Trujillo and the North Coast
Depending on your perspective, it is either a terrible injustice or happy circumstance that most visitors never see the north coast, which holds much of Peru’s best ruins, untrammeled wilderness, and world-class surf breaks. Because 9 out of 10 foreign tourists begin in Machu Picchu in the south, the average visitor simply runs out of time.
Peru’s north coast, however, is one of the richest and most diverse archaeological zones in all of the Americas. An ocean teeming with fish and desert coastline punctuated by verdant river valleys formed a cradle of civilization comparable to Egypt or Babylon. The most important cultures were the Moche, Chimú, and Sicán empires, who built elaborate adobe cities over a millennia and a half before being conquered by the Inca around 1470.
Little was known about these cultures because the Incas carefully erased memory of them in order to consolidate their own power. But in the late 1980s, the world glimpsed the splendor of these forgotten civilizations when archaeologists unearthed royal tombs from the Moche and Sicán cultures. The tombs, somehow overlooked by 500 years of diligent grave robbers, were filled with exquisite works in gold and silver, including gigantic earrings, breastplates, and delicately worked spiders perched on webs of gold.
The tombs gave archaeologists their first clear understanding of the complex social and religious structure of these northern empires. The objects found in the tombs are now on display in two fabulous new museums outside of Chiclayo: Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán and Museo Sicán.
The great cities of the north collapsed after being conquered by the Inca in the 1470s. By the time the Spaniards rode into the area six decades later, the Chimú city of Chan Chan had been reduced to ruins. The Huaca de la Luna, abandoned in A.D. 800 by the Moche, looked much as it does today—an eroding mountain of adobe bricks. Near this spot Gonzalo Pizarro founded Trujillo, an important colonial city that today contains Peru’s best collection of colonial homes.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition