Northern Peru

In Tucume, Peru's valley of the pyramids

By Nick Rosen

A hot desert valley was once home to one of ancient Peru’s most-impressive cities.

In Tucume, Peru's valley of the pyramids

A pyramid at Túcume (Photo: Erika Quinteros)

It’s amazing to think that anyone lived here, that this valley was once green. Now it is sun-blasted, scorching hot, and the only life is the circling vultures and the rainbow-colored iguanas, like something out of a desert hallucination, skittering across the rocks.

The reminders of past life rise up around me, however, eroded to look more like drip castles than the pyramids they once were. I am in Túcume, the once-grand capital of the Sican culture, Peru’s mythical Valley of the Pyramids.

I am not far from Chiclayo, and even closer to the city of Lambayeque, where the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum serves as one of the major tourist attractions on the north coast. Here at Túcume however, there are few visitors.

It is not hard to get to the site. Combis leave regularly from Chiclayo and Lambayeque, dropping passengers in the modern village of Túcume, from which an quick mototaxi ride leads to the ruins. By car or taxi, it is about a 30 minute ride from Chiclayo.

There are two main trails marked out across the desert plain in Túcume. One leads to Cerro Purgatorio, a craggy hill overlooking the 26 pyramids that comprise the site. The trail winds across the scorched valley, between several of the pyramids, before arriving at a staircase leading to different scenic overlooks on the face of Purgatorio.

The view of Huaca Larga (Photo: Heinz Plege/PromPerú)

From atop the hill, you can appreciate the scale of Túcume. Constructed about 1000 years ago, the complex features over two-dozen pyramids, in various states of erosion. It was founded after nearby Batán Grande was abandoned, and the original settler was rumored to be the grandson of Naymlap, the founder of the Sican culture and a figure you see represented all around Lambayeque. Today, the most prominent ruin at Túcume is the Huaca Larga, an elongated pyramid which extends over 2,000 feet in length.

The other trail leads across the desert to Huaca Las Balsas, a partially-excavated pyramid. Las Balsas is famous for its murals, which focus on ocean themes: waves, sea creatures and marine birds.

My favorite trail in Túcume, however, does not lead to any pyramid. Sweaty and tired from the climb up and down Purgatorio, I head to a little trail leading off from the site museum. It leads into a small, cool forest of carob trees. Birds- red, yellow, blue, gray, brown- shoot overhead and fill the forest with their songs. A bull peers in from a neighboring field. Through the trees, you can see the back side of one of Túcume’s immense pyramids.

The carob forest (Photo: Alex Bryce/PromPerú)

There is a hotel called Los Horcones de Túcume, just outside the archeological site. It was won several architectural awards for its traditional design. The hotel also offers lunch.
Otherwise, you are best off basing yourself in Chiclayo or Lambayeque. A visit to Túcume is easily combined with a visit to Lambayeque’s Royal Tombs Museum. A favorite lunch spot in Lambayeque is El Rincón del Pato, which specializes in duck and has many local specialties on the menu.