Aqueducts are typically something people associate with the Romans, but there were cultures building them in Peru long before the Romans or even Greeks were on the scene. At the historic archeological site of Cumbe Mayo in Peru one will find pre-Inca aqueducts, petroglyphs, a grotto, and internationally famous rock formations.

While the Inca Empire and the Inca ruins are fascinating, they did not develop in a vacuum. There were many pre-Inca civilizations in Peru and today one can visit their incredible ruins. Consider also visiting the desert pre-Inca city of Chan Chan in northern Peru. The Inca road network was also a remarkable feat of engineering, hike and explore the Inca roads while in Peru.

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The Pre-Inca Aqueduct of Cumbe Mayo

Cumbe Mayo is situated around 20 km southwest of the Peruvian city of Cajamarca. The site is high - above 3,500 meters or 11,500 feet above sea level.

One of the main attractions for tourists coming to Cumbe Mayo is the ancient aqueduct. The canal extends for around 9 km or 5 miles and was hewn into the volcanic rock. It diverts water from the hills to the cultivated fields and a reservoir.

  • Elevation: 3,500 meters or 11,500 feet
  • Length: 9 km or over 5 miles
  • Built: Circa 1500 to 1000 BC
  • Name: Cumbe Mayo Means Thin River

As one goes to the aqueduct, one can find ancient stairways that have been carved into the rock as well as a ceremonial altar carved out of stone. Water was a scarcity in this part of Peru and so the Cajamarca people of thousands of years ago used to worship it.

The aqueduct is so old, it is thought to be one of the oldest man-made structures in South America. There are carvings (petroglyphs) on the canal walls, with a definite Chavin influence.

The aqueduct carefully follows the lay of the land and collects snow melt from the hills for the arid cities and land in the valleys below. It is amazing how they remain largely intact even today.

One can visit and see the elaborate system of waters canals built by a civilization that researchers know little of today. The aqueducts are even considered one of the most remarkable works of hydraulic engineering in pre-Columbian South America.

Related: This Ancient "City of Fire" Is Known As The Machu Picchu Of Lima

Other Attractions At Cumbe mayo

The Petroglyphs of Cumbe Mayo

At the site there are a number of petroglyphs to see. These petroglyphs remain undecipherable so who knows what the sculptors intended them to mean when they etched them into the rock thousands of years ago. It is believed that the aqueduct and petroglyphs are impressively old - dating from circa 1500 - 1000 BC.

In the surrounding caves and shelters one can see other stone engravings with anthropomorphic images.

Los Frailones or Stone Forests

One of Cumbe Mayo's main attractions is the stone forests. These massive volcanic pillars reach heights of up to 60 feet and appear suddenly on the landscape. They are a stark contrast to the otherwise flat and treeless plains around.

It is said that the pillars even resemble the silhouette of pious monks forming part of a procession. That is why they are called "Los Frailones" or "The Friars" in English.

Related: What You Didn't Know About The Incredible History Behind Machu Picchu

Tour to Cumbe Mayo and The Aqueduct

There are tours from the city of Cajamarca to Cumbe Mayo. Dos Manos Peru offers a day tour to the aqueduct and the stone forests of Cumbe Mayo. On the tour, one will see the fantastic forest of stones sculptured by wind and rain and one of the oldest archeological sites in Peru.

The tour starts out from Cajamarca with a pickup from one's accommodation. The first stop is at a natural vista-point called Bellavista as the tour passes the pre-Inca temple of Lanzón. After that, the tour moves on to Cumbe Mayo. While the tour leaves every day, visitors should be aware the museums are closed in Northern Peru on Mondays.

  • Start Time: 9.30 am
  • End Time: Around 1.30 pm
  • When: Daily
  • Duration: About 4 Hours
  • Price: Inquire For A Quote
  • Included: Pick Up, Transfers, Entrance to all Sites, English/Spanish Tour Guide
  • Meals: Not Included

While in Peru, take time to see the country's many other attractions in addition to Machu Picchu.