Stand in the right spot and the glamorously colonial 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 flamboyant buildings and profusion of churches. Francisco Pizarro founded Trujillo in 1534, and he thought so highly of this patch of desert he named it after his birthplace in Spain’s Estremadura. Spoiled by the fruits of the fertile Moche Valley, Trujillo never had to worry about money – wealth came easily. With life’s essentials taken care of, thoughts turned to politics and life’s grander schemes; the city has a reputation for being a hotbed of revolt. The town was besieged during the Inca rebellion of 1536 and in 1820 was the first Peruvian city to declare independence from Spain. The tradition continued into the 20th century, as bohemians flocked, poets put pen to paper (including Peru’s best poet, César Vallejo), and rebels raised their fists defiantly in the air. It was here that the Alianza Popular Revolution Americana (APRA) workers’ party was formed – and many of its members were later massacred.
The behemoth Chimú capital of Chan Chan is nearby, though little remains of what was once the largest adobe city in the world. Other Chimú sites bake in the surrounding desert, among them the immense and suitably impressive Moche Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon), which date back 1500 years. When you get yourself ancient-cultured out, the village of Huanchaco beckons with its sandy beach, respectable surf and a more contemporary interpretation of sun worship.