Chan Chan in Trujillo is actually not a city of sand, it’s a city of adobe, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. This place is huge and unfortunately most of it is falling into ruins. That there is anything there at all is impressive given that the city was founded almost 3,500 years old.
In terms of sheer size Chan Chan is probably the largest adobe ruins that you can see in the country. The city covered almost 20 square kilometres at its height and had a population somewhere in the region of 30,000 people. The ruins start almost on the outskirts of the Northern city of Trujillo. Crumbling walls and sand dunes line the highway that takes you to the main citadel, the best-preserved area of the city.
Step through the outer walls of the citadel and you’ll understand why Chan Chan was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chan Chan in Trujillo looks and feels like a large temple complex or royal palace and is easily the equal of Cusco or Choquiquirao.
The large open-air courtyards and long straight passageways of Chan Chan in Trujillo are almost intact. There are alcoves for statues. The walls are decorated with carvings of fish and other animals alongside geometric patters. The intricate designs on the surface of the walls are amazingly well preserved and painstakingly restored. In other places the crumbled foundations of rooms and buildings hint at a past now lost and restoration work that is beyond the existing budget.
The only colour that you’ll find in Chan Chan in Trujillo is around the ceremonial lake in the heart of the citadel. Lush green reeds and lilies break up the monotony of brown mud bricks and the hazy sky. The colours that were almost certainly used to decorate the carvings on the walls have not survived the test of time, although enough of the decorations of Chan Chan in Trujillo are left for you to get an idea of what it used to look like.