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Tumbes, Peru: Ancient Ruins at Cabeza de Vaca and Tumbes, the Tropical Border City

Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru
Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru

The first time I visited Tumbes, I passed through the city around 4AM after a full day of travel through Ecuador. I’d left Baños on a bus to Cuenca, and as soon as I arrived in Cuenca, I booked a ticket on a night bus to Piura, Peru. After all I’d read about a dangerous border crossing between Huaquillas, Ecuador and Tumbes, Peru, I was a little wary of crossing in the middle of the night, but it turned out my research was outdated. The border crossing complex is modern, well-lit, and super simple: you get stamped out of one country and into another in the same room!

So my first experience of Tumbes was subconscious, as I fitfully slept on a hot, stuffy night bus until the bus attendant shook us gringos awake, thinking we were heading to Máncora like most foreign tourists. In any case, since I had missed exploring Tumbes and Piura on my first pass-through, I was determined to give Tumbes a chance to win me over me with its tropical charm, like my beloved Tarapoto.

Corrales and Cabeza de Vaca (Fortaleza de Tumpis)

Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru
Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

And win me over it did. As I researched my trip, I discovered that Tumbes is actually home to a massive pre-Incan complex of ruins pertaining to the Tumpis culture from this region. Located close to the ocean in a strategic position between the jungles of what is now Ecuador and northern Peru, the coastal desert, and the high Andes, this was an excellent place to construct a ceremonial and administrative center. So much so that the Incas took over the site when they grew their empire.

Museo, Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru
Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

Despite the importance of this site in Peru’s pre-Colombian history, Cabeza de Vaca, also known as the Fortaleza de Tumpis, only was declared a national heritage site in 2000. Like many other desert ruins, the sand has covered the secrets of this temple and it’s hard to visually appreciate its former grandeur, unlike the massive rock structures of the Incas.

On top of that, Cabeza de Vaca is located in the Corrales district of Tumbes, which is a struggling community (much like Huaycán, where I volunteered in 2012-3). As in many parts of Peru, including Huaycán, this community has grown through land invasions. This means that many homes are actually built on top of the less obvious sections of the ruins, and it’s hard for the ministry of culture to protect them from damage.

Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru
Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

Because the ruins are only beginning to be excavated, studied, and understood, it is challenging for archeologists and the ministry of culture to get funding to protect the ruins as well as continue the investigation. There are many secrets beneath these layers of earth, but it is a painstaking process to understand why.

Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

As you can see in this image, the interesting aspect of these ruins is that you can watch the process of excavation and see what new discoveries are being turned up as archeologists uncover and descend into deeper, better protected layers.

Cabeza de Vaca / Fortaleza de Tumpis, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

You end up seeing something like this, some sort of canal. The early cultures understood how to construct canals in the most ingenious ways, and these ruins also have an extensive system. If you notice the walls in these photos, the brickwork is very different, suggesting the different eras of construction.

Ruins Under Investigation, Cabeza de Vaca, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

Unfortunately for me, the most recent excavations – and according to my guide, some of the most interesting – were actually being protected from the El Niño phenomenon and its rains by these tarps, so there wasn’t much to see. I’d be curious to return on a future visit to see how work has progressed.

Views of Panamerican Highway, Cabeza de Vaca, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

Museo, Cabeza de Vaca, Corrales, Tumbes, PeruFrom the vantage point of these ruins located on one of the few hills in the area, you can see the expanses of fields being toasted by the desert sun. Further west you run into the ocean and the mangroves. And that’s the Panamerican Highway as it passes through northern Peru, just a simple two-lane highway in these parts.

After my tour, we headed back to the museum to see some of the relics that have been uncovered during investigations. These shards of pottery do not look like much, but they are painted reminders of the ceremonial importance of this site.

Museo, Cabeza de Vaca, Corrales, Tumbes, Peru

The most interesting piece in the museum, for me, was this fragment of adobe painted in what is very clearly the chakana, or Inca cross, a symbol common in artwork found throughout the Andes. The colors on this piece are quite vibrant given the passage of time, and as I’ve learned through my travels, desert ruins that were painstakingly painted in this fashion had deep ceremonial significance.

All in all, I enjoyed my brief but fascinating visit to Cabeza de Vaca, and I highly suggest that you make time to get here if you’re enjoying the beaches of northern Peru. It’s super easy to get to the ruins on public transportation – you get off any shared van at the crossroads to Corrales and hop in a mototaxi to the ruins. I provide more information in my recommendations, below.

City of Tumbes

Menú vegetariano, Vegetarian Restaurant, Tumbes, PeruAfter visiting Cabeza de Vaca, I wanted to head into Tumbes to get to know the city and buy my return ticket to Lima. From Corrales, I took a mototaxi to Corrales’ main plaza, where I got another combi heading directly into Tumbes. By this time, I was starving, so I wandered around the main plaza looking for a restaurant with an appealing vegetarian option.

Completely by accident, I stumbled upon a vegetarian restaurant! There is usually one vegetarian restaurant in every significant Peruvian city, and I find it’s a great way to get a sense of regional food tastes.

Amusingly, I happened to get the last table in the restaurant, and so when a pair of relatives came in right behind me, I offered to let them sit at my table. Turns out it was their first experience with vegetarian food, and probably their first experience eating with a gringa in Tumbes!

Catedral, Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru

Sufficiently fueled, I continued wandering around the streets of Tumbes. The city center is compact and straightforward, so it is a pleasant place to spend the afternoon wandering around. The church on the plaza is pretty unique in construction style and reflects the colorful tastes of this region.

Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru

Here’s another view of the Plaza de Armas, where you can see its colorful, unique arches. The inscription reads “Tumbes, cradle of South America’s petroleum wealth,” celebrating a major industry in these parts. Some of the buildings surrounding the plaza are relics from the colonial days – in the distance, you can see the balconies that are reminiscent of Spanish-style architecture.

Ruta Panamericana, Tumbes, Peru

Behind the plaza, there is a raised pedestrian walkway where you can get views of the brown river and the bridge that leads into the city. This bridge gets a lot of traffic as it is part of the Ruta Panamericana.

Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru

You can see that the plaza was pretty empty due to the hot summer sun and humidity – everyone was hiding out in the more shady parts in the distance!

Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru

My favorite part of the plaza was this amazing mosaic built into the band shell right on the plaza. I was fascinated by its symbolism, really representing the spirit of the region.

Plaza de Armas, Tumbes, Peru

As I wrote in my Instagram post, this mosaic is called “Encuentro de Dos Mundos,” a slightly nicer way to say “Two Worlds Collide.” In this detail shot you can see the force of Chilimasa, chief of the Tumpis, resisting the Spanish colonizer in the battles among the lush landscape of the mangroves in Tumbes.

This same spirit of resisting, surviving, and gathering strength continues today throughout Peru.


Last but not least, Tumbes has a lovely pedestrian walkway that runs along the church where you can also take in the widely varying architecture, do some shopping, and buy some fruit, as I did (mangos are amazing in this region!). Interestingly, this part of the city is pretty peaceful considering the chaos back on the Panamerican just a couple of blocks away.

Near here, you can catch a bus to Puerto Pizarro, one of the fishing bays and beaches located close by. Puerto Pizarro is also one of the most common gateways to the mangroves, although I went on a tour from Puerto 25.

As you can see, Tumbes is a great place to spend an afternoon getting to know a different aspect of Peruvian culture. I would have spent more time there, but I was looking forward to watching my last sunset in Zorritos.

Recommendations for Tumbes, Peru:

  • If you have time in your travel itinerary, make some time to get to know Tumbes and the surrounding area. Most travelers skip Tumbes and head directly to Máncora, but Tumbes can help broaden your perspective on life in this region. I suggest staying in Zorritos, located about 30 minutes from Tumbes, and using that as your base.
  • Tumbes is the first city you reach when crossing the border from Ecuador at Huaquillas. Contrary to the outdated information you may find in your Google search, the border crossing is now totally secure and easy as long as you have a through bus from Ecuador to Tumbes or Piura. Tumbes is a border city so it has its pockets of unsafe areas, but downtown Tumbes is perfectly safe to wander around and quite a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
  • To visit the mangroves near Tumbes, you can catch a colectivo to Puerto Pizarro from the center of Tumbes at the stop shown in Google Maps. Although I didn’t visit myself, the locals I ate lunch with said it was well worth a visit. Personally, I visited the mangroves on a guided tour from Puerto 25, arranged by my hostel. That was totally worth it as well to see such a fascinating ecosystem.
  • If you have any interest in pre-colonial, pre-Incan cultures, visit Cabeza de Vaca, also known as the Fortaleza de Tumpis, located in the district of Corrales on the outskirts of Tumbes. Note that Corrales is a developing community or shantytown where many homes have been built through land invasions, but as long as you don’t flash your camera or other symbols of wealth around, it’s perfectly safe. To get there, take a shared van to the crossroads of Corrales and find a mototaxi to take you to the ruins. It should cost S/.2-3.
  • When you leave Cabeza de Vaca, you just walk back to the main road and flag down another mototaxi to head to the plaza of Corrales (if you’re going to Tumbes), or to the Panamerican, if you’re hoping to head back towards Zorritos or the beaches in Piura. The bus from Corrales to Tumbes costs S/.1 and runs frequently.
  • As I mentioned above, Cabeza de Vaca is still seeking funding for its excavation and protection, and more tourist visits can help with this process. There is not too much visible, but it’s worth it if you’re interested in learning more about pre-Incan cultures.
  • The vegetarian restaurant in Tumbes is located on Francisco Bolognesi, across from Alfonso Ugarte street, before you get to Piura. During the lunch hour, there is a chalkboard out front with the lunch specials and that’s how you know it’s a vegetarian restaurant – it says “Restaurante vegetariano.”
  • The Paseo Jerusalem is a lovely pedestrian walkway continuing to the park. All around Tumbes there are lovely mosaics and artistically constructed stone buildings and overpasses. It’s a pretty fascinating city to walk around.
  • You can catch a van back to Zorritos or onward to Máncora from the Panamerican, but it’s a hectic street so you might want to ask a local for some help.
  • If you’re traveling to Lima, I suggest Civa, whose office in Tumbes is located on the Panamerican. You can get on the bus in Tumbes or in any of the beach towns along the way. They have a vegetarian menu and the food on the route from Tumbes was generous – a giant tortilla with plantains and rice, yum!
[Tumbes, Peru: February 2, 2016]

Tumbes, Peru- Ancient Ruins at Cabeza de Vaca and Tumbes, the Tropical Border City

Piura, Peru: Cabo Blanco, a Famous Fishing Village & Surf Paradise with Amazing Tubular Waves

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

Back in the 1950s, Cabo Blanco was not just any fishing village in northern Peru. Cabo Blanco was a tiny little town very clearly marked on the map as a see-and-be-seen destination for all the famous celebrities of the time – Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Spencer Tracy, Doris Day and so on. Why was that, exactly?

Well, in those days, Cabo Blanco was a fisherman’s paradise. Its unique location at the intersection of the El Niño and Humboldt currents keep the waters temperate year-round, which enabled plankton to grow, anchovies to feed on it, and so on and so forth, inviting giant black marlins. We’re talking big game. REALLY big. Naturally, I was curious to learn a little more about the history of place for myself.

Views from Panamerican Highway, near El Alto, Talara, Piura, Peru

When I started dreaming up my plan to visit the beaches of northern Peru, Cabo Blanco became a must-see destination. Already in love with tiny fishing villages after my visit to tranquil Tortugas the year before, I wanted to imagine Cabo Blanco’s former glory and check out its fascinating left breaking wave.

Although visiting Cabo Blanco is an all-day affair due to its isolated location, it’s straightforward. If you’re coming from Tumbes, take a combi van to Máncora, where you’ll catch another bus to El Alto. (From elsewhere in Piura, just head directly to El Alto.) On the way, you’ll climb up to the high desert cliffs and get these amazing views.

Bus to Cabo Blanco, El Alto, Talara, Piura, Peru

El Alto is a typical industrial desert city which produces a good percentage of Peru’s oil, which makes it a pretty well-to-do city. I didn’t see much while there (I lived in the desert for a year after all), but rather continued my mission to Cabo Blanco, hopping into this combi van.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

After about 20 minutes, you enter Cabo Blanco, which is basically a charming one-street town with a handful of restaurants, a couple of lodging options, and, well, a giant fish processing plant. (I’ve never been a huge fan of modern Peruvian construction, what can I say? Urban planning is not a thing here.)

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

As you enter the town, you get a giant visual reminder of Cabo Blanco’s glory days. This was the world record catch of big game fish – 1560 pounds! Well, you won’t see anything like that these days; the giant marlin no longer head to these shores, a combination of overzealous sport fishing and commercial harvesting of the anchovies that the drew them there in the first place.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

But that’s okay. Cabo Blanco is worth a visit anyway. Like nearby Punta Sal, Cabo Blanco’s draw is that it’s an isolated, attractive beach, with a fair amount of local color mixed in. But far from the exclusive days of the past, it now has simple accommodations which are starting to cater to a new population: surfers.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

That’s right: surfers. Check out this incredible tubular wave. This is the longest left break in the world. I don’t know much about surfing, but I stood for quite a while just watching this tube wave break again and again. So cool!

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

And with few people there besides the locals, it’s a pleasant place to hang out and enjoy the beaches. Peru’s tourism board has talked from time to time about restoring Cabo Blanco to its old glory and boosting the economy for locals, but I didn’t see much evidence of that.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

As I wandered up and down the beach, enjoying the sunshine that peeked out from behind the near-constant clouds during my trip, I spotted the tourist information office and stumbled into one of the best parts of my day.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

The friendly woman staffing the tiny tourist information office had been born and raised in Cabo Blanco and had left to continue her studies in tourism at university. But she had returned to do an internship in her hometown, determined to raise the tourist profile of this attractive town. She spoke at length about the history of Cabo Blanco, showing me pictures of Ernest Hemingway, who had stayed there while writing The Old Man and the Sea, and other relics from the era when marlin fishing was king.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

Over the years I’ve spent in Peru, I’ve met a number of informed, intelligent people in the tourist information offices who are determined to share the culture of their country, and this young woman impressed me with her motivation to study English and her understanding of how the youth of the town can begin to imagine another future away from commercial fishing. I was sincerely moved by her story and her dreams.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

Thankfully, she’s not alone in her desire to improve life in Cabo Blanco. After the famous surf company Billabong hosted an annual surf competition in Cabo Blanco (which had happened the month prior to my visit), Peruvian surfers donated part of their prize money to furthering studies of the ecological system here. The Inkaterra organization has led initiatives towards marine conservation. Bringing ecotourism opportunities to Cabo Blanco could have a positive impact on the local population, both human and marine!

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

But for now, it’s worth visiting Cabo Blanco to enjoy its quiet beaches. This guy even got involved in the fun!

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

Personally, I could totally understand why Ernest Hemingway used this location as a writing retreat. If I were writing a book, I wouldn’t mind hanging out here and being inspired by these giant waves. (To some extent, it reminds me of Pablo Neruda’s home in Isla Negra.)

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

And as for the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club, the exclusive hotel and resort where celebrities used to hang out? Well, I didn’t quite make it there, but it’s on the other side of this cliff, about 2km away from the rest of the town. Check out the links in my recommendations below to see the strangely fascinating state of the abandoned property.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

In late afternoon, the surfers came out, getting ready to catch the waves. Just another day in this sleepy fishing village. But you don’t have to be a surfer or a sport fisherman to appreciate Cabo Blanco. It suited me just fine.

Views from Cabo Blanco, Talara, Piura, Peru

Recommendations for Cabo Blanco, Piura, Peru:

  • If you’re looking for a quiet place to spend the day on the beach that also has easy access to restaurants and tourist facilities, Cabo Blanco is the place for you. There are accommodations including a hostel that appeared to cater towards surfers, and you can probably camp on the beach.
  • To get to Cabo Blanco, take a Eppo bus from Máncora or Piura to El Alto. It cost S/.2.50 each way in February 2016. From there, ask someone to point you towards the nearby parking lot where the van shuttles leave for Cabo Blanco. It’s basically across the street but not immediately obvious as the pathway is down an alleyway between buildings. They cost S/.3 each way if I remember correctly.
  • If you want to visit Cabo Blanco Fishing Club, you can walk there but I wasn’t comfortable going alone. You can see pictures in this blog post and this Daily Mail article. I read that the hotel is in more decay than that now, with conflicting reports that it’s going to be restored.
  • For a little more information about surfing in Cabo Blanco (and the rest of northern Peru), try this blog post. PBS has an interesting article on the giant black marlin and what happened to them. And here’s another nice blog post on the appeal of Cabo Blanco.
[Cabo Blanco, Piura, Peru: February 1, 2016]

Piura, Peru- Cabo Blanco, a Famous Fishing Village & Surf Paradise with Amazing Tubular Waves

Tumbes, Peru: Punta Sal, its Pristine Beaches & Exclusive Coastal Community

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

When you think of luxurious beach resorts in northern Peru, what comes to mind first? If you’re like most Limeños, you think of Punta Sal. You might head to nearby Máncora for a night on the town or a fancy meal, but the truly exclusive stretch of beach in these parts is Punta Sal.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Many years ago, Punta Sal was the secret getaway for rich Limeños, who were able to invest in building vacation homes on beachfront properties, and over time a number of luxury hotels have sprung up along the coastline. Because the area occupied by Punta Sal is so expansive, there plenty of resorts located away from the crowds, a quick drive or taxi ride away from the center of town.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

The good news for travelers like myself is that Punta Sal’s magic is easily accessible and available for people of all budgets. It’s against the law to prohibit access to water and carve away private beaches, so these long stretches of sand are open game for visitors.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Even still, Punta Sal does require a commitment to visit. If you have a car, life is easier; you can drive down to the waterfront, passing through a security control as you leave the Panamerican Highway.

If you’re coming on public transportation like me, don’t worry, there are plenty of mototaxis and shared colectivo taxis waiting to take us down to the water. The frequent shuttles between Tumbes and Máncora pass right by the entrance to Punta Sal.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Although there are miles and miles upon MILES of accessible coastline throughout northern Peru (as well as several beaches like Canoas de Punta Sal that are close to the highway and perfectly nice places to spend an afternoon), I suggest you check out Punta Sal for yourself. You can hang out with the crowds right at the entrance to the beach, or you can do what I did and spend about 30 minutes wandering down the coast, accessing your own exclusive beaches.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

As you keep walking past the vacation homes, you’ll see only a couple of hotels along the way, and then suddenly, you’ll just see the cliffs behind you. But if you’re like me, you’ll be paying more attention to the beautiful pristine ocean views spreading out in front of you.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Although this region is known for its year-round sunny skies, the El Niño phenomenon meant there were a lot of clouds during my visit, but thankfully, the skies started to clear as the day went on and I was able to appreciate the sunshine and blue skies.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, PeruThere are lovely pockets of rocks where you can relax in the warm pools of water, as the gentle waves flow over you. It was here that I ran into a friendly couple saying they’d found their throne, and asking me to snap a picture of them appreciating this natural luxury. For the record there were only about five people on this stretch of beach!

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Continuing along my way, I chose to just observe the vastness of the ocean. I watched the seabirds flying over the water and waded into the water. For some reason, when I travel, I appreciate this sense of near-isolation, as it provides me a chance to truly take in and appreciate our natural surroundings and the wide, wide world we live in.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Seriously, is this an exclusive beach or what? You could spend the whole day just listening to the waves crash on the shore while reading a book in the soft sand.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Awww! I thought this little guy was so adorable. I forget his name in Spanish, but it translates to something like “useless crab” because he’s not one of the ones worth eating! This photo also shows you just how amazingly fine the sand is. This makes the beach pretty pristine!

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, PeruAs you can see from this photo, I was pretty joyful wandering along the shore, enjoying the privacy of an exclusive beach all to myself.

While I was soaking it all in, the couple I met earlier caught up to me and invited me to have lunch with them in their family’s beach house! Yet another one of those random travel opportunities, and a chance to experience the luxury of Peruvian beach culture from the inside. As I mentioned on Instagram, I felt rejuvenated from hearing the stories of people two and three times my age and connecting for a brief moment in time.

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

After a lovely afternoon on the beaches of Punta Sal, it was time to head back to my hostel in Zorritos. I was totally smitten with Punta Sal’s more hidden corners. If you decide to visit, be sure to leave the main stretch of beach and keep on walking to the sandy white beaches just a short wander away.

Recommendations for Punta Sal, Tumbes, Peru:

  • Although I was not a fan of overrated Máncora, I would still argue that it’s worth visiting Punta Sal. Unless you’re staying in one of the luxury resorts right in Punta Sal, you’ll probably base yourself in Máncora, or, if you’re like me, Zorritos to the north. There are frequent van shuttles (combis) that run between Tumbes and Máncora, as well as some that do the shorter, more lucrative run just between Punta Sal and Máncora. Just wait for a bus on the Panamerican Highway.
  • To enter Punta Sal, get off your bus at the entrance shown in the photo below. There are mototaxis waiting to take you down to the beachfront that cost about S./3. You’ll have to pass a security checkpoint, just a way to keep that exclusive feeling within the community.
  • The mototaxi will drop you off at the main entrance to the beach. Although I didn’t spend much time wandering around the main part of town, I noticed a number of restaurants and other shops. Walking food vendors are technically not allowed on the beach so you’ll have to head into town to buy a snack.
  • As I have mentioned a few times, be sure to walk beyond the main section of public beach in the direction of Máncora, past the resorts and vacation homes, and get to the wide open stretches of beaches with very few visitors. It only takes about 30 minutes to walk that far but the pristine sand is totally worth it!
  • There are several other beaches in the area. The exclusive resorts are located to the north of the public beach and even have their own special entrance. You can also reach the beachfront by stopping in Canoas de Punta Sal, also known as Cancas, and you’ll notice that Tumbes locals tend to enjoy the beaches there. They aren’t too crowded, are right off the Panamerican, and there are lots of small shops on the route. You can see a map and some information about entry points (in Spanish) here.
  • If you’re looking for another amazing beach without having to go this far north, I highly recommend visiting Tortugas near Casma, Peru.
  • Just FYI: When you enter the department of Tumbes north of Máncora, you will go through a immigration/customs checkpoint. If your van happens to be stopped, you will need to show ID and they will ask for your immigration card. Be sure to have it with you!
[Punta Sal, Tumbes, Peru: January 31, 2016]

Views from Punta Sal, Piura, Peru

Entrance to Punta Sal

Tumbes, Peru- Punta Sal, its Pristine Beaches & Exclusive Coastal Community

Piura, Peru: Máncora, a Crowded Party Town Worth Skipping for Other Beaches in Northern Peru

Beach in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Beach in Máncora, Piura, Peru

I tend to keep things positive here on Blueskylimit. There are so many other places on the internet where you can go to get your dose of negative opinions on perfectly nice tourist destinations. Here, I want to encourage you to invest your tourism dollars into the tiny little towns and family owned businesses that inspire me all over South America.

For that reason, I am going to share what my experience of Máncora was like and encourage you to visit Zorritos, Punta Sal, Cabo Blanco, or any other number of beaches in northern Peru instead.

Commercial Street in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Main Street in Máncora, Piura, Peru

I am sure that Máncora was once a beautiful fishing village with pristine white beaches that only drew the most dedicated surfers and intrepid travelers. In fact, it may have still had some of that vibe back in 2007 when I first heard about it. Well, those days are long gone.

Commercial Street in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Main Street in Máncora, Piura, Peru

Today, Máncora is a crowded, overpriced, loud, dirty stretch of roads, filled with party hostels and hustlers, drunk travelers, and half-built buildings that were either abandoned for lack of funds or kept in a constant state of construction for tax breaks.

Commercial Street in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Panamerican Highway in Máncora, Piura, Peru

I’m sure the beach is much more appealing on a sunny day, and if you go with a group of friends and you want easy access to pretty good food and plentiful alcohol, this may be the place for you. If you want to stay at some of the fanciest hostels in South America, where everything is provided on-site and you don’t have to leave, you might appreciate Máncora more than I did. Similarly, if you have access to expensive hotels with five star restaurants, your experience of Máncora will probably be much different than mine.

Crowded Beach in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Beach in Máncora, Piura, Peru

But as your average solo traveler who has lost interest in the party scene, Máncora wasn’t for me. Not with miles and miles of gorgeous coastline to explore throughout Tumbes and Piura, and pristine beaches just a short colectivo ride away in nearby Punta Sal.

Ruined Boardwalk in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Sunken Boardwalk in Máncora, Piura, Peru

Instead of Máncora, why not visit the other amazing beaches that I’ll be describing in the following posts? Actually take some time to travel around Tumbes, visit the mangroves, and check out Cabeza de Vaca, one of the most important archeological sites in this region. Visit one of the cleaner, less crowded beaches near Máncora that are accessible on public buses and actually enjoy relaxing on the coast.

Crowded Beach in Máncora, Piura, Peru

Beach in Máncora, Piura, Peru

To be completely fair, I went when El Niño was blanketing the coast in clouds, and I’m sure some sunshine would have brightened up the beaches and made them more appealing. But did you see that decaying boardwalk whose shoddy construction has made it sink into the sand, creating a hazard in the middle of the most popular, most accessible public beach?

No thanks, Máncora. Check out some of the other nearby beaches that I link to below.

Vegetarian Restaurant in Máncora, Piura, Peru
Delicious Vegetarian Lunch at Angela’s Place, Máncora, Piura, Peru

Recommendations for Máncora, Piura, Peru:

  • I spent only a few hours in Máncora, just enough time to have lunch at the delicious vegetarian restaurant, Angela’s Place, and walk around the beach for a while.
  • Because of its popularity as a destination, Máncora has become a transit hub for the region, and the colectivo vans from Tumbes end their route in Máncora, where you’ll need to make a connection onward to El Alto, to visit Cabo Blanco, or to the city of Piura.
  • From the Panamerican highway in Máncora, you can catch direct colectivos to Punta Sal, a very popular day trip from Máncora (and one that is well worth the time). They will ride up and down the street looking for passengers, shouting out “Punta Sal.”
  • If you want to get away from the beaches of Máncora, Las Pocitas, Los Órganos, Vichayito, and Ñuro all came highly recommended. Los Órganos is easy to get to because the EPPO buses from Máncora have a station there. From the bus terminal, you can catch a colectivo or maybe even a mototaxi to the beaches.
  • Beyond Máncora, you can take an EPPO bus to El Alto, where you can catch a regularly running colectivo van to Cabo Blanco, one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. I’ll be writing more in an upcoming post.
  • If you really want to avoid Máncora but don’t want to head all the way north to Tumbes (though you totally should give Tumbes some time!), Lobitos is one of the most popular surfing towns in Piura, and Colán is also highly recommended by friends. You can access Lobitos from Talara and Colán from the city of Piura. Note that I haven’t been yet; they’re pending for a future trip!
[Máncora, Piura, Peru: January 28, 2016]

Piura, Peru- Máncora, a Crowded Party Town Worth Skipping for Other Beaches in Northern Peru

Casma, Peru: Relaxing in the Tranquility of the Secluded Fishing Cove of Tortugas

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
The Beautiful Fishing Cove of Tortugas, near Casma, Ancash, Peru

Tortugas is one of those places you want to share with everyone you know, while also being a little selfish and keeping its charm to yourself. With so much coastline along the Pacific ocean, there are lots of beaches to choose from when visiting Peru. Limeños flock to the beaches an hour or two south of the capital, like Punta Hermosa, Asia, and Pulpos, while foreigners often head north to the beaches of Piura and Tumbes, especially party-central, Máncora. The fishing village of Huanchaco, outside of Trujillo, is increasingly popular, especially among surfers, but what happens if you just want to relax and get away from the crowds?

Posing at Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Posing in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

That’s where Tortugas comes in.  Tortugas is a small fishing village located around a beautiful bay in the department of Ancash. Ancash has a number of notable sites; beyond Casma and the ruins of Cerro Sechín, it is also home to the major archeological site, Chavín de Huantar, the city of Huaraz, and the amazing lakes and mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. With such popular neighbors, it’s no wonder that Tortugas remains a bit of a secret.

Tortugas first came on my radar back in 2013, where I came across a couple of articles naming Tortugas one of the most beautiful beaches in Peru and basically calling it paradise. My interest was piqued.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Setting Sun in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

After checking out the nearby ruins of Sechín, my friend Enzo and I boarded a combi (small bus) heading to Tortugas.  The combis leave regularly from a parking lot right off the main plaza, and it takes about 20 minutes to get to Tortugas.  The route takes you through the barren desert lining the main roads, no water to be seen anywhere, before finally reaching the turnoff and the long paved road to Tortugas, which is located about 2-3 kilometers from the Panamerican highway.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Fishing Boats at Dusk in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

It didn’t look like much as we approached, but then the combi came to a stop at the entrance to the town, right in front of the bay. We arrived just as the late afternoon sun was illuminating the hills surrounding the bay, coating everything with a golden glow. How could you not fall in love with this little village?

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Sun Setting Over the Beautiful Bay of Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

We wandered up the main road, finding a restaurant that doubled as an hostal with rooms for rent in the back. After dropping off our things, we headed back outside to catch what ended up being a gorgeous sunset.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Sunset in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

Tortugas, which means turtles or tortoises in Spanish, received its name due to the quantity of the creature that used to swim in its waters one hundred years ago. Today, it is known for its beautiful views, relaxed environment, and plentiful ceviche. There are a number of restaurants and kiosks selling quick meals, but the town maintains its laid-back feel, catering mainly to those who have summer homes here and the occasional tourist.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Sunset in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

There’s not much to do in Tortugas besides take it easy and enjoy the views. We walked up and down the main road after nightfall, appreciating some downtime to talk about what had been happening in our lives over the past year. With a couple of playgrounds and plenty of viewpoints to sit and listen to the water, there is enough simple entertainment to enjoy a relaxing evening.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Fishing Boats in Casma, Ancash, Peru

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up early to enjoy some time in the water before heading back to Casma. In the morning light, I saw the visual appeal of Tortugas: the water is incredibly clear and a shade of gorgeous shimmering blue.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Malecón in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

We retraced our steps of the night before, walking further away from the center of town to get a nice view of the entire bay. From this vantage point, you see just how many buildings have sprung up around the base of the mountains, but there is enough space for everyone, no high rise hotels blocking the view.

Plaza de Casma, Peru
Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

The water in Tortugas is incredibly warm, making swimming super pleasant. As I waded into the water, I had one of those special moments that I still remember today, appreciating the reality of being somewhere lovely, in good company, where everything is perfectly okay. I felt lucky to have the chance to get to know Tortugas before beginning my new job later that month.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Adorable Hospedaje (Lodging) in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

Plaza de Casma, Peru
The Fishing Village of Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

After a pleasant stroll around the perimeter of Tortugas, we headed back to the center of town to get our things and catch a bus back to Casma. It was a good thing we got up early, as we managed to see the clear blue skies illuminating the cove; the coastal clouds began to roll in as we were leaving.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Fishing Boat in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

As you can see, Tortugas is a postcard of tranquility, a nice escape from the crowded beaches elsewhere along the coast, and well worth a visit if you are passing through Casma en route to Chimbote, Huaraz, or Trujillo. This is a place to plan to spend a couple of days relaxing, taking in the incredibly warm waters of the bay, and reading by the water or catching up with friends or family. It might be even a nice place for a do-it-yourself writing or meditation retreat, or a place to spend quiet time with your partner if you need to reconnect away from the distractions of the city.

Tortugas, Ancash, Peru
Playground in Tortugas, Ancash, Peru

Tortugas is one of my favorite small towns in Peru and is an easy trip from Lima. While its charm comes from the fact that it is quiet and uncomplicated by the tourism industry, it deserves a visit from independent travelers looking to experience coastal Peru as locals do.

Recommendations for Tortugas, Ancash, Peru:

  • Tortugas is located near Casma, a small coastal city located just off the Panamerican highway.  To get to Casma from Lima, you can take a bus from Plaza Norte; Erick El Rojo and 3 Estrellas are two commonly used bus companies. For other potential transportation options, please read my post on Sechín, the archeological site just outside of Casma.
  • Once in Casma, there are combis (small buses) and colectivos (shared taxis) which leave from a parking lot just off the Plaza de Armas in Casma, near the municipality building. Ask anyone to point you towards the buses for Tortugas.  The bus cost about S/. 4 in January 2015; the current cost should be posted on the front windshield of the bus. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and takes you along the Panamericana before turning towards Tortugas and heading the 2 kilometers towards the water.
  • There are several hostales and hospedajes in Tortugas, many of which are attached to restaurants. Around the new year, camping on the beach is also common; this is a low-budget destination for many Peruvian families and groups of friends.
  • There are several restaurants serving all kinds of fish, especially ceviche, but if you want something a little more budget friendly, there are several outdoor food stands located up in the residential area. This is also where the buses back to Casma leave from, and a good place to buy fresh fruit.
  • The weather in Casma is warm, and the water of the bay is incredibly pleasant. Make sure to bring your bathing suit!
[Tortugas, Ancash, Peru: January 8-9, 2015]

Casma, Peru- Relaxing in the Tranquility of the Secluded Fishing Cove of Tortugas

Casma, Peru: The Ruins of Cerro Sechín on the Northern Coast of Peru

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Ruins of Cerro Sechín, Near Casma, Ancash, Peru

When I decided to spend a couple of weeks in Lima before moving to Chile, I knew I wanted to take advantage of my completely open schedule and sneak up the coast to Casma. I had read about the ruins at Sechín in Hugh Thomson’s fascinating book, A Sacred Landscape, and was curious about the gruesome carvings depicting beheadings, sacrifices, and soldiers. I hadn’t managed to make it there in 2013 so didn’t want to miss this opportunity to get back into the travel mode. I’d also heard that the nearby beach of Tortugas is one of the most beautiful in Peru, and decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Casma is located about five hours north of Lima in the province of Ancash, but it can take some work to find a bus company that actually stops in Casma rather than continuing up the coast to Trujillo or inland to Huaraz. Alternatively, there are combis that hit the major towns on the coast and you should be able to find one that heads to Casma by stopping in one of the transit towns like Supe or Barranca. (More travel information in my recommendations, below.) The ride up the Panamericana passes the entrance to Caral, and the scenery is consistent with the northern coast; the sea to one side, sandy desert hills to the other.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Museum at the Ruins of Sechín, Ancash, Peru

It’s worth mentioning that there are three archeological sites in the area: Cerro Sechín, which is commonly referred to as as Sechín, as well as Sechín Alto and Sechín Bajo, which are being studied but are not easily visited by casual tourists.  There is also the Río Sechín, so it may help to specify “El Templo” (the Temple) or “El Museo” (the Museum) when discussing your destination.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Archeological Relics in the Museum at Sechín, Ancash, Peru

The archeological site of Cerro Sechín is located about 6 kilometers from Casma, and the easiest way to get there is to find a mototaxi willing to take you out to the site. At the site, the friendly guards directed us to the museum, where we paid our entrance fee and toured the sparse museum containing relics gathered from the major sites located in the area.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Landscape Around the Ruins of Sechín, Ancash, Peru

From there, we walked over to the small set of ruins, following a well constructed pathway which provides great views of the surrounding landscape. As in Trujillo and Chiclayo to the north, there are broad fields of green trees and patches of empty brown desert mountains. Taking in the scenery, I was reminded of how much I love northern Peru.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Ruins of Sechín, Ancash, Peru

The site of Sechín itself is very small and still under investigation. My friend Enzo and I were the only ones touring the ruins in the late afternoon sun, though we could observe a number of workers going about their daily routines below.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Posing at the Viewpoint above Sechín, Ancash, Peru

Although it’s challenging to make out to the untrained eye, archeologists have determined that the site has one main building, surrounded by stones, and filled in the center with adobe structures.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Pathway At Cerro Sechín and Its Views

The hill above the site once had other residential or administrative buildings, which have been destroyed by heavy rains over the centuries.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Workers Finishing Up for the Day at the Ruins of Sechín

After completing our circuit around and above the ruins, we descended to get up close to the elaborate carvings depicting intriguing ancient ceremonies.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Carvings at Cerro Sechín Leading to the Entrance to the Temple

The images that line the entrance to the temple represent human figures, most likely warriors or perhaps priests, involved in what appears to be a fierce battle. None of the figures represent gods or other mythical creatures: just humans.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Carvings at Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

While some of the figures possess their entire bodies, there are also many disembodied heads and all kinds of body parts, leading many researchers to suggest that these carvings describe human sacrifice. Other ideas are that they record violent combats experienced by the Sechín culture, or even that all these different images of various appendages could represent a medical encyclopedia.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma

Disembodied Head Carving at the Ruins of Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

Whatever the story, the figures show gritted teeth and swollen eyes, what appears to be blood or energy flowing out of their heads, grimaces and signs of suffering.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma

In these photos, you can see some of the body parts, some of the complete figures carrying what appears to be weapons or holy staffs, and examples of the faces both in profile and head on. There are so many images that it’s difficult to really observe all of them, especially in the brutal sun of the northern desert.

These images are located within pathways that appear to continue around the perimeter of the temples, telling stories.  One big question mark for me after my visit is that these walls appear to be reconstructed.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near CasmaI’m not sure if these monoliths were found standing independently, and then archeologists reinforced the structures with like-colored stones and adobe, or if the walls had crumbled.  I know from my visit to Caral that reconstructing original structures is a painstaking, detail-oriented process, and I learned at Chan Chan in Trujillo that previous preservation attempts actually meant re-carving and replicating the original images, which had deteriorated from the adobe walls after years of rain and wind.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma

Posing at the Ruins of Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

We wandered through the perimeter pathways, taking in all the different variations on what appeared to be quite a violent theme. I laugh when I see the photos of myself posing there because I appear to be enjoying my visit to what historically was likely a gruesome site.

There is a lot to take in, and I applaud the authorities for making the images accessible to visitors even as they continue to study the ruins and unearth more information about what took place here.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Entrance to the Palace at Cerro Sechín, Ancash, Peru

The visit ends in front of the entrance to the palace, which is off-limits to visitors. According to this fascinating article (in Spanish), the inside of the palace has painted adobe walls displaying images of fish, particularly carnivorous ones, as well as shamans and dead or dying human figures. These images suggest some sort of connection with worship of the sea or concern regarding rainfall in this desert climate.

Views from the Ruinas de Sechín, Near Casma
Mototaxis Waiting at the Entrance to Cerro Sechín

In any case, my brief visit left me wanting more information about these ruins and the nearby sites of Sechín Alto and Sechín Bajo. (There are a couple of displays giving basic information about these archeological sites near the small parking lot where these mototaxis were waiting.) While many of the carvings have characteristics in common with the more well-known Chavín culture, represented in great detail at Chavín de Huantar (blog post forthcoming!), it has been determined that Sechín came much earlier. Visiting Sechín helped me place these ruins in my mental timeline of the pre-Incan cultures that once inhabited Peru.

En Route to Casma, Peru
Heading Back to Casma from Cerro Sechín

After finding the last mototaxi not waiting for one of the workers at Sechín, we headed back to Casma, enjoying the wind blowing in our faces as we passed through the agricultural fields along the hills.

Plaza de Casma, Peru
Plaza of Casma, Ancash, Peru

Back in Casma, we took a stroll through the pleasant plaza, grabbed a quick snack, and looked for the combis that would take us to Tortugas, a fishing village known for its beautiful bay. We had finished appreciating on of Peru’s ancient cultures for the day, and it was time to relax by the water.

Recommendations for Sechín, Ancash, Peru:

  • To get to Casma from Lima, take a bus to Casma using the company Erick El Rojo, which leaves from the Plaza Norte bus terminal in Lima.  You can get to the bus terminal using the Metropolitano, so it’s pretty straightforward.  In 2015, the buses left Lima at 7:30AM, 9AM, and 11AM, but you should definitely double check the schedule.  Bring snacks – there is often traffic on the highway the bus stops frequently in urban areas to pick up more passengers.
  • Alternatively, you can try taking a bus that is heading to Chimbote, Trujillo, or Huaraz and asking the driver to let you off at the crossroads to Casma.  From there, you can take a mototaxi to Casma or to the ruins of Sechín.
  • Your last option would be to take a bus or combi to Supe or Barranca and then find another combi to Casma.  A good place to start would be to check with are Turismo Barranca and Turismo Paramonga, which also leave from the Terminal Terrestre Plaza Norte.
  • To get back to Lima, you can go to the office of Erick El Rojo on the main road entering Casma. We were able to book our bus back at the last minute, as the buses come from further north and pass through the town.
  • The entrance fee to the ruins of Cerro Sechín cost me S/.5 in 2015, but I have seen the price listed as S/.6 in other locations.
  • If you get off the bus in Casma, you will need to take a mototaxi to the ruins.  This should cost about S/.5.  You can try asking the mototaxi to wait for you or return for you at the ruins at a set time. There are several mototaxis that wait for tourists – if it is late in the day, like it was for us, they will probably charge you S/.6.
  • I’m not sure if the museum offers guided tours or if there are sometime guides lingering around, but there is no signage so it may be nice to try to find someone to give you some background.  I had read about Sechín in Hugh Thomson’s A Sacred Landscape so had enough background to understand what I was seeing.  Having toured the larger, more popular ruins around Trujillo, I know how much a guide can help shed some light on the excavation and restoration process.
  • If you read Spanish, Wikipedia, Arqueotur, and Arquelogía del Perú (the most detailed and educational) provide some more information on the ruins, which helped inform my understanding a little more.
[Sechín, Ancash, Peru: January 8, 2015]

Casma, Peru- The Ruins of Cerro Sechín on the Northern Coast of Peru

Huancavelica, Peru: Taking in the City’s Culture, Villa Cariño, and the Tren Macho to Huancayo

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Celebrating Huancavelica and the Tren Macho

After immersing myself in the tragic past of Huancavelica by visiting the Santa Barbara mine, it was time for me to get to know modern Huancavelica.  Huancavelica is considered one of the poorest regions of Peru, probably due to its reliance on subsistence farming and the continuing depletion of its mercury deposits.  However, Huancavelica has a rich connection to its cultural heritage, demonstrated by the art found throughout the city that celebrates its traditional dances and lively religious festivals.  Further, Huancavelica’s artisans are some of the most talented in Peru, which has led to the development of artisan collectives to produce and sell its colorful knitted and woven goods both nationally and internationally.  I decided to learn more about the city by wandering the streets, visiting the artisan markets, and checking out the attractions favored by locals.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Malecón Santa Rosa; Escalonada or Staircase to the Piscina de San Cristóbal

The city of Huancavelica is divided by the Río Mantaro (Mantaro River) that runs through the center of town.  The attractive Malecón Santa Rosa follows the path of the river and brings you to the main bridge that connects the two sides of the city.  Crossing the bridge leads you to a steep staircase which climbs directly up to the Piscina de San Cristóbal, thermal baths popular with locals.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Mosaic on the Escalonada of Huancavelica

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Statues in Huancavelica

This is no ordinary staircase; the escalonada has been thoroughly decorated with stone mosaics, statues, and murals that celebrate the local dances performed at the annual festivals.  These performances reenact the complex cultural heritage of contact between the Spanish colonizers and the indigenous population.  In a city whose history consists of centuries of forced work in the deadly mine, these dances are particularly powerful.

In the end, I decided not to bathe in the thermal pools, but rather wandered around a bit, taking in the people doing their laundry in the fountains outside.  Nearby, there was a building that technically houses an artisan market, part of the Complejo Ecoturístico de San Cristóbal, but it looked fairly empty and abandoned when I wandered around inside, all of the stands closed, probably only staffed during seasons of high tourism.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Old Map of Huancavelica in the Museo Regional

After visiting San Cristóbal, I headed back to the center of town to check out the Museo Regional Daniel Hernández Morillo located near the Plaza de Armas.  While this museum is very small, it gives you a sense of the ancestral heritage of Huancavelica.  I was more interested in the older maps on the wall near the entrance, which showed the layout of the mountain town, along with some quotations commemorating the tragedies suffered by the people of Huancavelica in the Mina de la Muerte (Mine of Death).  There is also a small bookstore, where I purchased a book of traditional folk tales from the region.

Next, I stopped by Qampaq Arte’s boutique, located at Jr. Arica 230.  This small store has some of the highest quality alpaca goods you can find in Huancavelica, which are displayed like the pieces of art they actually are.  Qampaq Arte is the storefront for the fair trade handmade goods produced by their artisan collective.  Most of the artisans live in the communities around Huancavelica, particularly Yauli.  What is unique about Qampaq Arte is that they ask the artisans to produce for the international market, using luxurious alpaca wool rather than the more common acrylic blend, and adapting the local style to be more wearable outside of cultural events.  I highly suggest stopping by their store, if only to admire the talent of their artisans.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Train Station in Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Tren Macho Schedule

Next, I walked along the main commercial stretch of Av. Manchego Muñoz to the train station.  In addition to its artesanía and traditional dances, Huancavelica is known for the Tren Macho which runs between Huancayo and Huancavelica.

Unlike the train that runs between Cuzco and Agua Calientes, the Tren Macho is still an affordable passenger train and the safest, most interesting way to travel between the two cities.  The train runs every other day, and I really wanted to ride it.  I bought my ticket for the next day, leaving bright and early at 6:30AM.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Iglesia Santa Ana, Huancavelica

After the train station, I wandered over the Plaza Ramón Castilla to see the Iglesia Santa Ana, the first church constructed in Huancavelica. As you can see, this church has a lot in common with the church in Santa Barbara. This plaza is definitely where the locals hang out and enjoy the sunshine. Located beneath the plaza is an underground market catering to locals with several stands selling traditional costumes for festivals as well as shawls and other clothing used by the women of Huancavelica on a daily basis.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Views from Villa Cariño, Huancavelica, Peru

From Plaza Ramón Castilla, I continued on to Villa Cariño and Seccsechaca, located on the outskirts of the city.  Villa Cariño hosts an outdoor park with more thermal baths.  To get there, you follow the train tracks across the river and then walk along well-worn paths and staircases through boulders and large rocks.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Views from Villa Cariño, Huancavelica, Peru

As I was wandering along the rocky paths, I looked out over the more residential part of town, with the modern, nondescript brick constructions common throughout Peru.  Locals passed me on the paths, heading to and from the center of town.  I enjoyed the walk, my relative solitude, and the gorgeous views.

However, there were no signs marking the way, I couldn’t spot the thermal baths through the rocks, and eventually I felt a little uncomfortable climbing around on my own with my fancy camera.  In the end, I never made it to Seccsachaca, where I could have visited the Baños del Inca and Tres Boas (which you can see at the end of this blog post).

Views from Huancavelica, Peru Views from Huancavelica, Peru Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Views Along the Train Tracks of the Tren Macho, Huancavelica, Peru

I retraced my steps along the train tracks that I would be traveling along the next morning and headed back into town.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Views of Huancavelica from Above the River

I decided to take another route back into town, following a different road which ran parallel to the river and the train tracks.  This gave me more views of the residential part of town, whose buildings reminded me just a little bit of Huaycán.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Look Out for the Train Crossing, Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Tourism Generates Development: Treat the Tourist Well, He is Your Friend

On the way, I spotted this mural painted by Dircetur, the regional tourism office, encouraging the people of Huancavelica to embrace tourism.  Huancavelica does not receive a lot of tourists and I found that the locals were generally disinterested in my presence, which I honestly didn’t mind too much.  I think this is why some travelers are drawn to the small cities of central Peru; it feels a little more authentic to be ignored rather than courted.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Commercial Street in Huancavelica, Peru

Back in the center of town, I took advantage of the last of the daylight hours to go shopping for the gorgeous artesanía I’d come there for.  I’d read that the most talented artisans travel from their villages and sell their handknit gloves, hats, and scarves along Av. Manchego Muñoz, near the Plaza de Armas, under the blue Municipal building (Municipio).  Just walk towards the train station from the Plaza de Armas and you’ll spot the stands selling machine knit, generic goods.  The women from the surrounding villages, such as Yauli, sit on the ground on a tarp spread with their handknit masterpieces, selling at prices that are so low that it actually hurts my heart.  Many of these women sell items knit from alpaca, thanks to the encouragement of fair trade organizations that have helped them trust in the quality of their art.  I bought several pairs of gloves, leg warmers, and arm warmers knit in the colorful traditional style, like you see here.

Further down Av. Manchego Muñoz at No. 420 is the storefront of another artisan group, Pacha Artesanas.  I recognized their shawls and asked if they had shown their knitted goods in Lima at the De Nuestras Manos market.  Of course, they had been there, and they also travel to the United States on occasion for expositions of Latin American artwork.  I highly suggest looking for this shop; be sure to ask which goods are locally produced.  (You can see the legwarmers I bought from a woman from Yauli and a hat I purchased from Pacha Artesanas in the photo of me at Boston Bike Party at the bottom of this post.)

Views from Huancavelica, Peru

On this particular day, all of Huancavelica was out in the main plaza to celebrate the life of their Monseñor, who had recently passed away.  Like many Andean cities, Huancavelica is a deeply religious place and the entire town shut down with parades and musical performances honoring this man.

By the end of my third day in Huancavelica, I felt like I had experienced the best of Huancavelica and was eager to continue on to Huancayo, just in time for my birthday.

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Train Station in Huancavelica, Peru

I left La Portada early in the morning to walk over to the train station for the 6:30 departure.  At this altitude, carrying my heavy pack uphill was a challenge, so I gave myself extra time!  I found my seat in the reserved buffet car, across from a friendly young medical student who attended university in Huancayo.  She encouraged me to try the warm drink being sold by enterprising women wandering the aisles, a mixture of apple juice cooked with quinoa.  Seriously delicious.

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Views from the Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru

The Tren Macho is a century old; it began service in 1926 and was modernized in 2008.  It covers 128 kilometers, passing through 38 tunnels and over 15 bridges.  The Tren Macho was supposedly named for its unreliable service in the past, which was likened to a stereotypical chauvinist man: as the saying goes, “parte cuando quiere y llega cuando puede,” or it leaves when it wants and arrives when it can.

Today, there is a buffet car with reserved seating for S/.13, and open seating for S/.9.  If you’re hungry, you can buy a full meal from the on-board restaurant, which looked amazing (but not vegetarian friendly at all).  Otherwise, you can wait for the stops in the small towns along the way, where vendors get on board to sell their local delicacies.  On a Thursday, there weren’t quite as many vendors as I had expected, but I did get bread and piña, or a slice of pineapple, a two of the stops.

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Views from the Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru

One of the things I liked best about my trip was that I had my backpacks in view the whole time, stored on the luggage rack above my head.  I ended up spending most of the ride chatting with the medical student, as well as a young civil engineer who couldn’t resist his curiosity about this adventurous gringa in their midst and joined us.

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Views from the Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru

Knowing I was among friends, I snapped pictures of the rocky hillsides and greenery that passed by the window.  I loved the relaxed ride, especially once we got into the sun and the chilly car began to warm up!

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Views from the Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru

As we arrived into Huancayo, the scenery was definitely different, more agricultural, and more forested.

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Views from the Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru

The train runs right through these fields, giving you a nice introduction to the natural beauty that surrounds Huancayo.

Tren Macho from Huancavelica to Huancayo, Peru
Map of the Tren Macho’s Route in the Huancayo Train Station

Riding the Tren Macho is definitely one of the most unique and authentic things you can do in this region, giving you a chance to see the countryside, eat local food, and meet friendly Peruvians.

After we arrived, my new friends put me into a taxi to my hostel in Huancayo.  After such a beautiful train ride, I was ready to explore the city and countryside of Huancayo!

Recommendations for Huancavelica, Peru:

  • If you’re interested in learning more about the history and culture of Huancavelica, you should visit the Museo Regional Daniel Hernández Morillo, half a block from the Plaza de Armas at the Plazoleta de San Juan de Dios.  If you read Spanish, this Wikipedia article has a nice summary of Huancavelica’s history.
  • If you love artesanía, particularly hand-knit and crocheted gloves, scarves, hats, and shawls, Huancavelica has some of the most talented artisans in Peru.  There are several artisan collectives and fair trade organizations operating out of Huancavelica and its surrounding towns.  Yauli, the town closest to Huancavelica, is known for its Sunday market.  Artisans from Yauli commute to Huancavelica every day to sell their artesania on Av. Manchego Muñoz near the Plaza de Armas.  There is also a small alleyway of artisan stands directly across the Plaza de Armas from the Cathedral, an artisan market near the Piscina de San Cristóbal, and a local market below the Plaza Ramón Castilla next to the Iglesia Santa Ana.  Qampaq Arte sells super high quality scarves, sweaters, and other knitted masterpieces at its storefront at Jr. Arica 230 (near the museum).  There is also a storefront filled with goods from another artisan collective on Av. Manchego Muñoz.  Support Huancavelica’s artisans!  (Here are some suggestions of where and what to buy in Huancavelica, if you read Spanish.)
  • You should definitely visit Seccsechaca at Villa Cariño.  If you get a map from the tourist office, you can follow the marked route there by walking along Av. Manchego Muñoz and crossing over to Jr. O’Donovan (which runs parallel) once you reach the Iglesia Santa Ana.  Follow this street to its end and then follow the train tracks to Villa Cariño.  It is not well-marked but it is a footpath followed by locals so you can ask around for directions.  Seccsechaca hosts two thermal baths, the Baños del Inca and Tres Boas (which you can see at the end of this blog post).
  • If you’d rather stick to the thermal baths in town, visit the Piscina de San Cristóbal by following the river until you find the wide staircase lined with artwork celebrating Huancavelica’s cultural heritage.  Even if you aren’t interested in the thermal baths, the artwork along the way is absolutely worth seeing.
  • If you visit Huancavelica, you have to take the Tren Macho to or from Huancayo.  The full route costs S/.9 or S/.13 if you want an assigned seat in the buffet car.  You can buy food on board, either from the train’s own restaurant or from the local vendors who sometimes get on at each stop along the route.  If for some reason you can’t take the train yourself, please check out these amazing photos which capture the spirit of the ride by Oscar Durand, a talented Peruvian photographer/photojournalist.
  • This blog post also has some great photos and videos of the trip on the Tren Macho as well as the artisans and artesanía around Huancavelica.
  • The Wikitravel guide for Huancavelica has some great suggestions, including how to get to the Incan ruins at Uchkus-Incañan and the Sunday market in Yauli.
[Huancavelica, Peru to Huancayo, Peru: August 21-22, 2013]

Huancavelica, Peru: First Impressions of the High Andean City and Hiking to Sacsamarca and Mina Santa Barbara

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Plaza de Armas, Huancavelica, Peru

My interest in Huancavelica had been piqued at an artisan market I visited in Miraflores in July 2012.  While there are several commercial markets in clusters around Lima filled with mass produced wool and alpaca goods at low prices, Miraflores hosts the occasional artisan market in Parque Kennedy.  One such market, De Nuestras Manos (From Our Hands), invited the most talented artisan collectives from around Peru.  I wandered around for hours, familiarizing myself with the knitted goods, weavings, embroidery, silver jewelry, and other handiwork specific to the various regions of Peru.  I fell in love with Ayacucho’s brightly colored flower embroidery as well as the geometric patterned shawls and multicolored gloves from Huancavelica (which you can see here and here).  I knew I had to go direct to the source of this artwork and see if I could learn a thing or two about their craft.

Views En Route to Huancavelica, Peru
View from the Route from Huamanga (Ayacucho) to Rumichaca

In terms of physical location, Huancavelica is relatively close to Ayacucho, but in reality, it is a bit challenging to get there.  One reason is that this area still sees the occasionally robbery on night buses and certain highways are to be avoided outside of daylight hours.  After consulting with my friends at iPeru, I decided that the safest and most direct option was to take a combi from Huamanga to Rumichaca and then catch the daily bus from Rumichaca to Huancavelica.

Rumichaca is nothing more than a truck stop located along the main highway between Ayacucho and Lima, filled with food stands and basic hostalesCombi buses leave from Huamanga at 4:30 and 5:30AM for Rumichaca and take about three hours.  I bought my ticket the day before, which got me a more comfortable seat up front with the driver, where I could admire the views out of the front window.  I will never forget the colors of the amazing sunrise over the hills of Ayacucho as our bus climbed out of Huamanga.  Unfortunately, as the only foreigner on the bus, I was a little shy at first about taking out my camera to capture the gorgeous scenery so all I have are my memories.

Leaving Ayacucho, the bus climbs slowly but steadily towards Abra Apacheta, the highest pass on our route, located at 4,746 meters above sea level.  The high altitude meant that I dozed in and out of sleep, opening my eyes long enough to catch the gorgeous colors of the hillside.  At Abra Apacheta, our driver stopped for a moment to lay an offering of a bouquet of fresh flowers at a small altar at this high pass.  I still wonder whether he had lost a colleague in an accident here or if it was simply a gesture of gratitude for safe travels on these dangerous, winding roads.  The above photo captures some of the multicolored hills soon after this high pass.

Views En Route to Huancavelica, Peru
Laguna Orcococha, Huancavelica, Peru

After about three hours, we arrived in Rumichaca.  I bought my ticket to Huancavelica and stored my big backpack under the bus, then turned my attention to breakfast.  I opted for papas con queso, small local boiled potatoes served with the queso fresco, or farmer’s cheese, common throughout Peru.  After, it was a quiet wait in the sun for our bus to leave at 10AM.

As it turned out, this bus generally is filled with locals who know each other, commuting for work or school.  As passengers got on at the small villages along the way, most of the other passengers greeted them and inquired after their families.  Although the route is unpaved, the bumps are minimal and lulled me to sleep for much of the ride.  As you can see, the route passes through amazingly blue lagoons on both sides of the bus.  In fact, this road is called the Ruta de los Espejos, or the Route of the Mirrors, for the lakes that appear to reflect the equally blue sky.  We passed Laguna Pacococha, Laguna Orcococha, and Laguna Choclococha, the last of which is the largest.  (I sat on the left side of the bus and got some good shots of Laguna Orcococha, but you might want to sit on the right side to capture the giant Laguna Choclococha.)

Views En Route to Huancavelica, Peru
Llamas Grazing in the Huancavelica Region

The Huancavelica region is a generally tranquil stretch of farmlands in the high Andes.  With so many idyllic landscapes, it is considered a great place to relax and recharge.  Since combis and buses are so regular, if not frequent, around the area, it is possible to visit many of the small villages that dot the landscape.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Huancavelica’s Cathedral

After a long trip with a lot of stops to pick up and drop off passengers, we arrived in Huancavelica.  Huancavelica is a compact city, but the buses leave you relatively far from the Plaza de Armas. The kind gentleman seated beside me took it upon himself to put me into one of the taxi colectivos that travel through the city and commanded the driver to drop me off in front of my hostal, La Portada.  This was just another example of Peruvian kindness.  After splurging for a nice room with a private bathroom, tv, and free wifi, I set out on foot to take advantage of the afternoon sun and to get a feel for the city.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Iglesia San Sebastián, Plaza Bolognesi, Huancavelica, Peru

After wandering around the Plaza de Armas, I walked a few blocks over to the Plaza Bolognesi, where two of Huancavelica’s distinctive churches are located.  I stopped in a small cafe situated on the plaza to have a snack before continuing my wanderings around Huancavelica’s small downtown area.  Of course, I couldn’t resist checking out the artisan stands located in a small alleyway near the main plaza.  I ended up chatting for quite a while with an older couple selling the regional knitted goods.

Views from Huancavelica, Peru
Plaza Bolognesi, Huancavelica, Peru

I also managed to find my way to Dircetur, the regional tourism office, where they walked me through all of my options around the area.  While there are interesting Incan ruins around the region, there are not many tour operators and it is challenging to visit them independently.  In the end, I decided to visit the most important tourist attraction in Huancavelica, the Santa Barbara mines, by hiking up independently.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Footpath from Huancavelica to Sacsamarca and Santa Barbara

I set out for Mina Santa Barbara early in the morning, knowing that the sun in the high Andes would only get stronger as the day went on.  There is a well-marked path from Plaza Bolognesi which follows the river until you reach the stone walkway that leads up towards Sacsamarca, the small village located en route to Santa Barbara.  I climbed steadily and was accompanied for much of the way by an elderly gentleman who owned some of these llamas grazing amongst the trees and grasses that lined the path.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Pretty High Altitude Plants En Route to Sacsamarca

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

However, he was much more capable (read: faster) than me at this high altitude and eventually I had to stop and rest and breathe, taking in the pretty scenery as I admired the views of Huancavelica from above.

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Entering Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

Finally, I  made it to the small village of Sacsamarca, a quiet collection of houses and stone buildings that looked like they might date back to the colonial era.  After spending the previous day wandering the busy streets of Huancavelica, it was refreshing to walk along these empty roads.

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Views of the Main Plaza of Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

Apparently, this small town has a strong sense of community and hosts traditional fiestas popular with Peruvian tourists.  Its unique setting among the rocky hills of Huancavelica must make for a picturesque setting as well as a natural amphitheater.

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Stone Bridge, Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

This stone bridge dates back to colonial times and is one of the main attractions of the town, providing an easy way to cross the small stream that criss-crosses Sacsamarca.

I felt instantly welcomed to Sacsamarca by this local woman herding her sheep, who greeted me warmly as she continued along her way.

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Sheep in Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Looking Over Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru

On the outskirts of town, there is a trout farm.  I walked most of the way there, just to get another perspective on the area around Sacsamarca, watching women doing their washing in the river and children playing outside with their teacher.

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Washing Clothes in the River; Children Walking Back to School in Sacsamarca, Peru

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
The Road Near Sacsamarca, Peru

After exploring Sacsamarca, it was time continue my walk uphill to Santa Barbara.  Even though it’s cold at night in Huancavelica, the sun is very strong at this altitude.  Revisiting these photos, I can almost feel the sun beating down on me!

Views from Sacsamarca, Huancavelica, Peru
Huancavelica from Above

Along the way, I got a great view of Huancavelica from above, peeking through the craggy rocks that surround the city.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru

Unsure of the best route to Santa Barbara, I decided to follow the vehicle road.  Luckily for me, it was signposted so I had a clear sense of how much progress I was making on the steep 2km climb.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Chacllatacana, Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru

En route to Santa Barbara, I passed through Chacllatacana, an even smaller village known for its bullfights.  The town consists of a small church and several brick buildings built around a large open plaza.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Views from the Route to Santa Barbara

I knew I was getting close when I heard voices calling out to me.  A few miners on their lunch break were trying to signal to me that my friends (other foreigners) were up ahead and had taken a shortcut to the top.  Because of the wide, flat expanse, I could hear them clearly even though they were off in the distance.  I took their advice and tried the even steeper, direct route through the high desert brush, but ultimately opted to continue my slow but steady journey along the main road.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Remnants of the Old Santa Barbara Mine
Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Mining Scarecrow

As I approached Santa Barbara, I passed the entrance to the modern mine, where I spoke with the friendly driver of the shuttle bus that brings the miners to and from work each day.  He waits around all day for the miners to finish their work and was eager for a distraction.  He suggested that I take the detour to the viewpoint that overlooks Huancavelica and head back to Huancavelica from there.  Otherwise, he promised that he would be happy to drive me down when the miners finished their work for the day so that I would not be harassed by the teenagers who lurk around the stone path after school.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Views of the Colonial Mine of Santa Barbara Topped with the Spanish Crown

After saying goodbye, I continued along my way and finally arrived at the old mine of Santa Barbara, which still bears the Spanish crown over its entrance.  For safety reasons, the mine is off limits to visitors, and it is impossible to see much inside through the gates.  I read some reports that there was a full city constructed underground.  Standing at the entrance, I couldn’t help but be moved by the thought of how many lives had been lost working in this mine since colonial times.  This mine is known as the “Mina de la Muerte,” or the mine of death, for the deadly work of extracting mercury.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru

A few meters beyond the colonial mine lies the abandoned town of Santa Barbara, located at 4,200 meters above sea level.  The small central plaza is surrounded by crumbling stone buildings, and the whole effect is eerie.  Scraggly dogs wandered around the plaza, but the only sound you can hear is the machinery of the modern mine, nearby.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Santa Barbara Church; Mother and Baby Cows

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Views of the Santa Barbara Church

While many of the buildings are in ruins, the church retains some of its former elegance.  Its distinctive red and white style echoes the churches located in Huancavelica.  Here, I ran into the other foreigners that the miners had thought were my friends.  The four French travelers had stopped to have a picnic lunch; I was relieved to find out I was not the only gringo in town.  We ended up making plans to have dinner together that night, and then we continued our separate explorations.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Looking Up at the Santa Barbara Church

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Views from Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru

After sufficiently exploring the area around Santa Barbara, I retraced my steps and headed to the viewpoint overlooking Huancavelica.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Llamas Near Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru

Along the way, I passed a herd of llama grazing in the grasses of the area around Santa Barbara.  Some of them stared right at me, suspiciously, as I stopped to take their picture.  I couldn’t get enough of these adorable creatures.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Detour to the Huancavelica Overlook

The pathway to the viewpoint overlooking Huancavelica is well-marked; the detour to the mirador is well worth it.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Looking Out Over Huancavelica, Peru

After climbing over and around the boulders around the mirador, I arrived to the spot with the best views in the area.  You can’t help but feel an affinity for this picturesque town nestled within the rolling hills of the high Andes.  I looked around and identified the main plaza and other recognizable buildings from above.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Huancavelica, Peru

Even though the city felt relatively small when I was wandering through its streets, I realized just how big it was when observing it from this altitude!

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Golden Hills Around Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Llama and Flowers Near Huancavelica, Peru

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Fields Around Huancavelica, Peru

After enjoying a quiet moment looking out over Huancavelica, I decided to head back to Santa Barbara to hitch a ride with the miners.  After so much time walking under the bright sun, I was tired and figured I would take advantage of the generous (and convenient) offer.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Views Around Huancavelica, Peru

I really enjoyed my solitude for the majority of the day; I felt very relaxed and centered after walking through these golden brown hills.  It reminded me of my long walks around Easter Island, only occasionally running into other people.

Views from Hike to Mina Santa Barbara, Huancavelica, Peru
Leaving Santa Barbara

As it turns out, riding with the miners was a great way to end my afternoon.  They were so friendly and intrigued by this foreign woman hitching a ride with them.  The ride took all of ten minutes, and this gave me some extra time to wander around the commercial streets of Huancavelica, buying delicious street food like churros, choclo con queso, and local bread.  Afterwards, I went out for pizza at Roma II with my new French friends and enjoyed some hot wine.  Even though I had roasted under the sun all day, the nights were cold and I couldn’t resist a warm drink!

After spending the day observing Huancavelica from above, I was curious to expand my wanderings and explore some of its other attractions on foot the next day.  I also was ready to shop for the knitted gloves and woven shawls that had brought me to Huancavelica in the first place!

Recommendations for Huancavelica, Peru:

  • Wikitravel has a lot of good recommendations for things to do and places to eat, shop, and stay around Huancavelica.
  • To get to Huancavelica from Ayacucho, take the 5:30 bus to Rumichaca from Transporte Lalo’s near the Grifo Ayacucho in Huamanga (Ayacucho).  It cost S/.13 in August 2013.  Buy your ticket the day before if you want to guarantee a good seat.  Pay attention to the gorgeous scenery along the route, particularly around the Alta Apacheta pass.  In Rumichaca, there is only one bus to Huancavelica, which leaves at 10AM every day with Transporte San Juan Bautista and costs S/.12.  There are plenty of food stands for breakfast but keep in mind that this is literally a truck stop, nothing fancy.  (It must be said: Rumichaca has the most disgusting outdoor latrines I have ever seen in all of my travels, and I am not particularly squeamish.)
  • I highly suggest trekking up to Santa Barbara, especially if you are trying to build your stamina for other high altitude hikes in the central highlands.  Get a map from Dircetur or the municipal tourist agency located on the Plaza de Armas.  The route to Sacsamarca/Santa Barbara begins behind the Plaza Bolognesi and is well-marked.  Once I reached Sacsamarca, I found it easiest to follow the main vehicle road to Santa Barbara, but there are also local footpaths that are probably shorter if you’re more daring than me.
  • Make sure you take a look around Sacsamarca to get a sense of the traditional stone village.  If you read Spanish, this blog post provides some good information on Sacsamarca.
  • Stay at La Portada, located just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas at Virrey Toledo 252.  In August 2013, I paid S/.35 per night for a room with a private bath with consistently hot water and cable television.  Their wi-fi connection is strong and they offer plenty of blankets to get you through the cold Andean nights.
  • This blog post has some great photos of Huancavelica, as does this one.
  • This is a lovely tribute to the people of the small communities of the Huancavelica region.
[Huancavelica, Peru: August 19-20, 2013]

Vilcashuamán, Peru: Where Incan Ruins, Spanish Colonization, and Modern Peru Collide in the Heart of Ayacucho

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Templo del Sol and Iglesia San Juan Bautista, Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru

While Ayacucho is well-known for the presence of the pre-Incan Wari culture, most travelers do not realize that there is a major Incan site just a few hours from Huamanga.  I first learned about the former Incan administrative center of Vilcashuamán from a brief mention in one of my travel guides, which said that it is an long, arduous journey on terrible roads to see these impressive ruins.

The trouble is that all of Ayacucho’s travel agencies require larger groups to make the trek out to Vilcashuamán.  Outside of Semana Santa, there are not enough tourists in Ayacucho to fill these tours.  After consulting with several agencies, I realized that the only way I was going to visit Vilcashuamán was if I went independently, like the locals do.  As always, iPeru provided me with plenty of useful information about visiting Vilcashuamán and nearby Vischongo and assured me that the route was very safe for a solo female traveler such as myself.

En Route to Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Views En Route to Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru

They were completely right.  With their encouragement, I decided to experience Vilcashuamán on my own, and it was one of the best decisions of my trip because it empowered me to take local combis and buses to many other less-visited towns, villages, and ruins that are easily accessible on public transportation.

Getting to Vilcashuamán is straightforward.  There are combis which leave early in the morning from the Paradero de Buses al Sur (the bus stop leaving for the southern region).  I called a taxi at 5:30AM to take me from my hostel to the paradero, as it is still dark at this hour.  As my taxi arrived to the paradero, my driver shouted “Vilcas!!!” and the drivers of colectivos (shared taxis) and the cobrador (money taker) for the waiting combi approached me.  I decided to stick with the combi as it was a little cheaper (S/.15) and is usually the safer option.  There were already a few passengers waiting for the bus to fill up, including a mother and daughter, so I knew this was the right decision.  Around 6:30, the bus had enough passengers, and we started on the journey to Vilcashuamán.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Hummingbird in Vilcashuamán

As it turned out, the roads to Vilcashuamán were not as terrible as I’d read.  The route passes along the paved highway for nearly an hour, and the rest is on well-leveled gravel.  I imagine that the roads may have even been paved in the past year.  In any case, we arrived in Vilcas (as it is known by locals) in just three hours after a relaxing ride with some stops along the way to pick up and drop off other passengers.  The views of the farmlands and fields around Ayacucho were lovely, as you see above.

On the way to Vilcas, the combi passed by the entrance to the path that leads to Intihuatana, more Incan ruins which seem to have been a quiet retreat for the Inca due to their proximity to Lago Pomacocha and the thermal baths on site.  As we approached, the cobrador and some of the passengers pointed out Intihuatana, as they know this is where many tourists go!  They even offered to drop me off and pick me up on their way back through, but as I wasn’t sure how often buses pass this way, I decided to stick with my original plan.  If I hadn’t been on my own, I probably would have gotten off the bus and hiked up to the ruins.  Next time!

Before arriving in Vilcashuaman, the combi also stopped in the very small town of Vischongo, which is closer to Intihuatana and is sometimes used as a base by visitors.  Although Vischongo does not have as many services as Vilcashuaman, the Municipio (Municipality) has a list of local hospedajes in case you need to spend the night; there is also one restaurant.  As we passed through the area around Vischongo, we picked up a musician on his way to one of the other small villages located in the area, which was celebrating its fiestas during this particular week.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Spanish Colonial Church Built on Top of Incan Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Vilcashuamán

As we drove into Vilcashuamán, I felt that it looked a lot like many of the other Peruvian towns near Lima that I’d visited over the past year, such as San Pedro de Casta.  After being dropped off by the combi, I wandered a couple of blocks to the Plaza de Armas, where I was struck by what I saw in front of me: an Incan Temple of the Sun topped by a Spanish colonial church and surrounded on all sides by the town literally living on top of and within the ruins.  This was the old meeting the new, the perfect embodiment of the sincretismo (or syncretism or coexistence) so evident in Peruvian culture.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Incan Stone Masonry, Vilcashuamán, Peru

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Main Plaza of Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru

Vilcashuamán (also written as Vilcas Huamán) means “sacred falcon” in Quechua.  Vilcas may have been built in the shape of a falcon’s head, although the changes in the past five hundred centuries make this hard to determine.  Vilcashuamán was an important Incan administrative center, as it was perfectly situated along the route between the major Incan cities near Cusco in southern Peru and the northern region.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Carved Stones at the Templo del Sol, Incan Stonework, Statue of Túpac Yupanqui

The Incas conquered this region from the Chancas and built an extensive ceremonial complex on the site, including a Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon), and an ushnu, or ceremonial pyramid.  The Templo del Sol was an important place of worship; the main plaza could hold over 20,000 people during important ceremonies.

When the Spanish arrived in 1533, they destroyed much of the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) and built a church on top of the Incan stonework, just as they did at Coricancha in Cusco.  The Iglesia San Juan Bautista continues to stand on top of the ruins, reminding visitors of the tragic influence of the Spanish in this region.  The Templo de la Luna appears to have been destroyed, although I read that remnants have been found below the Municipio (Municipality).  In the center of the Plaza de Armas, there is a recently constructed statue of Inca Túpac Yupanqui.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Nature Coexisting with Incan Stonework, Vilcashuamán

As with many Incan ruins located in small towns, you can freely wander around, admiring the masonry.  Scattered in front of the Templo del Sol are rocks bearing shapes of animals such as a llama and a monkey.  There is also a square rock with a hollow interior which is called the Piedra del Sacrificio, or the sacrifice stone, which was used during Incan religious ceremonies.  There are also many ancient aqueductos, or aqueducts, which used to carry water to the living spaces of the priests who lived in Vilcashuamán.  These artifacts appear to rest where they were left, surrounded by the encroaching town.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Streets of Vilcashuamán, Map of Vilcashuamán for Tourists

After exploring the Templo del Sol and the Plaza de Armas, I wandered through the streets of Vilcas, trying to get a feel for this town.  In many ways, it is just a small agricultural town built from adobe bricks.  Its residents barely notice the ruins they live among, similar to my impressions on Easter Island.  That said, the ruins are still a point of pride among locals!

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Incan Doorway Leading to Fields Next to the Ushnu, Vilcashuamán

Located just a short distance from the main plaza, Vilcashuaman’s ushnu, or ceremonial pyramid, seems quite out of place among the houses that line the streets nearby.  This ushnu provided the best vantage point for the Inca to watch over his people during religious and military ceremonies.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Stone Forts Located Behind the Ushnu in Vilcashuamán, Peru

Beyond the Incan doorway to the left of the ushnu lies an open field with several stone structures nearby.  The long, rectangular structure with five trapezoidal doorways was Tupac Yupanqui’s palace, called kallanca.  The above photos show two views of these ruins.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Stone Structures Behind the Ushnu in Vilcashuamán, Peru

To the left of the palace lies another trapezoidal doorway leading to two covered stone structures, which may have been living quarters, or may just be more recent buildings.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Entryway to the Ushnu, Vilcashuamán

After walking around the Inca’s palace behind the ushnu, I decided to climb its stairs.  Entry to the ushnu costs S/.5 for foreigners and and is well worth the price of admission.  The staircase is incredibly steep and the stairs are tiny, forcing you to carefully climb sideways.  The Incas must have had smaller feet and certainly did not wear clunky hiking boots!

At the top of the ushnu, I started talking to a group of Peruvians when I offered to take a photo of them.  As it turned out, they were a family visiting Vilcashuamán for the celebration in the nearby village, where their family was originally from; most of them had left during the years Sendero Luminoso took over the area.  Some of them had lived in Lima and were familiar with Huaycán, and others had lived abroad, so they were not at all phased by a foreigner in this remote place!  They were, however, very impressed that I was traveling alone.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Posing on Top of the Ushnu and Looking Out over Vilcashuamán

They took some nice shots of me posing in front of the various views of Vilcashuamán as seen from the ushnu, which I greatly appreciated.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Townspeople Walking Across the Field Behind the Ushnu, Vilcashuamán

As you can see, the Inca had amazing views from the top of the ushnu.  I watched people crossing the well-worn path through the field behind it and tried to imagine this place a few centuries ago.  According to my research, these two square structures behind the ushnu were actually forts build during the years that Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) occupied Vilcashuamán.  Apparently, Sendero Luminoso had a strong presence in this agricultural area and attacked the town on several occasions. 🙁

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Views of Modern Vilcashuamán from the Ushnu

From the ushnu, you can see how the ruins have been absorbed by more recent constructions.  While some archeologists may lament this fact, I find Vilcashuamán to be a perfect example of how the ancient and modern coexist throughout Peru.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Incan Throne on Top of the Ushnu; Ushnu As Seen From the Street

This stone is supposedly the Inca’s throne, where he sat with his wife at his side.  In the photo on the right, you can see another visitor sitting in the Inca’s seat, admiring the view.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Doorway and Steep Stairs of the Ushnu, Vilcashuamán

I was impressed by my visit to the ushnu, which has been thoroughly restored to preserve it for future generations.  This is one of the best examples of an ushnu in all of Peru, and the only reason it is not visited more by tourists is that it is located in this isolated location among farming villages.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Cows Grazing in Vilcashuamán, Peru

After vising the ushnu, I continued my walk through Vilcashuamán, taking in the beautiful countryside.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Piedra del Vaticinio, Vilcashuamán, Peru

I managed to find my way up the hill to the Piedra de Vaticinio, which some people call the sacrificial stone.  According to the tourist brochure from the Municipio, this stone was used for divining the future of the Incan empire, predicting the agricultural season, and determining the future of a couple!  This site has been protected by a stone wall, but as you see, it is located amidst residences, no big deal, without even a sign pointing you in the right direction.

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Looking Out Over Vilcashuamán from Above; Laundry in the Incan Puytuq, or Pool of Water

Views from Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Puya Raimondi in Vilcashuamán

Nearby, you find the Puytuq, one of the small fountains created in the time of the Inca.  Amusingly for me, someone was washing clothes in this ancient aqueduct.  If this doesn’t demonstrate how the modern exists right on top of the ancient, nothing else does!

I also appreciated some of the puya raimondi growing in Vilcashuamán.  These plants look like they are from another world.  From Vischongo, you can visit the Bosque de Puya Raymondi Titankayoq, a forest of around 400,000 of these strange-looking trees, which can grow to be up to six meters tall!

At this point, it was around noon, and I had managed to visit all of the main sites of Vilcashuamán.  I actually wished that I had stopped at nearby Intihuatana, as I had learned that there were many combi buses passing through the area, and there was still plenty of time in the day!

Lunchtime in Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru Sopa de Quinua, Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru
Lunchtime in Vilcashuamán; Sopa de Quinoa

Instead, I got to talking to the animated, amusing combi driver who would take me back to Huamanga, and I ended up eating at this roadside cafe with all the locals.  As I was sitting there enjoying my lunch of sopa de quinoa (quinoa soup), another combi drove by, and the driver tried to convince me, “la gringa,” to come back with their group, much to my embarrassment and the amusement of the young girl serving lunch. 🙂  I also chatted with a local woman who could not imagine traveling on her own, something that seems so normal to me but so foreign to many Peruvian women.

Views from Vilcashuamán to Huamanga, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Vilcashuamán to Huamanga, Ayacucho, Peru
Views En Route Back to Huamanga from Vilcashuamán, Peru

After a long wait (I *should* have gotten on that other combi!), we started on our route back to Huamanga.  This was not as direct or as quick a trip as the last one, as our driver had agreed to take a family of musicians and their goats back to the city.  As I watched in surprise, they hoisted the goats onto the roof of the van, and their bleating could be heard whenever we slowed down along the route!  Finally, we continued on our way, taking on more passengers until the van was pretty packed.  Luckily, we stopped a few times for local snacks, which made the long ride a lot better; I bought jugo de níspero in Vischongo and my favorite choclo con queso at another rest stop along the way.

Views from Vilcashuamán to Huamanga, Ayacucho, Peru
Views En Route Back to Huamanga from Vilcashuamán, Peru

All things considered, the views from the combi made the long route worth it.  After all, I had developed a high tolerance to long bus rides over my year volunteering in Peru.  After traveling to and from Vilcas, I really understood how secure traveling with the locals was; trouble could be found in the cities of Peru, but rarely among the rural villages.  I really enjoyed visiting Vilcashuamán and seeing the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern; I was also pretty proud of myself for making it there on my own.

Upon arriving in Huamanga, I took a city bus to another “bus station,” or rather, an area where a number of bus companies were located next to the Grifo Ayacucho (a gas station).  To get to Huancavelica on bus, it is safest to take an early morning combi to Rumichaca, where you can catch a direct daytime bus to Huancavelica; iPeru advised that I buy my ticket in advance.  After my trip to Vilcashuamán, I knew I could trust taking another early morning combi because it would be filled with locals; in fact, I was looking forward to the experience.

Recommendations for Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru:

  • First of all, go!  It is really easy to take public transportation to Vischongo and Vilcashuaman.  Combis (van buses) leave from the Paradero al Sur (the bus station to the south) starting around 4AM.  I suggest taking a taxi here as it will likely still be dark and the bus station is located outside of the center of town (a taxi should costs S/.4-6).  I arrived just before 6AM as this is when the buses are likely to fill quickly; the combis only leave when all the seats are full.  The ride costs S/.15 and takes about three hours.  The combi will stop to pick up and drop off passengers and their loads along the way.
  • Nearby Vischongo has well-marked hiking routes to Intihuatana and the Bosque de Puya Raymondi Titankayoq.  If you leave early enough, you should be able to visit Intihuatana and then catch a later bus to Vilcashuamán.  It is about a 30 minute bus ride or a 2 hour walk to Vilcashuamán from Vischongo.  Keep in mind that these are rural areas and public transportation does not run on a fixed schedule.
  • There are basic hospedajes in Vischongo; iPeru suggested I ask the Municipio (Municipality) for recommendations.  Vilcashuamán has several basic hostals and hospedajes, as most visitors stay there.  Check with iPeru for an updated list of accommodations, or just ask someone in Vilcashuamán to point you in the right direction.  There are at least two visible from the Plaza de Armas.  That said, if you are only planning to visit Vilcashuamán, you can easily visit all of the major sites in the town in a few hours and catch a combi back in the early afternoon.  The last combi leaves at 5PM; there are no buses after this time.
  • If you read Spanish, this is an excellent summary of the history of Vilcashuamán.  La Brújula del Azar has a great detailed post on Vischongo, Intihuatana, and Vilcashuamán as well as the Bosque de Puya Raymondi Titankayoq.  El Comercio (a Peruvian newspaper) also has a nice video of the Inti Raymi celebration at Vilcashuamán.  Finally, this site has succinct descriptions of Vilcashuamán and its surroundings.
  • Here is a good description of Vilcashuamán in English.
[Vilcashuamán, Ayacucho, Peru: August 18, 2013]

Ayacucho, Peru: Visiting the Pre-Incan Wari (Huari) Ruins, the Site of Peruvian Independence, and Quinua's Ceramic Workshops

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru
The Ruins of the Wari (Huari) Culture, Ayacucho, Peru

Located just 20 kilometers outside of Huamanga (the capital city of Ayacucho), the ancient city of Wari (otherwise spelled Huari, which has the same pronunciation) is the most popular day trip in the region.  While combis run frequently between Huamanga and Quinua, stopping at Wari on the way, I opted to take another tour with A&R Tours.  This was an excellent idea; our guide was one of the most knowledgeable I met on my entire trip, and he spoke intelligently and passionately about the troubled history of the region.

En Route to Wari, Ayacucho, Peru
Views of the Mountains Surrounding Wari, Ayacucho, Peru

The first thing you notice as you climb into the mountains of Ayacucho is how amazingly gorgeous the scenery is.  Peru’s sierra central (central Andes) is not like the high mountains I visited in nearby Chile and Argentina.  Ayacucho’s climate is different, meaning that the lower hills are dotted with green trees, cacti, low shrubs, and brown brush.  I’m no plant expert, but this makes for an attractive contrast.  I couldn’t stop gazing out the window of our tour van.

En Route to Wari, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru

View from the Highway, Desert Spider, Flowering Cacti at Wari

The first thing you notice about Wari are the cacti that cover the area surrounding the ruins.  Some of the cacti are flowering, whereas others bear tuna, or prickly pear, one of my favorite fruits in Peru.  There are also tons of desert climate insects, which our group admired in fascination.

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru
Ruins of Wari, Ayacucho, Peru

Although the ruins of Wari are extensive and expand all around the highway, most of them have not been excavated or studied.  The reasons for this is two-fold: the cacti that sprung up throughout these ruins hid them from view for many years, and require great care during removal so that the ruins can be studied.  Further, during the conflict with Sendero Luminoso, studies of these ruins were completely halted.  This is another cultural tragedy, because roads continue to be paved through the ruins.  As the Wari culture is not a household name like the Incas, it is hard for archeologists and anthropologists to secure funding to excavate and study the Wari ruins.

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru
Ruins of Wari, Ayacucho, Peru

For these reasons, much of this extensive site is off-limits to visitors, but scholars continue to dig deeper (literally) to uncover the history of the practices of the Wari.  Remember, the Wari’s empire once stretched up and down modern Peru’s coast as well as the sierra central.  This was a powerful people who conquered many other populations, just like the Incas.

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru
Views from the Wari Ruins, Ayacucho, Peru

When you see the stone walls coexisting with the desert plants that threaten to take the land over again, you can’t help but appreciate the diligent work of the archeologists and anthropologists who are studying and preserving these ties to Peru’s ancient history.

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru
Protecting the Wari Ruins, Ayacucho, Peru

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru

Burial Chambers in the Wari Ruins, Ayacucho, Peru

Like many of Peru’s ancient cultures, the Wari had impressive burial rituals.  According to our guide, these small chambers were built to bury the Wari elite with their families, attendants, and possessions.  Archeologists continue to uncover new galleries located beneath each level!

Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Wari/Huari, Ayacucho, Peru
Building Blocks and Cacti at the Wari Ruins

After appreciating the ruins still in the process of study, we saw these stone building blocks, either abandoned or moved over the past few centuries.  Although the stonework is distinct from that of the Incas, it is equally impressive to imagine the work that went into carving and shaping these stones.

Although much of the Wari ruins are not accessible to casual visitors, I got a clear sense of the extensiveness of the site, but most importantly, how important it is to respect and honor the Wari culture and its role in Peru’s heritage.

Views from Pampa de la Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Obelisco, Pampa de Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

From Wari, the logical next stop is Quinua, located along the same route, just 34 kilometers from Huamanga.  Our tour took us directly to the Pampa de Quinua (also known as the Pampa de Ayacucho).  Pampa means field, and that is exactly what you see when you arrive: a large, empty field.  The Pampa de Quinua is the place where the decisive Battle of Ayacucho took place against Spain in 1824; this bloody encounter won Peru its independence.  Ayacucho was named to honor the massive loss of life that occurred in this place.

Views from Pampa de la Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Thanking the Nations that Supported Peru at the Base of the Obelisk

Although the landscape is picturesque, you can’t help but remember what happened in this place two centuries ago.  The giant Obelisco (Obelisk) honors those who fought in the battles for Peru’s independence.  At the the base of the Obelisco, there are plaques naming the nations that supported this fight, including the United States.

Views from Pampa de la Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Views Surrounding Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

Behind the Obelisco, there is a steep path that leads down to the village of Quinua, below.  The views from this area are beautiful.

Views from Pampa de la Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
View of Quinua from the Obelisco, Ayacucho, Peru

Quinua’s houses all have the same type of brown roof, which leads to a picture of uniformity from up above.

Views from Pampa de la Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Posing at the Pampa de Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

As usual, I couldn’t resist posing and commemorating my visit to this historic place.

Yuyo Picante con Mote, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru Mazamorra de Níspero, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Yuyo Picante con Mote and Mazamorra de Níspero, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

Despite its past, the Pampa de Quinua is a pleasant place for families to visit on the weekends and while on vacation.  For this reason, there are many stalls set up along the parking lot with lots of local food and artisan goods for tourists and locals alike to browse and buy.  Happily, I managed to find vegetarian food!  I actually love local street food and will try anything after doing my best to verify there’s no meat in it. 😉

This delicious dish is called yuyo picanteYuyo is a local green similar to spinach, and it is cooked down with a mixture of potatoes, onions, spicy pepper, and another local herb, huacatay (known as black mint in English).  This was absolutely delicious, and as I ate I chatted with the cook’s adorable son and a Spanish woman on my tour.  My yuyo was served with mote, or cooked corn kernels, another favorite of mine.  Of course, I had to have dessert.  Mazamorra is a super common Peruvian dessert, basically a thick fruit pudding made with any of a number of local fruits.  In Ayacucho, níspero (or loquat) is readily available, and it makes for a delicious dessert.

Famous Ceramics, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru Famous Ceramics, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru Famous Ceramics, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Colorful Ceramics in Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

After our lunch break, we headed down to the village of Quinua, which is known for its traditional ceramics, most often in the shape of churches.  I thought our first stop, documented above, had the most attractive ceramics. I wish I could have brought one of these beautiful pieces of art home with me, but ceramics and backpacking do not mix.  (I actually broke the small ceramic mototaxi I did buy in Quinua just a few days later. 🙁 )

Famous Ceramics, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Traditionally Colored Churches in a Shop in Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

This shop shows the more conventionally colored churches, painted in a variety of tan, brown, and grey shades.  These churches are traditionally used to decorate the roof of a house to indicate that it is inhabited.  According to our guide, if you do not see a church on the roof of the house, it means that the dwelling has been abandoned.

Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

Quinua is a traditional Andean village in many ways, including its tranquil character.  Today, it lives from its artesanía, which brings tourists in large numbers to this otherwise quiet town.  Almost everyone in town is involved in the family business of producing ceramics in large quantities.  If you visit, make sure to stop in at a number of workshops, as each taller has its own style, level of quality, and unique story.

Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Flowers in the Plaza of Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Quinua’s Church

Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

Visiting Quinua is about appreciating the pleasant uniformity of a town steeped in tradition.

Views from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru
Traditional Churches on the Top of a Residence, Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

After visiting Quinua, it was time to return to Huamanga.  As we drove along the highway, I paid special attention to the roofs of the houses we passed.  While most houses did have a church or three perched on top, there were houses that had clearly been abandoned, since they did not have this traditional decoration.  It fascinates me that this tradition is specific to the small towns in this region of Ayacucho only.

Driving Back to Huamanga, Ayacucho, Peru Driving Back to Huamanga, Ayacucho, Peru
iews En Route Back to Huamanga from Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru

The views on the road back to Huamanga were equally as impressive in the afternoon light.  I tried to capture them out of the window of our tour van, as you can see here.

Overall, I loved this day trip to the ruins of Wari, the Pampa de Quinua, and the ceramics workshops of Quinua.  Although it is easy to do this trip independently, I learned a lot from our guide and enjoyed the company of the others on my tour.

However, back in Ayacucho, I also learned the limitations of depending on a tour company to get you to the destinations you’d like to visit.  Although there were four of us hoping to visit Vilcashuamán the next day, the tour needed six passengers for the tour to leave due to transportation costs.  I really wanted to visit these impressive Incan ruins, so I went back to my friends at iPeru and they convinced me that it was indeed possible and completely safe to visit on my own.  This little push set off a series of adventures off the beaten track on public transportation that I will document in future posts!

Recommendations for Wari and Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru:

  • You should absolutely visit Wari and Quinua for their historical and cultural significance.  If you’d like to take a tour (in Spanish), I highly recommend A&R Tours, which cost S/.35 in August 2013.  All of my explanations above come from what our guide told us, so the tour was thoroughly educational.
  • Otherwise, there are frequent combis (van buses) that run between Huamanga (Ayacucho) and Quinua.  The combis leave from Paradero Magdalena near Avenida Cáceres.  You can ask the driver to be let off at the ruins of Wari.  iPeru recommended visiting Wari early in the day to ensure you could catch another bus to Quinua and then back to Huamanga.  As with many local buses in Peru, you just need to flag down the combi as it passes by.  This is how all the people in the small villages along the highway get around, and the buses can get packed.  All the locals call the city of Ayacucho Huamanga, as I’ve already mentioned.  Apparently, it is much harder to catch a combi after 5PM, so I suggest going earlier.  The bus between Huamanga and Quinua costs S/.3.50-4, and between Wari and Quinua it should be about S./1-2.
  • Entry to the Wari complex costs S/.5, but may be included in your tour, as it was for me.  The ruins are open from 8AM-6PM, but verify with iPeru before visiting.
  • If you do take the bus to Quinua, make sure you climb up to the Pampa de la Quinua to visit the Obelisco and visit this significant site in Peru’s history.
  • I highly suggest eating lunch from one of the many stands and supporting the women of Quinua who cook these inexpensive, nourishing meals and haul them up the hill from the village below.
  • Don’t forget to visit the ceramics workshops (talleres) in Quinua, as the people of Quinua are well-known for their skill.
  • If you read Spanish, read this blog post about Wari and this one about Quinua.
  • If you love photography and want to see Wari and Quinua from another photographer’s point of view, check out this post on Wari and this post on Quinua.  The moody clouds really bring out the colors of the mountains.  Seriously beautiful photos from someone who clearly loves Peru as much as me. 🙂
[Wari and Quinua, Ayacucho, Peru: August 17, 2013]