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  Peru : Articles: Cajamarca


The Fertile Colonial Land 

It is one of the most significant districts in the history of Peru. Its pre-Incan origin goes back in time to when it was the center of the Caxamarca culture, which obtained its maximum development between 500 and 1000 years a.d.  

The incorporation of these territories to the Tahauntinsuyo Empire was carried out during the Inca Pachacutec rule until 1465 to become an administrative, military and religious center of singular importance. During this time temples and palaces were constructed in which ruins remain, principally the so-called Rescue Chamber.  Cajamarca was the favorite resting place of the Inca because of its privileged climate and hot springs, on the 16th of November, 1532 it became the scene for one of the most transcendental episodes of American history.

Cajamarca, for its privileged climate and hot springs was the favorite place for Incas to rest, on the 16th of November in 1532 it was converted in a scene of one of the most transcendental episodes in American history. 

On that date the conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived to the plaza de armas, at that time it was triangular.  He waited for Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor that was resting in the sulfur hot springs. The next day Atahualpa entered the  plaza in the middle of a multitude with his aids in a splendorous display. The priest Vicente Valverde received him and showed him a bible.  The chronicle narrates, that Atahualpa threw the sacred book onto the ground because of the problem that he didn't understand the language than by lacking faith.  The Spanish soldiers whom until then were hidden in areas surrounding the plaza, burst into the plaza on horses and carrying firearms, caused the army to flee terrified.

Atahualpa was judged as a heretic and condemned to hanging, although it is sad to say that it was exchanged for execution by slow strangulation. Atahualpa took into account the egotism of the Spaniards and offered Pizarro to buy his freedom with gold, filling the chamber in where he was imprisoned and two adjoining rooms with silver.  Atahualpa paid his ransom, but he was still executed.  These facts triggered the end of Tahuantinsuyo empire, and marks the beginning of a new stage in history: the Conquest. 

Tradition and Modernity

Located on the skirts on the Santa Apolonia hills, the city of Cajamarca today reflects in its exquisite colonial architecture of Spanish cultural influence together with an enormous geographical richness. Its key territory in the northern Andean zone of Peru located at average of 2.750 meters above sea level, with a dry climate and a temperature that varies between 24 and 5 degrees Celsius according to the time of the year.

Designed like a checkerboard outline, we found half-completed religious type constructions in it from the XVII century and the start of the XVIII century. The Cathedral was constructed in the XVII century and shows an abstentious facade of volcanic stone. It has five bells in its unfinished towers, founded in the beginning of the XVIII century, in the ships you can admire the images of the Virgin del Carmen, Señor de la Buena Muerte, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martin de Porres.


Cajamarca is a geographical district that is very divers and offers interesting options for the tourist. Its cultivating camps produce potatoes, wheat, cassava, and coffee. The coffee of Jaen is well known through out the world. In Namora you can se an important piscicultural station that produces young fish like trout and mackerel.  Livestock raising has an ultimate importance.

At the present time the district counts with more than 600 thousand heads of cattle.  In addition it produces natural barley and grass. It is also the first producer of amylaceous maize in the country.  According to the encyclopedia - Todo el Peru, Jaen has intensified its nacademia nut cultivation to produce oil without cholesterol.  They raise goat and ovine cattle in significant amounts.  There is also a cattle ranch for fighting bulls that enjoy fame in bullfighting facilities.

In addition, this zone displays an atypical national record: it produces three million guinea pigs from the 70 million produced in all of the country. The guinea pig has 21% protein and almost zero percent cholesterol. Its meat is offered in the majority of restaurants and taverns in the zone. 

While crossing the narrow streets of the city it is possible to see characteristics of folklore manifestations related to religious celebration and patron festivals, in which show dance and dances like the cashua, the savage Indians or white dance, las pallas, la pachilla, the dance of the feathered or imperials and the dance of the devils.

You can also find small stores that sell artisan crafts in wool, leather, wood, pita hemp, clay, stone,  where popular creativity of Cajamarcan art is demonstrated with utilitarian and decorative products that transmit the cultural identity. You can acquire prices from 3 to 50 dollars.

The typical plates are: piquant guinea pig with potato, chicharrón con mote  (crackling pieces of sun burnt or burnt pork with stewed corn maize), humitas (sweet tamale or corn cake), chupe verde and cecinas shilpidas.

The key places for tourist

Among the most important attractions are the Santa Apolonia Hill: that counts with a viewpoint and impacting archaeological findings; the Forest Park of Aylambo; Los Frailones stone forest, that is located in Cumbemayo; and also the famous thermal waters with the Incan hot springs and Yumagual hot springs; the hunting boundary of Huacraruco; the settlers of  Pariamarca and Llacanora, and the Tres Molinos estate.

The archaeological ruins that are worth getting to know are: Cumbemayo with its aqueducts, petroglyphs, and sanctuaries of pre-Incan epoch; the Ventanillas of Otuzco and Cumbemayo an impressive pre-Incan burial ground that maintains a perfect state.

Also there is Layzon, a pre-Incan sanitary and the rescue quarter of the Atahualpa Inca. It is also possible to visit monuments that pertained to the king's deputy like the ex hospital for men and women, today it is the National Cultural Institute. The church, Santa Catalina catacomb, nowadays it is the cathedral and chapel or shrine.

In San Pablo, another province in the district is  Kuntur Wasi ceremonial center pertinent to Horizonte Temprano; Montealegre, tombs of Cajamarca III - IV period; and the Ventanillas de Tumbadén (pre-Incan burial grounds). In Celendín: Sorochuco (stone forest); in Oxamarca (chulpas corresponding to the pre-Incan epoch) and Chocta (pre-Incan archeological remains).


In the San Andres district you will find the Cutervo National Park; the San Andres caves, inhabited by a colony of guacharos (birds on the verge of extinction);  the Llapa towers; in Sócota (chulpas or pre-Incan tombs) and the stone forest of Pilco Hill.

You must have in mind that when you visit this city, there are two options that are qualified as "places that can not be lost" by the agencies that promote them: the golden Cajamarca where you will find the second most important gold mine in the continent: Yanacocha. In this mine its operations stared in July of 1993 and is located 40 kilometers north of the city. It gold production reached 550 thousand ounces in 1996. The final product of this mine denominates bars of gild: mineral composed of 60% gold, 30% silver and 10 % is impurities.

The other option that is more well known than the other and is equally attractive in the Cajamarca verde where Cutervo is, the oldest national park in Peru. With a surface of 2.500 hectares in the Tarros Cordillera, in the eastern zone of the district.  It provides shelter for hundreds of species of flora and fauna.  The most well known is the guacharo a bird that nests in caves and caverns in Cutervo and was discovered by Alexander von Humboldt in 1799.

The queen of the Sierra

Nevertheless, its attractiveness is not only given by the quantity of historic ruins it has, but also because this district is situated in the North Andean zone of Peru and while journeying through the northern Andes which is thinner and lower than the rest of the country where in this zone a variety of climates occur: temperate in the mountain top and the mountainside and warm in the lower slopes and the bottom of the valley.  It limits in the north are with Ecuador, the south with La Libertad, the east with the Amazonas and the west with Piura and Lambayeque. Its capital has the same name of the district. It is located to the right margin of the Mashcon river, at 2750 meters in altitude.

Its steep gorges, fertile and deep valleys mixed with extensive high Andean plains, large navigable lakes and more than 12 thousand lagoons.  Its climate is characterized by a dry season that runs from May to October in which there is an abundance of warm and sunny days and the other which is rainy from December to March.

The capital of the district has a beautiful colonial fountain (1562) in stone which consist of a single piece with ample proportions and large gardens.  The plaza was constructed in the same place where Atahualpa the last Incan emperor was executed by the Spaniards. 

The imposing plateresque temple calls the attention of the Cajamarca Cathedral (XVIII Century) constructed with stones from Incan palaces and walls. Its facade in volcanic rock is worked with meticulousness. Its interior they emphasize the greater altar and the pulpit that is Churrigueresque or excessively ornate in various colors and colonial paintings of grand value.

Also there is the San Francisco church, the oldest in the city. Its facade is of sculpted volcanic rock with a mixture of plateresque and Baroque style. Count with the Religious Art Museum and beautiful objects of the colonial epoch.

As a testimony of the Incan times you find "The Rescue Chamber”,  the only exponent of Incan architecture in the middle of all the colonial richness.  Of neoclassic style history tells us that the Inca Atahualpa ordered to fill the chamber with objects of gold and silver in order to give it to the conquistadors in exchange for his liberty.  Finally, Pizarro never complied with his offer.

Inca Baths

The “Incan Baths”, which is a source of thermal and medicinal waters considered as one of the most important in the northern zone of the country, used from pre-Hispanic times.  Its water sprout raising steam columns in an almost horizontal terrain surrounded by a grand quantity of vegetation.  Its most important springs are: “The Perolitos” and “The Tragadero”.  It is possible to visit this zone year around with tours that include accommodations in the hot springs or baths with natural treatments for the body.

Another attraction resides in Cumbemayo, a gigantic pre-Incan archeological complex that pertains to the Cajamarca-Marañón culture. Which comprises three monumental groups: The Aqueduct a hydraulic system that transports and canalizes water; the Sanctuary a steep rocky peak that is 20 meters high and forms a human head. The caves where you can see the Chavin style petroglyphs and the Frailones, geological formations.

You can also visit Kuntur Wasi a pre-Incan archeological complex dedicated to the condor culture.

Text by Andrea Gonzalez

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