Chiclayo is the capital of the Department of Lambayeque and Peru’s fourth largest city, with a population of some 700,000. Although it dates back to the 16th century, it never became a major Colonial Spanish center, and was not officially founded until 1835.
Local supporters call Chiclayo La Ciudad de la Amistad (The City of Friendship), and its business-like bustle does have a certain, down-to-earth charm. It would not be on most travellers’ itineraries, however, were it not for one thing—the superb nearby archaeological sites, including: Sipán, home of the richest tomb ever found in the Americas; Ventarron, with possibly the oldest murals in the Americas; Chotuna-Chornancap, a Sican site, with evidence of mass human sacrifice; and Tucumé, the main complex in the Valley of the Pyramids.
Unlike most Peruvian towns, Chiclayo lacks a central Plaza de Armas, replacing it instead with an elongated Parque Central anchored by a neo-classical cathedral whose construction began in 1869, but which was not opened until 1916.
The city’s central streets, apart from a few main thoroughfares, are a hodge-podge of narrow, crooked, cobbled roads, harking back to the days when Chiclayo’s center was reached by donkey paths, rather than by stately roads.
A five-minute walk from the central park, Chiclayo’s Modelo Market encompasses several city blocks. Typical of most Peruvian city markets, it has specific sections for produce, meat, and fish, and small booths selling clothes and everyday household items.
Because Peruvians take alternative medicine seriously, especially in northern Peru, it also has a mercado de brujos (witch doctors’ market). Along this row of stalls on the market’s south side you will find herbs, teas, potions, salves, animal parts, snake skins, amulets, and hallucinogenic cacti for sale; and salespeople who will enthusiastically describe all the uses and benefits of their products.
Pimentel is Chiclayo’s favourite beach resort, located just 11 km (7 miles) southwest of the city. It has decent surfing conditions, a creaky, century-old pier, an interesting blend of new beach houses and 19th-century buildings, and a fishing port.
A few miles south, the traditional fishing village of Santa Rosa features colorful wooden boats, and simple - but good - seafood restaurants serving ceviche and the local specialty, tortillas de raya (stingray omelette).
Return to Chiclayo via Monsefú, a crafts village known especially for its straw hats, baskets, and fans, and for its chicha, a local corn drink.
Lying 46 km (28 miles) southeast of Chiclayo, Saña (also spelled Zaña) was founded in 1563 and became the region’s foremost colonial city. Repeatedly sacked by pirates in the 17th century, it was destroyed by El Niño floods in 1720. Today, desert sands surround the walls and arches of the four churches in this ghost town.
How to Visit: Chiclayo, with its good connections to and from Lima, and roads heading into the Andes Mountains - not to mention the remarkable archaeological attractions in the area - make for an excellent hub in our overland itineraries: