Cumbemayo (derived from the Quechua kumpi mayo, meaning ‘well-made water channel’) is an astounding feat of pre-Inca engineering. These perfectly smooth aqueducts were carved around 2000 years ago and zigzag at right angles for 9km, for a purpose that is as yet unclear, since Cajamarca has an abundant water supply. Other rock formations are carved to look like altars and thrones. Nearby caves contain petroglyphs, including some that resemble woolly mammoths. The site is located about 20km southwest of Cajamarca.
The surrounding countryside is high, windswept and slightly eerie. Superstitious stories are told about the area’s eroded rock formations, which look like groups of shrouded mountain climbers.
Public transport to Cumbemayo is sporadic and getting there on your own takes some planning. Combis (minibuses) serving the village of Chetilla pass by the entrance to the site and leave Av Perú between Jirón Ica and Jirón Loreta in Cajamarca at 4:30am, 6am, noon and 1:30pm. The last combi back to Cajamarca passes Cumbemayo around 1:40pm.
The site can be reached on foot via a signed road from behind Cerro Santa Apolonia in Cajamarca. The hike follows sections of the Qhapac Ñan (Inca paths) and takes about four hours. Most people visit as part of a guided tour (S20, 4½ hours) that runs every morning out of Cajamarca.