Many visitors to Peru make the mistake of thinking that the Incas were the only pre-Colombian civilisation of any significance. In fact, Peru is home to scores of Pre-Incan civilisations (some date back as far as 3500 BC) which were responsible for the cultivation of potatoes and beans and the domestication of llamas an alpacas, among other things.
The Cajamarca people lived in the vicinity of the modern-day town of the same name (coincidentally the place where Atahualpa was captured by Francisco Pizarro) between 200 and 1240 AD. They were farmers and fine ceramic workers, who built their cities on hills and cliffs for defensive purposes. Like all Andean civilisations they believed that death amounted to a continuation of life, and they built necropolises (literally ‘cities of the dead’) in equally strategic locations. Of these ‘cities’ the Ventanillas of Otuzco is the most well known, but there are quite a few other examples in the region.
Each necropolis is made up of ‘funerary niches’ carved out of cliffs – Otuzco has 337. Into each niche went the body of a person, together with utensils, food, and other offerings. These niches are generally square or rectangular in shape, and they owe their current slightly-rounded appearance to millennia of erosion.
If you’ve never been to Peru before, the Ventanillas of Otuzco might not be worth including on your itinerary. But if you’re lucky enough to have already visited Cusco and Machu Picchu, a visit to Peru’s far North is highly recommended. The city of Chiclayo is world-famous for the Senor of Sipan's glittering tomb, and the utterly fascinating ruins of Kuelap are also nearby. Besides, the beaches of Northern Peru are far and away the best in the country.