Lima to Ayacucho

The Central Highway and the famous Central Railway take you up from the coast to the thin air of the metal-smelting zone of La Oroya. To get there you have to follow some of the highest routes in the continent. Beyond La Oroya are traditional towns and remains of pre-Hispanic cultures on the altiplano. Huancayo is the commercial centre of the region and the heart of a valley whose villages concentrate on making handicrafts and holding festivals. Head south towards Ayachucho on difficult roads, either via the departmental capital of Huancavelica, or through more remote but magnificent scenery.

Getting there

There are flights from Lima to Ayacucho. The Central Highway between Lima and Huancayo more or less parallels the course of the railway. At La Oroya it divides, with its southern branch following the valley of the Río Mantaro to Huancayo and on to Huancavelica or Ayacucho. Buses serve all the main towns. With the paving of roads from Lima to Huancayo and on to Huancavelica, Pisco to Ayacucho and Nazca to Abancay, there are now more options for getting to the sierra, but all other roads in this region are in poor condition, especially when wet.

San Pedro de Casta and Marcahuasi

Chosica
(860 m), 40 km from Lima, is the real starting place for the mountains. It is warm and friendly and a great place to escape Lima's grey cloud. Beyond the town looms a precipitous range of hills almost overhanging the streets. There are some basic hostales in town and, outside, weekend resorts (see www.chosica.com). Around 40 km beyond Chosica, up the picturesque Santa Eulalia valley, is the village of
San Pedro de Casta
(3180 m), which has some interesting sights nearby. Above the village, at 3900-4100 m, is
Marcahuasi
, a table mountain (
meseta
) covering about 3 km by 3 km. There are three lakes here, a 40-m high, so-called Monumento a la Humanidad and other mysterious lines, gigantic figures, sculptures, astrological signs and megaliths, which the late Daniel Ruzo describes in various publications, eg
La Cultura Masma
, Extrait de l'Ethnographie, Paris, 1956. Others speculate that the formations are the result of wind erosion and there are plenty of sites about its significance on the internet. The trail starts behind the village of San Pedro and bends to the left. About halfway you have to choose between the longer trail (the easier of the two) and the shorter tail, which is better for views of the valley below. Local guides can be hired, advisable in misty weather.

La Oroya and around

Beyond Chosica each successive valley looks greener and lusher, with a greater variety of trees and flowers. Between Río Blanco and
Chicla
(Km 127, 3733 m), Inca contour-terraces can be seen quite clearly. After climbing up from
Casapalca
(Km 139, 4154 m), there are glorious views of the highest peaks, and mines, at the foot of a deep gorge. The road climbs to the
Ticlio Pass
, before the descent to
Morococha
(Km 169, altitude 4600 m) and
La Oroya
. A large metal flag of Peru can be seen at the top of Mount Meiggs, not by any means the highest in the area, but through it runs
Galera Tunnel
, 1175 m long, in which the main line of the Central Railway reaches its greatest altitude, 4782 m. At the mouth of the tunnel (Km 132), on one side of a crater, is
Ticlio
, the highest passenger station in the world at 4758 m until the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006. The railway is a magnificent feat of engineering, with 58 bridges, 69 tunnels and six zigzags, passing beautiful landscapes. It was the project of the great American railway engineer, Henry Meiggs (who died before it was finished) and built by the Pole, Ernesto Malinowski. It is definitely worth the ride on the new tourist service .

La Oroya
(3755 m), the main smelting centre for the region's mining industry, can seem a dreary place with its slag heaps and appalling air pollution, but is nevertheless full of vitality. It stands at the fork of the Yauli and Mantaro rivers, 196 km from Lima by a road. Any traveller, but asthmatics in particular, beware, the pollution from the heavy industry causes severe irritation.

Jauja and around

Some 80 km southeast of La Oroya is Jauja, a friendly, unspoilt town in the middle of a good area for walking. It was Pizarro's provisional capital until the founding of Lima. It has a very colourful Wednesday and Sunday market. There's a
tourist office
for Junín department
. The
Museo Arqueológico Julio Espejo Núñez
, is a quaint but endearing little gem of a museum, with an eclectic mix of relics from various cultures and regions of Peru. It includes two mummies, one still wrapped in the original shroud. To enter, knock on door of La Casa del Caminante opposite, where the creator and curator of the museum lives. He also has a collection of fossils found in the area over the last 50 years. The Cristo Pobre church is claimed to have been modelled after Notre Dame and is something of a curiosity. On a hill above Jauja is a fine line of Inca storehouses and, on hills nearby, are the ruins of hundreds of circular stone buildings from the Huanca culture. There are also ruins near the
Laguna de Paca
. The western side of the lake is lined with restaurants that are good for lunch; try the delicious
ceviche de trucha
and, at weekends,
pachamanca
. It is possible to walk around the lake in about three hours.

On the road to Huancayo 18 km to the south, is
Concepción
(altitude 3251 m), with a market on Sunday. From Concepción, a branch road leads for 6 km to the
Convent of Santa Rosa de Ocopa
. This Franciscan monastery, set in beautiful surroundings, was established in 1725 for training missionaries for the jungle. It contains a fine library with over 20,000 volumes and a biological museum with animals and insects from the
jungle. The convent also contains a large collection of paintings.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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