Part of the beauty of this site comes from its sitting at the heart of an ancient forest, dominated by algarrobo trees, spreading out over some 13,400 hectares, a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert landscape. Over ninety percent of Peru’s ancient gold artefacts are estimated to have come from here – you’ll notice there are thousands of holes, dug over the centuries by treasure hunters. Batán Grande is also known to have developed its own copper-smelting works, which produced large quantities of flat copper plates – naipes – that were between 5 and 10cm long. These were believed to have been used and exported to Ecuador as a kind of monetary system.
The Sicán culture arose to fill the void left by the demise of the Mochica culture around 700 AD, and were the driving force in the region from 800 to 1100 AD, based here at Batán Grande. Known to archeologists as the Initial Lambayeque Period, judging by the beauty and extent of the pyramids here, this era was clearly a flourishing one. Nevertheless, Batán Grande was abandoned in the twelfth century and the Sicán moved across the valley to Túcume, probably following a deluge of rains (El Niño) causing devastation, epidemics and a lack of faith in the power of the ruling elite. This fits neatly with the legend of the Sicán leader Naymlap’s descendants, who evidently brought this on themselves by sacrilegious behaviour. There is also some evidence that the pyramids were deliberately burnt, supporting the latter theory.
The main part of the site that you visit today was mostly built between 750 and 1250 AD, and comprises the Huaca del Oro, Huaca Rodillona, Huaca Corte and the Huaca Las Ventanas, where the famous Tumi de Oro was uncovered in 1936. The tomb of El Señor de Sicán (not to be confused with the tomb of El Señor de Sipán), on the north side of the Huaca El Loro, contained a noble with two women, two children and five golden crowns; these are exhibited in the excellent museum in nearby Ferreñafe. From the top of these pyramids you can just about make out the form of the ancient ceremonial plaza on the ground below.
Bosque de Pomac
The National Sanctuary of the Pomac Forest is the largest dry forest in western South America. A kilometre or so in from the interpretative centre you’ll find the oldest algarrobo tree in the forest, the árbol milenario; over a thousand years old, its spreading, gnarled mass is still the site for pagan rituals, judging from the offerings hanging from its twisted boughs, but it’s also the focus of the Fiesta de las Cruces on May 3. In the heart of the reserve lies the Bosque de Pomac, where over forty species of bird such as mockingbirds, cardinals, burrowing owls and hummingbirds have been identified, and most visitors at least see some iguanas and lizards scuttling into the undergrowth. Rarer, but still present, are wild foxes, deer and anteaters. There’s also a mirador (viewing platform) in the heart of the forest, from where it’s possible to make out many of the larger huacas. Although there is hostel accommodation at the interpretative centre, it’s rarely available or open: you’ll have to turn up and chance it; there is a camping area outside, however. The café here, selling basic snacks, is not always functioning, so bring a picnic.