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Tips for visiting Trujillo, Peru

Trujillo is a colonial city on the north coast of Peru. It is the capital of the province of Trujillo and the third most populous city in Peru. The city is known for its rich culture and historical heritage, as well as its beautiful beaches and warm climate. The atmosphere feels very authentic and is noticeably less crowded and touristy. Trujillo is a very picturesque city but the main highlight is not the historical centre with its lovely colonial homes -- it is the amazing pre-Columbian ruins in the area.

I selected a small family-run (and very affordable) hotel called Stenua - Las Quintanas, located in the Las Quintanas neighbourhood, just steps away from the main square, Plaza de Armas. I was delighted and surprised by my host meeting me at the airport. I had a lovely room with a mini-kitchen.

Estadio Manisiche

Estadio Mansiche is the biggest stadium in the city and the home of many athletic clubs. The stadium complex also has a running track, a swimming pool, and other facilities. with many playing fields for soccer/football, basketball, and volleyball. It was always a busy place every time I walked past on my way to Plaza de Armas.

Historical Centre

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the historic centre includes many important buildings and landmarks including the Plaza de Armas, the Trujillo Cathedral and the Casa de la Emancipación. It's a fairly small area and can be easily explored on foot.

Like every Peruvian city (that I visited), the main plaza is called The Plaza de Armas. In Trujillo, it is a large square lined by businesses and streets radiating out into the other commercial areas. The surrounding buildings are colourful and ornate. In the centre is a large monument known as La Libertad. It is an obvious gathering spot for people. The benches were always filled with friends and family groups.

The Ruins

Any visit to Trujillo must include the pre-Columbian ruins surrounding the city. The highlight is undoubtedly Chan Chan, but Huaca Esmeralda and Huacas del Sol y de la Luna are included in your ticket price and should also be on your list. Sadly, there is not a lot of money or political will put towards archeological excavation and conservation. Security is often lax. That is certainly not unusual for nations with struggling economies. Climate changes bringing increased rainfall is accelerating erosion of the adobe construction. Tourist money is extremely important for any ongoing projects.

Do not expect audio guides or informative signage in any language. Plan to hire a guide if you want information about the sites and the people who lived there. Ask your hotel or host for guide recommendations.

Huaca Esmeralda

Tickets to Huaca Esmeralda include entry to Chan Chan and Huaco Arco Iris as well. All are located fairly close to each other and there is collectivo and bus service available. There are also day tours available from various tour offices in Plaza de Armas. My host suggested a local driver and guide at such a reasonable rate, that I chose that option. On-site information is pretty sparse, so you might want to consider that when you choose your transportation.

Huaca Esmeralda is located right in the middle of a local neighbourhood and is surrounded by a large fence. As we arrived, it appeared closed but Pedro pounded the gate and yelled a couple of times and soon the guard soon appeared.

Huaca Esmeralda is a Chimú temple that was discovered in 1923 and has suffered a lot of weather damage since then. The fairly recent addition of an open roof over some of the temple has slowed the erosion. It is thought that Huaca Esmeralda was once the palace of a great Chimú leader however very little archaeological study has been done and it isn't clear who Esmeralda was. The temple is made of adobe bricks and has three terraces, with the lower two terraces connected by a very steep ramp.

The walls are carved with geometric relief patterns and many depictions of daily life, including animals, both local and exotic.

This site also protects a group of viringos, an endangered native breed of hairless dog. I have to admit that my first reaction was that there was something terribly unhealthy about these truly ugly dogs.

On the contrary, they are much-loved animals with cozy beds, quality veterinary care, and a team of loving caregivers who are committed to the protection and expansion of the breed. I was told that these dogs were traditionally used to ease arthritis with their warmer-than-normal body temperatures.

Huacas del Sol y de la Luna Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon) are examples of the Moche culture that inhabited the area about 700 years prior to the Chimú. Tourists cannot visit the Sun Temple and it is very unlikely that will change in the near future. The Temple of the Moon is opposite the Sun Temple. All visitors must be accompanied by a guide.

The Moon temple is significantly smaller than the Sun Temple but is still a very large site. Much of the site has been protected within semi-enclosed structures. The walk to the entrance high above the valley is steep. Every hundred years or so, the Moche would cover the entire temple with mud and build a new (and bigger) temple on top and surrounding the previous one.

The Moche culture used ritual sacrifices as part of their ceremonies. This natural rock surrounded by the adobe was likely used for sacrifices.

Archeologists discovered six layers of temples in the Temple of the Moon. By closing off the former temples in mud, the beautiful paintings and carvings were preserved, with much of the vibrant colour remaining.

As the new temple grew around the former the walls grew taller and more elaborately decorated. Each row of reliefs shows a different aspect of Moche life with slaves and locals at the bottom.

Battle scenes are common.

From the Moon Temple, visitors can look across to the Sun Temple. When the Spanish arrived, they had two goals: to convert locals to Catholicism and to acquire as much gold and silver as possible. The temple was known to be a burial area for the kings who were interred with gifts and wealth to take with them to the next world and a place of ceremonial and religious importance. It needed to be destroyed but the treasures needed to be recovered.

Instead of getting soldiers and slaves to dig out the temple, the Spanish decided to divert the local river to wash away the mud. This made looting the burial treasures of the temple much easier and destroyed the temple.

Chan Chan

Chan Chan is the jewel of the pre-Columbian ruins in the area. It was considered a masterpiece of Chimú culture at the time and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was built around 900 AD, lasting until the Incas conquered the area in the late 15th century. Chan Chan is the largest adobe (mud brick) city in the world. Experts believe that the complex's population was somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 people.

Upon arrival in the area, it appears that it is just a big open desert area with some adobe walls. Those "dunes" are actually un-excavated palaces. There are nine palaces in the Chan Chan complex, but it is only possible to explore one site properly - the Nik An Palace. Nik An's complex is partially restored, and more importantly, it is better-protected against the changing climate.

When a king of Chan Chan died, the new king did not move into the old palace but, instead, built a new one. Chan Chan was also a large burial site as Chimú people sacrificed animals and humans. When the king died, all his wives were poisoned and also buried in the complex.

Other Things to Do

If you have a bit more time to explore, here's a couple more ideas.


Trujillo is also known for its beautiful, long sandy beaches on the Pacific Ocean. One of the most popular beaches is in Huanchaco.

Huanchaco, a suburb of Trujillo, is known for surfing and reed boats. Fishermen straddle the middle and paddle the reed boats with a bamboo stick. The space at the rear of these boats is used for storing equipment and their catch. The local fishermen still use these. Visitors can also rent one which comes with a brief lesson.

Cabellero Demonstration

Another interesting thing to do while in Trujillo is to attend a cabellero demonstration. I had spent most of my travels in Peru exploring the ancient cultures but a recurring theme in Perú is the influence of the Spanish colonial rule. Caballero means gentlemen. In colonial times, gentlemen were the only ones who could afford horses. Exceptional and agile riding skills originally intended for war became a form of sport and entertainment amongst the wealthy class. I visited Casa de Campo to enjoy a 45-minute show at a cost of 10/s. I enjoyed the skills and costumes of the riders and dancers very much.

The performance was high-energy and each of the riders and dancers showed great talent. While I enjoyed the show, I was less impressed with the high-pressure tactics to sell unappetizing food, weak drinks, cheap souvenirs, and repeated tip requests.

Overall, Trujillo is a vibrant and exciting city that offers something for everyone. Its rich cultural and historical heritage, beautiful beaches, and warm climate make it a great destination for tourists from around the world. Whether you're interested in exploring the city's historic centre, visiting the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, or relaxing on one of its many beautiful beaches, Trujillo has something to offer.


Thanks for meandering with me! Use the comments section to tell me about your visit to the area or to add your recommendations or just say hi! Share the link with a travelling friend. Become a member to get notified of new content, access to our members' forum, and a monthly newsletter.


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