Ayacucho in detail

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The Shining Path: a Deadly Conflict

The Sendero Luminoso’s (Shining Path’s) activities in the 1980s focused on deadly political, economic and social upheaval. They caused violent disruption, particularly across the Central Highlands and Amazon jungle, which were almost completely off-limits to travelers at the time. Things finally changed when the group's founder, Abimael Guzmán, a former Ayacucho university professor, was captured and imprisoned for life in 1992 – followed quickly by his top lieutenants. This led to a lull in activities, as Guzmán had not had time to prepare a direct successor.

But fragmented groups of Sendero Luminoso revolutionaries carried on in far remoter areas of Peru, albeit sporadically and with vastly reduced numbers. These groups split from the original Maoist philosophy of Guzmán, and in recent years their most notable activity has been drug trafficking (the US State Department confirms the group’s links with the drug trade).

The last major clash in the Ayacucho region was in April 2009, when Shining Path rebels killed 13 army officers. A high-profile incident in August 2011 saw tourists on a high-end tour to Choquequirao, a major Inca site in the Cuzco region, politely asked to hand over valuables to help the cause of the revolution.

This sparked media reports of a Sendero Luminoso reemergence, which proved to be an exaggeration, particularly when its last remaining high-profile leaders were captured during 2012 and 2013. Since then, no major incidents involving the group have been reported.

Today the number of remaining Sendero Luminoso members is, according to the Wall Street Journal, only around 500. Activity is mostly in remote Amazon valleys such as the Upper Huallaga Valley north of Tingo María which, not by coincidence, contain significant cocaine production areas and are not safe for tourists to visit.

Outside the areas referred to above, the threat to tourists remains minor, and most places can be visited as safely as anywhere else in Peru. The overwhelming majority of Peruvians, it should be emphasized, have no allegiance to any faction of the Sendero Luminoso or to the military searching for the remainder of their followers.