Text and photos: Demian Colman
We had only been in Trujillo for a few minutes but we couldn’t wait to get lost in its colorful city center. Located in Northern Perú and bathed by the region’s characteristic desert tones, Trujillo dusts off the wars, sacrifices, and traditions of the past that sleep here among sand cities and ancestral paintings. Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, the city’s streets and surroundings recall both a Spanish presence and the splendid past of the Chimú culture.
Like any self-respecting square in a historical center, Trujillo’s Plaza de Armas is guarded by a cathedral. The Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria, founded in 1540, survived three earthquakes, renovations at the hands of several architects, and remodeling of both its exterior and interior until finally, in 1970, twenty years after the last earthquake, it became a fixture in this historic center with its yellow towers and famous free-standing altar covered in gold leaf.
It was a little late to start walking but the perfect time to enjoy a colorful sunset and a warm welcoming wind. As the colors of the sky lit up like a Van Gogh painting, the Liberty Monument began to take shape under the stars. This work, by German sculptor Edmund Moeller, draws the eyes of residents and tourists alike with its three bodies and symbolic grandeur.
We enjoy the first taste of our new destination with a leisurely walk, taking in each and every color and aroma, welcoming new prospects and challenges. Even before we left the square, we were certain Trujillo would leave an indelible mark on our map.
Legend has it that two brothers from the Moche culture adopted a two-headed snake and kept it until it grew too big and they were forced to give it up. The snake, offended, made its way back to them, eating everything in its path. The people in the village fled to the foothills of Cerro Blanco but were soon completely surrounded. The hill then opened up and took them into her womb until the danger passed. Grateful, the Moche people founded their town on the hill and built what is now known as the Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon, in honor of the god of the mountain.
The Huaca del Sol is believed to have been the city’s administrative center. Although it was attacked following the conquest and reduced to a third of its former size, the immensity of the construction can still be appreciated. A curious feature of Moche architecture comes in the form of the inverse pyramids that began as small tombs with progressively larger ones being built on top, forming structures of up to five stories. Here is the first (or last) floor, gigantic and amazing, palpable history.
Human sacrifices were made in the Huaca de la Luna where children and men were offered up to the gods. It is believed that following this religious period, the Moche culture underwent a change that led to a greater focus on politics, and the pyramids were slowly covered by sand as time went on.
Due to this peculiarity, only two of the five floors are visible; the second of these can be seen through the rough holes made by looters seeking riches and destroying the real treasure. Nothing hurts like seeing proof of the looting that went on during the conquest as we walk among these walls, where only a small sample of what was taken, never to be seen again, remains. All we can do now is learn from what has been preserved, and defend our identity and history.
As if the four underground floors (covering 40,000 square feet) were not amazing enough, these temples were decorated with paintings that still retain their colors.
A group of small towns, known as Chan Chan, forms the capital of the Chimú culture. Tacaynamo, the first ruler of Chan Chan, arrived by sea on a fleet of rafts. He was the father of Guacricaur and responsible for a body of architectural work that is still being studied. Ten kings ruled after the enclave’s founding; Minchancaman, defeated by the Incas, was the last of this dynasty.
The cities that make up Chan Chan were so well planned that even today it is possible to understand its complex archaeological organization. One example of this are the features common throughout, such as the main entrances (always located to the north), the plazas, deposits, platforms, and of course, the walled peripheries.
The huge adobe walls and long corridors were decorated with very precise illustrations highlighting the importance of water, the essential local animals, the sacred elements, and other important aspects of this ancient culture.
Cities were organized according to rank and social status, and water was equally distributed among 140 wells serving the towns and residential areas.
A visit to this archaeological site reveals the admirable efforts of numerous archaeologists and artists to reconstruct even the tiniest details, which make it possible to get an idea of the magnificence and beauty of this pre-Columbian city and the incredible skill of those who built it in ancient times.
The life of a tourist is arduous and on certain days we deserve to sit in the sun and sip a cold beer while contemplating the sea. Thank goodness for places like Huanchaco, Trujillo’s most famous resort, which is ideal for surfing. It is also the birthplace of Perú’s world-famous ceviche, enjoyed by national and international guests in a perfect climate and setting.
The caballitos de totora, or little reed horses, a legacy of the Moche and Chimú cultures, are boats built from the stalks and leaves of the hardy totora plant. Their ancient design has been preserved and the boats are used in daily fishing expeditions.
These boats, typical of northern Perú, adorn Huanchaco Beach as they await new adventurers ready to get on board for a different view of the beach, the harbor, and the waves so beloved by surfers.
The harbor, the food, the reed horses, the nightlife, and of course, these “faithful companions” are the perfect ending to a journey into the past along the sandy roads of northern Perú. Trujillo and its mysterious sandy mountains have been waiting hundreds of years for you. Don’t let them accumulate any more dust!
From North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, Copa Airlines offers five flights a day to Lima, Perú via the Hub of the Americas in Panama City.
The city of Trujillo, capital of the La Libertad department, lies 346 miles north of Lima, along the Peruvian coast.
Local airlines offer daily flights to Capitán FAP Carlos Martínez Pinillos Airport, just a few miles from Huanchaco. The trip takes about seven hours by car on the Panamericana Norte highway.
The city has a good selection of hotels for all budgets.