Though most archaeologically inclined travelers headed to Peru plan their visit around magnificent Machu Picchu and other wonderful ruined cities surrounding the old Inca capital of Cuzco, Peru is the final resting place for a far older, and more exotic, indigenous legacies.
The less visited northern half of the country is home to scores of remarkable lost cities that predate the Incas by millennia, monuments that form part of what the Ministry of Tourism calls the Ruta Moche. Named for the pre-Incan Moche Culture (AD 100–800), the route also includes exquisite beaches, wondrous waterfalls, and bustling cities—but you’re really here for the ruins, which are several centuries older than Machu Picchu and are remnants of a several distinct civilizations.
The most famous, and spectacular, archaeological sites include the intricately decorated, adobe expanse of amazing Chan Chan, its smoothly weathered walls a stone’s throw from the sea; the richly adorned tombs of El Señor de Sipán, packed with precious gold and bejeweled artifacts displayed at one of Peru’s most engaging museums; and the mysterious, misty mountain-top fortress of Kuelap, its circular motif a clear connection to the cultures of the Amazon.
But wait - there’s more! Adding to this less-visited loop’s appeal, scientists have recently made several glittering new discoveries that to will add to the sun-drenched North Peruvian coast’s appeal, most discovered in the rich Lambayeque Valley.
In 2009 and 2010, these new pre-Inca archaeological sites have made headlines, particularly a promising Sicán burial ground beneath Las Ventanas Pyramid in Bosque de Pomac; twelve Cañaris tombs uncovered between Lambayeque and Piura; and an enormous new site, Chotuna Chornancap, close to the coastal city of Chiclayo. All are dated to between AD 800 and 1325, bridging the Moche and Inca eras, and associated with the wildly artistic Lambayeque cultures that produced El Señor de Sipán.
Further excavations have finally yielded the riches these epochs indicated. In January 2011, a massive find was announced, a 1200-year-old royal tomb containing treasures to match anything ever found on Peruvian soil. A fine funerary mask, is just the beginning; several other funeral bundles have also been unearthed.
It will be some time before these are displayed to the general public, probably at the Museo Nacional Sicán, near Chiclayo. Regardless, the exquisite “National Museum of the House of the Moon,” is well worth exploring for its current displays, more so as new finds are unveiled.