The coast to Cajamarca

Cajamarca can be reached from the coast, directly northeast from Trujillo on a 180-km, paved road from the port of Pacasmayo, midway between Trujillo and Chiclayo. The road branches off the Pan-American Highway soon after it crosses the Río Jequetepeque at Madre de Dios and takes about seven hours from either Trujillo or Chiclayo. Alternatively, you can take the old road via Huamachuco and Cajabamba, which still takes a couple of days by bus. The old road is more interesting, passing through sierra towns and over the bare puna before dropping into the Huamachuco Valley, where the archaeological site of Marca Huamachuco is one of the main attractions.

Chilete and Kuntur Wasi

Some 103 km east of Pacasmayo is the mining town of
Chilete
. Some 21 km from Chilete, on the road north to San Pablo, are the pyramid and stone monoliths of
Kuntur Wasi
. If you are rushing along the paved road, do try to pause here, it is a very fine pre-Inca site. Devoted to a feline cult, it is undergoing new development under a Japanese archaeological team. Kuntur Wasi can be visited from Cajamarca with some local tour companies. It has an excellent on-site museum, making a visit worthwhile. There are a couple of hotels at Chilete but rooms are hard to find on Tuesday because of the Wednesday market. Further along the road to Cajamarca is Yonán, where there are petroglyphs.

Trujillo to Huamachuco

The road is paved to
Otusco
, arguably the most accessible sierra town, in terms of proximity to the coast, anywhere in Peru. Being 1½ hours from Trujillo, it makes a pleasant half-day excursion. 'La Ciudad de la Fe', as it is known, is an attractive Andean town at 2200 m with some narrow cobbled streets. The modern church houses the important
Virgen de la Puerta
, which attracts devotees from all over Peru, especially during the big
festival
on 15 December. Adjoining it, in the old colonial church, is an amazing
museum
, filled with public gifts for the Virgen, including endless cabinets displaying elaborately embroidered capes, cheap jewellery and even shoes.

A good gravel road goes from Otusco to
Shorey
from where it is paved to the
Quiruvilca
turn-off. The pollution in these mining towns is shocking. About 8 km east of Quiruvilca, Alto Chicama (the second largest opencast gold mine in Peru) was opened in 2005. The 42 km from the Quiruvilca turn-off to Humachuco is a very poor dirt road. The government is supposed to pave it in within the next two years. In Shorey a road branches off to
Santiago de Chuco
, birthplace of the poet César Vallejo , where there is the annual festival of Santiago El Mayor in the second half of July. The main procession is on 25 July, when the image is carried through the streets. Two hours beyond Santiago de Chuco is
Cachicadan
, where there are good hot baths.

A spectacular but rough road, with a superb
balcón andino
(viewpoint, after the Pass) looking down in to the Alto Chicama valley, continues beyond Otusco to
Usquil
(two hours). It then descends steeply down to
Coina
at 1200 m (two hours). Crowded combis pass through from Trujillo, US$2.50. Hikes can be made through fields of barley and
limón
orchards around Coina and along the picturesque Chicama valley. Beyond Coina is
Chuquizongo
(one hour), famed for its fighting bulls, and
Huaranchal
(another hour), which has thermal baths. There are a couple of combis each day from Coina.

Huamachuco

The main road runs on to this colonial town, which was formerly on the Royal Inca road coming from Cajabamba. The centre of the town follows the original Inca town plan. The plaza was once twice the size with an
usnu
(platform) in the centre. The old church of San José now sits on top of the
usnu
. The town also has the largest main plaza in Peru, with fine topiary, and a controversial modern
cathedral
, likened by some to an aeroplane hangar, sitting on top of the remains of an Inca palace. There is a colourful
Sunday market
, with dancing in the plaza, and
Museo Municipal Wamachuko
, displays artefacts found at Cerro Amaru and Marca Huamachuco, plus aerial photos of the latter. The main reason for visiting Huamachuco is to see the spectacular, but little known ruins of
Marca Huamachuco
, which are located on the summit (3600 m) of one of the mountains northwest of town.

Marca Huamachuco

The Marca Huamachuco ruins surely rank in the top 10 archaeological sites in Peru. It is an extensive site, 3 km long, dating back to at least 300 BC though
many structures were added later. Its most impressive features are:
El Castillo
, a remarkable circular structure with walls up to 8 m high located at the highest point of the site. This and other structures are the oldest-known buildings in Peru to extend to more than two storeys and may have reached five storeys. The outer defensive wall, which is accessible where it bisects the hill halfway along, also reaches up to 8 m in height. It consists of two parallel walls with gallery rooms in between.
El Convento
complex consists of five circular structures of varying sizes located towards the northern end of the hill. These are later constructions dating back to AD 600-800. The largest one has been partially reconstructed by the INC and provides an interesting insight into how they must once have appeared, with two or three parallel outer walls, gallery rooms between them and several other internal structures. It has been suggested that these buildings housed the privileged members of an elite class.

Some 3 km before the ruins you will pass the remarkable
Cerro Amaru
on the left. It would seem that the whole of this relatively small hilltop was adapted to store water by placing an impermeable layer of clay around it. Wells (
Los Chiles
) on the summit, which can still be viewed, then provided access to the water within. Almost certainly the hill acquired major religious and cultural significance within the Huari-Tiahuanaco Empire and became a place of pilgrimage and sacrifice in times of drought.

It seems likely that Marca Huamachuco existed for many centuries as the centre of an autonomous religious cult, separate from the activities of the Chachapoyans to the north and east. The site was certainly used as much as a ceremonial centre as it was for defensive purposes. Latest theories suggest that the Huari-Tiahuanaco culture (AD 600-1100) may have developed from the north out of places such as Marca Huamachuco and Yaino and then spread south, rather than the other way round. Apparently, the chronology of sites fits much better on this basis, but, if correct, this would require a complete reassessment of the Huari-Tiahuanuco culture.

Around Huamachuco

Wiracochapampa
is an extensive Huari site, 3 km away, a 45-minute walk, to the north of the town. Much of the site is overgrown and poorly conserved, but walls up to 3 m high can still be found. It is believed that the complex was never completed, possibly because the principal builder was taken south to construct Piquillacta, near Cuzco, with which it has many similarities. It is on a plain opposite Marca Huamachuco and has very good views of the latter. A crafts cooperative across from the Wiracochapampa school sells woven goods made on back-strap looms.

Also worth seeing is
Laguna Sausacocha
(3150 m), a beautiful spot surrounded by low hills, along the road to Cajabamba. Here are
Hospedaje Piscis
and several simple
comedores
(try
ceviche de trucha
). It is possible to go rowing on the lake.

The
Yanasara
 thermal baths
are a 30-minute walk from the village of El Pallar set in a beautiful valley at 2300 m. The hot, clean baths consist of a pool and four individual baths, all US$0.30 per person. Thermal baths can also be found at
El Edén
. An open-air complex of four pools, you can sit beneath a mini-waterfall in one of them, and a warm river set among rock cliffs. Take food and drink.

Cushuro
(4000 m), 10 km south of Huamachuco, is a vicuña-breeding centre with a good stretch of the Royal Inca highway passing nearby.

A pleasant two-hour walk can be made up the Río Grande valley to the hacienda of
Cochabamba
, once the Andean retreat of the owners of the Laredo sugar plantation.

South from Huamachuco

It is now possible to travel, via Retamas and Tayabamba , to Sihuas and the Cordillera Blanca along a road that's very poor in places and involves crossing the Río Marañón twice. The building of a new bridge over the river means that it is feasible to go from Cuzco to Quito entirely by public transport without going down to the Pacific coast, though few travellers have made this journey. The route from Cajamarca to Huaraz via Huamachuco and the upper Marañón Valley is considerably longer, more difficult and more expensive than going via Trujillo and Chimbote on the coast. The rewards, however, are incomparable views and a glimpse of everyday life in some of the country's most tranquil highland villages as well as its grimiest mining camps. For those with plenty of time, the route provides access to the wilds of Río Abiseo National Park. Along the way, vertiginous roads repeatedly traverse altitudes ranging from 4200 m to 1450 m, with vast changes in temperatures between the
puna
and Marañón valley, and vertical drops of 1000 m from hairpin bends. The road may be impassable in the wet season.

From Huamachuco, follow the main road to Cajabamba as far as Sausacocha, where a turn-off goes down to Yanasara . The Río Grande is then crossed before climbing to Chugay (3400 m, Hospedaje Pérez and basic
comedores
) and on to a pass at 3900 m. From here the road plummets 2450 m to
Chahual
(1450 m), a small hot settlement where a bridge spans the Río Marañón. The hillsides are covered in cactuses, mango and avocado trees.

At Chahual, right after the bridge, the road forks: left to Pataz, and right to climb 1000 m to the
Balcón del Diablo
, overlooking
Laguna Pías
. The town of Pías, down by the lake and reached via a turn-off from the main road, has an office for
Parque Nacional Río Abiseo
and a landing strip (for charter flights to Lima for mining companies; spare seats may be available).
Pataz
is a small gold-mining town, about 100 km from Huamachuco. From here you can reach the World Heritage site of
Pajatén
, with its circular pre-Inca ruins (it requires a 10-day trip with mules from Los Alisos, near Pataz). The ruins lie within the Río Abiseo National Park, and both INRENA and INC permits are needed to visit. These are issued to archaeologists, researchers and 'adventure' tourists, though day passes to enter the park can also be obtained (check with both institutes). Pataz is one hour by road from Chahual. Your best chance of finding a
camioneta
going up is early in the morning.

The road continues to
Retamas
(2700 m), a rough-and-tumble mining town. To avoid sleeping in Retamas, take a shared taxi to
Llacuabamba
(15 minutes, US$0.60), which is more tranquil. You must return to Retamas for onward transport. Near Retamas is
Parcoy
, the original settlement in the area with a colonial church. After Retamas are more hectic and scarred mining communities, Marsa and Buldibuyo, bordering the Río Abiseo National Park. The road then drops down to
Tayabamba
(3300 m). This small, chilly Andean town is surrounded by scenic countryside. It has a large church and a rotating bronze angel in the neat plaza. The interesting annual fiesta is held in honour of
Santo Toribio
, 24-31 April.

North from Huamachuco

From Huamachuco the gravel road runs on 55 km past Laguna Sausacocha through some small highland villages, where roof tiles are baked in round ovens, to
Cajabamba
, which sits on a balcony overlooking the sugar-producing Condebamba valley. The climate is mild for its altitude because of influence from this large warm valley. Founded in 1572, this is an especially friendly town with an attractive Plaza de Armas. The annual festival is
Virgen del Rosario
, starting the first weekend of October and featuring the
Danza de los Diablos
. The surrounding countryside offers good walking amid lakes, waterfalls and Inca road remnants, well worth taking a few days to explore.

The road continues from Cajabamba, much of it newly asphalted, through
San Marcos
(2400 m) to Cajamarca. There is a short section of asphalt road to the south of San Marcos, which is important for its Sunday cattle market. Both it and Cajabamba are on the Inca road. From San Marcos to Cajamarca (124 km) the road is paved.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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