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Welcome to the Central Highlands

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Welcome to the Central Highlands

The Central Higlands are where the massive Andes crash into the impenetrable South American rainforests and winding, cloud-covered mountain roads dip down into stark desert terrain. The way of life has changed little in hundreds of years.

This beautiful region is quicly gaining prominence - particularly due to right military checkpoints that have put drug trafficking on the decline. It´s one of the few truly remote regions left in the world, although improvements in road, rail, and air services have made traveling less challenging than it was even in the late 1990s.

No one knows when the first cultures settled on the puna (higland plains), or how long they stayed. Archaeologists found what they believe to be the oldest village in Peru at Lauricocha, near Huánuco, and one of the oldest temples in the Americas, at Kotosh. Other nearby archaeological sites at Tantamayo and Garu also show that indigenous cultures thrived here long before the Inca or Spanish conquistadors ever reached the area.

 

Top Reasons to Go

  • Handicrafts: Ayacucho has retablos - three-dimensional scenes of religious and historical events. Quinua has ceramic workshops. The Mantaro Valley has Mates Burilados, silver filigree, and alpaca textiles.
  • Warm Mugs: Impromptu street vendors sell body warming drinks such as calientitos, a pisco-piked herbal tea, and ponche, a sweet, frothy blend of milk, sesame, cloves, cinnamon, and walnuts.
  • Market Day: Villagers trek in from miles around with their goods are ready to hawk and trade whatever they can. Head to the Mantaro Valley and there´s a market every day.
  • Ethnotourism: Design silver jewelry, carve gourds, play the pan flute, learn to weave, cook papas a la huancaina, or help orphaned children. Huancayo has excellent interactive tourism opportunities.
  • World´s Highest Train: Chug your way from Lima to 4,782 meters (15,685 feet) before dropping down to the valleys surrounding Huancayo.

The Central Higlands

  1. Huánuco: Increased mining activity has increased attention to this small Andean hamlet only a few hours from the Amazon. Don´t miss the Temple of the Crossed Hands of Kotosh a few kilometers from the main plaza, one of the earliest settlements in the Americas.
  2. Huánuco South to Tarma: The road ascends to more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) over a barren, windswept landscapes and past herds of wild alpacas and llamas. Spelunk in the deepest cave in South America, soak in hot spring, or split flamingos on Peru´s largest lake after Titicaca.
  3. Tarma South to Ayacucho: Some of the country´s worst roads have kept outside influences away and maintained the traditional Andean values in places such as Huancavelica, Small villages lost on high altitude, barren plains are among preferred hangouts of soroche or altitude sickness, so taking it slow and drinking coca tea is the way of life here.
  4. Huancayo: Among the most tourist-friendly towns in Peru, craft capital Huancayo is within a few minutes of vibrant Andean festivals and markets occuring every day. Many come for a weekend on the world´s highest train, but then stay to study Spanish or take a cultural course from area craftspeople.
  5. Ayacucho: Terrorism once cut Ayacuhco off from the rest of the country but with stability, improved roads, and new flights to Cusco the church-filled town is firmly on the tourist trail, This is particularly true during the weekiong celebration of Semana Santa, when a passionate and deeply religious fervor blankets the town.

 

The Central Higlands Planner

Weather Wise

The best weather for this region is May through October, in winter and spring, when the skies are clear and daytime temperature are moderate (nights can be frigid). The rainy season is November, through April when many roads are inaccessible.

 

Health & Safety

Altitude Sickness

 Altitude sickness, or soroche, is a common risk in the Andes. Drink plenty of water and coca tea, move slowly, adn avoid alcohol.

Safety

The Central Highlands is not the lawless region controlled by the lawless region controlled by the Shinign Path that it was in the 1980s and ´90s. Terorism has been eradicated and a military presence is strong. The only major concern is conflicts between the police and illegal coca growing and narco trafficking, particularly in the area from Huánuco to Pucallpa. This has little effect on toursim, however, the occasional road block does occur.

Petty crime in cities happens less than the coast. If you take the usual traveling precautions in your hotel and when walking or driving you shouldn´t have any trouble. Carry your passport and other important identification at all times. Call 105 for an ambulance., the fire department, or the police.

 

Getting Around

By air

You can catch flights to Pucallpa, Trujillo, Chiclayo, and other northern towns from Ayacucho, Andahuaylas, and Lima. You can also check for flights from Lima to Ayacucho, Huancayo, Huancayo, Huanuco, and other major cities outside of the Central Higlands. Flights are often canceled in the rainy season. Always confirm your flight in good weather, too. By Bus: Buses from Ayacucho run to Lima, including overnight services. You can also reach Huancayo from Ayacucho (10 hours) by overnight service - but preparefor a very rough road. From Huancayo have many daily buses to Lima.

 

By Car

The Central Higlands have some of the country´s most scenic driving routes, and roads are paved from the capital north to Huánuco and south to Huancayo. It´s five hours to La Oroya, from which a georgeous Andes panorama stretches in three directions: north towrd Huánuco, east toward Tarma, and south to Huancayo. Most sights around Huancayo in the Valle del Mantaro are accesible by car. The rugged road from Huancayo to Ayacucho, wich takes around 10 hours, should be traveled only by four-wheel-drive vehicles equipped for emergencies. Except for the highway, there are mostly dirt roads in this region, so be prepared.

 

By Train

The train journey from the capital is the most memorable travel option. The 335 - km (207-mi) railway cuts through the Andes, through mountain slopes and above deep crevasses where thin waterfalls plunge down into icy streams far below. The most logical route is from Lima to Tarma and Huancayo, then south to Huancavelica and Ayacucho.

 

Restaurants & Hotels

Dining out in the Central Higlands is a very casual experience. Restaurants are mostly small, family run eateries serving regional fare. Breakfast is usually bread with jam or butter and juice. The midday lunch, the day´s largest meal, combines soup, salad, and a rice and meat dish. You´ll find snacks everywhere, from nuts and fruit to ice cream and sweet breads. Dinner is after 7 pm and extremely light. Don´t worry about dressing up or making reservations. Tipping isn´t customary, but waiters appreciate the extra change. All parts of the animal and almost every animal is considered. Guinea pig farming is among the more profitable occupations, so grilled cuy is a menu staple. Heartier fare comes is stews, which are spiced with ají to slave off the mountain chill.

Accomodations in the Central Higlands lean towards the very basic. Only the largest properties have air-conditioning, hot water, TVs, phones, and private baths. If you don´t need pampering, and you don´t expect top-quality serive, you´ll travel easily-and cheaply. The majority of hotels have clean, modest rooms with simple Andean motifs. Bathrooms usually have showers only, and if hot water is available it´s only in the morning or evening. Most hotels have a restaurant, or at least a dining room with some type of food service. If you want a homestay experience, ask your hotel or a local travel company, who can often hook you up with hosts in the area.

Rooms are almost always available, but if you´ll be traveling during the region´s popular Semana Santa (Holy Week) or anniversary festivities book tours and hotels early. Also book early around the anniversary of the Battle of Ayacucho in mid-December.

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