Cajamarca – where the history of the Incas ends

Cajamarca view

I was thrilled to travel to Cajamarca. Not just because I’ve read about it so much in my lovely book, 1491, but also because it produces the best diary products (ice cream, cheese, yoghurt etc.) in the North. So, I allowed myself a long-weekend off during the Peruvian national holiday, Fiestas Patrias, and travelled to explore something new.

Chapel at Cerro Santa Apollonia
Chapel at Cerro Santa Apollonia

A bit about Cajamarca’s history

Cajamarca is a very special place: this is where the history of the Incas ends. This is the place where the Spanish conquistador Fransisco “Pizarro plotted to entice the Inca emperor Atahualpa into the plaza [..] and capture the Inca should the opportunity present”.* With 168 people against about five or six thousand troops, Pizarro managed to surprise the Incas on the central square of Cajamarca, by “firing canons, wearing armo[u]rs, and mounted on horses [..]. [T]he Spaniards suddenly charged into the square, [and] the Indians were so panicked by the smoke and fire and steel and charging animals that in trying to flee hundreds tramped each other to death. [Obviously] Spanish took advantage of the soldiers’ lack of weaponry to kill almost all the rest”. ** The Spanish eventually captured Atahualpa.

Main square of Cajamarca – Plaza de Armas
Main square of Cajamarca – Plaza de Armas

In exchange for his freedom, the Inca ruler promised to fill up a room twice with silver and once with gold, after observing how the precious metals could cloud the Spaniards’ minds. He promptly ordered his generals to strip Cusco from its silver and gold. But, instead of releasing Atahualpa, the Spanish garroted him, after the ransom was complete.

Cuarto de Rescate
The room that Atahualpa filled with precious metals in exchange for his freedom.

After talking about its historical importance, let’s see what the city has to offer in these days. Regarding the diary products: I spent three days in Cajamarca, had yummy fruity ice creams twice, tried manjar blanco every day and returned to Huanchaco with a litre of lúcuma yoghurt and a big peace of Q’S Chugur cheese:).

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But Cajamarca is also worth a visit for its sites and views.

Cajamarca’s surroundings: lovely villages and fascinating ruins

Moreover, the area around it hides some pretty spots, such as Cumbemayo, las Ventanillas de Otuzco or Llacanora.

Cumbemayo

The pictures speak for themselves. But just to add to them, at this site, you can see pre-Incan aqueducts that run in a zigzag form for about 9 km. Around it, sharp rock formations stretch towards the sky, hiding some pretty wild flowers. In the nearby cave, you can also see petroglyphs – some of them resembling mammoths.

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Las Ventanillas de Otuzco

Las Ventanillas is basically a large necropolis carved in a cliff. It dates back some 600 years and belonged to the Cajamarca culture. The 337 niches in the side of the cliff have square or rectangular shapes and were to honour the ancestors whose remains had been removed from their original tombs to be deposited in these niches.

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Llacanora

I knew that I don’t want to spend all my time on organised tours, following some good advice from colleagues, I convinced my travel partner, Debra to take a combi to this nearby little town. The picturesque village views we faced upon arrival were soon toppled by superb nature-experiences and looks to lovely waterfalls.

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Although the history of Incas ends in this town, Cajamarca has a lively present and holds a bright future, especially that locals aren’t suppressed by a monstrous mining company anymore (at least for the moment). I can highly recommend this lovely mountain town on about 2700 m height to visit, once in North Peru.

Iglesia Belén
Iglesia Belén

* Lonely Planet: Peru, Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2016.

** Charles C. Mann: 1491, Second Vintage Books Edition, 2011.

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