Peru’s north coast town of Chiclayo, about halfway between Lima and the border with Ecuador right on the Pan-American highway, is rich with archeological sites, beaches, and museums that make it a must on explorations in the north of the country.
Chiclayo, Peru Attractions:
Plaza de Armas
Chiclayo’s plaza is one of the more unique in Peru. Longer than most and filled with fountains and plants, it is the best place in the city center for people watching and just hanging out. There are a few colonial buildings flanking its sides, and the imposing Neo-Classical Catedral de la Ciudad.
It’s only a corner of Chiclayo’s sprawling market, but it is quite fascinating and should not be missed. Here you will find dried animal carcasses, potions, shaman’s tools, and numerous other items from a handful of unusual market stalls.
Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan
This museum in Lambayeque, 12 kilometers northwest of Chiclayo, is hands down the best in Northern Peru. Shaped like a pyramid and home to the recreated tomb of the Lord of Sipan, a Moche god-like figure that is considered one of the most important archeological finds of the past century. Apart from the tomb you will see the wealth of riches that were found in the tomb such as hundreds of stunning gold and turquoise pieces. The museum tries to create what the Sipan site was like in its prime, how it was found and excavated, and objects that were found at the site.
This Archeology and Ethnography Museum beside the Sipan museum is newly remodeled and holds an impressive collection of artifacts from the Chimu, Vicus, Moche, and Chavin cultures. Still not as great as next door, but if you find yourself in Lambayeque it is worth a peak.
One of the most fascinating archeological sites and least visited in all of Peru. Right on the Pan-Americana 41 kilometers north of the city, Tucume is home to 30 or so massive adobe pyramids that date back more than 1000 years and the one time capital of the Lambayeque culture. At first glance from afar the deteriorated mounds look like mountains, but upon closer inspections there are walls, plazas, and tombs. The pyramid of Huaca Larga is considered the longest adobe structure in the world at 700 meters long. The site was first excavated by legendary explorer and archeologist Thor Heyerdahl, of Kon-tiki fame.
Huaca Rajada at Sipan
This is the actual site of the Royal Tomb of Sipan, considered the most important archeological find of the past century. The Lord of Sipan and most of the artifacts are now in the museum in Lambayeque, but this Moche burial ground discovered by Dr. Walter Alva (now the curator of the museum) in 1987 are still worth a look. Some of the tombs have been recreated for visitors, but excavations are still ongoing.
Museo Nacional Sican
This museum is located in the town of Ferranafe, 18 km to the northeast of Chiclayo. It opened in late 2002 and sees minimal visitors compared with some of the other major museums on Peru’s north coast. The focus is on the Lambayeque, or Sican culture, that inhabited the region between 750-1400 AD. Highlights include recreations of 12 meter tombs that were found at the site, the Lord of Sican (not Sipan), and artifacts from the archeological site of Batan Grande.
Chiclayo has two nearby beaches, Pimentel and Santa Rosa, which are both a few kilometers away from the city center and can be reached by taxi. These aren’t stunning Caribbean like beaches like those in Mancora near Piura and the Ecuador border, but rather plain brown sand beaches fronted by some decent seafood restaurants serving good ceviches and tortillas, a rickety old pier, a row of souvenir stands, and a couple of hostels. You can still see the caballitos, or reed fishing boats, that have been around for centuries and considered a major tourist attraction in nearby Trujillo.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.