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Huánuco, Peru: Getting into the Countryside and Visiting Tomayquichua and La Casa de la Perricholi

Views near Huánuco, Peru

When I first arrived in Huánuco, I had one main goal: I wanted to visit the ruins of Kotosh and learn what I could about this very ancient archeological site. But Huánuco is so much more than that, and I want to make sure you know what I didn’t before my visit: the countryside is gorgeous and you should try to spend some time out here rather than in the city.

As it turned out, I was lucky because the taxi driver I hired to take me to Kotosh was eager to show me the rest of Huánuco. He was adamant that I visit the other major tourist attraction of the region, and one that I had never heard of before: La Casa de la Perricholi.

Tomayquichua and La Casa de la Perricholi

Plaza of Tomayquichua, near Huánuco, Peru

UntitledFourteen kilometers outside Huánuco lies the tiny town of Tomayquichua, with a very pleasant green plaza and a story that dates back to the colonial era.

You can get a sense for the story if you look at the statue that sits in front of the municipal building. A tall, regal woman embraced by her short lover.

This love affair being celebrated by the town of Tomayquichua is none other than that between a woman named María Micaela Villegas y Hurtado de Mendoza and the Viceroy Manuel de Amat in the 18th century.

This star of Peruvian colonial theatre is more commonly known by her stage name, La Perricholi.

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

So why does Tomayquichua honor this woman, a famous actress in the 18th century, who had a scandalous fourteen-year-long affair with a man almost three times her age? Because, supposedly, she was born here, in this little house, although there is a strong argument that she was actually born in Lima.

Flower at La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

Flowers at La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, PeruWhatever the actual story, it worth visiting La Casa de la Perricholi because it is a house turned into a museum honoring this one fascinating person.

La Perricholi was born in 1748 and had become a much-admired theatre actress by age 20.

It was soon after this that she attracted the attention of the powerful viceroy, and they defied convention and publicly displayed their relationship on Lima’s social scene for fourteen years. That’s pretty progressive for that era!

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

When visiting La Casa de la Perricholi, you can see the tiny house where she was (supposedly) born, although she lived the majority of her life in Lima. There is this pretty carriage, but I’m not sure if this dates back to that era because it seems to be in pretty good condition.

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, PeruYou can even make a wish at this wishing well. I’m not sure how many women have wished for an extremely powerful prince to make them princesses – what do you think?

Either way, it was nice to get out of the city and into this laid-back town, surrounded by the green hills, with small houses. It certainly gave me a more complete perspective on what life is like in the region, with its lovely climate and agricultural focus.

(As I mentioned in my post on the city of Huánuco, there were haciendas in this area back in the day – which means the growing is good!)

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, PeruAfter touring the tiny property, you can read article after article about La Perricholi. The headline in the article above says “Tomayquichua witnessed the birth of a chola who became a queen.” (In Peruvian Spanish cholo/a refers to someone of Andean birth, generally indigenous or mixed race heritage, and can be used both positively or negatively depending on the tone and intent.)

To be fair, La Perricholi is actually still quite recognized for her role in Peruvian history. She pushed for some of the beautiful colonial parks and constructions in Lima that exist to this day, most notably La Alameda de los Descalzos in Rímac. She has been the subject of countless books, movies, tv shows, and even an opera!

So, if you’re in Huánuco, you should definitely visit. It doesn’t really matter where she was actually born, but it’s a good way to get a sense of her role in Peruvial cultural memory!

Views of the Countyside of Huánuco

Views near Huánuco, Peru

Bridge near Huánuco, PeruAfter my tour of La Casa de la Perricholi was complete, we moved on to a small pisco distillery, but since I wasn’t planning on buying I felt too awkward to take any pictures or even note the name. Be sure to ask in Huánuco if this sounds appealing, or just ask your taxi driver to take you there.

But the part I did like? Heading over yet another suspension bridge and taking pictures over the pretty river.

Looking at these pictures three years later, I’m struck by how much this landscape reminds of the Valle de Elqui in northern Chile. Low brown hills, suspension bridges, maybe a few more trees?

Well, I love the Andean landscape so it makes sense that this would appeal to me. 🙂

Views near Huánuco, Peru

If you have any interest in getting to know the landscape near Huánuco, the Casa Hacienda Shimay comes highly recommended. If I ever make it back to this region, I’m definitely going to stay there. It would be amazing to spend a couple of days relaxing, disconnecting, and going on hikes and horseback rides around the region. Ahhh.

Bridge near Huánuco, Peru

But all in all, I enjoyed getting out of the city and seeing a little more of what Huánuco has to offer. As I mentioned, the city wasn’t for me, but the scenery definitely was. Just another reminder of how your perceptions of a city or a region can be colored by your (usually limited) personal experience. So be sure to get on that local bus to Tingo Maria or hire a super affordable taxi to get into the countryside and really see what this region is about.

Recommendations for Huánuco, Peru:

  • As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn’t a huge fan of the city of Huánuco, but I think the region deserves more attention and exploration. Be sure to visit the ruins of Kotosh, La Casa de la Perricholi in Tomayquichua, and see if you can stop by the river for scenic photos.
  • Although I didn’t stay there myself, the Casa Hacienda Shismay is run by locals and offers a nice way to experience the countryside of Huánuco.
  • You can probably arrange a tour from Huánuco, but I just met a friendly taxi driver who was more than happy to drive me around the countryside. Coming from other parts of Peru, the price seemed super inexpensive to me and he acted as a tour guide so I was happy to pay. I think I paid S/.35 to go to and from Kotosh (on the opposite side of the city), Tomayquichua, the distillery, and the route back, and it took about 3-4 hours.
  • For more information on places you can visit before or after Huánuco, read the recommendations at the bottom of my post on the city of Huánuco and Kotosh.
  • For more information on La Perricholi (in Spanish), you can read this blog post or this Wikipedia article.
[Huánuco, Peru: August 29-31, 2013]

 

Huánuco, Peru: Visiting the City of Huánuco and the Ruins of Kotosh

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

After spending an active, if rain-filled week exploring the fascinating culture, history, and landscapes of Huancayo, I knew I had to move on, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go. Huancayo is only eight hours from Lima, but if I continued to head further north, I could access the jungle through Pucallpa, or return to the mountain landscapes of the Cordillera Blanca through Huaraz.

Whatever I decided, my next destination was certain: Huánuco. Besides providing more convenient access to the jungle, it hosts one of the most ancient archeological sites in Peru: Kotosh, known for its Templo de las Manos Cruzadas (Temple of the Crossed Hands), a set of ruins about which is little is known.

Only six hours from Huánuco, I decided to take a night bus and see how much I could see upon arrival. That turned to be quite a lot!

The City of Huánuco

Plaza de Armas, Huánuco, Peru

Plaza de Armas in Huánuco

I arrived to Huánuco before dawn, and as I usually do with such early arrivals, I sat down in the bus terminal to get my bearings and wait for sunrise before getting in a taxi. As it turned out, Huánuco is a city of mototaxis, and that means noise, constant noise. Even staying in a room deep within the hostal located near the main plaza, I could hear noise constantly. Our relationship was off to a rocky start.

Views from Huánuco, Peru

After getting a couple more hours of sleep, I headed out into the bright sun of Huánuco to get a sense for the city. Huánuco’s claim to fame is that it has the best weather in the world (according to Huánuco, of course!), and the sun and blue skies were my constant companions. Coming out of a week of rain, this was somewhat refreshing, but with few trees, it was a little overwhelming.

Iglesia de San Francisco, Huánuco, Peru

So while in the city of Huánuco proper, I spent most of my time wandering through the streets and heading to the cute plazas near the churches and colonial buildings, where I found benches underneath the trees and brainstormed where I wanted to go next. I particularly liked this church – and for some reason didn’t snap pictures of any others.

Views from Huánuco, Peru

But if I’m being completely honest here, I actually did not like Huánuco – the city of Huánuco, that is. I loved the countryside and will share more about that next. If you’ve read other posts of mine, you’ve probably heard me talk about how amazing Peru is, and how much I love major urban cities like Lima and tiny towns that few foreigners visit. This is not me putting a positive spin on things; I connect to Peru. But I did not connect to Huánuco.

Views from Huánuco, Peru

A couple of months after my visit, I read the book Lituma en los Andes (Death in the Andes) by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of Peru’s top novelists, and there is an apt description of Huánuco as this transitory city where people spend time escaping wherever they came from. I recognized that here; there was a heavy, dark energy in the city and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Views from Huánuco, Peru

If you do visit, remember that there is more to Huánuco than its loud, noisy city. The local police actually serve as the tourist information office, and they also suggest heading outside the city to really get to know the region.

Views from Huánuco, Peru

It’s worth spending an afternoon wandering through the city and checking out the many parks, but make sure to leave time in your itinerary to see Kotosh and other sites outside the city. I had originally hoped to stay at Casa Hacienda Shismay for a couple of days, and that would have given me a whole different perspective on what the Húanuco region is really like.

The Ancient Ruins of Kotosh

Replica of Las Manos Cruzadas, Museum, Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

Zona Arqueológica Monumental de Kotosh, Huánuco, PeruBy the time I made it to Huánuco, it had been a while since I’d seen ruins, and I was curious about Kotosh because there is so little information on the site. It is known for the simple temple with two panels, each displaying a pair of life-sized crossed hands. One is crossed as you see in the picture, and the other is crossed in the opposite direction, thought to represent duality so common in Andean cosmology, the masculine and the feminine, heaven and earth, light and dark.

The small on-site museum is pretty sparse and includes this replica of the adobe hands, which have been removed in the name of preservation and can be seen in Lima’s archeological museum.

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

The most important thing to note about Kotosh is that the ruins are set in the midst of a fertile landscape. I couldn’t stop peering off into the mountains and appreciating the distant hills. Of course, this was probably strategic; many sacred sites are surrounded on all sides by hills.

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

My first stop was this set of small temples, which are from the “most recent” period of inhabitants (and are the most photogenic!).

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

These ruins have bene studied for years by Japanese archeologists, but there is little that is actually known about the ruins except that they were ritually abandoned and filled in, until finally the people who lived here left completely.

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

In fact, the earliest era is just called the Tradición Mito (myth tradition), and it is assumed that there was a loose camaraderie among the most ancient inhabitants. Later on, there seemed to be more exchange with other, more organized groups like those at Chavín de Huantar.

Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

But basically, very little is known about these ruins except that there seemed to be some sort of ritual burning (which could have been to stimulate crop growth) and ritual burials of temples, which was also common with the adobe temples on the coast.

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

Like so many ruins, there is little we know, and much we speculate. But we can definitely agree that they had excellent taste in choosing beautiful surroundings.

Templo de las Manos Cruzadas (Temple of the Crossed Hands)

Templo de las Manos Cruzadas, Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

After checking out the ruins from the later period, it was time to move on to the main event: the Templo de las Manos Cruzadas. This structure is the largest and as such it seems to be the most important; there are niches carved into the walls, and as this shot shows, this is where the two sets of crossed hands used to be located.

Templo de las Manos Cruzadas, Huánuco, Peru

The temple also had two floors, which is thought to represent duality as much as the adobe carvings of hands in mirror image.

Templo de las Manos Cruzadas, Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

There was a firepit in the middle of this temple, but little else has been determined about this structure. All we can do is speculate as to what rituals used to happen here, what the beliefs once were, which is part of the mystery and appeal.

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru

Bridge near Kotosh, Huánuco, PeruAs anyone who loves the Andes has learned, bits and pieces of these traditions have survived over the years, through all the conquering cultures that came after, and remain part of the cosmovisión that lives on today. We may not know details, but we see this connecting thread through time.

And for some reason, just as you find in many other beautiful spiritual sites and natural wonders, recent visitors have left apachetas, or cairns here as well.

After visiting the ruins, I headed out of the archeological site to the park by the river, crossing this fantastic suspended bridge.

I only wished I’d brought a picnic lunch to sit by the river and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

 

But my adventure in Huánuco wasn’t over yet: I was heading into the countryside to enjoy more of these scenic views and see a little bit of small town life.

(ps…Stay in touch with me and my travels by following blueskylimit on Instagram!)

Recommendations for Huánuco, Peru:

  • Huánuco is located about six hours from Huancayo so is a logical destination if you’re heading north. Many people visit Huánuco en route to Pucallpa, a city located on the Amazon. If you want to get a sense of the jungle, you can head to nearby Tingo Maria, about three hours from Huánuco. I regret not going while I was there. Please note if you travel to Pucallpa that all recommendations are to travel by day bus due to potential robberies on this specific route.
  • From Huánuco, you can also take the “back door” route to Huaraz. I was very tempted but it seemed too complicated and I was anxious to visit the ruins on the northern coast of Peru instead. Be sure to do your research as many of the buses only run once a day; but if you have an adventurous spirit, it’s a good way to get to the Cordillera Blanca and I’m certain the views are out of this world.
  • Of course, you can get a bus back to Lima, or do what I did and head to Cerro de Pasco and then Tarma using colectivos.
  • I would not recommend staying where I did in Huánuco; unfortunately, there aren’t too many budget options. I was very interested in staying at Casa Hacienda Shismay, about 17 kilometers outside Huánuco. This is a converted hacienda that is run by the locals with access to hiking and horseback riding, and a gourmet on-site restaurant. Totally a splurge but has excellent reviews. They were booked solid during my visit due to group staying there so I wasn’t able to enjoy my escape outside the city. They offer transfers from Huánuco to make life a little easier.
  • To visit Kotosh, the easiest way is to hire a mototaxi or taxi from downtown Huánuco. It’s very inexpensive – a taxi should cost about S/.12-15, round trip, and includes the wait during your visit. You can also do what I did and have your driver take you to La Casa de la Perricholi in Tomayquichua.
  • Entry to the site costs S/.5 and there are guided tours available for an additional price.
  • Kotosh is located next to a recreational park right on the river, so it’s worth planning to spend a little time there enjoying the surroundings.
  • The best restaurants I found were located on the Plaza de Armas, where you can order from the fixed price menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Food is very cheap in Huánuco. I discovered the vegetarian restaurant after I’d already eaten; it’s at General Prado 608. There’s also a health food store where you can buy snacks just off the plaza, and lots of juice options.
  • The tourist information office in Huánuco is run by the local police, and they are more than happy to share the little information they have about the region.
  • Spend some time hanging out in the many parks and plazas located around Huánuco to take in this high-paced lifestyle.
  • The most complete information I could find on Kotosh is here (in Spanish).
[Huánuco, Peru: August 29-31, 2013]

 

Views from Kotosh, Huánuco, Peru