There was once a time when a city in Peru was one of the largest known cities in the Americas. For nearly 600 years, the sprawling city was the seat of an Empire that extended for hundreds of miles, and its residents were masters of engineering techniques unknown to the rest of the world. No, we’re not talking about Machu Picchu, the ruin so often equated with Peru. Rather, this massive city was Chan Chan, a complex of adobe and sand.
Set on the outskirts of modern day Trujillo, Chan Chan was the seat of the Chimu Empire from 850-1470 AD. At its height, it’s believed to have housed up to 60,000 residents before being conquered by the infamous Inca. With its wide open courtyards, narrow alleyways, and walls which reach heights of over 30 feet, the city of Chan Chan once covered an area of nearly 8 square miles of desert. Today, the Tschudi Palace area is open to visitors to walk in the footsteps of the Chimu, although an increase in rains that have been blamed on El Niño threaten to erode the site. For now, the city of Chan Chan is one of the most awe-inspiring wonders found anywhere in Latin America, although there is an unsettling degree of fear that it one day could be reduced to mud.
The Chan Chan ruins are comprised of four different sites spread out over fairly large distances. Entrance tickets ($4) are valid for all four sites and are good for 48 hours. The largest and most popular site to visit is Tschudi Palace, an expansive complex with hand-carved friezes and partially-restored earthen walls. The easiest way to visit all four sites is to either hire a cab between different sites, or take part in a guided tour from Trujillo which only a few miles away.