Things to Do in Chiclayo
When comparing the ancient ruins of the world, Túcume might be the most fascinating site that most people have never heard of. Located 21 miles to the north of Chiclayo, Túcume is home to 26 pyramids that were built over 1,000 years ago. One of these pyramids—Huaca Larga—has a base that is over 2,000 ft. in length and was the largest pyramid in the world.
Due to heavy rains, however, these dusty, sand-carved, ancient pyramids have been reduced to eroded mounds, although archeological discoveries continue to be made in the burial chambers below. At Huaca Larga, 119 bodies were discovered deep beneath the pyramid, and evidence suggests that the bodies were part of a mass human sacrifice to the gods. Other findings are less grotesque, such as the murals and carvings of the Lambayeque god Naymlap, a revered deity who emerged from the sea and gave rise to the powerful city.
As the ancient people of the Lambayeque Valley constructed these towering pyramids, they subsequently abandoned the massive structures when they felt it would please the gods. Today, the area around Túcume is still largely abandoned, the main reason being that local villagers are wary of the spiritual past; only healers and traditional shamans will visit Túcume by night, and there is a palpable sense of power and history when touring Túcume today.
To archaeologists, the Lord of Sipan was a Moche noble now known as the “King Tut of Peru.” To centuries of Peruvian grave robbers (huaqueros), he was one grave they wished they’d found. To visitors traveling to the town of Chiclayo, he is the reason why you can walk through a room that is dripping in jewels and gold. Of all the museums you can visit in Chiclayo, the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum is one that you absolutely must see.
Buried in a tomb beneath the desert sands to the south of modern day Chiclayo, the Lord of Sipan lay undisturbed for over 1,700 years. In 1987, however, a team of archaeologists unearthed a tomb at the remote Huaca Rajada, and what they found inside is considered to be one of the greatest finds of the last 50 years. Lying inside a wooded sarcophagus were the remains of a king, a warrior, three concubines, two dogs, a llama, a priest and a guard with no feet. Also, there were jewels—lots of gold and jewels.
Today the tomb site and many of its findings are on display at the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, a building with a strikingly modern appearance that is modeled after the Moche pyramids. Gaze at headdresses and armored plates made entirely from silver and gold while inwardly contemplating how such valuable pieces remained buried and hidden for so long.
At the heart of activity in Chiclayo, one of Peru’s liveliest cities despite being only its fourth-largest is Parque Principal (Plaza de Armas). From sunup to well past sundown, this attractive green space is buzzing with activity, and it’s impossible to visit the city without spending at least some time here.
The relatively small park, like many Plazas de Armas in Peru, sits beneath the shadow of a cathedral, this one a neoclassical, white, double-domed structure with a history dating back to 1869. Across the way is the city hall.
Some of the best times to visit Parque Principal are on weekends or during the evenings, when locals come out to gather around park benches and snack on street foods, creating a festive atmosphere.
Every archaeologist dreams of finding a place like Huaca Rajada(Sipán). Forgotten in the desert for over 1,700 years, Huaca Rajada(Sipán) was a sacred burial site for Moche nobility and royalty. When local looters in 1987 were found with lavish gold artifacts, it tipped off police that a large discovery might be buried in the nearby desert. An archaeologist, Walter Alva, was called to the site to examine the possibility that other tombs might exist, and when his team unearthed the “Lord of Sipan” and his tomb of jewels and gold, it was heralded as the greatest discovery of the last 50 years of archaeology.
Today, travelers can visit the archaeological site where excavations are still taking place. Though many of the larger artifacts and displays have been moved to Chiclayo museums (notably the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipan and the Brüning National Archaeological Museum), there is still a small museum on site that displays some of the findings. Of particular interest are the re-created tombs that show the position the Lord of Sipan was found in after having been buried over 1,700 years ago.
In addition to the extravagant headdresses and jewelry, the tomb contained the remains of a priest, a child, a llama, two dogs, three concubines and a guard who was buried without feet. This, archaeologists say, is meant to symbolize the guard’s inability to ever flee from his post, and it’s just one of the many tales of lore which lay buried in the sands of Sipan.
Shamans. Potions. Witchcraft. Elixir. None of these are words that many travelers equate with the coastline of northern Peru. Traditional healing, however, is a central part to the different subsets of traditional Peruvian society, and historically Chiclayo has been an instrumental city in the gathering of shamans and healers.
Located inside of the Mercado Modelo—a large central market by the Plaza de Armas that is frequented by everyday shoppers—the Witch's Market (Mercado de las Brujas) is a fascinating stop for those who can stomach the surroundings. In these cluttered, colorful, and odiferous alleyways, healers hawk everything from dried snakes and monkey skulls to pieces of Andean condors. A traditional drink made from San Pedro cactus is known for its hallucinogenic effects, and it is sometimes offered to market visitors who befriend a local merchant. For a variable fee, traditional shamans can also be hired to perform ceremonial readings and healings, although be forewarned the process might involve a guinea pig or vomit-inducing concoctions.
After the fall of the Moche Empire around 700 AD, the inhabitants of the Lambayeque region formed a culture now known as Sicán. Exceptionally skilled in metallurgy as well as a unique form of ceramics, the Sicán metal workers are credited with bringing the Bronze Age to northern Peru. Though massive drought would eventually bring the Sicán civilization to its knees, the ceramics, metal work, and tombs they left behind are intriguingly displayed at the Sicán National Museum in the town of Ferreñafe.
When visiting the museum, not only will you find exquisite art pieces forged by Sicán craftsmen, but you will also find artifacts that point to the existence of trade with faraway neighbors. Blue stones, for example, exhibit trade with neighboring civilizations from as far away as Chile, and snails and shells found in Sicán tombs have been traced to the beaches of Ecuador.
Also of note when visiting the museum is the re-creation of a tomb where a man was found buried in the fetal position with his head facing down towards the floor. The position, it’s believed, was meant to mimic the process of being “birthed” into the afterlife, and is one of the many cultural curiosities on display in this modern museum.
Some might say that the city of Chiclayo is short on touristic sights, while others will claim that the comfortable city is a sight unto itself. Simply walking about town and experiencing everyday life is one of the best ways to experience Chiclayo, and the best place in the city for a casual stroll is the manicured Paseo de las Musas.
To enter this pedestrian thoroughfare, walk beneath a monument of four white columns that tower 20 feet over the park. The well-landscaped floral arrangements make this a romantic local escape, and the multiple plazas and wide walkways create a comfortable atmosphere for people watching. What makes the walkway so unique, however, are the nine statues of ancient muses that are found in Greek mythology. On a sunny day, while enjoying a picnic in the grassy, shaded promenade, the entire area takes on the feel of a classical European plaza, and the Paseo de las Musas becomes the perfect place for killing time in Chiclayo.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, German archaeologist Hans Heinrich Brüning Brookstedt devoted his life to Northern Peru. For decades, Brüning would toil tirelessly along the desert coastline in search of ceramics and cultural artifacts from the Moche, Chimu and Inca. Today, the Brüning National Archaeological Museum is where visitors can view the astounding finds of his years of digging in the dirt.
In addition to the rooms full of cultural treasures—including a room filled entirely with gold—the lower layer showcases Brüning’s photography from years of work in the field. Many credit Brüning with being a catalyst for the area’s archaeological study, and many of the sites that have been uncovered today could be in part to his dedicated work. Unlike the neighboring Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, photography is allowed inside the Brüning Museum, and visitors should make an effort to visit both sites during a museum tour of Chiclayo.
Oh, what Batán Grande(Sicán Archaeological Complex) must have looked like in 1100 AD.
Located 20 miles north of Chiclayo, this sprawling remnant of the Sicán civilization is set amongst a grove of algorrobo trees that form the largest dryland forest on South America’s west coast. Poking out from the field of green, eroded brown pyramids are all that remain of Sicán tombs that, for hundreds of years, were packed to the brim with gold. In fact, archaeologists estimate that over 90 percent of Peru’s gold was sourced from this river valley, and much of the gold in private collections is from looters who pillaged the forest.
Visitors to Batán Grande(Sicán Archaeological Complex) today will find an interpretive center and small museum that tell the history of the surrounding forest, as well as a viewing platform for gazing above the groves of algorrobo. The tops of the huacas (pyramids) seem to float above the treetops like haunting, dusty relics, and one of the trees in the middle of the forest has been standing for over 1,000 years. Hand dug pits from hundreds of looters are evident as you walk the grounds, and from the top of a huaca gazing out over the forest, it’s a surreal feeling to stand in this complex so many years after its devastating fall.
By Peruvian standards, the Chiclayo Cathedral(Iglesia Santa Maria) in the Plaza de Armas is comparatively very young. Not constructed until 1869 (versus the early 16th and 17th centuries for churches in nearby Trujillo), the cathedral and its adjoining public square weren't inaugurated until 1916. Despite its relative youth, however, the cathedral still exudes a sense of grandeur and is one of the most striking buildings in Chiclayo.
Rising along the eastern flank of the pedestrian-filled Plaza de Armas, the white columns and pale yellow façade exude a neoclassical style. Also known as “Catedrál Santa Maria,” the twin bell towers and their white cupolas gaze out over the city, and an exquisite altar and religious carvings grace the cathedral’s interior. From the cathedral’s steps looking out towards the plaza, visitors and locals walk and mingle through the always-happening square, and the area surrounding the Chiclayo Cathedral is one of the most popular parts of the city.
More Things to Do in Chiclayo
The fantastically ornate Municipal Palace is a Republican-style administrative building with a festive four-story clock tower and soaring parallel arches gracing the center of town. This elegant building is so lavish, it cost 30,000 pounds of gold to build in 1919.
As you stand beneath the boughs of the “Millenial Tree,” with the sound of birdsong raining down from the branches, you know you've arrived in a special corner of the northern coastline of Peru. Historians say that this scraggly carob tree has been alive for over 1,000 years, making it about the same age as the ancient civilization that once inhabited this forest.
Here in the Pómac Forest Historic Sanctuary, 36 pyramids built by the ancient Sican people spread out over 23 square miles of green. Rising their heavily eroded peaks above the branches of the dryland forest, these pyramids have housed some of the greatest archaeological finds in the history of northern Peru. Over 90% of the area’s gold, it’s said, was found at the forest’s huacas (temples), and at places such as the Huaca Las Ventanas, you can actually climb to the top of a pyramid that was constructed over 1,000 years ago.
In addition to the ruins and the serenity of the forest, the Pómac Forest Historic Sanctuary is also known for its birds. Over 70 different species of birds can be sighted within the park, and this is an emerging hot spot for birdwatching enthusiasts looking to couple their trip with some culture.
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