“Built by an advanced pre-Inca society around 1500 B.C, Cumbe Mayo, which translates to thin river, is thought to be one of the oldest man-made structures in South America. It lies in the Archaeological Complex of Cumbemayo, a place where the highest hydraulic technology of ancient Peruvian communities and the impact of time upon nature are combined.”
For the short version watch this video of our hike!
After reading the above description on the tour company brochure, we decided to do something different while we were in town for the monthly regional meeting and spent Saturday exploring Cumbe Mayo. For about $5 the tour included transportation, a guide, and entrances to the national park! The trip was only about an hour outside of Cajamarca City and we stopped at a lookout point to take pictures of Cajamarca before leaving.
Upon arrival in Cumbe Mayo we were led to Los Frailones, the Stone Monks. Los Frailones are massive volcanic pillars, some stretching as high as 60 feet(18 m). The stone forests suddenly appear from the landscape, starkly contrasting the flat, grass-covered plains around Cajamarca. Many of the pillars resemble animals or faces of men, and hieroglyphics can be found all over.
To cross the volcanic pillars we had to enter the “tunnel of adventure” and make a wish as we went through! It was definitely a Peruvian sized tunnel of adventure because when I finally reached the exit my head was too big to fit through the taller rocks, so I had to crawl out. Haha, it was quite the adventure.
After passing through the volcanic pillars we ran into the intricate canal system. It’s thought that the canals were meant to slow down and regulate the movement of water. They were constructed to move the water in the opposite direction that it naturally flows. The canals’ lines are incredible, turning at perfect right angles over smooth rock. They were likely constructed using obsidian hammers.
One of the main attractions of Cumbemayo, or “Narrow River” in Cajamarca Quechua, is the aqueduct. This is a canal of approximately 9 km in length, carefully carved in volcanic rock to divert the water from the hills to cultivation fields and a large reservoir.
As water was a scarcity, it was worshipped by the Cajamarca people thousands of years ago, and every drop was carefully collected. Near the aqueduct is a sacrificial stone that is said to possess a lot of spiritual energy even to this day.
Besides the aqueduct, which is cut from the volcanic rock around it, a number of petroglyphs on the structures and in surrounding caves provide some insight into the culture that built the infrastructure. The different symbols gave directions to the people and instructions on how the canal system works.
Along the way artisans sat and sold scarfs, sweaters, and native bags. Children sang and sold little snacks for a propina, tip, and women demonstrated the natural cleansing abilities of a few of the plants native to the area.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that the land I travel through everyday is full of history! If you ever find yourself in Cajamarca, I would definitely recommend taking a tour of Cumbe Mayo.