Trujillo and La Libertdad, PerU

Story & photos © Raghbir Jin

Part four: The Incan Empire

Moving onward from the megalithic stone structures and Andean mountain backdrop at the centre of the old Incan empire to the adobe-built marvels of Trujillo and Huanchaco on Perú's northern desert coast is like shifting to a different world entirely.


Though the area fell to the Incas in the late 15th century, Trujillo was originally a group of four villages -- Huanchaco, Mampuesto, Moche and Huamán -- which were founded by the Moches between 100 and 800 A.D. and further developed by the Chimú until 1470.


With only 50 years of reign over the area before the Spanish conquest, the Incas didn't leave too much of a legacy in the area. The ruins that remain are left over from the area's original inhabitants, giving a look into pre-columbian coastal life and adding contrast to the already diverse regional history in the Incan empire.


The area is absolutely ripe with diversions for any kind of traveller. In Huanchaco, kids on longboards cruise along the road parallel to the beach, passing fruit vendors and artisan markets. Palm trees sway in the breeze as surfers share the waves with fishermen on "caballitos de totora" -- literally "little reed horses" -- which are the same reed kayaks the area's fisherman have straddled for 3000 years.


The waves here are known for being incredibly similar to that of Hawaii, drawing both experienced and beginner surfers from all over the world. Two-level, thatched-roof pubs on the waterfront provide a relaxing oasis to take in the views and the fresh air, offering enormous seafood dishes for unreasonably affordable prices. But it's the pure, laid-back vibe this village gives that makes it a real treat regardless of the activity.


For those in search of ruins, the Trujillo area doesn't disappoint. Five kilometres from the city lies Chan Chan, the largest pre-columbian city in the Americas, built around 850 A.D. by the Chimú. This ruin covers 20 square kilometres of the desert terrain, built entirely with adobe mud. The city is enclosed with 50-foot-high walls on all sides, containing a vast network of decorated sites and sections one could lose themselves in for hours.


A series of other adobe pyramids and temples skirt the city, including the largest adobe structure in the Americas, Huaca del Sol (sacred place of the sun), and the adjacent Huaca de la Luna (sacred place of the moon).


Huaca de la Luna, built around 450 A.D. by the Moches, requires visitors to be accompanied by a guide, which is helpful. The labyrinth of areas and stairways have more of a story than meets the eye. The guide explains the culture that grew within the walls of the temple as well as the methods used to construct the walls themselves.


The Huaca del Sol, though an impressive sight visible from the Huaca de la Luna, was severely damaged by the Spanish conquistadores and erosion and isn't open to tours.


Other ruins around Trujillo include smaller pyramids such as Huaca del Dragón and Huaca Esmeralda, and a few area museums. Several local taxi services offer day-long taxi rentals which take you to all of the sites surrounding Trujillo as well as Huanchaco for lunch or dinner. The day costs about $35 for the taxi rental, $5 to enter the Huacas del Sol y la Luna and their adjacent museum, and $5 for a ticket that allows you to enter Chan Chan, two other neighbouring Huacas and the Chan Chan museum.


The impressive "Brujo" ruins about 60 kms to the north of Trujillo, also built by the Moches between 100 and 400 A.D., require almost a day of their own. They're more expensive to get to by taxi, but busses offer more economical service to the ruins.


Trujillo is also known for the unique architecture of the churches, cathedrals and mansions throughout the city, dating back to the Spanish colonialists. The city was once a regular target for pirate attacks, leading to a fortified style of construction with elaborate bars and rails on the windows. Spanish-style balconies adorn the brightly-coloured adobe walls, making the historical downtown a brilliant sight from any angle. The cathedrals are embellished with ornate paintings, murals and rococo-style pulpits and altars.


A foot tour of the downtown core, either with a free city map or a hired guide, is one of the best ways to take in the history; a taxi may be required to see some of the further-off destinations.


Sport-fishing excursions on the Pacific, Marinera dance lessons and equestrian events are just some of the other events Trujillo offers its visitors. As the third-largest metropolis in Perú and a fully-developed city, there are literally endless amounts of entertainment and activities.