the craftsman brought to Cusco. Heavy looting and serious destruction only set in once the Spanish arrived.

SEE MORE: VISIT 15 MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN SOUTH AMERICA

WHAT TO SEE?

Chan Chan consisted of 9 compounds each ruled by a king. Nowadays, all that remains are high walls surrounding large empty spaces in each of the compounds.

Best preserved is the Tschudi complex, named after the Swiss researcher Tschudi. Today the palace is called Palacio Nik-An. This area is being restored and open to travelers. Here, you can still see some of the festival rooms with their magnificent decorations.

a view on the adobe structure in Chan Chan inside of Tschudi complex
Inside of Tschudi complex

Until 1998, the adobe structures were covered with a special glaze to protect them from destruction by ferocious rainfall caused by El Nino. Furthermore, with the storms getting more frequent it’s only a matter of time until all of Chan Chan dissolves into the mud.

There is also a museum with a bit of background information and a few objects found in Chan Chan. It is a 20-minute walk from the actual site of Chan Chan.

two people posing for a photo, sitting on the ground in front of the brown wall

HOW MUCH IS THE ENTRANCE TO CHAN CHAN?

With your ticket (S/.10 per person in 2018) for Chan Chan, you can visit the Moche sites Huaca Esmeralda and Huaca Arco Iris that are nearby as well. You can buy tickets at the museum which is located 500 meters before the turnoff to Chan Chan or at the actual Chan Chan entrance.

There is not a lot of information inside the site so it makes sense to take a guided tour or have a good travel guide on hand. It costs 40 Soles extra for a group of up to 5 people.

a men standing in front of the big grey hill with green cactuses and grey ground.
A view on Cerro Blanco

MOCHE TEMPLES

If you ever make it to Trujillo, Chan Chan is not the only spectacular sight nearby and make sure to visit Huacas del Sol y de la Luna as well.

Both are remnants of the Moche culture that settled in the area before the Chimu who built Chan Chan. The temples Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) and Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) are 700 years older than Chan Chan.

EXTRA TIP: The entrance tickets are sold a bit in front of the two temples, so make sure to get the tickets, or you end up going back and forth. Keep in mind that only the Huaca de la Luna can be accessed by visitors.

 A view on the grey hill of Huaca del la Luna and brown archeological site
A view on Huaca del la Luna

HUACE DEL SOL

The Huaca del Sol is the largest pre-Colombian adobe structure in the Americas. Scientists believe that it was 50 meters high and covered an area of 340 meters by 160 meters at the base consisting of 140 million adobe bricks.

Nowadays only around two-thirds remain due to erosion caused by the weather phenomenon El Nino and human activity.

In the early 17th century, the Spanish redirected the Moche River to run past Huaca del Sol to facilitate the looting of gold artifacts. Long story short, these days it looks more like a big hill made of sand. Nevertheless, a very impressive pile of sand, if you consider what it must have looked like hundreds of years ago.

If you are visiting Cusco and its region, make sure to read our guide on Salineras de Maras and how to hike Rainbow Mountain.

HUACA DE LA LUNA

The Huaca de la Luna is the smaller brother of the two temples. However, it is also the better-preserved brother. The Moche are famous for polychrome friezes that still can be viewed in the protected sections inside the temple.

red smiling face painted in the red wall
A typical polychrome frieze of Moche

The Museo Huacas de Moche displays various objects such as vases, ceramics, etc. that have been excavated from both temples. Whereas the Huaca del Sol may have served for administrative, military, and residential functions the Huaca de la Luna might have had a religious function. It is likely that human sacrifices were performed here as well. Both temples served as burial mounds.

READ MORE: If you are interested in learning about why Chimu did sacrifice its own children, then check an article by national geographic which describes it very well.

MOCHE PEOPLE AND TEMPLES

The Moche people are famous for their wealth and because their temples are relatively well preserved due to their approach to constructing a temple over the temple. Nowadays people like to change styles and upgrade homes and improve things. Back in the day, the Moche behaved in a similar way. They added a temple over the temple. Burying the previous temple with mud and building a bigger temple on top.

This is absolutely genius as this enables us today to have a look at their ancient paintings and architecture, as it is all very well preserved.

two people standing in front of brown walk with many signs

The Huaca de la Luna has six layers meaning six temples have been built on top of each other. For the Huaca del Sol scientists found 8 such layers. That makes the Moche temples quite unique and in the case of de Huaca de la Luna so valuable to archaeologists (and travelers).

Until this, day archeologists are uncovering deeper layers with hidden artifacts the Spanish and modern-day treasure hunters have not unearthed or that were simply not shiny enough.

colourful gate with brown and red ornaments

WHY TO TAKE GUIDED TOUR

What we liked about the Huaca del Sol the most is that you can take a professionally guided tour in English. It is super affordable and we paid 40 Soles. Our guide was lovely and told us everything about the Moche, their impressive temples and many interesting anecdotes. The tour lasted for about 1 hour. We were really happy that we took this tour and can only recommend you to do the same.

HOW TO GET TO THE MOCHE PYRAMIDS?

On the way to the Moche Pyramids, we took an Uber. But on our way back to Trujillo we took public transport which was super fun. Taking into account that there was barely space in the tiny van.

And if you are tall and have long legs, then it might be slightly uncomfortable. It is also hot and we were sweating like crazy, but the locals were super friendly and we were just smiling at each other. Definitely one of these awesome experiences you gotta has in Peru.

READ MORE: If you are planning to explore the area of Lima, then head to Huacachina oasis and fly over the ancient Nazca lines.

WHERE TO STAY IN TRUJILLO?

Trujillo is a quite big town and there are many accommodations to choose from. We stayed at the Rado Hotel which was a bit outside of the city center. We had nice room, private bathroom and also breakfast included.

CHECK ALL THE HOTELS IN TRUJILLO

We hope that we convinced to visit Chan Chan and Trujillo. It is indeed a remarkable site and we still do not get it why it is visited by so little people.

Are you thinking of visiting Chan Chan site near Trujillo? Then make sure to pin our guide to read it later.

full guide to Chan Chan, best spot near Trujillo in Peru
Gigi and Nico signature in pink

DISCLAIMERPlease note, that some of the links mentioned above are affiliate links and we will earn a little percentage of the sale if you purchase through our links at no extra cost to you.

About the author
Since I was little I always wanted to see the world. Travel to new places, get to know new cultures, see how other people live. I love beaches and I love discovering tropical destinations. That is why, together with my partner Nico, we created this blog to share with you the most beautiful beaches and stunning holiday destinations which we visited during our travels.

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