A trio of archaeological sites–Cumbe Mayo, Ventanillas do Otuzco, and Ventanillas de Cumbayo–offer wonderful examples of Pre-Incan aqueducts, petroglyphs, and funerary niches for travelers looking for day trips around the city of Cajamarca.
Exploring the Cumbe Mayo archaeological site
The Cumbe Mayo archaeological site (sometimes spelled Cumbemayo and defined as meaning “narrow river” or “well-made water channel” in the Quechua language) sits at nearly 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) in a lovely high-altitude setting.
A loop trail takes visitors pasts volcanic rock pillars, some as high as 60 feet (18 meters), called Los Frailes (The Friars). There are petroglyphs on these pillars and in small caves in the area.
The trail continues down to an elaborate aqueduct system that was cut out of volcanic stone thousands of years ago.
The pre-Incan manmade waterway is 5.5 miles (9 km) long and features incredibly straight sections, elegantly curved sections, and precise zig-zag sections thought to have slowed the flow of the water.
The Cumbe Mayo archeological site is only 12 miles (20 km) from the city of Cajamarca, but the road was so rough and full of rocks and potholes that the short journey took 1.5 hours. Along the way, we crossed the continental divide.
There is a secure parking area and bathrooms at the Cumbe Mayo site (8 soles per person or about US$2.25). We thought there was a museum at the site too, but when we were there all we saw were a lot of new empty buildings which were all locked up.
Exploring the Ventanillas de Otuzco archaeological site
Smaller and more easily accessible than Cumbe Mayo, the Ventanillas de Otuzco archaeological site, just 5 miles (8 km) from the city of Cajamarca, preserves a few dozen pre-Incan funerary niches.
The word ventanillas (little windows in English) likely refers to the window-like appearance of the niches. Visitors can easily walk to within a few feet of the niches and peer inside the now-empty burial sites. Informational signs are in Spanish and English. Plan to arrive in the morning for the best light for photography.
Exploring the Ventanillas de Combayo archaeological site
About 17 miles (27 km) from the city of Cajamarca and 11 miles (17 km) past the Ventanillas de Otuzco site, you’ll find the Ventanillas de Combayo archaeological site (allow more travel time than the mileage suggests because the road can be in bad condition).
When we were at the Ventanillas de Combayo site there were no signs nor was there an obvious entry point. Be on the lookout for a road marker that says 17 km. About 100 feet (33 meters) before that sign, we took a dirt road to the left past fields and farm animals until we reached a crudely dozed area in front of a family’s house.
After parking in front of the house, we walked past the home and into a lush cattle pasture full of clover, grass, blackberry vines, and even a babbling brook. Then we walked over a stone wall toward a wall of rock in which burial niches were carved thousands of years ago.
There are hundreds of niches here and it’s the largest collection of burial niches in the area. A trail and a set of steps carved into the stone take you up to the base of some of the niches. We were alone at the site and all those burial niches were kind of spooky. As we left, Karen asked a local woman if there were any ghosts in the area. She assured us there were not. Arrive in the morning for the best light for photography.
Here’s more about travel in Peru
Here’s more about Archaeological Sites