Guide to Holidays in Trujillo
The northern city of Trujillo was the first founded in Peru by the Conquistadors, but they built their grand colonial mansions in the shadow of a much, much older civilization...
The fertile Moche valley, in which Trujillo lies, has been continuously inhabited for at least 12,000 years, and is one of the cradles of civilization in the Americas. Just outside the modern city of Trujillo, and incredibly well-preserved you can see reminders of this long history in the twin pyramid Temples of the Sun & Moon, and in the vast archaeological complex of Chan Chan, which was the capital of the ancient Chimu culture.
Trujillo itself is a great place to stay, and the fine colonial architecture of the centre and the great northern food deserve to be appreciated by more visitors, but the pre-Inca sites just outside the city are the real draw and it's amazing how few people even know about them, let alone visit them on their holiday in Peru. Of course, if you do take the time to visit the north then it means you can have these incredible experiences largely to yourself...
Where to Stay in Trujillo
Trujillo today is Peru's third-largest city, but in the city itself it will be the colonial centre which attracts most people. This area is relatively compact, and extends for a few streets back in every direction from the main Plaza de Armas. This area contains most of Trujillo's good hotels and you have the pick of the city's restaurants on offer as well.
However, the beachside suburbs of Trujillo, such as Huanchaco and Buenos Aires offer alternative attractions, particularly if you're visiting in the Peruvian summer. The actual waterfront hotels aren't quite up to the standards of the centre (three-star at best) but you have the beach on your doorstep, and some good local restaurants and bars as well. Huanchaco has the added benefit of being very near the airport, which since there aren't all that many flights is unlikely to disturb you, but does improve your transfer times.
In terms of the historical sites, Chan Chan lies between Trujillo and Huanchaco, so there's no problem there, but the Temples of the Sun and Moon are to the south of the city centre, so are more easily visited if you're staying in the centre.
What to See and Do in Trujillo
The churches and grand mansions of the colonial centre are more than worth a visit, but it's the Mochica and Chimu culture sites just outside the city which are the major tours in Trujillo...
Rather than taking a formal tour, many people prefer to just have some free time in Trujillo to enjoy wandering around the colonial centre, with its broad avenues, pedestrianised paseos, and fine colonial architecture. Particularly on an evening when many people enjoy strolling in the cooler evening air, things really come to life and many of the major buildings are attractively illuminated.
The classic colonial mansions are emblematic of Trujillo: often painted in bright blues and reds, many still have their original ornate wrought-iron trellises covering the windows, and the beautiful carved wooden balconies that were a feature of colonial Peru. Unfortunately, in Lima most of these have disappeared, but in Trujillo you can still see the streets very much as they were in the colonial era.
As well as their fine houses, such as the Iturregui Palace and the Casa del Mayorazgo, the conquistadors also built a huge number of churches. These range from the large Cathedral on the main square to the smaller but exquisite La Merced on Paseo Pizarro, and most are incredibly richly-decorated. Again, rather than a formal tour, you may prefer to just pop into them as you wander round, so you can explore them at your own pace.
However, just a short drive from the centre of Trujillo lies a whole other, much older world. The Chimu culture dominated this area from the 12th to the fifteenth century when they were finally conquered by the Incas, and the twenty square kilometres of their capital Chan Chan constitute one of Peru's most important archaeological sites. At its peak in the 13th century, it's believed that, quite apart from its stunning ceremonial and public buildings, Chan-Chan probably had a population of around 50,000 people. To put that into perspective it's significantly more than London at that time, and was one of the largest cities in the world.
Chan Chan really needs to be seen in the same context as the great ancient cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia or China, and their trading contacts up and down the Pacific coast down into modern Chile and up into modern Ecuador, as well as their links with highland cultures attest to their power and reach.
The city was abandoned in the 1500s, when the Incas swept down from the highlands, and since then time, weather and human carelessness have seriously damaged the site. However, since Chan Chan was made a World Heritage Site in the 1990s, things have markedly improved and much of the ancient city has been restored. The nine original districts were strictly segregated) of the city can still clearly be seen but it's probably best to begin your visit in the Gran Chimu Palace area, which has been painstakingly restored to something approaching its former grandeur. Also definitely worth seeing is the Huaca del Dragon complex, where some of the original wall friezes have been beautifully preserved, giving you a real flavour of life in Chimu Chan-Chan.
Temples of the Sun and Moon
Chan Chan is one of the real highlights of any holiday in Peru's north, but to the south of Trujillo are some even older structures... The twin Temples of the Sun and Moon belong to the Moche culture, who were forerunners of the Chimu, and were built in stages from around 300-500AD.
Although seriously damaged by erosion and by human destruction, the pyramid of the Temple of the Sun is still over 40 metres high but was originally much higher. It actually consists of eight temples, each built on top of the previous one. They were all constructed out of adobe bricks (around 130 million of them!) and faced with highly-decorated plaster. Happily, because of this method of construction, the plaster facings of the earlier temples have been preserved by the later constructions, so you can actually see the vivid and evocative murals which were painted on the outside of those early temples.
The neighbouring Temple of the Moon is luckily much less damaged but cannot presently be visited as part of a holiday to Trujillo, beacuse it is subject to on-going archaeological investigation. Because it is much better preserved, several rich graves have been discovered intact, and the bright blacks, reds, blues and yellows of the murals here appear like they were painted yesterday. Although you can't visit the site, some of the finds and many photos are exhibited in the on-site museum.
Getting To and From Trujillo
Trujillo's airport is located to the north of the city, near the beach resort of Huanchaco, but for Peru's third-largest city its flight connections are a bit disappointing, consisting solely of five daily flights to/from Lima.
Connections by road are much better, with regular first-class coach services heading both ways along the Pan-American Highway south to Lima and north to Chiclayo. Services also head up into the Andes to Cajamarca and Huaraz, although the first-class services on these routes tend to only be overnight affairs.
Once you're in Trujillo, you'll find taxis plentiful and cheap - the colonial centre is partly-pedestrianised and in any case very walkable, but if you want to catch a taxi from the centre to either the temples, Chan-Chan or the beachside suburbs of Huanchaco or Buenos Aires, you should be looking at around 10 soles.
Tailor-made Tours in Trujillo
All our holidays in Peru are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours you see above, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Trujillo!
Did you know?
Surfing is really growing in popularity in Peru and you can surf all along the Peruvian coast, but two of the best surf beaches in Peru are just outside Trujillo. The beachside suburb of Huanchaco and the small town of Camana have both hosted ISA World Championship events, so if you fancy hiring a board and getting out in the ocean, you're in the right place!