Carál + Lachay, Peru – Old, older, oldest

During the Mesopotamian culture bloomed, Egypt built its pyramids and India diligently traded, in Peru the oldest culture on the American continent known so far arose. Around 5000 years ago a conglomeration of 20 cities in the Supe valley was reigned by a capital that we call Carál today, as we call the culture. The excavations began in 1994, until then Chavín de Huántar was thought to be the oldest civilisation. Today Carál belongs to UNESCO world heritage.

There’s not much known yet, since there was no script until the Spaniards arrived, and what wasn’t washed away by rain, not carried away by wind and not decomposed by the sun, was buried by sand. So far archaeologists dug up six pyramids, one amphitheatre, ceremonial places, several round plazas, storage, and accommodations. Architecture, finds and ash analyses suggest that it was a hierarchic organised, not belligerent society that intensely farmed the fertile river valley, traded with the coast as well as with cities in the Andes, and sacrificed humans. They used flutes from bamboo cane and animal bones for music and dance.

The adobe city doesn’t bear comparison with Egypt’s pyramids and temples, but is worth seeing. The facility is built for mass tourism, so far only few people visit Carál or even know about it. Admission is 11 PEN, a compulsory guide (Spanish only) costs 20 PEN per group. There is no group in sight, so we have to pay him alone. The 25 km long northern feeder road south of Supe close to Barranca is signed when coming from south (don’t worry about logic, in this country everything faces capital Lima). The sealed dirt road is in good condition. From the parking lot (S 10°53’38.7’’ W 77°30’31.5’’) we have to walk another 1.5 km / 1 mi in soft sand. (Guidebooks aren’t usually up to date for this place!)

You can access Carál coming from south from another road respectively make a round trip out of it. The southern feeder road starts north of Huacho at S 11°01’14.2’’ W 77°35’53.5’’; the parking lot there is directly at the excavation site. The connector between north and south feeder road between fields can be managed only by 4WD vehicles due to a river crossing. According to the water level appropriate clearance might be needed. Staff at the ruins can give information. Camping might be possible when agreed with the guards.

We head further south to the natural park Lachay where costal fog constantly moving in created a microclimate. Thanks to the humidity a biotope with grasses, perennials and a mini forest came into being amidst the dry desert. The charming reserve is home to numerous birds and small mammals and a very peaceful place in front of Lima. Admission is 5 PEN, to camp you’ll need a three-days-ticket for 10 PEN. The park has got real campsites with barbecue, stone benches, and outhouses.

From Pan Am (S 11°24’40.3’’ W 77°23’22.2’’) to the pay station Reserva Natural de Lachay it’s 3.5 km unpaved road, then another 3 km following the left branch of the trail, passing two parking lots and camping zone 2 to get to camping zone 3 (S 11°21’25.6’’ W 77°22’03.4’’) where it’s lonely with splendid view (bigger rigs can stop further down if you think you’ll not make it). There are some hiking trails as well.

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