855km (531 miles) NE of Lima; 298km (185 miles) NE of Trujillo; 235km (146 miles) SE of Chiclayo

Delightful and historic Cajamarca, the jewel of Peru's northern highlands, deserves to be more widely appreciated. Those who know the city often call it "the Cusco of the north," and comparisons to that tourist magnet farther south are not illegitimate. This graceful and traditional mountain town possesses some of the same attributes as Cusco, but it is refreshingly free of many of the hassles associated with the gringo capital of South America. Although it's surrounded by the Andes at an altitude of nearly 2,700m (8,900 ft.) above sea level, Cajamarca is a down-to-earth and unassuming place that doesn't get caught up in its colonial beauty and Andean grace. Townspeople, nearly all of them decked out in marvelously distinctive sombreros de paja (straw hats), merely go about their business.

Cajamarca is the largest city in a fertile agricultural region that is virtually unsurpassed in Peru for its luxurious, verdant countryside. (The climate is pleasantly springlike, with clear blue skies, most of the year.) It's also known for its splendid dairy products, so any visit here should involve stops at some of the many ice-cream and cheese shops. And Cajamarca is ringed by archaeological sites and handsome hacienda estates, which make getting out to the country a must.