Big protests are afoot in some of northern Peru’s tourism destinations, and for the next few weeks, savvy travelers in the region will want to stay aware of events as they unfold. Since late 2011, protests of up to 10,000 people have rocked the beautiful mountain town of Cajamarca, normally better known for its hot springs, ice cream, and historical significance; this is where Conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his scruffy band of some 200 feverish Spaniards somehow defeated the overconfident Inca Emperor Atahualpa.
While the pretty city isn’t on Peru’s primary tourist circuit, you may be considering a visit during its famously festive Carnival. As well you should! But, while protest organizers have promised to avoid interfering with the event, it’s always smart to be prepared.
Protesters are trying to stop a US$4.8 billion pit mine from being built in the region, already home to Yanacocha, the largest gold mine in the world. Though there’s no shortage of the glittering metal, an unprecedented rise in global gold prices has convinced many Peruvians—including center-left President Ollanta Humala—that the time has come to expand the region’s mining capabilities. During the November protests, after Newmont Mining Corp complained that demonstrations were costing them US$2 million per day, Humala stepped in to suppress the direct action.
On January 2, however, the protests resumed, though these were much smaller and less contentious than those last November. At the same time, the Cajamarca Regional Council officially labeled the new mining project “unviable,” adding that it could damage the quality of life of those living int he region.
The protests have gone national, beginning with a march from Cajamarca to Lima schedule, which starte February 2. More than 70 civil society groups were expected to participate in the march.
While protesters do not plan to interfere with tourism or traffic, you may want to schedule some extra time into your plans, just in case there are delayed. While visitors to Cajamarca are the most likely to be affected, the march will also go through Trujillo, a popular base for incredible archaeological sites on the Moche Route, including Chan Chan, Huaca del Sol y de la Luna, and several museums; and Huaraz, a favorite of active travelers eager to trek trough the Cordillera Blanca and Huascarán National Park. Smaller protests in support of the march are expected in Cuzco, Arequipa, and elsewhere around the country.
The Cajamarca protests have been notably nonviolent, and there are no reports of tourists being inconvenienced in any way. However, as with any foreign protest, it’s always smart to stay clear of the action and plan for possible holdups.