Northern Peru

Peru: Visit the archaeological wonders of the North

By Raúl Alarcón for El Comercio
Translated and adapted by Rachel Chase

Inca ruins are so mainstream. If you’re looking for something different, head to northern Peru to see some of the country’s most impressive archaeological sites from other pre-Columbian cultures.

Peru: Visit the archaeological wonders of the North

(Photo: Veronique Debord-Lazaro/Flickr)

The tomb of the Lord of Sipán was revealed 26 years ago, an event that marked a milestone in terms of archaeology in Peru.

The interest [in archaeology] that was stirred up was significant enough that further projects were funded, [some of which] brought with them important finds. This, combined with the other attractions of the northern región of Peru— like the pleasant weather and famous food— have made the zone one of the most-visited areas in Peru.

Starting point

Chan Chan is the starting point of the Moche Route. Located just ten minutes from the center of Trujillo, it is considered the largest mud-brick city in the Americas.

Chan Chan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed by the Chimú people around 850 AD and housed around 30,000 people at its peak.

Its main attractions include the imposing main plaza, where rituals were celebrates, the hall of the birds and fish, the pavilions that were used for offerings, the funerary chamber, and the room of 24 niches. Using your entrance ticket (S/. 11), you can also visit the site’s museum, as well as the Emerald and Rainbow huacas nearby.

If you arrive early at Chan Chan, you’ll have time to head up to Huanchaco for lunch. This lovely seaside resort is known for its preservation of the ancient technique of fishing in small reed boats called caballitos de totora. It’s also a favorite spot for both local and international surfers.

Another can’t-miss spot is the El Brujo (“The Sorcerer”) archaeological complex (entrance fee: S/. 11). El Brujo is located in the Chicama valley, an hour away from the city. This site is famous for being home to the Huaca Cao, where the remains of the first elite pre-Columbian woman were found in Peru. In this ceremonial center, you can see murales, as well as friezes that depict dancers and prisoners.

To learn more about how they found the mummy— as well as see the mummy for yourself— you can visit the Huaca Cao museum, where they’ve built a very carefully controlled pace that has been climatized for the mummy’s preservation.

No trip to the north is complete without a visit to the Huaca de la Luna (“the Huaca of the Moon,” entry fee S/. 11). Travelers should first visit the Huacas de Moche museum, where they can see a number of important objects that help us to better understand the Moche cosmovision.

You can see ceramic artifacts, like the blind priest with scars on his face, as well as the feline mantel that’s covered in sheets of gold on a base of cotton, leather, and feathers.

Later, you can visit the Huaca de la Luna, the impressive ceremonial site where friezes depicting religious rituals, daily activities, and portraits of the highest Moche god, the terrible Ai Apaec, can be seen.

The Legacy of Lambayeque

Lambayeque is famous for being home to the the Royal Tombs of Sipán museum (entry fee: S/. 10), a space designed in the image of a pyramid where visitors can learn about how archaeologists discovered the high sovereign of the Moche. The Bruning Museum is nearby (entry fee: S/. 8), where important finds from the Moche, Chimú, and Sicán cultures are on display.

If you want to visit the place where the Lord of Sipán was discovered, you can visit the Huaca Rajada, which is an hour away from the center of Chiclayo. There, visitors can see the excavation site and the onsite museum with several artifacts (entry fee: S/. 8).

Lasting history

The Historical Sanctuary of Pomac, in Ferreñafe, was the epicenter of the Sicán culture. The site contains two important huacas: the Huaca Loro and Huaca Las Ventanas, where tombs and pieces have been found. Artifacts can be seen at the National Sicán Museum (entry fee S/. 8).

The main attraction at this site is the re-creation of a tomb, in which four women are arranged around a man wearing a gold mask. The scene is a reference to birth, indicating that the Sicán people may have believed in reincarnation.

Just a few minutes away, you’ll find Túcume, made up of 26 different pyramids, including the Huaca Larga and the Templo de la Piedra Sagrada. There, visitors can see reliefs of birds and fish, characteristic of Moche civilization.

Interested in taking a trip to northern Peru to see some of the country’s most impressive archaeological sites? Check out our partner site, Peru Experience.

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