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The art of the emblematic caves of Sumbay

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The art of the emblematic caves of Sumbay

The Sumbay Caves are located in the district of Arequipa, within the province, department and region of the same name. It is located exactly on the back slope of the Misti volcano, at a height of 5,100 to 4,127 meters above sea level, on the current Colca canyon route coming from Arequipa; and it is an important shelter of the Paleolithic cave legacy, in addition to being recognized, since 2000, as Cultural Heritage of the Nation.


The Rock Art found in the caves of Sumbay, would have an approximate age of 8,000 to 6,000 years and has been studied to a greater degree by the archaeologist Máximo Neira, who began his studies after the 1968 expedition. According to the data obtained by this researcher, The cave would have been inhabited between 5,800 and 3,000 years before our era, by the first hunters and gatherers of the Colca.


During the 1968 expedition, at least nine caves were discovered in Sumbay. In these you can see the finished work of at least 500 cave paintings -only in the grotto called su-3- and they have an importance equal to those found within the Toquepala and Lauricocha complexes.


The aforementioned grotto su-3 stands out, in addition to the presence of motifs based on the fauna of the place, for the fact that the creator of the drawings made a technique present in them that allows the sketches to be seen in a three-dimensional way-taking advantage of the of the caves-; making, thanks to this, more realistic the images found.


About the fauna represented, this is significant, since in addition to animals currently known and still typical of the area, such as vicuñas, huanacos, pumas, among others; they are found in the representations, pictographs of fauna currently extinct in the area, as is the case of the so-called suris, an animal similar to a rhea. Accompanying these zoomorphic representations are anthropomorphic images of a hunting attitude; The human presence in the pictographs of Sumbay is not only reduced to work activity since some can also be seen in which the presence of dancers is observed who could respond to ritual purposes in favor of obtaining a good hunt.


The paintings found in the Sumbay Caves are made in white, cream, yellow and khaki red or ochre. It is believed, according to Neira's research, that the colors used are an indication of the different dates, the oldest being those made in white pigmentation.

Sumbay caves Peru

Along with the images of hunting and dance already mentioned, and that bear witness to the customs of these first men of the Colca; It is necessary to mention that remains of the hunting instruments used by those have also been found in the place, of which the presence of two different groups can be observed: the first worked in retinite stone; and the second, in obsidian stone.


In order for the visitor to reach the Caves of Sumbay, they must travel 80 km from Arequipa to Sumbay, from there go to the Caves for an average of 5 more Kilometers. The type of entrance to the place is free and it does not present established visiting hours, although the recommendation is that it be carried out during the mornings.



Sumbay is located in the department and province of Arequipa, in the Yanahuara district at more than 4000 meters above sea level, about 90 km from the city of Arequipa, it is currently a tourist attraction that is visited by national and foreign tourists who go in search of history. Access is not complicated and you can get there without much problem.


Sumbay Caves Important Facts

Thousand-year-old traces that together constitute art and history are embodied 6,500 years ago in the rocky walls of the Sumbay caves, a place chosen by the primitive people of Arequipa to leave the mark of their presence.


90 kilometers separate Arequipa from Sumbay; To get there, you must pass the trail that until now is the only way to get to know the caves. Once in Sumbay, the rocks are shown as imposing soldiers that guard the attraction.


The one who found it was the Arequipa archaeologist Máximo Neira Avendaño in 1968, who explains how he began his adventure to discover the place:


The main cave is SU3, as it has more than 500 drawings referring almost entirely to South American camelids and other local animals such as the puma, there are also other cave drawings in other caves but in smaller quantities.


In addition to the main one, there are two caves where they have very few paintings; one of them has 5 paintings and the other has one of the most wonderful scenes which is SU8, but it is in the ravine so difficult to explore, it is precisely on the slopes of the Sumbay river.


Due to the color used, the animals that were captured in the caves were guanacos, says the specialist, an animal that can be found in the Salinas and Aguada Blanca Reserve, but its population is very small. The great difference between Sumbay and other caves in the country where rock art has been found is that the preponderant scene is not hunting, which implies an important social change.


Most of the camelids that are captured are not in movement, they are almost at rest, in a row, in a group, they do not run, which means that these paintings were already made in the last stages of the hunters when they possibly knew about the domestication of the camelids and possibly some human groups had already entered the stage of horticulture (initial agriculture)


A relevant figure is that of the shaman disguised as a camelid, which shows that these caves were also a religious center for the primitives and that the custom of thanking the Pachamama for these animals; It is a practice that is preserved until now.


In the same way, a figure can also be seen that until now was believed to be a taruca, in reality it is the Jamachu, that is, the Guanaco that leads the herd and takes care of it, the suri also appears, a running bird very similar to the rhea, but that It no longer lives in the reserve, although it can be found in the upper part of Puno. Andean men still dress with their feathers. The cream white color used in Sumbay is a peculiarity of the cave art of the place.


They obtained this color from the clay that remained from the eruption of the volcanoes that surround the reserve, but they used mordants, that is, the animal fat that allowed the drawings to be fixed there for thousands of years in the way they were made is a sample of the skill of the first Arequipeños.

Sumbay paintings Arequipa

With what instrument would these paintings have been made?

Possibly some of them with the finger and others with a brush, unfortunately there is no clear evidence that they used brushes because absolutely nothing has been found of traces of primitive brushes, which would be the only evidence.


In addition to the paintings, the tips of spears made of stone were found, all expeditions in the Sumbay caves took 02 years in which it was determined that they were inhabited for a thousand years.


How to get to the Sumbay Caves?

To be able to get to the Cuevas de Sumbay you can do it through 03 ways:


By own car If you have your own transportation it will be very easy; from Arequipa in the direction of the road that leads to Puno, Colca Valley, it is an approximate trip of 01 hour and 30 minutes to 02 hours, depending on how far you go, you arrive at Pampa Cañahuas where tolls are paid (the cost varies according to the type transport), the cost for cars does not exceed S /. 8.00 soles, from there one finds 02 roads, one in the direction of Puno and another in the direction of the Colca Valley, you must continue your way in the direction of the Colca Valley, you have to be very careful since advancing for about 15 to 20 Approximately minutes, in the middle of the road you will be able to see a sign indicating a detour to the Sumbay caves, from that point a pure trail road begins for an average of 15 minutes until you reach the town of Sumbay. There, a person charges an entrance ticket of S /. 5.00 soles per passenger, you go a little further to leave your car and from there you start an average 15-minute walk on a downhill path and a little paved to reach the main cave where you can appreciate the rock art.


Public transport This is another alternative, you can go to the Terminal Terrestre de Arequipa and take a bus or minivan that goes to Chivay (Valle dl Colca) and ask to be dropped off at the road detour where the Sumbay sign is, from there you start a 45-minute walk to the town of Sumbay and from there to the same caves. When returning, in the same way you have to walk to the main road to return to Arequipa since there is no type of transport that leaves from Sumbay.


Tourist Service If you want an organized program departing from Arequipa and accompanied by a guide, you can take the tour to the Sumbay Caves, where in addition to visiting the caves, stops are made at other points and you will be accompanied by a connoisseur if you want to know more about the attraction.


Best time to visit Sumbay Caves

This attraction is open to visitors all year round, however in the rainy season, which is from January to March, heavy rainfall makes the entrance road to Sumbay full of puddles since it is a pure trail road. something difficult for visitors who go in their own car and may suffer a breakdown in the cars, that is why at that time it is recommended to visit Sumbay in the mornings. The rest of the year you can schedule your visit as normal.


Activities to do in Sumbay

Outside of the main attraction that are the Caves of Sumbay, you can also visit its traditional town known as a ghost town since the inhabitants who formed the town are not living constantly in the place, they go to their ranches since they They dedicate themselves to the raising of some camelids and when there is a meeting or activity they gather in the town. You will also be able to appreciate its traditional Church and the Train Cemetery. An important detail to keep in mind is that you will not be able to find stores to buy water, cookies, etc. If you plan your visit, it is recommended that you go prepared in terms of food.


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