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Ancient Cultures of the North Coast

Chan Chan, Sipan & Tucume

Peru's Northern Coast is rightly referred to as a cradle of nations. Waves of cultures flourished here over the pre-Inca millennia. Curiously, in comparison to the Inca sites of Southern Peru, the North's ancient cities receive few visitors, allowing the intrepid few to explore in relative privacy.

The largest pre-European city in the Americas, Chan Chan, was constructed by the Chimor culture three miles west of present day Trujillo. Although it appears arid, the section of the coastal plain is fertile and was irrigated anciently by an extensive canal network. The site was occupied continuously from roughly 850 AD until 1470 AD, when the Inca Túpac Yupanqui defeated the Chimor emperor Minchancaman.

At its zenith, Chan Chan's urban core—divided into ten citadels—covered more than two square miles, much of which was surrounded by adobe walls fifty to sixty feet high. The surrounding settlements filled nearly eight square miles and supported an estimated 30,000 residents. Most visitors to the site tour a group of three walled plazas known as the Tschudi Complex.

Twenty minutes from Trujillo and not far from Chan Chan, the village of Huanchaco is famous for its traditional fishing techniques. Fishermen straddle small boats—caballitos de totora—made from bound reeds, a design that reportedly dates back 3,000 years.

Approximately 160 miles to the north, near the town of Chiclayo, lies the ancient Moche burial site of Sipan, or Huaca Rayada. The site was excavated in the late 1980s, unearthing a royal tomb filled with gold and silver jewelry. The tomb of this "Lord of Sipan" and reproductions of its contents are displayed in situ.

North of Sipan is an area known as Túcume—a 540-acre site containing 26 major adobe pyramids and platforms built by the Sican culture. Constructed on a plain around La Raya Mountain, the site was a originally settled around 800 AD.  It continued under Sican control until 1350 AD, and was likely occupied by successive Chimor and Inca populations thereafter. Like Chan Chan, this area is crisscrossed by scores of ancient irrigation canals.

Trujillo can be reached by air from Lima in just over an hour. Flights from the capital reach Chiclayo in about 90 minutes. Visits to these areas can be combined with extensions to the historic city of Cajamarca and the cultural sites of the mountainous Chachapoyas region. Trujillo and Chiclayo have pleasant weather year-round.

Mosaico Travel Services arranges personalized travel in Peru and throughout South America. We organize luxury accommodation, private transportation, and tours with expert guides. Speak with a Mosaico travel planner today at 801.582.2100. We’ll take care of the details.

" One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one's own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism."


Freya Stark