Must see attractions in Central Highlands

  • Sights in Tarma

    El Señor de Muruhuay

    This white shrine visible on a hill 1.5km from Acobamba is one of Peru’s top pilgrimage sites, built around a rock etching of Christ crucified. A small chapel replaced the previous roughly thatched hut at the site in 1835 and the present sanctuary, inaugurated in 1972, is a modern building with an electronically controlled bell tower. It's decorated with huge weavings from San Pedro de Cajas. Acobamba is 9km from Tarma.

  • Sights in Cerro de Pasco

    Santuario Nacional Huayllay

    Santuario Nacional Huayllay, aka the bosque de piedras (forest of stones), is the world’s largest and highest rock forest at a chilly 4500m+ with formations looming out of the desolate pampa (pampas grass) in such shapes as an elephant, a king’s crown and an uncannily lifelike grazing alpaca. The area is highly rated for rock climbing. The sanctuary, comprising a vast area of several kilometers, also has thermal baths. It's almost an hour outside Cerro de Pasco, just before Huayllay.

  • Sights in Río Mantaro Valley

    Santa Rosa de Ocopa

    Set around beautiful gardens and courtyards, this convent was originally built by Franciscans in the early 18th century as a center for missionaries heading into the jungle. The friars accrued an impressive collection of artifacts, now displayed in the museum, and developed a stunning library of some 25,000 volumes (the convent's highlight), with many of its titles dating back to the 15th century. Admission is by 45-minute guided tour (hourly or once large-enough groups have congregated – seven-person minimum).

  • Sights in La Unión

    Huánuco Viejo

    These extensive Inca ruins perch on a swathe of barren pampa (pampas grass) at 3700m. It’s a worthwhile two-hour trek on a steep path from behind the central market in La Unión. There are an incredible 2 sq km of ruins and supposedly more than 1000 buildings and storehouses in total remaining there today. The most impressive structure is the usnu, a huge 4m-high ceremonial platform with engravings of animals (monkeys with lion faces) adorning the entrance.

  • Sights in Tarma

    Tarmatambo

    The best known of the myriad archaeological ruins near Tarma, this was the capital of the Taruma culture and later a major Inca administrative center. The fairly extensive remains include storehouses, palaces and an impressive, still-used aqueduct system. Unlike other Peruvian places with the suffix 'tambo,' this really was a genuine tambo (Inca way-station camp). Tarmatambo is 6km south of Tarma.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ayacucho

    Cathedral

    This spectacular 17th-century cathedral on the Plaza de Armas has a religious-art museum inside. The moody facade doesn’t quite prepare you for the intricacy of the interior, with its elaborate gold-leaf altar being one of the best examples of the baroque- churrigueresque style (in which cornices and other intricate, Spanish-influenced workmanship mingled with Andean influences, often evinced by the wildlife depicted).

  • Sights in Río Mantaro Valley

    Laguna Ñahuimpuquio

    Hemmed in by mountains, this body of water offers restaurants and boat rides. From the east shore a path climbs to a ridge for great valley views and the ruins of Arwaturo, constructed to maximize illumination by the sun’s rays. The overall experience of visiting this lake is pretty special, and one of the recommended activities in the Río Mantaro Valley. It's located above the village of Ahuac, with the lake revealing itself after about 2km along a pretty track.

  • Sights in Huancavelica

    Minas de Santa Bárbara

    The ghostly mines of Santa Barbara, high in the hills above Huancavelica, and accessed by a tough but rewarding 1½ hour hike, are the city's most poignant site. Closed since a collapse ended two centuries of mineral extraction in 1786, Santa Barbara was once one of the most profitable mines in the Americas. Buildings – including accommodations and a church – enjoy a lonely, lovely location well worth visiting.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ayacucho

    Museo de la Memoria

    Ayacucho’s most haunting museum, remembers the impact the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) had on Peru in the city that was most deeply affected by the conflict. Its simple displays (in Spanish) are moving: there are eyewitness accounts of the horrors that occurred and a particularly poignant montage of photos by mothers whose children were killed in the fighting.

  • Sights in Andahuaylas

    Sondor

    The imposing hilltop site of Sondor, constructed by the Chanka people, stands a couple of kilometers past the end of Laguna de Pacucha. The Chanka were traditional enemies of the Incas, but evidently shared their appreciation of a good view. Evidence suggests the top of the impressive central pyramid in this extensive complex of ruins was an important sacrifice spot. Bring a picnic and spend an afternoon up here.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ayacucho

    Museo de Arte Popular

    Displays popular art covering the ayacucheño (natives of Ayacucho) spectrum – silverwork, rug- and tapestry-weaving, stone and woodcarvings, ceramics (model churches are especially popular) and the famous retablos (ornamental religious dioramas). The latter are colorful wooden boxes varying in size and containing intricate papier-mâché models: Peruvian rural scenes or the nativity are favorites, but interesting ones with political or social commentary can be seen here. Photographs show how Ayacucho changed during the 20th century. Opening hours here change almost as frequently.

  • Sights in Ayacucho

    Wari Ruins

    Sprawling for several kilometers along a cactus-forested roadside are the extensive ruins of Wari, the capital of the eponymous empire, which predated the Incas by five centuries. The site occupies a beautiful, peaceful hilltop location. A small museum (information in Spanish only) explains, using artifacts, the relevance and importance of this pre-Inca culture. Look out for the distinctive Wari ceramics. Don’t leave the site too late to look for return transport – vehicles get hopelessly full in the afternoon.

  • Sights in Ayacucho

    Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay

    This captivating little museum is really part art gallery and part an explanation of the process of retablo making. Retablos, ornamental, originally religious dioramas, are notoriously complex, as is demonstrated here, and often contain hundreds of human and animal figures. Joaquín Lopez Antay was Ayacucho's most famous retablo maker and many of his creations are displayed here.

  • Sights in Río Mantaro Valley

    Cochas Grande & Cochas Chico

    These two villages on the east side of the valley, sometimes referred to jointly as Cochas, are the major production centers for the incised gourds that have made the district famous. Oddly enough, the gourds are grown mainly on the coast, in the Chiclayo and Ica areas. Once transported into the highlands, they are dried and scorched, then decorated using woodworking tools. Gourd carving can be seen at various houses here, mostly in Cochas Grande (the upper village).

  • Sights in Tarma

    San Pedro de Cajas

    Peaceful San Pedro, some 40km into the hills from Tarma, is the production center for the country’s finest tapices (tapestries). Most of the village is involved in making these high-quality and highly regarded woven wall hangings, depicting moving scenes from rural Peruvian life. You can watch locals weaving in workshops round the Plaza de Armas: it’s one of Peru’s best opportunities for witnessing handicraft production – and purchasing the results.

  • Sights in Ayacucho

    Otto Malena

    Officially a restaurant, this surreal Aladdin's Cave is more a museum of curios than anything else, for the owner is primarily a collector of magical things. Artifacts, paintings and busts (some quite rare) are distributed throughout the rambling rooms here, and the owner has 1001 stories about his collection to whet your curiosity while you wait for your Peruvian-Chinese meal (mains S15 to S30).

  • Sights in San Pedro de Casta & Marcahuasi

    Marcahuasi

    This little-known archaeological site sits above San Pedro de Casta on a 4-sq-km plateau at 4100m. It's famed for its weirdly eroded rocks shaped into animals such as camels, turtles and seals. The formations have a mystical significance for some people, who claim they are signs of a pre-Inca culture or energy vortices. The walk up here from San Pedro is breath-sapping, but a delight.

  • Sights in Huancavelica

    Cathedral

    Huancavelica’s most spectacular religious building, built in 1673, has been restored in attractive maroon and white. It contains what some say is the best colonial altar in Peru, with ornate cedar woodwork, as well as escuela cuzqueña (Cuzco school) paintings. Mass, the only time the church seems to be open, is 7am and 5:15pm daily, with more morning services on Sundays.

  • Sights in Ayacucho

    Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis

    Visually striking stone church containing retablos (ornamental religious dioramas) and an attractive adjoining convent dating to the 17th century. Located opposite the market, it boasts the city's largest bell, and several escuela cuzqueña (Cuzco school) and escuela ayacuchana works of art.

  • Sights in Ayacucho

    Plaza de Armas

    One of the prettiest plazas in the Central Andes, flanked by many gorgeous mansions, including the Prefectura. Ask at the tourist office for details on how to visit these buildings.