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Why you really should include Trujillo on your Peru itinerary

Published March 21, 2015 by Nick Dall

I will always have fond memories of Trujillo, because I got engaged at a beachside campsite a few miles north of the city. But even without such rose-tinted lenses, Trujillo is still a fantastic destination and it should be a shoe-in on any Peruvian itinerary.
It’s got great colonial architecture, incredible pre-Inca ruins and year-round warm weather. Add this to the laid-back attitude that goes with being by the beach and the fact that it sees far less toursist pressure than other parts of the country, and you really do have a winner.
Colonial swagger
For a city of nearly 1 million people, Trujillo has a decidedly provincial atmosphere. Its wide streets, temperate climate, flat aspect and sedate traffic make it a lovely place to explore on foot. Nowhere in Peru is safe from earthquakes, but Trujillo has not suffered a large quake since the 1700s. This means that it has some of the best-preserved colonial architecture anywhere in the country. Trujillo’s historical buildings have been repainted in their original colors – blues, ochres and maroons abound – giving the city a refreshing dash of panache.

Trujillo Plaza de Armas Theodore Scott
The city's Plaza de Armas. (Picture: Theodore Scott)

The colonial mansions of Trujillo are famed for their intricate wrought iron window bars and enormous internal patios, and a number of them act as museums and boast original furnishings and ornamentation. There are also myriad colonial churches worth visiting. El Carmen in particular has a delightful collection of paintings, and the mustard-yellow cathedral on the main plaza can’t be missed.
Also well worth a visit is the Museo del Juguete or Toy Museum. It’s owned by a renowned Peruvian artist, and features – among many other exhibits – some pre-Colombian toys.
Incredible Pre-Inca ruins
Two of the most important Pre-Incan sites in Peru are a stone’s throw from Trujillo.
Chan Chan is the largest pre-Colombian city in the whole of South America. It was the centre of the Chimú people for some 700 years, and at its peak it was home to 30 000 people. Constructed out of adobe and located on a coastal plain which receives severe flooding, Chan Chan is definitely not in pristine condition. Having said that, my fiancé and I thoroughly enjoyed our fascinating tour around its expansive grounds: certain sections have been reconstructed to give you an idea of what it was like in its prime; the irrigation system was mind-bogglingly advanced; and the beachside location was dramatic and alluring.

Chan chan motif Micah MacAllen
A motif at Chan Chan. (Picture: Micah MacAllen)

The Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Sun and Moon Pyramids), built by the Moche People, are 700 years older than Chan Chan. The Huaca del Sol is the largest pre-Colombian adobe structure in all of Peru, and although it too has been ravaged by the passage of time, its sheer enormity still makes it a memorable sight. The Huaca de la Luna, on the other hand, is smaller but better preserved – not least because it was largely ignored by the conquistadors who sacked its larger neighbor. Its interior is a labyrinth of intricately decorated rooms containing precious metals, ceramics and the beautiful friezes that the Moche are famous for.
Hit the beach at Huanchaco
Trujillo isn’t actually on the coast, but the beach town of Huanchaco is only 8 miles away. Huanchaco is famous for its caballitos de totora, the reed boats which have been used by Peruvians for 3000 years. The amazing thing is that they’re still the craft of choice for Huanchaco’s many fishermen, and – on a day when the fish aren’t biting – you’ll probably be able to persuade one of the locals to paddle you out beyond the breakers and surf back in. For a small fee, of course.

Huanchaco Pier Geraint Rowland
The pier spied between 'caballitos de totora'. (Picture: Geraint Rowland)

The final word
I’ve always had a soft spot for cities that have mandatory siestas, and Trujillo most definitely falls into this bracket. The people are friendly and relaxed, the historical center of the city is charming, the beaches are good and there are some heavyweight Pre-Incan ruins nearby. And I haven't even got started on the food.
Credit to Geraint Rowland for the cover photo of this blog.