Puedes leer este artículo en Español aquí.
It is common knowledge that most people visiting Peru for the first time (or not) choose to go south, on the route known as the "Gringo Trail". Such path leads them to the country's most iconic tourist destinations, among them the enigmatic Nazca lines, the stunning Colca Canyon and, of course, the magnificent Machu Picchu.
If, however, you either have some extra time to spend in this amazing country or you simply prefer to explore places that are not in every other person's travel plan, spending a few days in Cajamarca may be for you. Located in Peru's northern Sierra, Cajamarca is a charming colonial town, surrounded by the most stunning nature.
Here are the highlights of my visit to such quaint town:
1. ITS ARCHITECTURE AND HISTORY You will be stunned by its beautiful colonial architecture. I took a bus from Chiclayo (an inexpensive and convenient way to get there) and I was at the hotel by 6 am. That gave me the chance to stroll down its streets and walk around its Plaza de Armas, with no traffic and in the company of a few other pedestrians. There are pretty houses with elaborated doors and balconies everywhere. Its churches are also very impressive and you definitely have to visit the Ransom Room, where Spanish Conquistadores kept the last Inca Emperor, Atahualpa, before they betrayed him and executed him. If you're into thermal baths, the Inca Baths are also a must.
2. YOU WILL NOT BE OVERWHELMED BY OTHER TOURISTS' OMNIPRESENCE Unlike other tourist destinations in Peru (you probably know which ones I am referring to), here you will not run into thousands of other travelers. The ones you will encounter are mostly Peruvian too. This is great not only because you will have the opportunity to get a taste of local traditions but also because prices for meals and excursions are very reasonable. I recommend just sitting at the plaza to simply watch people walk by, I found it a relaxing and comforting experience.
3. YOU WILL LOVE THE CENTRAL MARKET When I asked a local for recommendations on where to eat. He said smiling, oh, you need to go to the INTER! I said, the INTER? He replied, yes, the INTERior of the market! And boy, was he right. My cousin and I had breakfast and lunch there everyday. They had the best sandwiches (turkey was my favorite) and fresh fruit juices as well as fixed menus for lunch. I also tried the typical caldo verde (available, oddly, only for breakfast), a green soup made with basil, queso fresco and potatoes. Everything was tasty and inexpensive. Of course, at the market you can also find meat, vegetables, fruits, etc. as well as handcrafts, including typical straw hats.
4. MILK! If you tell any Peruvian you will be visiting Cajamarca, every single one will mention their dairy products. Indeed, you will be able to find an assortment of cheeses including queso fresco, queso mantecoso, Swiss cheese and cheeses with herbs (for example, with oregano or basil and spinach) as well as butter and yogurt. Here, you'll also find the most delicious manjar blanco (the Peruvian equivalent to dulce de leche) and natilla! You can buy all these products in the market or at several stores located near the main plaza.
5. THE VIEWS, THOUGH The landscape that surrounds Cajamarca is just breathtaking and if you venture out on a couple of excursions, such as visiting Cumbemayo and the Friars, Ventanillas de Otuzco and the Porcón Farm, you will be able to enjoy it. However, an interesting fact I learned during my visit is that, surprisingly, not all of the trees I saw there are actually indigenous to the region. It turns out that an 180000-hectare area was reforested with eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees that were planted, as part of a Peruvian-Belgian project initiated in the 1970s.
So what do you say? Are you ready to hit Cajamarca on your next trip to Peru? I had been wanting to go there for years and I was so happy I finally made it there last October!