In Huanchaco, there’s only one thing to do if you don’t surf, and that is weed. If you don’t smoke, then off to culture you go… And that is the story of how we encountered the seat of Chimu civilization at Chan Chan.

The wall that once housed a palace.
The wall that once housed a palace.
Like a lot of Historic Peruvian sites we’ve been to so far, the money for restauration, or even mere digging, has stopped coming from the various institutions and cities whose CEOs and Mayors were once happy to mug for the cameras, but who are now panicked over the lack of basic resources. I kid you not, the slogan for one candidate for local municipality is “Agua Por Todos!” (Water For All!) As a result, a lot of these ruins are in maintenance mode, largely taking money from us tourists to pay for guides’ salaries and whatever minimum can be done for these barely uncovered treasures not to be once again swallowed by the desert. Such is the case for this site, once an impressive palace, in fact the largest mud city in the world, now basically a sprawling sand dune, but for the acre or so of dusted walls and hallways.

When we arrived, we were actually surprised and overjoyed to discover before us an active dig, not active in the sense that archeologists were on duty, looking in the wrong place for the Well of Souls, but one obviously recently left for comatose until money reappears. Walking into this seemingly abandoned trench gave the four of use chills, like young Indy in the prologue of The Last Crusade.

Welcome to Chan Chan…





The Chimu people flourished on the northern coast of Peru between the 12th and 15th centuries CE. With their capital at Chan Chan, they were the largest and most prosperous culture of that Period and forged the second largest empire in the history of the ancient Andes. Yet, unbelievably, no writing of their has ever been found, none. All that we know about them, and by that I mean, what the guide told us about, is mostly about storing food and materials for offerings to the Gods. Without writing, very little about their culture is known to us, very few myths or stories have made it through the centuries, which, I must say, makes for rather a boring visit of adobe structures in the sand…

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Sure, some of it was cool, like virtual proof that the Chimu invented Minecraft…


But even the center fresh water lake, a center- and masterpiece of ancient irrigation systems in which they supposedly raised fish for food, was drained just a few years ago because they didn’t have the means to protect the adjacent walls from the seeping liquid.


After this visit, exhausted and dusty, we had frankly not learned very much about the revered Chimu because the authorities in charge here seem unequipped to teach very well about their own chronology, about their own history. I hope the Chimu get the site they deserve soon! And deserve it they do, they had figured how to build walls with separated brick construction so as not to fall apart during earthquakes!


That’s worth protecting and telling younger generations about, right? Well, that and sacrificial altars…


Chan Chan is the pride of the region, understandably, but I would tell you to skip it until someone cough-Claro-cough steps up and does more than brand every building, bus stop and restaurant in the country but starts to give back to the memory of this people. They might already be doing that for all I know, but it’s obviously not enough…

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