Chankillo, 2,300-year-old solar observatory declared UNESCO world heritage
Chankillo hit the headlines in July 2021 when it was included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Until then its importance was relatively unknown and protections were nearly nonexistent. The announcement was a welcomed milestone for so many who spent years tirelessly safeguarding this extraordinary heritage such as Dr. Ivan Ghezzi.
The 384 km between Lima city and Chankillo was no obstacle for us to head out north to explore it. Would you mind the long drive if it meant that you could see what is considered to be the oldest solar observatory in the Americas?
Our experience was made even more special since we got to explore the archaeological site firsthand together with Dr. Ivan Ghezzi himself.
We have put together an account of our experience and, of course, our very own insider tips.
A Masterpiece of Human Genius for Mankind
That is how UNESCO has described this unique archaeological site and without a doubt, we are going to have to back up this claim. Visiting Chankillo reminded us of the ancient Peruvian wisdom our people gained by simply observing their surroundings.
Located in the Peruvian coastal desert, Chankillo is a natural viewpoint for the sun’s movements throughout the year. Its original discoverers figured this out over 2,000 years ago! Thirteen towers were built to accurately meet the natural horizon of the location and the site was guarded by its very own fortified temple. The attention put into constructing Chankillo is nothing short of fascinating and is, therefore, one of our top recommendations for archaeology and/or solar astronomy buffs!
Our off-the-beaten-path adventure…how did we get there?
Chankillo lies approximately 5 to 6 hours from Lima, in the province of Casma located on the coast of the Ancash region. It might sound far, but there is plenty to do along the way! To make the most of our visit, we left Lima in the early morning and followed the northern Pan-American Highway to our destination for the day.
Our very early wake-up demanded a well-deserved breakfast stop in the Chancay district. A steaming hot cup of coffee and a ‘pan con chicharron’ (a delicious local fried pork sandwich) did just the trick for us. For some perfect road trip snacks, make sure to get some fresh local bread and tamales here. Take a look around at the authentic handicrafts sold in Chancay and make sure to take some souvenirs home!
After this pitstop, we planned brief visits to other sites such as Bandurria and Caral. These are the perfect stops to make on the way for those who want to see more archaeological attractions.
At lunchtime, we continued on to the Huacho district where we had a mouthwatering seafood lunch. The regional cuisine included ancestral recipes such as ‘charquican’ (an anchovy-based stew) prepared by local fishermen in Carquin. If you feel like a digestif, then we recommend making a stop at Bodega Barzola for a Pisco shot or their Baileys-like variations (prepared with local fruits).
From here, it was only 3 more hours to go to get to Casma. Upon arriving in Casma you could either spend the night in the city or continue on directly to Chankillo to enjoy the sunset. Of course, we decided to go watch the sunset. San Rafael Community was our last checkpoint before leaving the highway behind to take on an off-road dirt path which would ultimately bring us to the spectacular esplanade.
Where to Stay
Casma is home to various small, locally owned properties where you could spend a comfortable night after an afternoon visit or before a morning visit to Chankillo.
If you wish to extend your stay (as we did), opt for a lovely stay at Empedrada Lodge, a ranch-type property in Supe Valley (located 3 hours from Lima) surrounded by their own crop fields growing tangerines and avocados and only a few minutes away from the Sacred Citadel of Caral.
Sunrise or Sunset?
We were lucky enough to get to witness Chankillo in all its glory at both mesmerizing moments. An afternoon visit features a vibrantly beautiful sunset, shedding enough light to bring to life the shadows of the archaeological monuments. This golden light creates picture-perfect moments. However, one important detail to note is the very harsh wind at this time of the day.
A morning visit allows you to witness the sunrise between two towers on one side of the main esplanade. The glowing light embraces the site and creates a calm ambiance surrounding what was once a place of worship. If you enjoy birdwatching, this is also a great opportunity to witness coastal birds in a quieter environment. Keep in mind though, that watching the sunrise demands a very early wake-up. We had to be at the San Rafael checkpoint before 7 AM.
Our Insider Tips
- Make sure to pack a windbreaker regardless of whether you visit in the morning or the afternoon.
- Bring comfortable summer clothes, however, make sure to pack something warmer as well, as it might be cool before the sun rises (or after it sets).
- Pack a light neck warmer to avoid getting any sand on you, especially if visiting in the afternoon. Make sure to bring shoes that are comfortable and appropriate for walking in the desert.
- If you are into unraveling mysteries, enhance your stay in the area with a few extra stops at other sites within the Lima Region that remain under constant investigation: The Ceremonial Site of Vichama, The Warriors Temple of Sechin, or the amazing and renowned Sacred City of Caral.
- Join living culture by learning from the locals of the area. Join a workshop to learn how to weave rush baskets, or listen to the stories of fishermen at local coves.