Cajamarca is the best place to stay if you want to explore the lovely landscape and rich history of the northern highlands; from here there are a number of daylong excursions to nearby ruins and hot springs.

The largest city in the northern highlands, it's a tranquil town of more than 150,000 people. Sitting in a large green valley surrounded by low hills, it feels a bit like Cusco minus all the tourists. The name Cajamarca means "village of lightning" in the Aymara language. It's fitting, for the ancient Cajamarcans worshipped the god Catequil, whose power was symbolized by a bolt of lightning. The area around town was first populated by the Cajamarcan people, whose major cultural influence came from the cat-worshipping Chavín, 3,000 years ago. The Inca conquered the region in about 1460, assimilating the Chavín culture. Cajamarca soon became an important town along the Capac Ñan or Royal Inca Road.

The arrival of the Spanish conquistador Pizarro and his quick-witted defeat of the Incas soon brought the city and much of the region into Spanish hands. Few Inca ruins remain in modern-day Cajamarca; the settlers dismantled many of the existing structures to build the churches that can be seen today. The town's colonial center is so well preserved that it was declared a Historic and Cultural Patrimony Site by the Organization of American States in 1986.

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