Machu Picchu may be the most famous ruin site in Peru, but it is certainly not the only site in this large country.
Around Trujillo, there are two ruin sites, far less well known than Machu Picchu but in fact of great historical importance.
I'll start with the Chan Chan complex as of the two I will cover it was the first I visited, as per advice from fellow volunteers. The site is home to the now ruined capital city of the Chimú Empire and sits nearly the whole way from Huanchaco to Trujillo. It is in fact the the largest pre-Columbian ruins in the whole of South America.
So why haven't you heard of it?
Much of the site now sadly consists of melted mud walls due to years of neglect, and probably the battering the ancient buildings receive every time L Niño has been strong.
There are areas that have been preserved and/or reconstructed and it is possible to get an idea of what the city may have been like. You can also hire a guide to add to your experience. This is apparently a bit hit or miss; I'd heard about great guides...ours unfortunately spent a lot of time talking about herself and not really enough about the history of the amazing site we were paying to hear about.
I would recommend a visit though, it's accessible on public buses between Trujillo and Huanchaco and inexpensive. I would also suggest, that you see Chan Chan before the Huacas del Moche (Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol). The site here may not be as vast as Chan Chan but the museum is informative and parts of Huaca de la Luna are amazingly well preserved, in part due to the history of the temple that stands there.
The Huacas deal Moche is thought to have been the capital city of Moche culture between 400 and 600 AD, and a site of great ceremonial importance. Huaca deal Sol is shut to visitors in anticipation of more archeological work. However, Huaca de la Luna is open, and there are an amazing number of murials still intact (/ reconstructed) with the original colours still vibrant. The museum also contains original artifacts that are both intricate and in super condition.
The temple apparently was 'reinvented' five times whilst the site was still the centre of power. By this I mean the temple was added to, on top of the original structure, and this has helped protect the lower levels of the temple from the elements. Amazingly, archeological work only really started here in the early 1990s. There has clearly been more effort put into protecting this site from natural decay and theft than at Chan Chan, and encouragingly the work continues.
I would like to go back in 10 years time and see what else has been discovered - watch this space!
The big issue for these two sites and the Chavín ruins near Huaraz is a lack of funding and political will to preserve the sites and research the histories further. It is hard to recover or reconstruct what has already been lost, but it would be a crying shame if these former cultural, religious and political centres were simply allowed to decay. They represent unique and different periods in Peru's history and culture but that are tied to the present, for example by the economic importance of sea based industry for the Chimú culture, and for Huanchaco today (fishing, not surfing you understand...).