Trujillo & Huanchaco – Lost Cities & Demonic Hounds

Another three hours down the (dark) desert highway (Hotel California anyone?) lies Trujillo, another large Peruvian town. Given our opinion of Chiclayo, however, we opted for the beach.

Huanchaco is Trujillo’s beach town: smaller and famous for the fishermen that still use hand-made reed canoes. They take four hours to construct and last only a few months, and the paddle is merely a piece of split bamboo. It’s not high season so the town feels quiet, which is nice. The hotel has a terrace overlooking the Pacific and I realise the combination of desert, sea and basic architecture is actually growing on me. I can feel quite romantic after a Pisco Sour or three.


Whilst feeling much more relaxed and at home in Huanchaco, we still opted for a bit of culture and signed up for yet another tour. Cue more minibuses, aimless driving around hostels to pick people up, minibus seating politics and vaguely interested (or disinterested) guides.

At most of the sites we visited we came across Peruvian hairless dogs. Ugly to the extent of being super cute, these dogs are native to Peru and resemble the dogs depicted in Egyptian art. But seen alone bounding over ancient ruins, they transform from cute into slightly demonic and mythical-looking beings.


Las Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

Just outside Trujillo and beneath a large mountain sit two large pyramidal Huacas: the sun (del sol) and the moon (de la luna). These are recently-given names, as nobody knows what they were actually called, but one was used for religion (moon) and the other for politics (sun). The balance of power shifted in the culture over time from religion to politics as people lost faith and realised that no number of human sacrifices or praying to the gods was changing the weather (El Nino wrought destruction on these cultures periodically).

La Huaca de la Luna consists of five platforms built in a very strange way. Each subsequent platform was built 100 years apart and larger than the first, like an upside down pyramid. All were surrounded by colourfully painted walls. Obviously, to support the new platform the base of the Huaca also needed to be supported, so adobe bricks were used to reinforce the base, effectively enclosing the previous platform. The result – an upside-down pyramid inside an adobe pyramid and an earthquake-proof structure. Inside you can see some of the levels and painted walls as well as the sacrificial area where many bones were found.

Huaca de la Luna

Across the valley floor sits the Huaca del Sol, untouched. In between the two, one can see the start of excavations of the city that once existed.

Lost city in the desert

Chan Chan

Once home to the Chimu culture, Chan Chan is a vast adobe brick city in the desert between Trujillo and Huanchaco. When I say vast I mean vast, I’m talking something like 20 km². Most of the walls have been heavily eroded by rain and time, so the part visitors walk around amounts to about 1%. As archaeologists have uncovered palaces, rain has started to destroy them. So conservation here has become both a partial cause of destruction and a race against time. It looks like a little like something out of Star Wars, with its two metre high walls (they used to be 5m) covered by sand and resulting strange, wind-sculpted formations.

Chan Chan

The part on display is a palace built as a tomb, consisting of three plazas for the common, nobles and royalty with a large tomb at the rear. People would make offerings for the departed and a few acres are dedicated purely to storerooms for those. The tombs of the king and queen are surrounded by those of their entourage. The king supposedly had 600 women murdered and buried alongside, in addition to the queen whose tomb is separated and surrounded by her entourage. The palace is at least a kilometre each side and there are something like 24 palaces in Chan Chan.

Chan Chan

Fascinating, decaying and quite hard to wrap your head around the size of these noblepersons’ wealth and cities.

Chiclayo and Trujillo are where we started to notice that Peru is proving expensive. If you don’t see the sights, well, you miss out on some new and interesting experiences and you’re stuck twiddling your thumbs in some fairly grotty towns. On the other hand, paying for all the tours starts to hit the budget.

So that’s Northern Peru. Desert, garbage, distances and the largely unknown, massive and impressive remnants of two advanced pre-Incan cultures … slowly slipping under the disappearing sands and guarded by demonic hounds.

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