A desert metropolis set directly against the (chilly!) Pacific Ocean, Trujillo is Peru’s 3rd largest city, and the de facto economic and cultural capital of Northern Peru. Founded by the Conquistador Francisco Pizzaro in 1535, the history of this area stretches so far back that Pizzarro appears as just another gold-crazed Spaniard that made a somewhat significant blip on history’s ever-updating radar screen. Before Pizzarro were the Chimu, before the Chimu the Moche, and they all made their capital along these dusty valleys and shores. Much more than historic temples and squares, however, modern day Trujillo is a bustling urban center that appears to be a bit rough around the edges, but still packs pockets of genuine charm that make the city well worth a stop on any itinerary of Northern Peru.
Las Huacas y Chan Chan
Of all the archeological areas that are in the immediate Trujillo region, the main two that are worth a visit are The Temples of the Sun and Moon (Las Huacas del Sol y Luna), and the main temple of Chan Chan. The respective capitals of the Moche (100-900AD) and Chimu (900-1470) Kingdoms, Chan Chan was the largest city in all of South America prior to Columbus’ discovery of the New World. With a population that is believed to have numbered close to 30,000 people, the ancient city of Chan Chan is currently a sprawling complex of adobe walls, massive squares, and narrow adobe passageways that connect all of the city’s plazas and residential areas. For anyone who has been to Rome, it is hard to not draw immediate comparisons to the dusty Earth of the Coliseum, and to stand in a place with as much history as Chan Chan is definitely a humbling experience. While the price of admission is valid for 4 different temples in the region, Chan Chan is by far the one and only that is well worth seeing.
While not quite as breathtaking but equally as humbling, La Huaca de La Luna is one of two temples that framed the capital city of the Moche Kingdom that existed over 1700 years ago. Having undergone restoration and archeological work over the past 20 years, diggers have uncovered terraced walls and steps that still contain the paintings of the Moche people unaltered and in their original state. Aside from the frighteningly ancient artwork, one of the more interesting discoveries that has been made is the discovery of caches of adobe bricks that were destined for use in the temple but never made it into any wall. Upon examination, all of the bricks contain a mark that is specific to a Moche family, whose “tax” to the kingdom was that they provide adobe brick for the continued growth of the Temples. Absolutely fascinating.
Huanchaco–The world’s first surf town
Even though the waters here are far too cold for my blood, the town of Huanchaco could potentially be the planet’s first true surf town. A coastal suburb of Trujillo where the sound of crashing waves replaces that of crashing cars, Huanchaco is the place to be for those wanting to experience Trujillo but base themselves in a laidback seaside environment.
Aside from the surf, what makes the town of Huanchaco so significant is it is the home of the caballito de totora, which is the name of the reed boats that have been used by Moche fisherman for thousands of years and are considered to potentially be the world’s first surfing craft. The totoras have sleek, pointed bows to break through the oncoming surf, and the broad stern region of the 17 ft. long vessel is stable enough to support both the rider as well as his daily haul of fish (which is what they were originally intended to be used for). The boats are paddled with a long stalk of thick bamboo, and somewhere along the way a fisherman decided it was simply more fun to ride the boats in the waves than to go and get the town more fish. Sounds like a surfer!
All along the Huanchaco waterfront the totora are displayed for those who want to snap a photo, and for a nominal fee some of the local fisherman will take you out and give you a ride. Other activities in Huanchaco include prime ceviche eating, cheap beer drinking, and an orange sunset on tap directly in front of town each evening. While laidback, the town is quite small and after three days I was ready to move on to other adventures such as…
That’s right. The popular warm-weather cousin of snowboarding is possible less than an hour outside of Trujillo. While the sandboarding is much more popular in the town of Ica much further south, what is great about the sandboarding in Trujillo is that you get to escape way back into the desert and more than likely will be the only person around for miles. Many of the tour operators in town offer sandboarding trips, yet according to our guide Miguel few people actually decide to head back into the hinterland and take to the dunes. Well, all those people are missing out because sandboarding is one of the best activities I have ever done.
Here is why, in the Vagabond’s opinion, sandboarding is such a great sport.
-There isn’t much equipment. Just a wooden board.
-It’s warm. No need for jackets, boots, gloves, etc.
-No lift fees. While tiring, remember that you still have legs. This makes it cheap too.
-Soft landing. It’s sand! Unlike hardpacked ice, it’s impossible to catch an edge and really do much damage to yourself.
Granted, we only went for a single day, but I predict that sandboarding is going to be a sport you’re going to be hearing a LOT more about in the coming years. For more information on sandboarding or to find a dune near you, check out sandboard.com