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krisek Huanchaco - A travel report by Krys
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Huanchaco,  Peru - flag Peru -  La Libertad
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krisek's travel reports

Peru Trilogy. 3. Trujillo, Huanchaco & Chan Chan

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True might of the ancient Chimu civilisation is being gradually discovered. Excavations continue. The most remarkable palaces of Chan Chan only begin to tell the story. Not all sites are open to visitors but there’s pretty colonial Trujillo next door.

Chan Chan, Palacio Tschudi
Chan Chan, Palacio Tschudi
Trujillo had a very pleasant colonial centre with brightly coloured facades. Low buildings dominated in the city, due to ever-present danger of earthquakes. The architecture was unmistakably Spanish-inspired but it was simple and lovely. The people in Trujillo are very well dressed and there was no-one wearing traditional clothing. I think it was the first large city in Peru where I noticed that.

Unfortunately, the coastal towns in Peru were prone to higher level of crime. I will always remember Trujillo as a town of cheaters in the street around Plaza Mayor who nagged to exchange currency with them. They offered better exchange rates but handed forged money in exchange.

Anyway, although lovely, Trujillo was not a key destination for me in the area. The monuments remaining from the Chimu civilisation were. I didn’t actually stay overnight in Trujillo at all. Instead, I chose a fishing village Huanchaco, a few miles north, famous for its reed boats called caballitos, which were similar to those used on the Lake Titicaca, however with a difference that those on the coast, have one flat end. Caballitos, the totora reed boats, in large numbers stood up along the coast, and I thought it would be difficult to find them! Firstly, I thought they were just for decoration, but when I saw a man coming from the ocean on one of them, I knew I was wrong. I remained amazed however, how those little, single-man boats managed to overcome the power of those mighty waves?!

Huanchaco was small and cute, complete with good beach and brilliant surfing conditions. The beach wasn’t the cleanest in the world, but hey – it was sandy. The surfing conditions were said to be among the best on the planet. The waves were long and high. There were many people arriving for them (and a bit farther in the north) to try their skills. Even small kids surfed! Anyway, to stay in the village was so much more pleasant than in Trujillo, although it was a little farther to the Chimu and Moche sites.

Favourite spots:
Chan Chan, Palacio Tschudi
Chan Chan, Palacio Tschudi
Chan Chan is on the UNESCO list and let me, again, quote what’s said about it: “The Chimu Kingdom, with Chan Chan as its capital, reached its apogee in the 15th century, not long before falling to the Incas. The planning of this huge city, the largest in pre-Columbian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by the city's division into nine 'citadels' or 'palaces' forming autonomous units.”

The site is in danger, as the city is built entirely of mud. The site of Chan Chan, with the very impressive Palace Tschudi, walled around with many surviving decorations on buildings, narrow passages, thick walls, impressed me the most. The site was unexpectedly magnificent and vast. It was so large that a modern road runs through this ancient mud city. The site felt like Egypt but the structures weren’t made of granite or any other stone but of mud. However, I could not resist this comparison, particularly as the Moche people were building pyramids just like the Egyptians.

What's really great:
Huaca del Dragon
Huaca del Dragon
I began wondering how coincidental this must be because the civilisations were so remotely located one from another. Is there a way that they could have known about one another, is the hypothesis of Mr. von Dänicken a better explanation?

The pyramids of Chimu are called huacas. Not all were spared by the time to leave them impressive. The Huaca La Esmeralda wasn’t that pretty and was located in a dangerous area. It was small and poorly restored. There were virtually no decorations and the pyramid looked like a heap of sand.

Huaca del Dragon, sometimes called Huaca del Arco Iris, because the main decoration of the structure was a couple of dragons under a rainbow, was much better. Rainbow in the Chimu culture had an important representation in one of the powerful deities. This huaca wasn’t very tall, but spread out with its large base and the delicate and fragile decorations. After the rains they are ruined. Each time! It was great to see their structure remains and can be restored.

Huaca de la Luna
Huaca de la Luna
The large Huaca del Sol was the greatest disappointment. It was left to its own and to the desert. It was almost completely ruined and required much imagination to see that once it was a pyramid - one of the largest in its time on this planet. Huaca de la Luna, much smaller than its sister, at the other hand was beautifully decorated and it seemed that time for all the centuries did little damage. Even the colour remained. The paintings were magical. There were geometric forms, faces, fauna and flora - black, yellow, brown and red. And they were extensive. If all pyramids in the area were once so richly decorated, it must have been unbelievably gorgeous. Visiting of Huaca de la Luna was well organised and together with Chan Chan clearly demonstrated how great and artistically sensitive the Chimu and the Moche people once were.

The best way to visit the spread out in the area pyramids, palaces and citadels is to hire a taxi for half a day. Visiting everything would take about 5 hours.

Huaca de la Luna
Huaca de la Luna
Although the main sites are closer, or in fact within, Trujillo, it was cheaper and more pleasant to stay in Huanchaco, which was just $5 taxi ride ($0.3 bus ride) or 15 kilometres away. Actually, Chan Chan’s Palace Tschudi was half way between Trujillo and Huanchaco. Trujillo might have been more glamorous with its stunning colonial mansions, churches, palaces and expensive hotels but the little village was more relaxing and right next to the beach.

I stayed at Hostal Bracamonte ($25), at the southern end of the village. The hotel had multiple qualities. Its swimming pool was clean and the friendly waiting staff would fetch anything from the bar or kitchen right there. The rooms were nice, the shower was clean and hot water was available any time. But perhaps the best ones were their fruit salads served with yogurt or pancakes with fresh fruit!

While Trujillo would dazzle with the magnitude of bars and places to go out every night, Huanchaco was sleepy all week and only weekends would see crowds wandering around, stumbling in the few bars at the waterfront. The crowd was a mix of local folk and the travelling surfers. I have not come across a disco or a nightclub in the village but those were just 20 minutes away in Trujillo, such as Las Tinajas at the main piazza playing live music and the extremely popular Luna Rota, but the latter could sometimes see a bit of trouble as the local guys (and girls) compete with one another and are generally very jealous. As long as people remain partying and drinking Huanchaco bars were open until the last customers. And there were a few drinking holes in the side streets, more popular with the fishermen.

Trujillo Plaza Mayor
Trujillo Plaza Mayor
Trujillo is a third largest city in Peru, and similarly to Arequipa there was a large number of cafes and places to relax. However, the Plaza Mayor (I think this could be the one that for a change is not officially named Plaza de Armas) wasn’t as attractive as the one in Arequipa. It was spacious and there were large solid benches, tall and gracious palm trees, and a gigantic and strange monument in the centre. The benches were popular among the locals, who liked to stretch our on them after lunch and snooze. There was also one pedestrianised street with shops and little cafes, and carts selling souvenirs and snacks. But other side streets stretching out from the Plaza Mayor were also good for wandering about.

In Huanchaco, the pier was a good spot to watch the fishermen taking their caballitos out in the sea or coming back home. The beach was the obvious spot for snoozing and relaxing. But at the top of a hill there was a picturesque little church with a yard, benches and great views.

Huanchaco sunset
Huanchaco sunset
Huanchaco had another quality. It was brilliant for seafood. There were a number of restaurants at the ocean front, and almost all of them had local crowd in them, indicating that food must have been good there. I went to Estrella Marina and fell in love with giant shrimp in garlic sauce ($8). I couldn’t believe how great the cook could make it. Many people were talking about the restaurant, which strangely had slightly erratic opening hours. I went there once and I could not come back. It was always closed. I was lucky that the next door place, Lucho del Mar was also good. It wasn’t as good but their food was yummy (grilled fresh catch of the day $4, grilled shrimps $6) and the drinks were cold. The tables facing the ocean were the best! They were perfect for dining at sunset, as the silhouettes of the caballitos on the beach contrasted against the golden sky. Actually, it was a good place to linger and kill time while replenishing the liquids in the body.

Other recommendations:
Huanchaco cabalitos
Huanchaco cabalitos
Another plus of visiting Huanchaco were really cheap pearls. They came in three different colours: pearl, pink and black. Necklaces, bracelets and earrings were the most popular shapes and variations they were being sold in.

Certain Chimu and Moche monuments were still being excavated in the area. Some places were open with free access, but some, mainly the more important ones (like El Brujo), were off limits for tourists or a special permit was required from the archaeological authorities or a national cultural centre in Trujillo. Well, it was fascinating to see some of the digging and restoration work. The thing was that the sites were incredibly extensive and the excavation work was still largely in the discovery mode. It will take years before the full story of the civilisations and cultures is uncovered.

Published on Saturday March 22th, 2008

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Sun, Mar 23 2008 - 01:20 PM rating by rangutan

So few get to explore Peru north of Lima, I didn't, this very valuable information.

Sun, Mar 23 2008 - 05:28 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Nice end to your Peruvian trilogy.

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 04:23 PM rating by eirekay

Marvelous Report! Your pictures add the perfect touch!

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 04:05 PM rating by davidx

As good and interesting as I hoped.

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