Trujillo is a city in northwestern Peru. It’s known for the nation’s traditional dance, marinera. Stand in the right spot and the glamorous streets of old Trujillo look like they’ve barely changed in hundreds of years. Well, there are more honking taxis now, but the city still manages to put on a dashing show with its polychrome buildings and profusion of colonial-era churches. Most people come here to visit the remarkable pre-Incan archaeological sites nearby, spending just a short time wandering the compact city center.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Trujillo for ideal weather are April to June or September to November based on average temperature.
Top Places to Visit in Trujillo
1. Chan Chan
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. This massive city was Chan Chan, a complex of adobe and sand. 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. 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.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.
Not many visitors to Peru are aware that it may have been the birthplace of surfing. Here in Huanchaco, however—a coastal suburb of bustling Trujillo that drifts at a much slower pace—the traditional reed boats known as caballitos de totora are considered to be the world’s first surf craft. When strolling along the oceanfront promenade that runs through Huanchaco’s downtown, you’re sure to see plenty of the pointy reed boats scattered about the sand. Huanchaco is also Surf City, Peru, and this is one of the best places on the Peruvian coastline for learning to ride a wave. For those who prefer to stay land based, the archeological sights of Trujillo are only a short taxi ride away, although there are a few sights in Huanchaco itself if you’d prefer to stroll about town. One such sight is the Santuario de la Virgen del Socorro, a white, Colonial, hilltop church which, having been constructed in 1535, is the second oldest church in Peru. Or, for an authentic Huanchaco experience, take a walk through the downtown market to watch local fishermen hawk their catch as fish flop around on the floor. The summer months of January-March are the best for tanning at the beach, although the winter months of May through September are often cloudy and cool.
3. Trujillo Cathedral
Located in the heart of Trujillo’s historic center, this cathedral (aka the Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary), brightly painted yellow with white wedding-cake piping and twin bell towers, is a stalwart representation of the city’s colonial past. Highlights are its noteworthy altarpieces and religious paintings in the cathedral’s art museum. You won’t miss the cathedral, which dominates the palm-fronded Plaza de Armas. The restored vaulted interior features a set of ornate baroque and rococo altarpieces, representing the height of Trujillo’s remarkable wood-engraving tradition. Look up to the coppola to admire the vivid painting illustrating Christ’s resurrection. Remarkable colonial-era Catholic paintings—in particular, one depicting John the Baptist—are found in the church’s Museum of Religious Art. The cathedral and its museum are open 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturday. Masses are usually held at 6pm, 7pm, and 8pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, and at 8pm on Thursday. Be sure to stroll by the church at night when it is illuminated, casting a charming glow over the plaza.
4. El Carmen Church
The Trujillo Cathedral is the most well-known building in town, but the city has more than a dozen Colonial churches that visitors can photograph and enjoy. One of these churches, El Carmen Church, is only four blocks from the Plaza de Armas and the famous Trujillo Cathedral, but is far enough away from the heart of the action that you can still find moments of reflection. Stretched out over an entire block, this massive white church with its bright red trim defines Colonial architecture. Constructed in 1724, the main draw of this Colonial masterpiece isn’t the building itself, however, but rather the large collection of art that is on display within the church. With over 150 original paintings, El Carmen Church has the largest collection of Colonial art in Trujillo. El Carmen Church is open for visitors from 9am-1pm, Monday-Saturday.
5. Temple of the Dragon
Temple of the Dragon (Huaco el Dragon) is an immaculately preserved Chimú temple just outside Trujillo. The pyramid-shaped adobe structure features intricate frieze murals depicting rainbows, dragons, and figures that have valiantly stood the test of time. Less known than other Chimú sites, this anti-seismic temple is an engineering marvel.