Caral, home to the oldest
known civilisation in the
The salt mines at Maras.
A must see experience if
visiting the surrounding
area of Cusco.
Peru remains a treasure-trove of newly discovered
archaeological sites mainly because, until recently, there
has been so much unrest in the countryside. Most of the
country remained unexplored until well into the 20th
century, and many of the digs are still under excavation
as they are funded by the Government who, only recently,
fully appreciated their tourist potential.
It is still, therefore, possible to visit sites that are hundreds,
if not thousands of years old, which have remained unspoilt
by not having too many visitors, and more importantly,
restrictions in terms of access. Noticeable now, in both terms
of food and architecture, is the Spanish influence, as they
occupied the country for nearly 300 years until Peru gained
independence in 1821. Spanish remains the main language.
Three and a half hours drive from Lima through desert, with
an hour spent bumping along unmade roads, we entered the
Supe Valley at the foothills of the Andes. Apparently, the first
civilization of Peru and the Americas was formed here between
3,000 and 2,500 BC. Eighteen archaeological sites have so far
been discovered, of which the sacred city of Caral is the
biggest. The city was inhabited for over 800 years, with remains
being discovered from three different periods. Initially it was
formed from quarried stone, followed by walls made from
plants such as cane, and latterly stone walls which had been
plastered and painted. Although excavations started in 1994,
the site has only been open to visitors for the past two years.
Caral is situated in a micro-climate, and although the
weather was not particularly warm as we were travelling
there, we had to take off layers and apply sun cream and hats
when we arrived. Our guide, Gonzalo Rodriguez Carpio,
is one of the nine archaeologists working on the site which
presently extends over 64 acres, although there is every
possibility that it could be larger as there are still areas to be
researched. Plans are afoot for a visitor centre and museum,
but if you go soon you will still be able to see it in its very
early stages of discovery before it gets too commercialised.
Our trip to Machu Picchu, known as the Lost City of the
Incas, built in a period around 1440, was in style. Not for us
the 26-mile Inca Trail, which takes several days to cover on
foot, even if there are porters to carry everything you need.
Our party travelled on the Hiram Bingham Orient Express
train, named after the man who discovered Machu Picchu
in 1911. We not only travelled in style, but were also wined
and dined on the way. Our journey took us through some
wonderful scenery including the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Unfortunately, we were only on a day trip from our base
in Cusco, the country’s main tourist destination.
When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, many
structures were destroyed or used as foundations for new
buildings. What is particularly special about Machu Picchu
is that it was hidden until the 20th century, and therefore not
destroyed by the conquering Spanish, and so much of the
settlement remains intact.
The ideal is to stay overnight as there is so much to explore,
and given the right climatic conditions, the sunrise and sunset
are supposed to be really spectacular. However, there is only
limited accommodation near the site. A bonus with travelling
on this train is their guide, Gary Sanchez. The Inca tribe had
no written language, and therefore there is still a lot to be
discovered about their culture, making what he told us his
own spiritual interpretation of the facts which could well differ
from someone with perhaps a more archaeological leaning.