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Ayacucho

Travelers are only just rediscovering Ayacucho's treasures. Richly decorated churches dominate the vivid cityscape alongside peach- and pastel-colored colonial buildings hung with wooden balconies. Among numerous festivities, Ayacucho boasts Peru’s premier Semana Santa celebrations, while in the surrounding mountains lie some of the country’s most significant archaeological attractions.

Yet this mesmerizing city has a dark past. Its name, originating from the Quechua aya (death, or soul) and cuchu (outback), offers a telling insight. Ayacucho’s status as isolated capital of a traditionally poor department provided the breeding ground for Professor Abimael Guzmán to nurture the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist revolutionary movement that caused thousands of deaths in the region during the 1980s and 1990s. But the city’s historically poor links with the outside world also fostered a proud, independent spirit evident in everything from its unique festivals to its booming cultural self-sufficiency.

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