Huamachuco and its Ruins

Despite being in the enviable position of having two first-class pre-Hispanic ruins on its doorstep, the pleasant mountain town of Huamachuco receives very few visitors.

Without doubt the major star is the massive pre-Inca mountain fort of Marcahuamachuco, a spectacular collection of rugged ruins dating from around 400 BC that sprawls over a windswept plateau at a dizzying 3600m.

Although dwarfed by its famous neighbor, the easily accessed ruins of Wiracochapampa are also well worth a visit. Despite the close proximity of the sites, the structures here are not directly connected to those at Marcahuamachuco. Research suggests the buildings here were completed around AD 700 and served as a ceremonial center of the Wari culture.

Unlike many other large pre-Hispanic settlements in the region that cling to soaring peaks, these structures were built low in a valley. The ruins are centered on a large central plaza, surrounded on three sides by a compact maze of rooms, and divided by high rock walls, which contain numerous tombs. From the center of Huamachuco it's a 45-minute hike to Wiracochapampa. Otherwise a mototaxi should cost around S8.

The tourism office can organize guides to both archaeological sites, as well as other attractions in the area. A block from the plaza in Huamachuco, the small Museo Municipal Wamachuko houses ceramics from the Huamachuco period.

For accommodations, try Hostal Plaza, which offers good-value rooms right on the main square. For eats, head to Antojitos Grill, which does a tasty mixed grill, as well as filling traditional breakfasts.

Colectivos (shared transportation) leave for Cajabamba (S10, 1½ hours) when full from the small terminal on the east side of town. Tunesa Express has regular express services linking Huamachuco with Trujillo (S15 to S25, five hours, five daily).

La Jalca (Jalca Grande)

Lovely little mountain town La Jalca, also known as Jalca Grande, is a small, cobblestoned municipality that has managed to retain much of its historical roots, though modernization is slowly creeping its way in. Quechua is still spoken by older residents here and Chachapoyas-influenced architecture can be seen around the town. Look for Choza Redonda, a traditional Chachapoyas house that was supposedly continually inhabited until 1964. It was used as a model for the re-creation of Chachapoyas houses in Kuélap and Levanto. The roof has collapsed but remains one of the best preserved indigenous houses in the region.

At the ruins of Ollape, a 30-minute walk west of La Jalca, you can see several house platforms and circular balconies decorated with complex designs.

There is one direct combi (minibus) from Chachapoyas to La Jalca (S10, two hours) leaving at 3pm from the bus terminal and returning to Chachapoyas at 5am. Otherwise take a Chachapoyas–Leimebamba bus and ask to be let off at the La Jalca turnoff, from where it’s a three-hour hike up the hill.