9 Places to Visit near Historically Important Cajamarca

Cajamarca is the capital city of the Region of Cajamarca in the northern highlands of Peru. It is one of Peru’s most important historic cities. This history goes back before the Spanish, and well before the Inca Empire. There are important historical and archaeological sites in the city and the surrounding area, some of which date back to at least 1000BC. Here are some good reasons to visit this area of Peru.

The city and region of Cajamarca are historically very important. It was home to numerous pre-Columbian cultures, and the last Inca king was killed there.

The city and region of Cajamarca are historically very important. It was home to numerous pre-Columbian cultures, and the last Inca king was killed there.


1. Plaza de Armas

The centre of the city has some spectacular examples of baroque colonial architecture. Most of these buildings are constructed from local, volcanic rock. While not as impressive as the ‘white city’, if you like Spanish architecture, Cajamarca is certainly worth exploring. On one side of the plaza is the Cathedral – on the other, the Iglesia de San Francisco. Both are constructed from this rock, but San Francisco is more impressive. It is older and its carved façade is much more ornate.

The very ornate baroque church of San Francisco stands on one side of the Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca.

The very ornate baroque church of San Francisco stands on one side of the Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca.

The Plaza de Armas is well-used by the residents. It has beautiful gardens and the fountain is over 350 years old. There are plenty of park benches to encourage sitting, relaxing and people-watching; a pastime in this part of Peru that is enhanced by the hats. Compared with other hat fashion in Peru, the locals seem to favour exaggerated head wear – they are taller and wider and more finely woven from straw. Nearby Celendin is the ‘hat capital’ of the region, and many of the hats you see are probably produced there.

And if you’re loitering in the plaza at the right time, you may also see a performance with the Clarinero Cajamarquino, a local musical instrument. They even have a day to celebrate it – the second Sunday in June.

Plaza de Armas, Cajamarca: Players of the Clarinero Cajamarquino in the foreground, with the lit-up Cathedral in the background.

Plaza de Armas, Cajamarca: Players of the Clarinero Cajamarquino in the foreground, with the lit-up Cathedral in the background.


2. The Central Market and Dairy Products

The Mercado Central is only a couple of blocks from Plaza de Armas. It sells all the usual things you’d expect from a produce market. Unusual is the number of shops lining the streets around the market that sell the cheese and other milk products this area is famous for. We bought cheese and yoghurt and looked for unsalted butter, without success. Some of these shops also sell local coffee, which is actually quite good.

One of the colourful stalls in the Mercado Central of Cajamarca. The nuts and seeds and dried fruit certainly attracted us.

One of the colourful stalls in the Mercado Central of Cajamarca. The nuts and seeds and dried fruit certainly attracted us.

One of the many shops selling dairy products along the streets surrounding the Mercado Central in Cajamarca. The decoration leaves no doubt about what it's selling.

One of the many shops selling dairy products along the streets surrounding the Mercado Central in Cajamarca. The decoration leaves no doubt about what it’s selling.

 

3. Belén Monumental Complex

Cajamarca Belén Monumental Complex: the courtyard.

Cajamarca Belén Monumental Complex: the courtyard.

One historic site, which is worth visiting is the Conjunto Monumental Belén. It’s just a few blocks from the centre and is probably one of the city’s most important architectural complexes. It is also built from volcanic rock with intricate carvings. The complex is set around an impressive courtyard, with the Iglesia Belén on one side and the Hospital de Hombres on another. There are various other rooms around the plaza, which are not open to the public. Curiously, the Hospital de Mujeres is across the street, and it houses an interesting Archaeological and Ethnological Museum.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


4. The Ransom Room

Before it was the colonial city you see today, Cajamarca was an important Inca city. History was made here in 1532 when the last Inca Emperor, Atahualpa, was captured by the Spanish and eventually executed in the plaza. This was the place where the Spanish began to take South America from the Inca Empire.

Atahualpa's Ransom Room: this is the exterior of the only Inca construction left in Cajamarca.

Atahualpa’s Ransom Room: this is the exterior of the only Inca construction left in Cajamarca.

Atahualpa's Atahualpa's Ransom Room: this is the interior of the room - the red mark shows to where the treasure was filled.

Atahualpa’s Ransom Room: this is the interior of the room – the red mark shows to where the treasure was filled.

 

Cuarto del Rescate is the only remaining Inca structure in the city. It was in this room that Atahualpa spent his final days. He had offered a huge ransom (filling this room several times) to the Spanish for his release. They took the ransom and executed him anyway. It’s open to the public and entry is by a combined ticket with the Belén Monumental Complex.


5. Inca Baths

Just a few kilometres outside Cajamarca is a town called Los Baños del Inca, where people have been bathing in the thermal springs for centuries, starting with the Inca. Apparently, Atahualpa was relaxing here when the Spanish arrived in Cajamarca.

We didn't visit Los Baños del Inca, but this is a photo of them.

We didn’t visit Los Baños del Inca, but this is a photo of them from Image Credit

It is a very popular place for locals and tourists alike. We didn’t try the baths because we have no particular attraction to hot springs, but include them here for those of you who do.


6. Polloc – Mosaic Wonderland

Santuario de la Virgen del Rosario: the front of the church and the plaza - tiles everywhere.

Santuario de la Virgen del Rosario: the front of the church and the plaza – tiles everywhere.

If you continue from Los Baños del Inca on the Ruta 08B, after around 30Km from Cajamarca you will find the small town of Polloc. The Santuario de la Virgen del Rosario was created by a local artisan and his students. The mosaics are really impressive – we didn’t get to see the inside of the church because it was closed when we were there. That must be truly spectacular, judging by photos we’ve seen on this blog .

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


7. Otuzco Burial Niches

It wasn’t just the Chachapoya people who liked to bury their dead in cliff faces. The Ventanillas de Otuzco are just a few kilometres from Los Baños del Inca, and the ‘windows’ are actually carved out niches in rocky outcrops where the Caxamarca culture interred their dead, probably around 500BC.

Ventanillas de Otuzco, near Los Baños del Inca: these are carved out burial niches of the Caxamarca culture.

Ventanillas de Otuzco, near Los Baños del Inca: these are carved out burial niches of the Caxamarca culture.

Another view of the burial niches at Ventanillas de Otuzco, outside Cajamarca.

Another view of the burial niches at Ventanillas de Otuzco, outside Cajamarca.

 

You can continue along the same road for another 20Km and reach Ventanillas de Combayo, which are:

“more numerous and spectacular, being located in an isolated, mountainous area, and distributed over the face of a steep 200-m-high hillside” [Footprint South American Handbook , Amazon Link]

We heard the road was pretty rough going, so contented ourselves with a visit to the Ventanillas de Otuzco.


8. Cumbe Mayo

South-west of Cajamarca you will find this really interesting place. The road is not the best one we’ve driven – but better than some. After 20Km you will see amazing rock formations, petroglyphs and an aqueduct that is probably more than 3000 years old.

The stunning rock structures at Cumbe Mayo, outside Cajamarca.

The stunning rock structures at Cumbe Mayo, outside Cajamarca.

It’s a wonderful place to wander around slowly. You will be given a brochure with a map at the entrance. It follows a circuit through a valley between the rocks, down to the aqueduct and there are petroglyphs marked along the way. Some say the aqueduct could be the oldest man-made construction on the continent. But they just keep finding sites in Peru, so this can’t be a sure thing.

You can take a tour from Cajamarca, and will probably gather some very interesting information. We chose to drive ourselves, and were relieved we had when we heard the tour guides hurrying along their groups and calling to stragglers to catch up.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


Driving from Cajamarca to Kuntur Wasi gave us some amazing mountain views like this one - and another windy road.

Driving from Cajamarca to Kuntur Wasi gave us some amazing mountain views like this one – and another windy road.

9. Kuntur Wasi

Although this site is over 100Km from Cajamarca city, it’s still in the region. (Note that you can reach it on another route which is only around 70Km from the city, but the road is reportedly in terrible condition.) Tour operators take groups on day trips to the site. The road we took is the major highway to Chiclayo and the coast. We stopped in on our way to the coast, and spent the night parked in front of the museum.

Next morning we first visited the Site Museum, which houses a permanent exhibition of the objects found during excavations of the ruin site. It lays out the 4 phases of the use of the site by different cultures, showing examples of objects made from pottery, bone, shells, and stone. The most important discoveries were the tombs and the accompanying relics – many made from gold. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in that part of the museum.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

After the museum, we climbed the hill behind to the Kuntur Wasi Ceremonial Centre. It is certainly in a scenic location, on top of a hill with views into the distant mountains. This centre dates back to 1100BC and ceased to be used during the final Sotera Phase (250-50 BC).

The main stair at the ruins of the Kuntur Wasi Ceremonial Centre.

The main stair at the ruins of the Kuntur Wasi Ceremonial Centre.


These are just some of the interesting sights in and around the city of Cajamarca.

Sights that we didn’t visit near Cajamarca

  • Santa Apolonia Natural Viewpoint – a hill near the centre of the city that provides an incredible view of the city and the Cajamarca Valley. It is also the site of the Silla del Inca.
  • La Recoleta Monumental Complex – a 17th century church and monastery, which is about 4 blocks from Plaza de Armas.
  • Cooperativa Agraria Atahualpa Jerusalén – Porcón Farm is 30Km north of the city. It gives the visitor an experience of nature and agricultural life.
Cajamarca is an attractive colonial city, as this row of houses with carved balconies shows.

Cajamarca is an attractive colonial city, as this row of houses with carved balconies shows.


There are many good reasons to visit this historic city, and its surrounding area, but driving the road from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca is not one of them!

In our post about Arequipa we asked the question: Is Arequipa the Most Beautiful City in Peru?
At that time we suggested:

Google ‘colonial cities in Peru’, and the list is Cusco, Arequipa, Trujillo, Lima, Cajamarca and Ayacucho . Of these Cajamarca is the only one we haven’t visited – yet.

Now that we have visited Cajamarca, we still hold the opinion that Arequipa is the most beautiful city in Peru.

What do you think?
Have you visited any/all of these Peruvian colonial cities?
Do you agree?

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The city and region of Cajamarca, in the north of Peru, are historically very important. The area was home to several pre-Columbian high cultures, who left numerous ruin sites behind. The invading Spaniards killed the last Inca king in this city, which led to the quick fall of the Inca empire. Our post shows you 9 places you should not miss near Cajamarca.

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Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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