Worth a Trip: Tantamayo

Tantamayo was capital of the pre-Columbian Yarowilca culture, remains of which are scattered throughout the nearby hills. Connected only by rough track to the outside world, the town is 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.

The most impressive ruins around Tantamayo are those at Piruro and Susupillo. The Yarowilca culture was one of the oldest known in Peru and very architecturally advanced. Buildings were constructed with up to six floors connected via internal spiral staircases, giving them a different appearance to the constructions of the Incas, whom many believe were unable to emulate the superior Yarowilca style.

Both ruins are free to visit. Piruro is easiest to reach, via a 1½ hour walk down from Tantamayo and up the other side of the valley. The path is hard to find: be sure to ask. For Susupillo, vehicles can take you to the village of Florida, a 20-minute drive from Tantamayo, from where you can hike to the site.

There are basic lodgings in Tantamayo, although La Unión has more choice. Tantamayo has public phones (that can’t dial internationally) but no listed ones, no cell-phone reception and no banks. Colectivos (shared transportation), minibuses and buses from Huánuco make the journey in anything from five to eight hours (bus S20, colectivo S35). Tantamayo is also connected to La Unión (three hours) from where you can catch onward buses to Huaraz and Lima.