Trujillo: An Archaeologist’s Dream

Having stayed put in Lima these past 4 weeks, I decided it was about time to see some other parts of the country. Not that Lima isn’t full of things to see (even if I lived here a year I doubt I’d be able to see everything), I just felt like I needed to experience other regions of this beautiful country in order to fully appreciate it and all it has to offer.

My opportunity came two weeks ago when Jacqui mentioned she’d be visiting Trujillo for a swim meet. For those of you who are unaware, Trujillo is home to Chan Chan, one of Peru’s more famous archaeological sites. Having read about it in school, the site was on the top of my Peruvian must-see list, right under Machu Picchu. Having never traveled alone, I had hoped to buddy up with one of the other volunteers to go exploring – this was my chance! Having invited myself along on her trip, Jacqui politely accepted, with one condition. She’d be busy in Trujillo, but planned on visiting Cajamarca afterwards and welcomed some company on that leg of her journey. In other words, I’d get the chance to try traveling on my own and I’d be able to travel with a buddy. I thought “okay, I can do this!”

Julio – ever the amazing travel agent – helped me book an overnight bus to Trujillo on Cruz del Sur. If you think buses in the US are nice, you will be blow away by Cruz del Sur. Your “seat” (honestly, the word is an understatement) is a comfy recliner that converts to a bed for overnight travel. Your seat comes with a blanket, pillow, and headphones and an on-bus stewardess passes out meals and hot drinks during your trip (as well as initiates games of Bingo on longer journeys!) The experience is truly unique and excellent, and made my ride to Trujillo more comfortable than I could have imagined. Arriving well-slept to your destination is truly priceless.

Arriving in Trujillo around 7am, I made my way to the 3-Star Hostal El Cinturión, which I found through Trip Advisor.

Beautiful fresco at Huaca del Sol

With good reviews, a good location (a 5 minute drive from the Plaza de Armas) and cheap single rooms (100 soles (40 US) per night ) it looked like a good place to stay. My room was lovely, and the hotel staff was very nice. They didn’t speak much English, but were very friendly and patient, and that definitely added to the experience. They even helped me to book a full-day tour of local sites (including Chan Chan) with Travelers Tours, a local agency.

For 35 Soles (15 US) my full-day tour included transportation, an English-speaking guide, and a visit to several local archaeological sites. With only about 8 people, our group was substantial enough to spark some great conversation, but thankfully not large enough that we felt we were competing with each other to ask the guide questions, or to keep up.

Our first stop was Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon). Built by the Moche, these temples served as ceremonial centers and feature many stunning frescos. Situated in the same complex, both temples are equally stunning to look at, but only the Huaca del Sol is currently open for tourism; as new excavations have just begun at the Huaca de la Luna.

Detailed - and huge - multi story fresco
There are still portions of the Temple being excavated
Huaca de la Luna

Having been more than impressed with both the beauty and scale of Huaca del Sol, I left the site feeling estatic. If that had been the whole tour, I would have been perfectly content. But there was still more to come! Because our next stop, Chan Chan, was located on the opposite side of the valley, we returned to the city for about an hour to eat lunch. Located on Avenida Mansiche, our destination was the self proclaimed “tourist restaurant” El Sombrero. Since arriving, I’ve made a point to avoid these kids of tourist traps because I think they’re overpriced and silly, but I must say I actually enjoyed El Sombrero. In addition to offering some delicious traditional Peruvian dishes, the price was decent and there was live entertainment while we ate. A huge white stage dominates the restaurant and a series of different young people in traditional costumes showcase an array of Peruvian dances. They were all beautiful – but my favorite was one that included a woman with a trail of paper pinned to the back of her dress and a man with a candle trying to light her on fire! It was hysterical!!!

El Sombrero 2

After our delicious and rather entertaining lunch, we headed to Chan Chan. Along the way we made a brief stop to Huaca Esmerelda (The Emerald Temple). Originally linked to Chan Chan, it currently stands alone, as residential portions of the city exist over what once was Chan Chan territory. This small but beautiful temple has been wonderfully restored and offers a nice panorama of the city from it’s top.


Finally, we departed for Chan Chan. The drive was beautiful; ocean on one side, mountains on the other.  Upon arriving at Chan Chan – a Chimu site – I was unprepared for the immensity and beauty that was before me. Of the 9 (and perhaps more) huge complexes at the site, only 1 is well-restored. Archaeologists are still working to preserve and put back together the other 8 complexes that make up the site.

Walking through Chan Chan, one feels dwarfed by the huge walls


There are many fish-themed carvings at Chan Chan

Room upon room there are endless labyrinths of walls patterned with diamonds (as seen below), ocean-themes, and animals.

Endlessness of the site

There is even a huge reservoir in the middle of the complex that served as the residents’ water supply, and that truly looks like a piece of paradise in the middle of the sandy complex.

Chan Chan Reservoir

Honestly, Chan Chan was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. And pictures hardly do it justice. It’s some thing you just have to see for yourself.

After leaving the site, our tour brought us to one last stop; Huanchay. This small beach town just outside of Trujillo is a major destination for surf enthusiasts and swimmers. Although it is technically winter here, there will still plenty of people suited up and on their boards trying to catch the perfect wave. And dozens of tourists were ambling the board walk taking in sites. Eating an ice-cream by the water was a relaxing – and beautiful – way to end the perfect day.

Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.


I'm a 21-year from Boston, MA who recently graduated with a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology. In an attempt to put off entering the real world as long as possible, I jumped at the chance to spend 9 weeks in Peru as a volunteer/tourist/archaeology nerd. I am currently enjoying touring Peruvian archaeological sites, experiencing Lima like a local, and learning about all things Peruvian.

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