Hatun Machay, meaning “large cave” in Quechua, is a stone forest situated to the south of Huaraz near Lake Conococha at an altitude of 4250 m in the Cordillera Negra. This huge labyrinth consists of rock towers, mushroom-shaped rocks, large boulders, and caves with rock carvings and paintings dating back to
10,000 BC. The spectacular landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that took place some 6 million years ago. Little is known about the prehistory of the stone forest, but it is evident that the caves have been used intensively by man, testified by the abundance of rock paintings and carvings, as well as of lithic artefacts (such as arrow and spears) found on the site. These artefacts belong to the Paijanense culture, which is linked to the earliest human occupation of the Peruvian Andes.
Nowadays traditional pastoralist communities live in the area, using the caves to shelter from the harsh, high altitude climate.
A 40-minute walk leads to a viewpoint offering impressive panoramic vistas of the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash to the east and of the Pacific Ocean to the west.
A visit to Hatun Machay is like stepping into another world.