Cajamarca: A Love Affair. Part I.

After spending some time in the desert, I was ready to move on and experience the mountains that Peru is so famous for. Taking Julio’s advice, I booked a daytime bus for Sunday (rather than an overnight) on Transportes Linea from Trujillo to Cajamarca so that I could witness the beautiful scenery. It was truly remarkable; stunning mountains as far as the eye can see, small towns perched on the hillsides, and beautiful lakes. This is what I had been waiting for. Arriving in Cajamarca at night, without hotel reservations, was not as distressing as I had initially foreseen. Instructing my taxi driver to drop me off in the Plaza de Armas, I stepped out of the car onto a street lined with more hostels, hotels, and tourism agencies than I could count. Even at night, the view was beautiful!


Monasterio de San Francisco at night

Taking a few minutes to look over my options, I decided on the Hostal Santa Apolonia; a two-star hotel with a modern and clean-looking entrance. I chose wisely. I managed to get a single room for two nights for a total of 100 soles (about $40 US). The room wasn’t anything special; your standard single bed, private bathroom, nightstand, and TV. But it was somewhere cheap, clean, and safe to stay, and for that I was grateful.

Monday morning I woke up early and met up Jacqui, who had just arrived from Trujillo via night bus. We ate a quick breakfast and made our way over to Baños del Inca Tours, which I had discovered the night before, where we signed up to visit Cumbe Mayo. The tour cost 20 soles (about $8 US), and included transportation, a guide (Spanish-speaking only. If you want and English-speaking guide in Cajamarca, it’ll cost you a little extra since Gringos aren’t regular tourists to this area), site entrance ticket, and a two-hour tour of the site. Not bad!

After traveling up some steep switchbacks by van, we stopped at a lookout point so we could view city. Boy, was it beautiful!

Cajamarca viewpoint!

When we finally reached Cumbe Mayo (about 40 minutes later) we encountered stunning views of natural rock formations. The tour took us over 2 miles; through a cave, past numerous petroglyphs, an Incan aqueduct, women in local dress, herds of sheep, and some very interestingly shaped rocks!

Cumbe Mayo
Coming out of the cave!
Walking next to the aqueduct
Our tour group (Jacqui and I are on the left)
Walking next to the aquaduct

It took about an hour and a half to hike the 2 miles, mostly because the guide stopped us often to point out interesting landmarks, petroglyphs, or rock formations. It was a beautiful day, and there was a nice breeze, so the hike was definitely enjoyable. Be prepared though; the altitude (Cajamarca is at round 3,000 meters , or 9,000 feet) leaves one out of breath while climbing staircases and hillsides alike. So bring lots of water, and take it slow! After the hike, it was great to relax on the bus ride back to the city.

One of the great things about tours in Cajamarca, is that they are timed so that you can do more than one a day. Our Cumbe Mayo tour lasted from 9:30 am until about 1:30 pm. The next set of tours didn’t begin until 3:00pm, so we  had about an hour and a half to kill. We wisely spent it enjoying lunch at a local eatery, where I tried Lomo Saltada for the first time. It was delicious!

For our second tour of the day, we chose the Ventanillas de Cajamarca.  Since there is not a whole lot to see at the Ventanillas, the tour also included stops at 3 other local locations too. The first was a local wooden bridge that spanned the “Old River” of Cajamarca. It swayed precariously as the dozen or so of us cautiously made our way across, and from it we had a view of the rows and rows of colorful laundry handing to dry by the riverbank.

Ventanillas 2
"Old River"

Second, we made our way to the Ventanillas themselves. Carved into a rock wall, these square “windows” were used by the native Cajamarca people to house the bones of their dead. Only a short ride away from the city, and a quick hike up a small hillside, the Ventanillas were  both impressive and chilling at the same time.

Ventanillas de Cajamarca

Next, we visited an impressive botanical garden in the Baños del Inca district. All types of beautiful flowers bloomed around us, and a half dozen workers were spread out in the garden, doing some heavy duty gardening. Afterwards, we made our way to the garden’s shop, where we could buy a wide array of different local items; scarves, hats, etc.

Ventanillas 5
Some beautiful lilacs

Lastly, we visited the Queso “Los Alpes” dairy. Known for its high volume of cows, Cajamarca is known for itsmilk, manjar blanco, and cheese production. A local dairy, Los Alpes prides itself in using traditional Swiss Alpine techniques to make its cheese. Our guide lead us through the dairy where we got view the production and storage rooms. Afterwards, we crossed the courtyard to the dairy’s shop, where we tried different cheeses and had the opportunity to purchase some. As delicious as everything looked, I had no way of transporting it back to Lima with me so, sadly, I didn’t purchase any.

Production room at Queso Los Alpes

Upon returning to Cajamarca after our second tour, Jacqui and I set out to find dinner. We decided upon a restaurant attached to a local 3-star hotel, figuring it had to be good since it was managed by a hotel. Wrong. Hands down the worst dining experience I’ve had yet in Peru. Our food took over an hour to arrive, as did our drinks. And although the waitress seated us outside herself, it seemed as though she forgot about us – rarely making an appearance through the hour ordeal.

Despite this minor setback, the evening ended well – we sat down for (better) drinks at SkyeBar, a local lounge. The drinks were delicious, and the atmosphere was very relaxed, so it was a great end to a long day. Afterwards, we turned in early so we could get some rest before day 2 of sight-seeing.

Check back tomorrow for Part II of my Cajamarca adventure, when I discuss the city’s more local attractions!

Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.


Kate

I'm a 21-year from Boston, MA who recently graduated with a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology. In an attempt to put off entering the real world as long as possible, I jumped at the chance to spend 9 weeks in Peru as a volunteer/tourist/archaeology nerd. I am currently enjoying touring Peruvian archaeological sites, experiencing Lima like a local, and learning about all things Peruvian.

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