About an eight-hour bus ride from Lima and four-hour drive from Huaraz, the city of Huánuco lies in the highlands of central Peru. A little bit of jungle and a little bit of the sierras, its inhabitants like to say no other region in Peru compares in its pleasant and moderate climate.
That must be why people have been living in the region for some 4000 years. From the city of Huánuco itself and to the greater region of Huánuco, caves, waterfalls, hotsprings, impressive archaeological sites, forests of coffee and cacao, a handful of colonial art, and some of Peru’s tallest mountain ranges are just a few of the accessible wonders.
Considering its distance from Lima and its abundance of culture, a week is a sufficient stay in Huánuco. Although many activities can be done in the vicinity of the city, a lot of attractions require between 2-5 hours of travel.
*1. Iglesia San Francisco: Huánuco Plaza de Armas, Provice of Huanuco*
To get a taste of the colonial history of Huánuco, one must visit the Iglesia San Francisco. First built in 1560 with baroque and mestizo style, recent renovations add a neoclassical personality. Perhaps one of the strongest cultural aspects of the church is the artwork left by Spanish priest Lorenzo Valentino. His style and skill bring to the visitors a vivid image of the colonial era of Huánuco.
*2. Temple of Kotosh: 10 minute cab ride from city, Province of Huánuco*
_The religious and ceremonial constructions are some of the oldest in Peru_ (Photo: Flickr/ Gustavo Madico)
Perhaps the most fascinating tidbit of this archaeological site is that some experts claim this may possibly be the first example of sculpture in the Americas. Two sets of sculpted arms are displayed, imposed on opposite sides of the main niche walls of one of the three temples. Thus this 4000 year old temple, 5 km west of the city, is also known as Temple of Crossed Hands. It is the mystery of these sculpted crossed arms that has made this temple unique. Common understanding today suggests that the arms represent the cultures reverence for duality.
*3. Tingo Maria National Park: 2 1/2 hour drive from Huánuco, Province of Leoncio Prado*
_Can you spot the Sleeping Beauty?_ (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Yagamichega)
Tingo Maria is a beautiful city graced by the luscious mountain of the “La Bella Durmiente” or Sleeping Beauty. The mountain surrounding the city is said to take the shape of a woman sleeping. Just a few minutes drive from the city, the national park has many of nature’s wonders to share. For just a few soles for entry the Velo de las Ninfas, or Veil of the Nymphs waterfall, and La Cueva de las Lechuzas, or Cave of the Owls, offer fresh air and pools of water to awaken its visitors. Contrary to its name, the Cave of the Owls is rather a cave of guacharos, parrots, and bats. Similar to owls, the guacharos or the Santanas, are an important key in the ecology of the cave.
*4. The Cordillera Huayhuash: 3 hours drive from Huánuco, borders Huánuco, Ancash, and Lima regions*
_Cordillera Huayhuash_ (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Declared a “reserved zone” by the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture in 2002, this mountain range compares in landscape and beauty to the Himalayas. Considering Peru’s second tallest mountain, Yerupajá, also known to be the highest point in the Amazon River watershed, the Huayhuash mountains are more than a site to see. With major hiking circuits, hot springs, llamas, and condors to encounter, one could spend a fair amount of time exploring and soaking in the crisp glacial air. Consider taking 10 days to complete the arduous and pristinely beautiful Huayhuash Circuit.
*5. Archaeological Complex of Huánuco Pampas: 5 hour drive from Huánuco, Province of Dos de Mayo*
_The doorway to the Pampas archaeological site._ (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
This site deserves a visit of at least three hours with 2 sq km to explore carved monkeys, a large central plaza, impressive tone work, and more than 1000 structures. It’s most admired of these structures is the Usnu archaeological site. A fine example of skilled stonework, this structure measures 30 meters by 50 meters and 4 meters high. It is still unknown exactly what the purpose of this structure had been, but its size, carved monkeys, and craftsmanship make it a worthy structure of this site. This Incan administrative hub was suspended only 150 years after its construction when the Spanish arrived in 1539. Later Illa Tupac would use it to defend territory against the Spanish until 1543. Shortly after it was abandoned and forgotten until the mid 20th century.
Not to mention, the region hosts 3 festivals year round. One of which was recently celebrated on the 15th of October for the anniversary of Tingo Maria. On July 27th a highly revered celebration honors the sun, known as Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun. Finally there is the anniversary of the Spanish Founding of Huánuco on August 15th, boasting craft fairs of all trades.
For more information on travel, visit the Huanuco Peru pagevel/where-to-go/huanuco.aspx. Find out what the highland haven has to offer.