Undoubtedly, Peru is one of the American countries with the most tourist attractions. It is due to its mysteries and ancient history. And, among its numerous archaeological sites, besides Machu Picchu, there is an ancient place considered the largest mud city in the world. We refer to the Chan Chan archaeological zone. This ancient mud city is very close to Trujillo, an essential Peruvian city, north of Lima. Its structure, as well as the culture that hosted, are considered very advanced in the middle of the XV century. Thus, together with the travel experts of Machu Travel Peru, we want to tell you everything about this ancient 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
- Chan Chan
- The Chimu Kingdom
- How to get there
- Best time to visit it
- Entrances and Schedules
- A tour guide for Chan Chan
- What to bring
It is known for being the largest city of mud in the world and this belongs to the South American culture; Chimu. This civilization flourished between 1200 B.C – 1465 B.C and has more than 700 years old! Its adobe city contained over 10,000 well-decorated buildings with beautiful walls, hosting an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 residents. Also, there were numerous gardens and green areas due to its advanced irrigation systems. Therefore, current experts consider its construction techniques, and knowledge of irrigation channels very advanced for the XV century. For this reason, it has declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. And today, part of that beauty is preserved and can be appreciated.
Side note: Please, do not confuse it with the song Chan Chan, belonging to the genre “Son Cubano” composed by the renowned Cuban musician Francisco Repilado alias Compay Segundo, vocalist of the Buen Vista Social Club orchestra.
A. Chan Chan location
The large mud city is located on the north coast of Peru. 5 kilometers west side of Trujillo, an important northern Peru city. And Trujilo in turn is 557 kilometers from Lima north, the capital of Peru. Exactly, it is on a desert strip, between the Pacific Ocean and the Mountain Range. But don’t worry, getting there is usually not a major problem.
The entire complex covers approximately 20 square kilometers of desert land and mud. 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 museums.
The Chimu kingdom
The Chimu kingdom was one of the pre columbian civilizations that reached its peak during the 15th century, as descendants of the extinct Mochica culture (150 – 700 A.D) They founded its capital, a citadel built entirely with adobe brick on the north coast of Peru. Its main regent, called Minchanzaman (around 1400 A.D), extended the territory from Piura heading north (988 km north of Lima) to Paramonga in the southbound (200 north of Lima) For two centuries, it was the main state of the north of Peru, and today one of the most famous places in Peru.
Their great expansion occurred thanks to their economic activities, their successful military campaigns, and their policies of demanding tributes. They had agriculture, and irrigation due to its underground aqueducts that brought drinking water to the city (considered very advanced technologies for the 15th century in South America) Also, fishing and goldsmiths were their main economic activities, too.
The different vestiges and remains found in the city reflect clear and strict political and social strategies. This is emphasized by its division into ten palaces or citadels that formed socially independent units within the same city.
In this sense, here you have this hierarchical well-defined system of social classes.
- The Chimuc Capac was the sovereign of everything.
- The Curacas (chief) were nobles and owners of lands, besides managers of subject peoples.
- The middle-upper-class people, who benefited from the harvest of the land, were assistants to the Curacas (chief), and they had certain privileges.
- The artisans were farmers but with a greater social range. They produced fine fabrics and objects of gold, silver, and copper. In addition, they made up numerous ceramic works with standardized designs and in molds.
- The farmers were the workforce of the empire. They were dedicated to fishing, agriculture, crafts, and trade.
- Finally, the servants dedicated their lives to serving Chimuc Capac and the Curacas.
1. The Quingnam language
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 Spanish chronicler who studied the zone in 1653. Precisely, Chan Chan means “The City of the Sun” in the Quingnam language. Unfortunately, this disappeared once the Spanish conquered the Incas and, consequently, razed the great city of mud in search of gold and silver.
This mud city was the ancient capital of the Chimú kingdom. Its construction lasted within the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the Christian era. Numerous streets, walls, buildings, pyramid temples, and other important palaces made up the entire city. The long construction time had been worth it.
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 Inca’s arrival (conquest), the Chimu people kept their great city, even their costumes, traditions, and gods. However, with the arrival of the Spanish, the city could just fall into oblivion. This constitutes one of the most important facts about Peru and the beginning of the debacle of the once-great Chimu culture.
1. An encounter with the Incas
Between 1465 and 1470 was when the Chimu fell under Inca rule. It was in 1470 when Tupac Yupanqui completely besieged the city, cutting off their water supplies and canals. In this form, the Andean 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. Except for the Chimu`´’s craftsmen, the Incas moved them to Cusco (Empire capital) to work under the orders of the Inca. 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 by the invaders. They searched for vary of treasures, looting numerous valuables such as gems, gold, silver, and much more. After the conquest, the Spanish writers recorded a few Chimu historical and mythological traditions, but they were insufficient to understand this great culture.
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 way how Chan Chan was planned hierarchically is why this large mud city can be considered one of the most amazing archaeological treasures in Peru. The Chimus included industrial, agricultural, and fluvial systems in the design of its mud city, very advanced for the time of construction.
Therefore, there is no doubt that the great monumental area in the center of the city was previously larger (around 20 square kilometers) since high walls well-decorated with geometric forms, animals, and sea life figures protected most of the complex. Many of them also protected the 10 citadels located inside the monumental area. 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 each citadel and the same monumental area, too.
A. 10 neighborhoods
Also, these 10 citadels had labyrinthine interiors. In addition, the Chimus grouped them into three major sectors. The northern sector used to be a plaza that led to certain citadels (warehouses or audiences). On the other hand, most of the other buildings were located in the Central sector. On the other hand, the archaeologists found vestiges of kitchens and bedrooms in the South sector. Happily, many of these last ones still stand. It seems that each ruler together with his entourage managed each complex (citadel) Moreover, around these 10 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.
Instead, the highest-ranking rulers and nobles settled in the center of the city or in the monumental area. Without mentioning that this was the main setting for various celebrations, rituals, and activities.
During a guided tour through the different palaces, you will see ancestral enclosures, where beautiful tiles with high-relief decorations cover their murals. On the different walls, you will be able to see large representations of fish both on the left and on the right, too. This could be interpreted as the two currents that distinguish the Peruvian coast. Both the Humboldt current in the south (cold water) and the El Niño current that comes from the north (hot water). You can also see wave designs, fishing nets, and pelicans.
C. What else to see
When you enter for the first time to the complex, you will find the following areas.
a. Nik An Palace
It is the first area where you will find souvenir stands, bathrooms, and ticket offices. Also, many tour guides are prowling the area. In addition, the Nik An Palace is the only one covered by tent-like structures and is completely refurbished. In other words, it is the visitor’s first impression of what Chan Chan was like.
b. Main Plaza
Following the route, you’ll find an awesome large plaza where once in a time the Chimu king gave commands to his subjects. The plaza is a rectangle with solid walls 4 meters thick on each side and geometric designs decorate them. There are designs of three or four sea otters on the inferior level of a wall, very close to the entrance. These are the only original of all the area.
c. Audience rooms
Exit the Main Plaza and walk down a passageway. Undulating fish and birds decorate its side walls. Finally, you’ll reach the Audience Rooms. These are intricate rooms whose access passage resembles a maze. These must have been very important since they are many and well-decorated. Figures of fish, waves, marine birds, and mammals decore their walls. Don’t forget that the Chimus worshiped the moon, sea, and the animals that came from it.
d. Gran Hachaque Ceremonial
It is a beautiful freshwater pool where the Chimus priests developed some ceremonial rituals. A green border of reeds and grasses surrounds it. Recent studies affirm that channels of more than 50 miles of extension, connected the Moche River with the pool and feed it.
There are small rooms, very close to each other, on the left of the Great Hachaque Ceremonial. Some studies affirm that these could have been warehouses for food. While other investigations say that these could have been cells for the rest of the soldiers.
f. The Mausoleum
This is a great king’s burial chamber. Many ceremonial objects and bodies of his servants accompany the chamber. However, the most impressive thing is the pyramid containing dozens of human sacrifices of young maidens in honor of the king buried.
g. Assembly room
It is a rectangular saloon with 24 niches well-carved in each wall of the enclosure. Each niche hosted a seat where the occupant could speak in half a tone and be heard perfectly due to the acoustics of the place.
After the looting carried out by the Spanish in 1532, not much of the great Chimu culture remained, and its Chan Chan. Even much of the old and true city had already disappeared in colonial times. In addition, the mud city melts slowly by the increasing climate change (high humidity) and the El Niño weather phenomenon (Torrential rains which have been growing in intensity)
Moreover, the strong saline winds from the Pacific Ocean damage structures of land and mud. For this reason, erosion continues to jeopardize these construction marvels. Nowadays, the archaeologists and personnel who work in the zone have covered a large part of the temples and enclosures, in addition to walls with temporary pre-fabricated roofs. This is to protect them from rain, wind, and humid sea breezes. For this reason, this mud city 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.
How to get there
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
From Lima to Trujillo, there are about 560 kilometers or 350 miles. Depending on your available time, you can enjoy the landscapes traveling 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 (one way), 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 Tepsa.
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 (one way), you can buy them online and the flight lasts around 35 minutes. The most known flight companies are LATAM, Sky Airlines, 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
Once arrived 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 in the north 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 in Chan Chan parallel. The bus ticket cost around $1 – $2 and the bus trip lasts 30 minutes. 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 possible tourists) up to the archaeological park. The taxi cost around $2 more.
Or, you can take a taxi directly from Trujillo to mud city, the taxi service cost around $5 – $10 and the trip lasts 20 minutes.
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 parallel to the archaeological park. The cost is the same $1 – $2. From this point, you will have the same option, walk or take a taxi to the wonder.
Depending on your Peru itinerary, you can tour the citadel with a tourism agency or operator, who usually offers these journeys all the time with a specialist tour guide.
Best time to visit it
The best time to visit Peru will depend on the season. Generally, the west-north coast of Peru presents two well-defined seasons, the summer and the winter. The Peruvian coast in Summer (from November to April) presents high temperatures with gusts of wind and small sand storms. There may even be heavy rains but of short duration. However, the influx of tourists will be short. If you want to visit the mud city in Summer, we recommend doing it in the early morning hours, to avoid the hard sun, and gusts of winds and enjoy fresh weather.
The winter on the Peruvian coast goes from June to August and presents clear and blue skies with fresh weather. However, the demand for tourists is high, and you’ll probably share the experience of visiting this wonder with many people. So, take precautions.
If you want our opinion, winter is the best time to visit the Chan Chan Archaeological site!
Entrances and Schedules
The archeological zone is open from Tuesday to Sunday. From 09:00 am – 18:00 pm.
- Adults: S/ 10 ($ 3)
- Children: S/ 5 ($ 1.5)
You can buy the tickets at the same entrance to mud city or at the site museum. The entrance fee also grants you access to the Huaca Esmeralda and Huaca Arco Iris in Trujillo.
A tour guide for Chan Chan
The ruin’s visit becomes more significant if you know its history. Besides the archaeological city doesn’t have information panels. Therefore, we recommend you hire a local tour guide (they are located close to the city entrance) for $ 10. The guided visit will last 1 hour in a group of 5 integrants maximum. If you want, you can stay more time in the mud city after the tour.
If you want to do the tour independently, you can buy an information booklet ($0.50 or 2 Soles) at the ticket office and follow a marked trail inside the complex.
What to bring
- 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 carry nuts as snacks.
- If you are traveling with a minor, they must be under a responsible adult and protected from the sun’s rays.
- Don’t forget your documents.
“ARCHEOLOGY HOLDS ALL THE KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING WHO WE ARE AND WHERE WE COME FROM”
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 about 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!