Ventanillas of Cajamarca

February 4th, 2008

It’s a cultural trait that existed in pre-columbian times all along the Andes to various extents. After carving out small holes in the sides of cliffs, ancient cultures would use them to bury their elite. In Cajamarca this was also done, leaving us with some of the best preserved cliff-face tombs in the country.

Necropolis of Combayo
Necropolis of Ventanillas de Combayo

Around Cajamarca there are many examples of these ventanillas, or windows, nicknamed as such for obvious reasons. The majority date from the time of the Caxamarca culture of around 500B.C. who used them to bury their elite. Often each cliff-side niche housed one body, but others contained several.

Close to Cajamarca, at just a few minutes bus or taxi ride, is the tourist-trap of Ventanillas de Otuzco. Here are excellent examples of the ventanillas, though in a often crowded environment. The INC collect an entrance fee but do next to nothing to preserve or protect the ruins. As is normal, the INC is only interested in exploiting the ruins for short term gain. Houses are being built on and around the necropolis by the rural poor – the immediate area is now a mess.

To see some ventanillas in a better preserved state without the interference of the INC you’ll need to take a taxi to the Ventanillas de Combayo, 20-23km along the same road, further down the valley and into the mountains. This much larger necropolis is carved into the side of a huge cliff. From the road you’ll have to cross a small strip of land and climb a path up the cliff. In these ventanillas you may find small fragments of bone and in many you’ll still see some of the mud and stone wall used to seal the hole. You’ll need to find a taxi in the city to get here, or try hitch-hiking in trucks with the locals.

Despite the better state of preservation, it many never have been a good idea for the Caxamarca to put their burials in such a visible place. All have long since been destroyed by people looking for the offerings placed along with the bodies.

Further along this route you’ll find more less impressive examples of ventanillas, and across the region you’ll find many more, such as the Ventanillas of Jangala in San Miguel and the Ventanillas of Apán in Hualgayoc.

Ventanillas de Otuzco

Ventanillas de Combayo

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