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As you head up the Pan-American highway from Trujillo towards Chiclayo, you aren’t really aware that you are heading towards anything particularly ’important’. Chiclayo is the last big city before you get to Ecuador but it isn’t particularly noteworthy in itself so most tourists don’t head this far north. In a way, it’s their loss because, after Cuzco, the area around Chiclayo is probably the most important archaeological destination in South America!

The area’s importance is still not widely recognised - at least not outside Peru. Traditionally, this area had been seen as relatively unimportant in pre-Hispanic America but in the late seventies that began to be challenged. Then, in 1987, came the real wake-up call when Dr Walter Alva discovered the now-famous tomb of the Lord of Sipan. This is now rightly acknowledged as one of the most important archaeological finds of the last century.

The skeleton that Dr Alva discovered was buried in a wooden sarcophagus (itself a first in the Americas) and was literally surrounded by gold and silver jewellery, weapons, armour and other objects. By his side were the skeletons of two young women, a llama and a dog; at his feet was the skeleton of a young warrior with a golden shield.

This man, quickly christened the "Lord of Sipan" by the media, was clearly an important figure in the Mochica culture but his tomb occupied only one of the three huge burial pyramids. The other two were excavated later and were also found to contain rich tombs of individuals who we now know as "The Priest" and, confusingly, "The Old Lord of Sipan". The Old Lord’s burial in particular was very rich, including a gold scepter and a chest-guard made entirely from pearl shells. His burial was much older than the "Young" Lord of Sipan and shows that the site was in continuous use for centuries.

Work is still going on in the area (a new tomb almost as rich as the Lord of Sipan was found in 1998) and today, you can visit the site and also the Bruning Archeological Museum in nearby Lambayeque where many of the unearthed treasures are on display. It’s hard to overstimate the importance of these discoveries - imagine if we discovered a whole new Valley of the Kings in Egypt...

Work is continuing in the north to improve the infrastructure for tourists and we are confident that the area will soon be on more peoples’ Peru holiday itinerary but for now you can have it almost to yourself!

And the Lord of Sican?

This isn’t a typo! Dr. Alva, (the one who found the Lord of Sipan) was building on the important work done by Dr Izumi Shimada of the University of Arizona, who was the first to suggest that the Chiclayo area had been important in pre-Hispanic America. Prior to his work in the area, it was felt that the Moche valley around Trujillo had been at the centre of the Mochica culture, as well as the later Chimu civilization but that was to change. Dr Shimada correctly realised that many of the most important sites further north (in what is now known as the Batn Grande area) had been abandoned around 750AD but that traditional accounts did not account for what became of the people and society that had occupied them until much later. The fact that there had been so much grave-robbing in the area made it difficult to prove his hypothesis but suggested that he was not alone in thinking the area had been important.


Accordingly, in 1978, he began excavations in the area just to the north of Chiclayo where there was a high concentration both of huacas (adobe mounds) and trenches where graves has been robbed-out. Despite the damage it soon became clear that the area had been an important Mochica centre. Work in the area is still going on as part of the Sican Archaeological Project and you can visit the museum of the same name where you can see several excellent exhibitions including one on a Mochica nobleman who had become known as, wait for it, the Lord of Sican. So that’s the Lord of Sipan, the Old Lord of Sipan, and the Lord of Sican... They could have made it a bit easier, couldn’t they? We were confused ourselves until we went, so we recommend that the best thing is to get to know them all yourself by taking a proper look round! Our Great Northern Peru holiday features all the highlights of Chiclayo and much more.


Tucume - Valley of the Pyramids

Another fascinating site within easy reach is Peru’s answer to the valley of the Kings! The archaelogical site at Tucume contains the walls, squares and foundations of another ancient culture but the real highlight is the fact that there are also no less than 28 massive pyramids which have helped to sustain the discussion about pre-historic contact between the Mediterranean and South America. We can organise a guided tour of Tucume to make sure you don’t miss a thing!


Chiclayo and Pimentel

All these sites are easy to visit from the city of Chiclayo. The city itself is nothing special but makes a pleasant enough place to spend a couple of days as a base and the northern-style ceviche is particularly good here. There are also several pleasant beach resorts within easy reach, of which Pimentel is probably the nicest. There’s a nice walk along the promenade (including some good seafood restaurants) and the beach is clean and long. It’s also good for surfing although if you’re a real surfer we suggest you head a little further north.


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