Chavín de Huántar + Cátac, Peru – Underground labyrinth

Once more we climb a smooth plateau at 4,360 m with unpleasant damp and cold climate where nearly nobody lives anymore. No wonder: Anything grows here. Instead, the few people here beg, hoping the passer-bys throw something into their hats. Right before Huari cars appear – a certain sign for pavement. From the beginning of the town on asphalt appears and will not leave us again, although the next 120 km it disintegrates and is bombed with potholes. After only 40 km we reach Chavín de Huántar, a village with an archaeological find that belongs to the oldest in Peru. Approaching from the north we first reach the museum (admission free, S 09°34’35.0’’ W 77°10’38.1’’) where finely carved steles, stone reliefs, elaborate pottery, and decorated mussel shells that served as wind instruments are exhibited. There are some odd stone heads as well that once adorned the outside walls of the shrine.

The find itself is situated at the southern end of town (S 09°35’33.8’’ W 77°10’43.2’’) and costs 10 Pen entrance fee. The facility consists of several temples, built between 1200 and 800 BC, with an ingenious drainage system. The above ground part of the shrine suffered from construction, purloining stones and a land slide due to an earthquake, but we get a good impression of the area’s extent. The most interesting part though is the underground corridors and labyrinths with numerous dead-ends, small windows, sound and ventilation openings. This area might have served to convince non-believers as they were anesthetized with a hallucinogen, and then sent to the cellar labyrinth. Priests created eerie sounds with shells, which mysteriously spread through corridors and openings and seemed to come from everywhere. As highlight the person to be converted landed at a window and in front of him the sinister terrible man-animal-deity appeared, resurrected by flickering torches. Still today it’s a moment of amazement when spotting the tall carefully carved statue. The sanctuary is well marked and can be visited without guide; time requirement one to two hours.

The remaining 70 km back to the main road are just as furrowed asphalt. 47 km before reaching the main road there is a dead straight tunnel in more than 4,500 m / in about 15,000 ft elevation. Coming from the west one would face a statue of Christ that was erected on a hill on the opposite side of the tunnel. The loop road Carhuaz-Chacas-San Luis-Huari-Chavín de Huántar-Recuay/Cátac is used by very few tourists only, but makes a spectacular Andean round trip for 4WD vehicles. Asphalting is proceeding so that the road will be accessible to any vehicle soon. The described route is 280 km long. The first 100 km to San Luis are partially paved, partially rough trail. The following 60 km are good gravel / dirt, from Huari on until the end you’ll face unpleasant dissolving pavement.

Camping in Chavín de Huántar is neither possible at the museum (not allowed) nor at the ruins (no space). The plaza on the opposite side of the police station is an option (S 09°35’02.0’’ W 77°10’39.4’’), or quieter further north outside of town on a big gravel lot, but unguarded (S 09°33’48.4’’ W 77°10’29.9’’). We continue to Cátac and sleep at the grass plaza there on the opposite side of the police station in front of the church, but plazas don’t promise the quietest nights (S 09°47’53.3’’ W 77°25’54.6’’).

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