With a population of 800,000, Trujillo is the third largest city in Peru. It is also home to 2 major archeological ruins – Huacas del Moche (100-800 AD) and Chan Chan (900-1470 AD) – ruins that pre-dated Inca rule.
Located along the Pacific Ocean in northwestern Peru, Trujillo is about 8-10 hours from both the Ecuadorian border in the north and from Lima in the south.
As you can see, the central plaza (Plaza de Armas) is absolutely beautiful! The freedom monument, introduced in 1929, sits in the centre, with the Spanish style Cathedral located at the far end.
Despite having one of the nicest plazas in South America, the town of Trujillo isn’t overflowing with beauty once you stray from the main square.
However, there is one other spot that needs to be visited within the confines of the city. Located on the outer edge of the centre of town, a 1-kilometer long wall mural borders the National University of Trujillo.
Depicting a variety of scenes from Peruvian history, this mural is an impressive site to check out!
Built from 1994 – 2008, the mural is made up of small mosaic squares – each one 1cm x 1cm.
Including the mural, you only need an afternoon to explore the city of Trujillo. However, an additional day or two are required to visit two close-by archeological sites – both within 6km of the centre.
Huacas del Moche:
Residing in a barren dessert landscape from 100AD – 800AD, beside the Rio Moche, the Huacas del Moche constructed two adobe (sun dried clay, turned into brick) temples: Huaca del Sol (off limits for tourists) and Huaca de la Luna.
The main temple, Huaca del Sol, is the largest adobe structure in all of the Americas, while the Huaca de la Luna is smaller but more complex and detailed. Local guides are present to provide quick 40-minute tours of the inside of Huaca de la Luna.
Interestingly, these temples were designed differently than the pyramids we’re accustomed to seeing. Each new ruler built temples on top of the previous level, but every level was bigger than the last. This resulted in a sort of inverted pyramid where the top is wide and the base is skinny. Thankfully the Huacas del Moche only got to 5 temples or I’m not too sure how stable the structure would have become over time.
It is estimated that at its peak, 20,000 people lived in this region. Known as an agricultural society with sophisticated methods of irrigation, hunting and fishing – the Huacas del Moche abruptly met their demise in the 9th century.
While scholars can’t be certain, it’s believed that a dramatic change in weather played a big role. 30 years of flooding followed by a 30 year drought was the first important event. For a society that believed in human sacrifice as method of appeasing the various God’s (including one responsible for rain), it is believed that people began to lose faith as the weather conditions continued to worsen. Finally, the Huacas del Moche began to turn on the religious and political powers, and eventually on each other, causing the entire system of living to crater!
There is no evidence of any outside intruders and scholars are fairly certain that the demise of the Huacas del Moche was self inflicted.
*Visiting the Huacas del Moche from Trujillo takes about 30-40 minutes using local transport. For less than 2 soles, you can arrive at the museum. Here you’ll pay 15 soles ($6 cdn) to enter the museum and to have access to the site where the pyramids are located.*
The capital of the Chimor empire from 900 AD – 1470 AD, the city of Chan Chan stretched over 20 kilometers and is located quite close to modern day Trujillo.
Chan Chan was divided into 9 palaces, each having political or social significance. These rectangular complexes were bordered by thick, high walls which protected temples and funeral platforms.
Surrounding these 9 complexes were separate areas used for metal work and weaving and like the Huaca del Moche society, Chan Chan had an extensive irrigation system where water was supplied via an 80km long canal.
Supporting a population of up to 100,000 people, Chan Chan was the largest city in pre-Columbian America. After reaching its apex around 1400, Chan Chan was overthrown by the Inca’s 70 years later.
This magnificent site was abandoned after the Inca conquest and it has incredibly withheld the test of time! Open 9-5 daily, Chan Chan costs 10 Peruvian Soles (about $4 cdn) for a two day pass.
Local buses will take you here for 1-2 soles : )
If you’re travelling overland to or from Ecuador, the city of Trujillo shouldn’t be skipped! As I mentioned, it is about halfway from Lima to the Ecuadorian border so it is an excellent place to stop off.
I spent one day checking out the downtown and another day visiting the two archeological sites. While it is possible to see both sites in one day, it is a lot of walking and can be a little hectic.
Ultimately, Truijllo is a cool city that I would recommend visiting. There aren’t a whole lot of tourists in this part of Peru and Trujillo is left off of most Peruvian itineraries. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be!
AND, while you’re there, make sure to try out some world famous Peruvian cuisine!