Long before the Incas conquered the Sicán, Chimú, and Chachapoyas people in the 1450s, Northern Peru was already home to the Chavin, Cupisnique, Recuay, Moche, and Cajamarca civilizations.  The advanced and rich cultures of these people have been evident in the great ruins of northern Peru.  Sadly, despite the many historical facts and stories these ruins hold, the following sites are the least visited by tourists:

Huaca de la Luna


In 50AD-800AD, the old civilization of Moche constructed the Shrines of the Moon and the Sun, locally called as the Huacas de la Luna y del Sol to serve as their centers of religious and administrative activities.  These two temples are part of the Huacas de Moche, which is the remnants of Cerro Blanco, the capital city of ancient Moche.  Today, only the Huaca de la Luna is open for visitations because the Huaca del Sol was largely destroyed in 17th century by the Spanish conquerors.

The Huaca de la Luna once hold fantastic murals that were painted in magnificent colors, however, time has weathered the outer murals into a soft brown color.  On top of the adobe pyramid lays a ceremonial plaza that had been rebuilt over the generations.  Archeologists have discovered three ancient layers that behold the life of the Moche civilization and their destroyer god that resembles an octopus.

Cumbe Mayo (Cajamarca)

Cumbe Mayo means “Thin Rivers” in Quecha.  The name is also thought to come from the phrase kunpi mayu  which means well-made water channel in Quecha.  Cumbe Mayo is the archeological site located in Cajamarca that rests on a elevation of approximately 11,000 feet (3,300 meters). It holds an elaborate system of aqueducts that stretch five miles in terms of length and wherein rain water is stored in the mountains and flows freely all year round through the channels down the valley.  The Cumbe Mayo is believed to have been built sometime in 1500 B.C. which makes it South America’s oldest man-made structure that still stands today.

Chavín de Huántar (near Huaraz)


1000BC-200BC, Chavín de Huántar served as the center of religious activity in Northern Peru.  Over the years, the earth covered the passageways through a series of landslides and resulted in the series of labyrinth that have formed underground.  A sculpture of Chavin civilization’s most important diety, Lanzón, is located right in the middle of the underground labyrinth.

The Chavín de Huántar is located in Lima, Peru, and has been chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Today, the site still holds the ruins and archeological artifacts of the Chavin, although some of them have been transferred to the Museo de la Nación in Lima for public display.  The Ancash Archeological Museum in Huaraz also house some of the carvings found in the original religious site.   However, the Lanzón can still be found in the Chavín de Huántar where devotees and visitors have to go through a maze of tunnels to reach the center.

Chan Chan (Trujillo)

In AD 850, the Kingdom of Chimu built the Chan Chan, a vast adobe city that served as its capital until they were conquered by the Incas in AD 1470.   It was discovered by a Spanish conqueror named Conquistador Francisco Pizarro.  Later on, present day archeologists estimated that approximately 30,000 people lived here.

The Chan Chan’s city layout reflected the strong social and political strategies of their time.  It was divided into nine palaces that collectively form independent units.  In 1986, the Chan Chan was hailed as another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, it was severely damaged by the El Niño floods.  Today, the Chan Chan is still in danger or earthquakes that could damage it more.  But the sands have preserved some of the city’s palaces like the Nik An whose carvings show the civilization’s strong dependence on the sea.

Fortress of Kuelap (Chachapoyas)

The city of Chachapoyas, located in the Amazonas region, holds the ancient fortress of Kuelap and the other ruins of the Chachapoyas ancient culture.  The Kuelap fortress is a famous archeological structure that housed over 400 buildings inside its enormous outer walls.  The fortress itself is about 110 meters in width and 600 meters in length.  Archeologists believe that it had been built as a defense against the Huari or other hostile groups during the ancient times of the Chachapoyas yet there are still no sufficient evidence of such claim.  In the 16th century, most of the residential structures in Kuelap were destroyed by the Spaniards but more than 400 of Kuelap’s foundational platforms survived.


Sipán, Túcume, and Batan Grande (Chiclayo)


Chiclayo, capital city of the region of Lambayeque located in northern peru, was once the home for the ancient civilizations of Chimú, Sicán, and Moche.  The rich cultures of these three civilizations were evident in the vast ruins they left that include tombs that held ceramics, golden artifacts, precious stones, and adobe pyramids among others.

While most of the ruins have been cleaned off of artifacts and other precious findings in the years that followed its individual discoveries, one of its famous discoveries was the tomb of the Lord of Sipán.  This urged archeologists to find out more about the culture and customs of these ancient people.  While nearby pryramids such as the Batan Grande and Túcume have been damaged greatly by the floods caused by El Niño, continuous excavation brings forth new findings about the ruins and the ancient civilizations.   While the neighboring ruins can sometimes make it difficult to distinguish one civilization from the other, here are some of the museums you can visit as well: Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum, Bruning National Archaeological Museum, and Bruning National Archaeological Museum.


Laguna de los Condores (Leymebamba)


In 1996, several farmers accidentally found six burial buildings known locally as “chullpas” suspended almost 100 meters above Laguna de los Condores in Peru.  The chullpas contained approximately 200 mummies are believed to belong to the ancient civilization of Chachapoyas that existed during 800AD – 1450AD. They also discovered at least 200 pieces of artifacts at the site.  The accidental discovery of the chullpas initiated further learning about this ancient civilization in Peru who existed long before the Incas.  At present time, the mummies now reside in the Museo Leymebamba for public display but travelers are still advised to trek to the site to see the mausoleums themselves.

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