It has been nearly 4 years since I was last in Peru. At that time I made the obligatory pilgrimage to the mystically engaging Machu Picchu. With this return visit, I had my sights set on the archaeological site of Caral that I had learned about on that last visit.
Touted as the oldest site of civilization uncovered so far in the Western Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world, the significance of this area in the development of civilization should not be overlooked. There are more than 20 other sites awaiting further exploration that have been discovered in the Supe River Valley area with similar characteristics so the people that once inhabited this area had a far reach.
What is missing from this site is the evidence of warfare and violence that are so frequently found at later sites. The inhabitants of this community were apparently living peacefully together with their neighbors.
Estimated at 5000 years old, Caral was under construction around the same time as the pyramids of Egypt. The extensive site covers some 160 acres of buildings that are being uncovered and restored, but not reconstructed. It was an important ceremonial and trading center for its time.
Hidden in Peru’s desert north of Lima down rural roads just off the Pan Am Highway, Caral can be baking hot in the sun during Peru’s summer months and requires a long walk on sandy paths with some uphill pulls. Visiting Caral from Lima necessitates setting aside a full day for the drive up and back in addition to the time for taking a walking tour through the site. The trip is well worth it for those interested in the early development of human society. It was late fall in Peru when I visited and the overcast day kept the heat down though it was still plenty warm even then. We even experienced some desert drizzle throughout the day.
With its barren desert landscape, Caral lacks the lush green jeweled beauty that encompasses other sites in the cloud forests of the Andes and isn’t as sought after as a destination as it’s more picturesque and famed neighbor in the south. It is an impressive site none the less, worthy of the time and effort it takes to visit.
Rural inhabitants still live and work the fields near the river where there is enough water for the vegetation to flourish and there is a small village near the site.