Chan Chan and Trujillo: A Guide to Ruins in The North Coast of Peru
Are you traveling to Trujillo? One of the best things to do is to visit Chan Chan ruins, Huacas del Sol, and De La Luna, Arco Iris, and Esmeralda. Our guide helps you to explore these beautiful places on a budget and provides you with useful information on how to get there and where to stay.
Trujillo is the city of churches from the colonial era and lies on the northern coast of Peru.
Although very often skipped, it makes a perfect base for travelers who want to visit old pre-Colombian Ruins, especially the extraordinary ruins of Chan Chan. We arrived to Trujillo by overnight bus from Amazonas department, where we visited Chachapoyas and Kuelap ruins.
When we crossed borders from Ecuador to Peru, we were a bit surprised.
Probably under the impression that Peru is one of the most visited countries in South America, we expected that it would be more developed and cleaner when it comes to the environment. But instead, we were welcomed by incredible dust and piles of garbage along the roads.
It was not until Trujillo, where the situation improved, and we could enjoy the city center without stepping over trash all the time.
The stylish colonial city can entertain travelers before or after their visits to nearby ruins.
The interesting fact is that probably every other tourist we met read information in a guidebook that it is better to stay in a nearby village Huanchaco than in Trujillo.
We did not stay in Huanchaco (it looked quite average on pictures, but it is, of course, your choice), but thanks to its sudden popularity we had a nice feeling from Trujillo's city center as it was not crowded or touristy at all, although it is one of Peru's largest cities.
It is easy to explore Trujillo in a couple of hours, as the most notable churches and buildings are within walking distance from the principal square Plaza de Armas (almost every city, town or village in Peru has its own Plaza de Armas).
This spacious square is one of the nicest we've seen in South America so far, and also one of the cleanest.
There are police officers who supervise that everything is in order - Martin even received a warning from the officer when he put his feet on the bench - so behave in Trujillo!
Around the square are several colorful buildings which are worth your attention, but the most notable building is Basilica Menor Cathedral, an ochre-yellow church fronting the plaza. From the Plaza de Armas, you can walk to many charges is near surrounding or take a leisure stroll around the city center via a pedestrian boulevard on the right side of the church.
But the stop in Trujillo wouldn't be complete without visiting pre-Colombian ruins in the city's proximity.
The highlight is undoubtedly Chan Chan, the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas, but when in the area, you should not miss Huaca Esmeralda, Huaca Arco Iris or amazing Huacas del Sol y de la Luna.
Despite the fact, Trujillo is a lovely place the ruins of Chan Chan probably finally put this city on travelers' maps.
Chan Chan city was built around 1300 AD and although its fame did not last long as Inca civilization conquered the place in the late 15th century, Chan Chan, until now, remains the largest adobe (mud brick) city in the world. Chan
Chan was a masterpiece of Chimu culture in its time, and the cultural and architectural value of this site did not escape the attention of UNESCO organization.
No one exactly knows how many inhabitants lived in the entire complex, but archeologists estimate it could have been something between 30 000 and 100 000 people.
You can find nine palaces in the Chan Chan complex, but restoration and excavation work still continue, and it is possible to explore only one site properly - the Nik An Palace.
Chan Chan served as the administrative, political and commercial center of the Chimu Kingdom, so it is interesting, why there are several equal palaces in the complex and not only one principal.
Always, when the king of Chan Chan died, a new king did not move into the old palace but built a new one.
Chan Chan also was a large burial site as Chimu people sacrificed not only animals but also humans, plus when the king died, all his wives were poisoned and buried in the complex.
Chan Chan lies on the coast of Northern Peru, which has a warm and dry climate, that's why using dried mud bricks as a building material seemed like a good idea in the past, but the combination of climate change, occasional gusty rains and especially El Niño phenomenal resulted in palaces being vastly damaged and transformed into something that looks like a pile of mud.
Luckily some parts have been saved, and today the complex of Nik An is partially restored, and more importantly, it is well-preserved against the changing climate.
How to get to Chan Chan
It is easy to get to Chan Chan from either Trujillo or Huanchaco. From Trujillo, take a van from Ovalo Grau going to the village of Huanchaco and ask to be dropped off at the Chan Chan's gate. The fee is S/1.50, and the ride takes about 15 minutes.
From here, you will have to walk about 1.5 km to the ticket booth (taxis are waiting here in case you don't want to walk).
You can buy your ticket either in the museum (which is near the road, not near the entrance), or at the ticket booth near the Chan Chan (which we recommend as the museum can be closed). The entrance fee is S/10, and you can use it for Huaca Esmeralda and Huaca Arco Iris as well.
There are no explanation boards in the complex, and unless you are an expert, we recommend taking a guide.
An English speaking guide costs S/40 up to five people, so it is worth to ask around and share the cost with other visitors.
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HUACA ESMERALDA & HUACA ARCO IRIS
When you buy a ticket to Chan Chan, you can automatically visit another two ruins within Trujillo for free, Huaca Esmeralda, and Huaca Arco Iris.
Not that impressive as Chan Chan because much smaller (but it is hard to compete with such a famous brother), but it is easy to visit both, so why not to dedicate one all day to Trujillo's ruins?
Huaca Esmeralda is a Chimu temple, accidentally discovered in 1923, but since then largely destroyed by El Niño phenomenal. Despite this fact, we could still see ornaments depicting fishing nets, birds or sea waves on its walls.
Huaca Arco Iris, also nicknamed Rainbow Temple because of repeated ornaments of the rainbow on its walls, is also a Chimu temple dating back to the 12th century.
Rainbow Temple was discovered even later than Huaca Esmeralda, but damages caused by the climate changes did not omit this place. We liked this site better than Huaca Esmeralda in case you want to visit just one.
How to get to Huaca Esmeralda
From Chan Chan take a van back to Trujillo and get off at Plaza Mall (it is enough to tell the driver you want to visit Huaca Esmeralda).
You will see Mansiche Church on your right-hand side, so walk around the church approximately 400 meters (5 minutes), and you'll arrive at the entrance of the ruin. The entrance doesn't look open, but there is a guard inside who must let you in - shout a bit if he is not around.
We've heard that the area around Esmeralda is shady, and tourists are being robbed at this place, but we did not have any bad feelings about this place.
How to get to Huaca Arco Iris
This site lies in the area called La Esperanza, and all you need to do is to find a bus going this direction.
We took a van near Estadio Mansiche - it is a huge transport hub in Trujillo where many buses pass by. Both bus rides don't cost more than S/1.50.
HUACAS DEL SOL Y DE LA LUNA
Huacas del Sol y de la Luna alias Temples of the Sun and Moon are an example of a different culture which was dominant in the area much earlier (about 700 years) than Chimu dynasty which was responsible for the construction of Chan Chan.
Huacas del Sol y de la Luna is the result of the culture of the Moche period.
Huaca del Sol is not currently open (and apparently won't be for some time) as archeologists don't have money to continue with excavations. From the outside, the Temple of Sun looks like a melted mound of mud, and you would guess that once it was a center of Moche culture.
Approximately 500 meters from Temple of the Sun lies Huaca de la Luna or Temple of the Moon.
This temple is smaller but is fascinating and valuable not only because of several ceramics and other metal objects which have been found here (perfectly conserved because of the mud) but mainly because of the way the Moche used to build this temple.
When Moche constructed the temple, approximately every 100 years they completely covered the original temple with mud and a new and greater temple was built on top and around the old one.
There was no access to the old temple once the new one was constructed and thanks to this process all painting on the outside walls of those original temples were perfectly conserved. Six layers (and it means six temples) were discovered in the Temple of the Moon, and at one place it is even possible to see walls of those old temples.
We found this site truly impressive and couldn't believe how all those paintings survived so many centuries in such a good state.
Entrance fee to Huacas del Sol y de la Luna cost S/10 and additional S/3 if you wanted to visit the museum. You can't enter temples without a guide, but this service is included (in Spanish or English).
How to get to Huacas del Sol y de la Luna
It is easy to reach those temples either from Ovalo Grau or when traveling from Trujillo's center it is better to stop a van on Av. Los Incas.
HOW TO GET TO TRUJILLO
Trujillo is a large city, and it is easy to get there almost from every corner of Peru.
From Ecuadorian borders, you first need to get to Chiclayo and here change bus going directly to Trujillo (about 4 hours). We arrived in Trujillo directly from Chachapoyas (10 hours), but it has several connections with other tourist places such as Huaraz or the capital city, Lima.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CHAN CHAN RUINS
You need only basic things to pack for visiting Chan Chan ruins and Temples of Sun and Moon.
It's going to be hot, and dusty. Bring plenty of water. Leave your valuables at the hotel.
Bandana | You can use it as a head cover or protection against dust.
Camera | I took my compact mirrorless camera to Chan Chan ruins and took some great photos.
Sunscreen | We use SPF 50+.
Water Bottle | Bring your own water bottle and help to reduce the plastic waste in Peru.
WHERE TO STAY IN TRUJILLO
Trujillo has many decent accommodation options, but not that many nice hotels or hostels for those who are traveling on a budget.
You can get inspired by our selection of hotels.
Budget: D'Barrig is a newly-built accommodation on the outskirt of the city center. It is a private accommodation with only four rooms, but the hotel is clean and safe (the owner has to personally let everyone in an out).
Mid-range: Hotel Central - for all who look for the central location but also the certain level of comfort.
Luxury: Hotel Libertador Trujillo - the best hotel in the city not only because of its service, but the location right on the Plaza de Armas is unbeatable.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
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