chan chan

Peru is, without a doubt, one of the countries with the most tourist attractions full of mystery and ancient history in all of America. Among its numerous archaeological sites, besides Machu Picchu, there is an ancient place that is considered the largest mud city in the world, as well as the oldest. We refer to the Chan Chan archaeological zone. This ancient mud city is very close to Trujillo, an important north Peruvian city, and its structure as well as the culture that hosted are considered very advanced for the time in which they coexisted. For this reason, together with the travel experts of Machu Travel Peru, we want to tell you everything about the archaeological complex. Within this small article, we will take a look at this incredible place and its main characteristics.

Everything you need to know about the ancient and largest mud city worldwide

What was Chan Chan?

chan chan location

It was the largest mud city in the world belonging to Chimu, pre-Inca culture. This civilization flourished between 1200 and 1465 and its adobe city contained over 10,000 well-decorated buildings with beautiful walls at its peak and was home to an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 residents. Although this ancient mud city is located on a desert strip of the Peruvian coast, it is believed that at the time there were numerous gardens and green areas due to the advanced irrigation systems of Chimus.

Today, part of that beauty is preserved and can be appreciated. Therefore, it has declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

Chan Chan location

chan chan description

The large mud city is located just a short 5 kilometers from the west side of Trujillo, a north Peruvian city, so getting there is usually not a major problem. Exactly, this large adobe city is situated in the Moche Valley, within the Huanchaco (district of Trujillo) The entire complex covers approximately 20 square kilometers and served as an administrative, commercial, and political center of pre-Inca culture Chimu. Therefore, to enjoy true tourism in Peru and this awesome mud city it is better to start by knowing the beautiful city of Trujillo and the history of the Chimu civilization, and when you feel ready, you can start your journey to this great mud city.

History of Chan Chan

chan chan about the chimu kingdom

This mud city was the ancient capital of the Chimú kingdom. The capital city was built over more than 20 square kilometers of desert land and mud. Its construction lasted within the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the Christian era. The result was worth it, the entire city was made up of numerous streets, walls, buildings, pyramid temples, and other important palaces. The different structures shaped the different “neighborhoods” inserted in 10 “walled-citadels”. For this reason, it is believed that the entire civilization of the Chimus was quite advanced for their time. Also, despite the Incas arrival (conquest), the Chimu people kept their great city, even their costumes, traditions, and gods. However, with the arrival of the Spanish, they fell into oblivion. This constitutes one of the most important facts about Peru and the beginning of the debacle of the once-great Chimu culture.

An encounter with the Incas

sculpture in chan chan

It was in 1470 when Tupac Yupanqui completely besieged the city of mud, cutting off their water supplies and canals. In this form, they left northern civilization completely cut off. In consequence, the population surrendered immediately. However, the majority of them chose to continue inhabiting the area with the permission of the Incas. It’s believed the population was reduced to a mere 10,000 inhabitants after this defeat.

Some thirty years later, the Chimú decided to rise against the Incas, but their effort was in vain. Huayna Capac together with his army put down the rebellion, making the great city of mud uninhabited and causing it minor damage. However, the rebellion was one of the endpoints of the Chimú culture.

With the arrival of the Spanish, the city was completely looted, in the search of European people for gold treasures, losing numerous valuables such as gems, gold, silver, and much more.

Today, its magnificence and beauty still persist, and It is a must-see for those seeking to learn about the ancient history of America.

The Chimu kingdom

chan chan legacy of the chimu

The Chimu kingdom was one of the civilizations that reached its peak during the 15th century. But just during their height, a south Peruvian civilization was reaching even more development, the Inca culture. In this form, around 1470 it was when it fell into the hands of the Inca Empire.

The capital of this civilization was known as Chan Chan and was located in the river valley of Moche. It was a citadel built entirely with adobe. The different vestiges and remains reflect in its construction of a clear and strict political and social strategy. This is emphasized by its division into ten palaces or citadels that formed independent units within the same city.

The Chimu kingdom ruled from Chan Chan capital and for two centuries it was the main state of the north of the Andean country and is one of the most famous places in Peru these times. The Chimu kingdom stretched roughly from Piura in the north to Paramonga in the south. The economy of the empire was based exclusively on agriculture, besides fishing and goldsmith.

Also, many scholars affirm that the kingdom had elaborated a hierarchical well-defined system of social classes, where the Chimuc Capac was the sovereign of everything, and the Curacas (chief) were nobles and owners of lands, besides managers of subject peoples. Next on the list were the middle-upper-class people, who benefited from the harvest of the land, they were assistants to the Curacas (chief), and they had certain privileges. The farmers were the workforce of the empire, dedicated to fishing, agriculture, crafts, and trade. Finally, the servants dedicated their lives to serving Chimuc Capac and the Curacas.

The artisans produced fine fabrics and objects of gold, silver, and copper. In addition, there were numerous ceramic works produced with standardized designs and in molds.

The Quingnam language

chan chan jewel worth seeing

The Chimú spoke Quingnam, a fascinating now-extinct language. This idiom was derived from the language of a predecessor culture called Mochica. The Quingnam was fascinating because its sound was guttural, a bit scary, according to the writings of Calancha priest, an ancient chronicler who studied the zone in 1653. Unfortunately, this disappeared once the Spanish conquered the Incas and, consequently, razed the great city of mud in search of gold and silver.

To increase misfortune, the Chimu, neither the Incas, left an explicit writing system. Therefore it is not possible to know exactly what this language was to sound like. Between 1465 and 1470 was when the Chimu fell under Inca rule, and consecutively under Spanish dominion. The few Chimu historical and mythological traditions were recorded by Spanish writers after the conquest, but they were insufficient to understand this great culture.

Legacy of the Chimu

ceramics in chan chan

Although this civilization has been forgotten, the legacy of the Chimu culture remains in Peru. And it is suspected that despite the continued erosion of the mud city, there is still much to discover. In fact, in October 2018 some Peruvian experts working in the archaeological zone found some interesting findings. In the area, 19 idols carved in wood that had ceramic masks were found. These idols are believed had the function of protecting a specific area of ​​the wonderful mud city. There is no doubt that the incredible architecture and its great secrets attract thousands of local and foreign tourists. Not in vain, the importance of this wonderful place is so great that made that UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1986.

Mud-city architecture

chan chan architecture

The way how it was planned hierarchically is why this large mud city can be considered one of the most amazing archaeological treasures in Peru. Since the remains of industrial, agricultural, and fluvial systems are included in its design. Therefore, there is no doubt that the great monumental area in the center of the city was previously larger since most of the complex was protected by high walls well-decorated. Without mentioning that this was the main setting for various celebrations, rituals, and activities. Some of these walls still stand and reach a height of up to 15 meters (50 feet) and have a single access, thus facilitating the control of who entered and exited.

The citadels had some rectangular fenced areas and were divided into three major sectors. The northern sector was usually a plaza that led to certain warehouses or audiences. The Central sector, where most of the buildings were located in the complex, and the South sector, where vestiges of kitchens and bedrooms were found. Even the walls surrounding the palaces had beautiful reliefs with geometric and zoomorphic designs. Happily, many of these last ones still stand.

The highest-ranking rulers and nobles settled in the center of the city. Precisely in the palaces or small citadels that were limited by high walls. It seems that each complex was destined for a ruler with his entourage of government. Also, around these 9 citadels, there were about thirty enclosures with very great similarities to that of the palaces of sovereigns. These had their water wells, patios, and reservoirs. It is believed that the lower-ranking nobles (Curacas) lived in these surrounding spaces.

Chan Chan walls

chan chan history

During a guided tour through the different palaces, you will be able to observe ancestral scenery, where beautiful tiles with high-relief decorations cover the murals. On the different walls, you will be able to see large representations of fish both on the left and on the right. This could be interpreted as the two currents that distinguish the Peruvian coast. Both the Humboldt current in the south and the El Niño current that comes from the north. You can also see wave designs, fishing nets, and pelicans.

Chan Chan deterioration

deterioration in chan chan

After the looting carried out by the Spanish during their conquests, not much of the great Chimu culture remained. Even much of the old and true city has already disappeared. It is believed that previously this beautiful city occupied much more space than today (20 square kilometers approx). This is not to mention that there is no real guarantee that the few adobe buildings can remain standing for much longer. Increasing climate change (high humidity) and the El Niño weather phenomenon (Torrential rains) endanger this marvelous architectural work of the ancient world.

As we mentioned, the torrential rains and possible floods that El Niño brings are a constant danger. In addition, the strong saline winds from the Pacific Ocean damage structures that are only composed of land. Continual erosion continues to jeopardize these construction marvels. Therefore, this Chimu wonder has to be on your list of the best things to do In Peru as soon as possible. To visit it, paying your ticket entrance contributes to its conservation and facing these natural threats.

The best way to get to Chan Chan

chan chan hierarchy represented spaces

If you are in Lima (The entrance door of any visitor to Peru. The international airport and the marine port of Callao are located there), you can get to Trujillo on a short trip by plane, bus, or private car.

1. From Lima to Trujillo by bus, airplane, or private car

chan chan and trujillo airport

From Lima to Trujillo, there are about 560 kilometers or 350 miles. Depending on your available time, you can enjoy the landscapes by bus. Each bus company has its own terminal in Lima and, generally, departs every day to Trujillo, the cost of the bus ticket is around $22, and you can buy them online. The bus trip lasts from 8 to 10 hours. The most popular bus companies are Cruz del Sur, Movil Tours, Civa, and Ormeño.

Or simply save time and take a flight. In the same way, the flight frequency between Lima and Trujillo and vice versa are diary. A flight ticket costs around $55 – $65, you can buy them online and the flight lasts around 35 minutes. The most known flight companies are LATAM, Sky Airlines, Viva Air, and Jet Smart.

If you chose to hire a private car to get to Trujillo, you can travel at your own pace following the Pan-American highway (the highway that follows parallel along all South American coasts) since Lima and Trujillo are located on the Peruvian coast. The car trip lasts around 08 – 10 hrs, however, the car rental is not cheap, you can spend around $100 to $120 per day, without mentioning the guaranteed amount that you have to pay in advance (around $500). Of course, this amount is refunded at the finish of the rent, with the car in the same condition that it was given.

2. From Trujillo to Chan Chan

how to get to chan chan

When you arrive in Trujillo, you can tour the city or start your adventure immediately. To get to the city of adobe, you can take a bus to Huanchaco (It is a beach and the main tourist destination of the city), of course, previously you’ll have to indicate to the driver that you want to get off halfway, in Chan Chan parallel. The bus ticket cost around $1 – $2. These buses will leave you 1 km from the archaeological park. From this point, you can walk or take a taxi (there are many of them waiting for passengers) up to the archaeological park. The taxi cost around $2.

Or, you can take a taxi directly from Trujillo to mud city, the taxi service cost around $5 – $8.

If you are in Huanchaco, in the same way, you can take a bus heading to Trujillo and indicate to the driver to drop you up in the archaeological park parallel. The cost is the same $1 – $2. From this point, you will have the same option, walk or take a taxi to the wonder.

Depending on your Peru itinerary, you can tour the citadel with a tourism agency or operator, who usually offers these journeys all the time.

Best time to visit Chan Chan

chan chan best time to visit

The best time to visit Peru and its north coast will depend on the season. Generally, this part of Peru presents two well-defined seasons, the summer and the winter. The Peruvian coast in Summer (from November to April) presents high temperatures with gusts of wind and small sand storms. There may even be heavy rains but of short duration. However, the influx of tourists will be short. If you want to visit the mud city in Summer, we recommend doing it in the early morning hours, to avoid the hard sun, and gusts of winds and enjoy fresh weather.

The winter on the Peruvian coast goes from June to August and presents clear and blue skies with fresh weather. However, the demand for tourists is high, and you’ll probably share the experience of visiting this wonder with many people. So, take precautions.

Entrance and hours to visit

chan chan how to get

The entrance to the archaeological zone costs approximately 12 Peruvian soles ($3) per person. While a qualified guide can cost between an additional 30 to 35 Peruvian soles ($9) and you can get them at the same entrance of the archaeological park. It is very important to tour the site with a guide, as the ruins become more significant if the history is known. The entrance fee also grants you access to the site museum and the Temple of the Sun and the Moon in Trujillo, besides Huaca Esmeralda and Huaca Arco Iris. It is in the Sun temple where the largest adobe pyramid in Peru is located, also built by the Moche civilization. So, the entrance is worth every penny, and you will be able to learn much more about the civilizations that inhabited the area.

The archeological zone is open daily (except Mondays) from 09:00 am – 4:00 pm.

What to bring

chan chan archaeological zone
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat and sunscreen.
  • Staying hydrated will help you enjoy your ride.
  • If you choose to hire a travel agency, make sure that it has the corresponding authorization.
  • It is important to take with your nuts.
  • If you are traveling with a minor, they must be protected by a responsible adult.
  • Don’t forget your documents.


We hope that this information has been useful to you when it comes to knowing a little about the Chan Chan archaeological zone. But we believe that the best way to enjoy this amazing archaeological complex is with a guided tour. A tour of the area can enlighten you on the different cultures that inhabited the area. Since the Incas were not the only ones who lived in Peru. We expect together with Machu Travel Peru to have been able to clarify all aspects regarding the wonderful city of mud. If you plan to enjoy this incredible attraction, you can take advantage of other nearby destinations. You can consult with our team of advisers to provide you with the best travel plan for you. Do not miss the wonderful opportunity to enjoy the Andean country.

Peru has so much to offer, it can be hard to know where to start. With many years of experience in the tourism sector, Machu Travel Peru is happy to help with anything regarding your trip to Machu Picchu and any tours around it. Make your Machu Picchu experience an unforgettable one!