Set the time machine for March 2016 — yep, it’s been over a year since we meandered along the western coast of South America. This destination, however, remains one of the strangest we’ve come across in awhile.
Today, it’s a ghost town with just a few small signs of life. Located about 50 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean and relatively close to the Andes mountains, this area of Western Peru has been inhabited for millennia. The area was mined for gold and silver during the 16th and 17th centuries, and word spread that the town was wealthy. Pirates began to invade the area starting in the late 17th century, and plenty more followed. Mother Nature brought torrential rains in 1720, which led to flooding that caused the Spanish elites to leave. The freed slaves and natives remained, and over time they continued their own culture.
I would have loved to see more of that culture, and what little remains looks to have been made part of our destination today: the Afro-Peruvian Museum. While in Zaña, we were both intrigued by some of the centuries-old churches that now stand in ruins and (mostly) unguarded / unprotected from the elements:
The roofs have long collapsed, but the pillars of bricks still stand. At least three large Spanish-era churches have remnants that are still visible today, though you’ll want to put on your exploring hat here. The sole tourist map we saw was just inside the central Convento de San Agustin, seen above. This is a great starting point for the archaeological sites, and the only place where we saw a human taking money (3 soles for a several-site ticket). The other sites are such that you could easily meander without anyone else around…
Along Santo Toribo – Western dead end for the Capilla Santo Toribio. Santo Toribio is the modern church – enter through the red archway and you’ll see La Merced – an impressive set of front door and side wall. Nothing else remains, however, and there’s just enough signage to get you around. Take a picture of the map with your phone to help navigate, or rely on Google Maps for the approximate location, and you’ll figure out how to get there.
For Iglesia Matriz from La Merced, look right for the higher gravel road. Pass the site you’ll see on the right, then turn right. Go about 75 meters and look for the blue sign. Turn right and walk down the narrow path to approach the church. It’s kind of out in the middle of a corn field, but there’s an obvious enough dirt path to help.
For San Francisco from Iglesia Matrix, turn left on the main road and then a quick right just before blue sign you saw earlier. Walk along the dirt road past some corn fields and you’ll see the San Francisco church. The archways and doorways survived, but not much else.
Now, about that museum…
The country’s only Afro-Peruvian museum is here in Zaña, and collects elements of the former slaves lives. After the pirate raids plagued the area in the late 17th century, the wealthy Spanish fled to Trujillo and left the slaves to fend for themselves. They stood up for themselves, rebuilt the community as they saw, and held rituals and ceremonies the Spanish saw as pagan. That flood in 1720 caused the rest of Spanish (and only the Spanish) to leave, supposedly convinced it was the slaves’ African traditions that caused the flood. Now freed, the former slaves had their own community.
The Afro-Peruvian museum is easy enough to spot from Calle Independencia, and the white facade stands out a bit from other houses. It clearly doesn’t see many visitors, but the person who took our money and gave us tickets gave us a brief introduction before letting us meander.
Inaugurated in 2005, the collections and preservation efforts started as early as 1975. A number of local instruments make up the collection in this first room.
Some wonderfully colorful masks, though there was no info on what these were used for or when they were used.
A reminder that the African diaspora is huge. There’s zero English in the museum, so bring a Spanish speaker or get ready to translate a bunch of stuff. I don’t know if companies like Bookmundi offer tours to cities like this, but they’d be a good starting point if you wanted some professional guidance..
A rather tacky photo-op outside, along with some worn chains that may well have been centuries old.
As I understand the history, the Spanish never came back to the area. This town, along with a number of other smaller towns, is still rebuilding from an major earthquake some years back — and there’s never enough money to go around.
It’s a worthwhile day trip from Lambayeque or Chiclayo, but I did not see any hotels or stores larger than a mom-and-pop style of convenience store. Once you’ve arrived, expect to be on foot until you leave.
Name: Museo Afroperuano and Zaña’s old churches
Address: Calle Independencia #653, Zaña, Peru (GPS: -6.922483, -79.584688)
Directions: We caught a minivan / colectivo from Lambayeque to Zaña (4 soles a person). These seemed to come occasionally across from Lambayeque’s main attraction, the Tumbas Reales (Royal Tombs of Sipan). You may also find them coming from Chiclayo as well.
Hours: 9:30am-1pm and 2:30pm-5pm
Admission: 5 soles (Ruins of Convento San Agustin – 3 soles for 5 sites)
Phone: 979 461 809
Ratings out of 5 globes (How do I rate destinations?)
Ease to arrive:
(I strongly recommend bringing your own drinks / snacks from wherever you’re coming from!)
Worth the visit:
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Also published on Medium.