Ayacucho, the ‘Ciudad de las Iglesias’ (City of Churches), boasts more than 30 churches and temples.
When it comes to opening hours, churches are a law unto themselves. Some list their visiting times on the doors; with others you will have to take your chances. During Semana Santa churches are open for most of the day; at other times ask at the tourist office, which publishes the guide Circuito religioso with information on opening hours.
Joining the congregation for mass (usually between 6am to 8am Monday to Saturday depending on the church) is an interesting way of seeing inside these buildings. Entrance to the churches is free but donations are appreciated.
You will see retablos (vibrantly decorated boxed dioramas or 'scenes' from Peruvian life) in other parts of Peru, but Ayacucho is the proud capital of this particular handicraft. The word 'retablo' originally meant 'behind the altar' – referring to the statues encased within early colonial altars. Typical retablos feature religious scenes, but there are also fascinating social, political and cultural ones produced, too. The common denominator is the intricacy of the figures, engaged in a variety of activities, which are protected inside a box with doors. They make for some of the Peruvian highlands' most unique souvenirs.
Edwin Pizarro Highly regarded retablo maker.
Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay Learn about the retablo-making process here.