When I last left off, I had just detailed how Jacqui and I spent the day hiking through the amazing site of Cumbe Mayo, and visiting the equally impressive Ventanillas de Cajamarca. For day two of our stay in the beautiful mountain city, we decided to forego some of the other full-day tour options to check out some of the more local (and walkable) attractions Cajamarca had to offer. Our day started early – 6 am. When I woke up the sun had not yet made it over the tall peaks surrounding the city, and as I got my things together I was able to watch the sky turn from a deep navy blue to a beautiful early-morning light pink. It was amazing.
The reason for getting up at such an early hour? We were headed to the famed Baños del Inca, one of the better-known attractions that Cajamarca has to offer. The Baños, naturally heated hot springs located only a mile or two outside the city, are said to have been used by Atahualpa (the Incan ruler) and his family. They are also rumored to have healing powers, although you’ll have to experience the baños yourself to determine that one. Hundreds of years later, the water from the hot springs has been channeled into an olympic-sized pool and several small private baths for the public to enjoy. It’s said that the water is the warmest early in the morning (and the crowds aren’t so big), which is why we chose such an early hour to depart. Don’t have a bathing suit or towel with you? No problem! There are several vendors in front of the entrance to the baños who can sell you one for a decent price.
Once inside the complex, Jacqui and I took pictures of the steam rising off the pools of water, and the beautiful garden that occupied the center of the complex. Then, for only a few soles, we got our own private room where we enjoyed soaking in the warm water for almost 2 hours. It was glorious. After our relaxing soak in the baños, we headed back to our respective hotels to change out of our suits and take a quick siesta. We reconvened at lunch time to have a quick bite. I tried Lomo Saltado, a popular Peruvian dish, for the first time and really enjoyed it!
After lunch we headed over to Atahualpa’s ransom room; also another popular tourist attraction in Cajamarca. Carefully secluded behind huge wooden doors and situated under a protective tent roof, the small building looks so simple for having such an incredible past. It was here that the Incan ruler Atahualpa was held prisoner by the Spanish. It is said that this was possibly also the place of his death – a mysterious red stain is visible on the floor of the building.
After touring the Ransom Room, we walked a block over to the Cajamarca Cultural Center. In the middle of a large plaza, men and women in traditional highland garb were playing Peruvian music, and engaging each other in conversation. In an adjacent room was a beautiful exhibit displaying the work of some of the countries finest silversmiths in the most intricate designs.
Next we visited the the archaeology museum which housed findings from both Cumbe Mayo and the Ventanillas, as well as other local sites. The museum is in a somewhat poorly-kept but still stunningly beautiful old building with vaulted ceilings and faded murals. It gives the artifacts a haunting backdrop.
Right down the street was the Convent of San Francisco. Much smaller than the one in Lima, but still just as interesting, it allowed us to know more about the lives of the monks who lived there. Dressing rooms and personal quarters all lay as if untouched; rucksacks still hanging on their pegs, writing desks and books all undisturbed. It was like looking directly at the past. It was incredible. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
Our final destination of the day was Iglesia Santa Apolonia and the Inca Throne. Traversing up some 200+ stairs to the small chapel, we took a minute or two to take in the incredible view (and catch our breath). Then for the meager price of 1 sole we entered the gardens that topped the hill in order to work our way up to the Inca Throne. A stone slab sitting atop the hill, it offered beautiful views of the city and the entire valley, and was truly worth the long (and tiring) climb to the top. Breathtaking views complimented by lovely flower arrangements, fountains, and a light breeze made for a refreshing viewpoint.
All in all, I was entranced by Cajamarca. It definitely is the most beautiful city I have seen thus far in Peru. The combination of archaeological sites and the immense natural beauty that surrounds the city makes for a scenic and unforgettable trip. This is one city that should be on your must-see list when you visit Peru!
Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.