A grand Andean town, CAJAMARCA is second only to Cusco in the grace of its architecture and the soft drama of its mountain scenery. The city’s stone-based architecture reflects the cold nights up here – charming as it all is, with elaborate stone filigree mansions, churches and old Baroque facades. Almost Mediterranean in appearance, Cajamarca, at 2720m above sea level, squats below high mountains in a neat valley. The climate is surprisingly pleasant, with daytime temperatures ranging from 6 to 23°C (43–75°F); the rainy season hits between the months of December and March.
Proud and historic Cajamarca has intrinsic interest as the place where Pizarro captured and ransomed the Inca Emperor, Atahualpa, for gold, before killing him anyway. Gold has been an issue here since Pizarro arrived. Today the operations of massive gold mines in the region are generating protest; there are grave concerns in the area that the gold industry is polluting the land and groundwater.
There are two main routes into this mountain valley from Trujillo, each exciting and spectacular. The speediest way is to head up the coast via Pacasmayo, then turn inland along a paved road which follows the wide Río Jequetepeque Valley in about eight hours. A slower route (usually two days) is by bus along the old road, currently in a poor state of repair, from Trujillo through Huamachuco and Cajabamba.
As far back as 1000 BC the fertile Cajamarca Basin was occupied by well-organized tribal cultures, the earliest sign of the Chavín culture’s influence on the northern mountains. The existing sites, scattered all about this region, are evidence of advanced civilizations capable of producing elaborate stone constructions without hard metal tools, and reveal permanent settlement from the Chavín era right through until the arrival of the conquering Inca army in the 1460s.
For seventy years after the Incas’ arrival in the 1460s, Cajamarca developed into an important provincial garrison town, evidently much favoured by Inca emperors as a stopover on their way along the Royal Highway between Cusco and Quito. With its hot springs, it proved a convenient spot for rest and recuperation after the frequent Inca battles with “barbarians” in the eastern forests. The city was endowed with sun temples and sumptuous palaces, so their ruler’s presence must have been felt even when the supreme Inca was over 1000km away to the south in the capital of his empire.