It’s a mystery why more travelers don’t visit this pretty colonial city. It’s bursting with beautiful churches, charming plazas and mineral springs and lies picturesquely nestled within craggy peaks. These days it’s even easily accessible, with a good road connecting it to Huancayo 147km north.
Huánuco lay on the important Inca route from Cuzco to Cajamarca, the key settlement in the north of the empire, and developed as a major way station accordingly. The Incas chose Huánuco Viejo, 150km west, as their regional stronghold, but the exposed location prompted the Spanish to move the city to its current scenic setting on the banks of the Río Huallaga in 1541.
This languid, humid university and market town lies in the ceja de la selva (eyebrow of the jungle; on the cusp between mountains and jungle): its back rests against the mountains − as the conical, forested hills that flank it testify − but its feet are firmly fixed in the lush, sticky vegetation of the Amazonas region.
Coming from Lima, the first place you pass along this route is Jauja, a small, bustling colonial town of narrow traffic-swamped streets about 60km southeast of Tarma and 50km north of Huancayo. It offers some decent accommodations, which can be used as a base for sampling attractions including a lakeside resort and several interesting hikes.
Cerro de Pasco
With its altitude-sickness-inducing height above sea level and its punishingly bitter, rain-prone climate, this dizzyingly high altiplano mining settlement is never going to be a favorite traveler destination. First impressions, however, are still striking: houses and streets spread haphazardly around a gaping artificial hole in the bare hills several kilometers wide.
San Pedro de Casta & Marcahuasi
Isolated San Pedro de Casta (population 1300, elevation 3200m) is the perfect precursor to your Central Andes adventure. The road from Chosica twists spectacularly upward for 40km around a sheer-sided valley before arriving at this mountainside town clustered around a ridge and resounding with the bellows of burros (donkeys).
From Concepción, a village halfway between Jauja and Huancayo on the izquierda side of the valley, you can travel to charming Ocopa village, home to the famous convent of Santa Rosa de Ocopa. Admission is by 45-minute guided tour every hour or once large-enough groups have congregated (seven person minimum). There is a 50% student discount.
Tantamayo is connected only by rough track to the outside world, ensconced in a green-brown patchwork of fields standing out from the stark, precipitous sides of the Upper Marañon Valley. From this serene, chilly village flows a river that will, hundreds of kilometers downstream, morph into the Amazon itself.
Colorful Acobamba, about 9km from Tarma, has profited substantially from and is famous for the religious sanctuary of El Señor de Muruhuay, a white shrine visible on a hill 1.5km away. The sanctuary, one of Peru’s top pilgrimage sites, is built around a rock etching of Christ crucified.