Chan Chan is one of the most unique sites in Peru. Not many people who travel to Peru actually make it all the way there, as it is actually quite off the beaten track. The site is located on the coast of Northern Peru, near Trujillo, about 538 km (little over 334 miles) and more than 8 hours drive from Lima.
Once the largest adobe city in the Americas, weather and time obviously have had an impact on the site. Despite the passing of time, Chan Chan remains an impressive place to visit – so much so that it was declared UNESCO protected in 1986. Unfortunately, the UNESCO status has done little for Chan Chan, Peru, and a persistent lack of funds means that excavation works and research on the site are slower than many would hope.
I happened to visit as I decided to break my journey from Guayaquil, in Ecuador, to Lima, right in Trujillo, and I was truly glad I did! In this post, I will share everything you need to know about Chan Chan, Trujillo, and share useful information that will help you plan your visit.
The History Of Chan Chan, Peru
You may not have heard of Chan Chan, but these ruins are some of the most incredible in South America. Chan Chan, in fact, comprises the largest pre-Colombian city complex in the whole of the Americas and is the largest mudbrick (adobe) city in the entire world.
Covering an area of 20 square kilometers, Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu Empire from 900 to around 1370. The city would have been an impressive hub of trade and religion. It’s thought that over 60,000 people would have called Chan Chan home at its height – a consideration fuelled by a wealth of ceramics, silver and gold.
This rich civilization was conquered by the Incas but remained fairly intact until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. Looting and destruction began with the arrival of the Spanish and, over the following decades, much of the opulence of the old city was lost.
In its heyday, Chan Chan would have been made up of 10 walled citadels, each of which had its own royal burial mound. These were filled with innumerable offerings of gemstones and precious metals, as well as dozens of young women (apparently sacrificed) as well as chambers filled with textiles and pottery.
Sadly, Chan Chan has long lost its splendor. Not only did the marauding by the Spanish deplete its wealth, but sequential El Nino floods and torrential rainfall have damaged the outer walls of the city. Today some of the city has been restored for visitors to explore and learn about life as it would have been hundreds of years ago in this pre-Colombian city complex.
The impressive Palacio Nik An complex and nearby plazas, for example, showcase how things would have looked at the height of the Chimu Empire. This is the only part of the city that has been restored.
Top Things To See At Chan Chan
Though Chan Chan was vast, today it doesn’t seem that grand. Parts of the restored buildings of the palace have been covered by large tents for protection from the elements. It’s thought that in the near future other areas will also be open for visitors.
However, in the meantime, it still pays to know what parts of this archeological site to hone in on during your trip. And, more importantly, it helps to understand what you’re looking at. Here are some of the top sights that you will be seeing on your trip to this city.
Chan Chan Museum
Located around half a kilometer from the main entrance to Chan Chan Archeological Site, the Chan Chan Museum exhibits showcase life in the city and the Chimu culture as a whole. It’s best to visit the museum with a guide who can explain more about the displays here, but it’s not a must as there is English signage on offer.
The museum has some amazing aerial photography of the site. This is particularly interesting, considering that visitors can really only see what is now a tiny portion of a once sprawling city. Another intriguing element of the museum is that it houses many of the artifacts that were somehow saved from looting by the Spanish. The overview of the history of the Chimu culture is also something you’ll learn at the Chan Chan Museum.
After your visit to the museum, it’s time to head to the main palace complex – albeit restored and under cover.
It may not look like much today, but the main plaza area of Chan Chan would once have been surrounded by impressive buildings. This is the first area you’ll arrive in after entering the site, and is a good place to get your bearings and imagine how things would have been; this is the place, after all, that the Chimu king would have been celebrated and crowds would have gathered to give offerings to the deceased king.
The size gives you an inkling into how important it was for all citizens of Chan Chan to gather here and pay their respects to the king. There are also smaller plazas nearby where those higher up in society would be able to give their offerings separately.
The thickness of walls surrounding the plaza, though not their original height, is an impressive four meters. They have been restored to give you an idea into the sheer scale of construction at the site.
Continuing on from the main plaza, you’ll reach the audience rooms. This intricate corridor structure features incredible friezes decorating the walls.
Make sure to pay close attention to the depictions of life that adorn the walls here; Chimu is located close to the sea, and so much of the artwork on the walls is oceanic in nature. You’ll be able to spot fish, seabirds, seals and waves as you wander.
Alongside the sea, the moon is an important facet of the religion of the Chimu culture. It’s especially interesting to note the contrast with the Incan focus of worship: the earth and the sun.
Gran Hachaque Ceremonial Reservoir
A further walk from the Audience Rooms will bring you to the Gran Hachaque Ceremonial Reservoir. This watery portion of the site was no doubt an important practical and ceremonial center for Chan Chan; rites connected with fertility are thought to have been performed here, for example.
It’s a freshwater pool that’s fed by over fifty miles of canals that connect to the Moche River. The reservoirs would have been a very important aspect of life in the city, providing its inhabitants with drinking water. The pool today is surrounded by lush reeds and grasses as nature has taken its course over the years.
Just to the left of the Reservoir are small rooms that have been given the name Warehouses, or Almacenes in Spanish. These small structures may well have been places for storage, but another theory is that they were used as accommodation by soldiers.
King’s Burial Chamber (King’s Mausoleum)
One of the impressive and important parts of life in Chan Chan was the King’s Mausoleum. This was the Chimu ruler’s final resting place, where he was buried with a large number of ceremonial objects.
A particularly gruesome part of this area is a pyramid to the left of the Mausoleum. Here dozens of bodies of young women – thought to have been sacrificed in order to accompany the king to his afterlife – were excavated.
Not only that, but it is thought that the king was buried with his wife, so that they could go together to the world that awaited beyond the grave. The king was also buried with a long list of funerary offerings; chambers here were jam-packed with jewelry and intricate weavings.
This long, rectangular area of Chan Chan features 24 niches theorized to have been used for seating. The surprisingly good acoustics of the assembly room point to the use of this place for speakers to address crowds.
Practical Information For Visiting Chan Chan, Peru
Now that you know what there is to see at the fascinating Chan Chan ruins, it’s time to get into the practical side of things. Read on and see how to make sure that your trip to the old city runs as smoothly as possible.
Do you need a guide to visit Chan Chan ruins?
While you don’t need a guide to visit Chan Chan ruins, it is recommended that you hire a guide for your visit. A local tour guide will offer up a much more in-depth and well rounded insight into the city. Signage throughout the site is very limited, and it can be pretty hard to understand what it is that you’re looking at.
Guides are available from the entrance to Chan Chan Archeological Site. There’s often the option of choosing a guide who can speak French, German, Italian or English (other than Spanish, obviously). The guided tour takes around one hour and there’s the option to stay longer and explore on your own after the tour has ended. The cost of a tour guide is around 40 Peruvian Soles (around $10.50 USD) for up to five people.
Alternatively, if you want to do it independently without a guide, that is doable. For this, you can buy a booklet at the ticket checkpoint for 2 PEN (around $0.50 USD) and follow a marked trail around the complex. Booklets are available in a few different languages.
Guided tours of Chan Chan
To make your life easier, and to also have a guide to take you around the site, you may actually want to join a guided tour that includes transportation from Trujillo. Most tours will included a tour of the city and a visit to another nearby site, ie the Temple of the Moon and Sun.
How to get to Chan Chan
Many people choose to visit Chan Chan from either Trujillo or Huanchaco. From either location, it is easy to reach Chan Chan as it is a popular nearby attraction.
From Trujillo, you can take a colectivo that’s headed for Huanchaco for around 1.5 PEN (around $0.40 USD). Make sure to tell the driver that you want to be dropped off at the main gate for Chan Chan. It takes about 15 minutes.
If you are in Huanchaco, you should take the colectivo that is instead bound for Trujillo. The cost is the same as the duration of the journey.
No matter what city you’re coming from, the bus will drop you off at a designated spot around a kilometer from the entrance to Chan Chan. From here there are usually taxis waiting to take tourists to the archeological site, but it’s a fairly short distance that can be easily walked.
To get to the museum, note that you have to walk 500 meters towards Trujillo from the intersection at which you’ll be dropped.
Chan Chan ruins admission fee and opening hours
Tickets to enter Chan Chan Ruins cost 10 PEN (around $2.50 USD). This also includes access to the sites of Huaca Esmerelda and Huaca Arco Iris, both located in Trujillo.
You can get your ticket on arrival at the entrance to the site. Alternatively, you can purchase it at Chan Chan Museum ahead of your arrival.
Chan Chan opening hours are from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm every day except Monday, when both the site and the museum are closed.
Best time to visit Chan Chan, Peru
Chan Chan is open all year round for visitors, but weather conditions throughout the year can change quite drastically, and can change how pleasant your visit to the ruins will be.
Summertime, which in Peru runs between November and April, can see high temperatures – particularly at midday and the afternoon. Gusty winds and minor dust storms can also hinder your enjoyment in afternoons at Chan Chan during summer. Make sure to plan your visit earlier in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day.
This also happens to be the time of year with the highest precipitation for the region, although downpours are usually short (though heavy).
On the other hand, winter – running from June to August – brings beautiful clear blue skies and cool weather. However, this is also high season in general throughout Peru, and you will probably be sharing the site with a number of tourists during your visit.
Facilities at Chan Chan
Facilities on offer at this archeological site are limited, but there’s still everything you’ll need. Toilets can be found close to the entrance to the site, so make sure you use the restroom before you enter.
If you have forgotten your water bottle or are feeling the need for a snack, don’t worry – you’ll be able to purchase refreshments from the small shop also located near the entrance.
What to wear and take when visiting Chan Chan
You’ll need a few other things to make sure your day runs smoothly when visiting this awesome set of ruins.
Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and a hat, and carry a small daypack where you can keep your bottle of water, sunblock, wallet with spare change for snacks, tickets and transportation.
Are you planning a trip to Peru? Make sure to read these posts!
- The Best Things To Know Before Visiting Peru
- The Most Impressive Ruins In Peru
- The Best Time To Visit Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Trujillo
- The Best Hikes In Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Lima
- The Best Things To Do In Nazca
- The Best Things To Do In Cusco
- The Ultimate Guide To Hiking The Inca Trail
- How To Get To Machu Picchu
- How To Get Machu Picchu Tickets
- The Best Things To Do In Arequipa
- The Best Day Trips From Arequipa