The most important town in the northern highlands, Cajamarca is a dainty colonial metropolis with a fierce will cradled in a languid valley and stonewalled by brawny mountains in every direction. Descending into the vale by road, Cajamarca’s mushroom field of red-tile-roofed abodes surely confesses a secret desire to cling to its village roots. Fertile farmland carpets the entire valley and Cajamarca’s streets belong as much to the wide-brimmed-hat-wielding campesinos (peasants) bundled in brightly colored scarves, as the young city slickers who frequent the boutique restaurants and bars. In the colonial center, majestic churches border the capacious Plaza de Armas. From here, once-decadent baroque mansions spread out in concentric circles along the cobbled streets, many enclosing ethereal hotels and fine restaurants.
Things have changed slowly here. Only recently has the Yanacocha gold mine injected Cajamarca with an avalanche of cash, a steady stream of moneyed engineers and a heaping dose of unruly discontent.