The path from Chachapoyas to Trujillo was a 14 hour overnight bus ride that took us out of the Andes and down to the coast via Chiclayo and then south to our final destination. It was our first overnight bus ride and....it was fine. We used Movil Tours on this route and were served a box of chicken and rice and potatoes. The important part was that it was edible – better than your average economy airplane food. The semi-cama seats were more than adequate for us for eating/watching the movies/sleeping and would be for most backpackers, save those who are exceptionally tall. You should either (1) book early enough in advance to snag one of the seats in the first row of the bus as these usually have extra leg room or (2) book cama.
After our restful ride brought us into town, we took a taxi to Munay Wasi Hostel, our base for the evening. Our private double with a shared bath was 70 soles for the night, but what made the experience was the hostel owner, Carmela. A lawyer by trade, she is a fantastic host and introduced us to pisco sours – possibly the best one we had in all of Peru – and spent the evening talking to us with her daughter, drinking pisco sours, and being a fantastic host. We recommend staying with her.
As we only had one night in town, we had to make the most of our time. After settling in and securing our stomachs we jumped in our first combi, or shared minivan, and made our way to Chan Chan, capital of the Chimú people. The largest adobe city in the world, construction began around the mid 9th century and continued until the Incans eventually conquered the area (the latter being a prominent motif in our Peruvian adventures). The main part of the city is made of 10 separate palaces, or ciduadelas as researchers have come to call them. Each king built his own palace where, upon his death, he would be buried (along with wives, servants, and various other individuals so honored) and the new king would move on and build his own palace.
Each new construction followed a pattern that made them very similar to the old palaces, with most sharing many architectural features, such as a water reservoir near the back, two squares for audiences (one public, one private), large areas for storing food, and a special area built to handle everything related to taxes.
All of these areas were surrounded and marked off by large walls, which were then surrounded by even larger walls that delineated the palace grounds (up to nine meters tall). A final set of walls that reached up to 20 meters in height were built to protect the city from the El Ninõ weather from the coast.
Walking through the only palace open to the public, I started to get an impression of what life was like inside the citadel walls. Unlike ritualistic places such as temples (see below), here you walk through the square where commoners could have an audience with their king. You walk through the halls that led to all of the food storage rooms that contained all the taxes paid in the rooms you passed by earlier. You stood on the edge of their water source. Although certainly much different now than it was then, exploring Chan Chan felt more like you were visiting a culture than a set of ruins.
After home-cooking some pasta and spending the evening with our host and those pisco sours, we were up the next morning ready to explore another set of ruins – the Huaca de la Luna.
The temple was the main religious center of the Moche people, who dominated the Moche Valley and more from approximately 100-800. The Chimú of Chan Chan are thought to be an offshoot of this culture that eventually gained control over the same region. The site, while it looks like one large building, is actually five separate temples, each one built on top of the predecessor. Along with its sister Huaca (del Sol), it formed the edges in between which the capital city of the Moche people sprouted.
Being so close to the ocean and experiencing the constant destructive force of El Ninõ and wind and sand water in general, you would expect that the temple would be in terrible condition and nothing of value would be left worth seeing. You would be wrong:
As I said, Huaca de la Luna is a series of temples built on top of each other, each time a little bit bigger. With each new construction, the Moche would fill in the empty spaces with adobe bricks and build the temple out even wider to accommodate the new temple. As a result, the mural work done on some of the earlier temples has been remarkably well preserved. Similar, the main courtyard of the temple faced east, away from the ocean, so it was protected from the destructive power of the sea:
stop in Trujillo was a history lesson that provided a great
introduction to the Moche people and their successors, the Chimú,
who dominated the coast of Peru for hundreds of years.
Both of these sites are easily accessible by public transportation. You could take a taxi to either, but the combis will be much cheaper. To get to Chan Chan, if you're staying in the main oval of town, you can hop on the of the combis on Avenida España headed towards Huanchaco via Avenida Mansiche. Tell the driver you want to get off at Chan Chan and they'll drop you off on Mansiche for 2 Soles per person, from which it's a 10-15 minute walk to the entrance. A guide at Chan Chan will cost 30 Soles, but is well worth the price. If you can, find some travelers either at your hostel or at the site to split the cost. There is a museum that you can go to after the site that's a 20-30 minute walk away. If you're short on time, it's not necessary, but if you have nothing else to do, it provides some decent background information.
Huaca de la Luna is a bit more difficult to get to via combi, but not impossible. We walked to Ovalo Grau where we were able to catch a combi that took us there – double check with your hostel on the name of it as I don't remember it exactly. Grau is a good 20-30 minute walk out of the city center, but it didn't feel dangerous in either direction to us. The combi will drop you off at the ticket office which has a museum as well – go there. It has a ton of artifacts and well presented information. You will appreciate the actual temple more having learned more about the Moche way of life.