Huancayo (population 350,000; 3249 meters), capital and business center of the Junin province, is one of the most under appreciated highland cities in Peru. Founded in 1572 by Jeronimo de Silva, the city has played host to several major historical events such as the Battle of Junin and the first continental congress. It is easily accessible at just seven hours from Lima. There are some interesting workshops you can take that go far beyond language lessons such as carving and music. The available hikes in the area rival that around Cuzco and are far less crowded. It is the home of the national favorite papas a la Huancaina. Home of the highest railway in the world. There are a few good nightlife options. Some interesting restaurants. The best gourd and woodcarvings in the country. And it is believed that in the Mantaro Valley there is a party for every day of the year.
Plaza de la Constitucion doesn’t have the grandeur of plazas like that of Arequipa or Cuzco, but nevertheless has a certain charm to it. The neo-classical city cathedral is there, a craft market is near, and throughout the day it sees quite a bit of human traffic.
The city’s most famous church however, is the Capilla La Merced (1839), at Real and Ayacucho, It has been declared a national monument because it was the site where the Peruvian continental congress carried out for the first time.
Cerrito de La Libertad, 1 km east of the city, is a natural mirador with a small church, park, amphitheater, small restaurants with regional dishes, and even a small zoo. There are wonderful views of the entire city and surroundings.
A further 2km from Cerrito de La Libertad you can encounter the geological formation called Torre Torre. The phallic shaped erosions slightly resemble a smaller version of Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park.
The beautiful little gated park of Parque de la Identidad Wanka is reminiscent of Parque Guell in Barcelona, Spain. It is one of my favorite small parks in all of Peru. The mix of mosaic, ironwork, gold statues of Andean characters, beautiful plants and flowers and fountains has a very whimsical effect. Impossible not to fall in love with. Taxi from the center is 3 soles. Admission free.
Museo Salesiano, at Santa Rosa 299 (247-763) in the Salesian School, is the best museum in Huancayo. The cultural and science center with 7000 samples of birds, reptiles, and mammals; 750 archeological samples, 530 paleontological samples, 650 mineral samples, colonial paintings, and even a stamp collection. Basic, but well organized. Mon-Fri: 8am-12pm and 2-6pm. Admission: 2 soles.
Wari Wilca Ruins – 7 km south of Huancayo is the predominant archeological complex in the Mantaro valley. The pre-Hispanic site dates to 800 AD and was the site of magical and spiritual rituals. It is believed that the first wanka couple rose up from the water there. This is the major stop on the daylong archeological circuit that every tourist office offers ($25-45 per person, depending on the number of people, includes lunch and guide).
The Mantaro Valley - The most popular excursion from Huancayo are visiting the craft and farming villages in this green valley near Huancayo. Each day in the week there is an Andean market in small villages like Cochas Chico and Cochas Grande. Each village specializes in a certain craft such as gourd carving, weaving, or silverwork.
Shopping in Huancayo
Feria Dominical (Sunday Craft Market) runs on numerous blocks on Huancavelica and brings in crafts from the surrounding villages.
There is also a craft market, Casa del Artesenio, at Real 481 on Plaza Constitucion. Good selection of textiles, jewelry, carved gourds, and woodcarvings.
Language lessons and other courses in Huancayo
Incas del Peru, (Giraldez 652, 223-303, www.incasdelperu.com), offers a wide range of courses for travelers. Spanish language lessons are available in four categories, ranging from Budget to Interactive that include stays at La Casa de La Abuela and 3 daily meals. $110-260. Programs start every Monday. Quechua lessons and monthly rates available. Other cultural courses include cooking courses, weaving, gourd carving, dancing, music, and jewelry making. Prices are $8 per hour and include one on one instruction. A minimum of 15 hours is required.
Tourist Information in Huancayo
Oficina Turistica Sombrero Wanka – This booth that wears a big golden hat run by Eco Aventura has loads of information on the area and offers tours as well. Look for it in Parque Huanamarca.
Incas del Peru – This is an excellent tour company that has personally attracted more gringos to little known Huancayo than anyone else. www.Incasdelperu.org. Lucho Hurtado speaks excellent English and the office is a wealth of information on the region. See more on their tours below.
Historical Interest: Incan Record Keeping
The Inca government was very organized and kept detailed records, although they never developed an advanced writing system. Their method of counting called the quipu was quite elaborate. The system used knotted cords to keep data. Each knot suggested a unit of ten, one hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand. Each cord was tied to a thicker cord and kept track of things such as crops, soldiers, or gold. Quipucamayocs, or accountants managed each of the quipus. The cords were different colors or sizes to distinguish which each item was.