|The main plaza in the city of Huancayo. click to enlarge|
|A girl and traditional harp. click to enlarge|
Huancayo has grown a lot the past decades. In the 1980s it had 200,000 inhabitants — now the population is more than 450,000 and the first building I saw was a modern mall!
Getting around Huancayo: the colectivos
Colectivos are part taxi, part minibuses. They have a fixed route and fit five people. It’s cheaper than a taxi and almost as fast. Just be sure to have change. They have designated stops.
The first night was about settling down and taking things easy, because of the altitude. It was raining and a bit cold but that didn’t stop me. I walked to the main square Plaza Constitución, which was a lit up with yellow and warm lights that made me forget about how cold it was. Next stop was a recommended restaurant. This restaurant was one of the most expensive in town, but not expensive at all compared to the ones in Lima. I had a cup of warm coca leaf tea, so helpful for the headache caused by the altitude sickness. It was Friday night and the streets were crowded with young people. I was impressed with the traffic, several minibuses and many taxis. All the taxis have a flat rate, so you don’t need to bargain like in Lima.
The next day started early with a good breakfast at a nice café, where prices are half of what you would pay in Lima. The first stop was a hill outside the city Cerrito La Libertad, where you can get a nice view of the whole city and the lovely valley. Another recommended site was Torre Torre an impressive sandstone formation, just a 10-minute walk from the hill. This visit was about seeing charming adobe houses, small fields of potatoes, some dogs running and local residents enjoying a quiet day.
There was still plenty of time, so I went to Jauja, a small town nearby with some ruins and a lake with a famous trout farm. Jauja is pretty, therefore the Spanish chose it as the first capital of Peru. I didn’t climb all the way to the ruins. It was getting cloudier at the top of the mountain. Nevertheless, I walked for a while along the path. I saw a couple of farmers and their families working. The scenery was gorgeous. It was really peaceful there.
|Mantaro Valley, outside of Huancayo.|
Where to eat in Huancayo
Try the trout, local bread, cheese and of course the traditional papa a la huancaína (originally from Huancayo)
There have nice restaurants (Detrás de la Catedral, Jr. Ancash 335), cafés (Coqui, Jr. Puno # 296) and great street food.
Back in Huancayo, I decided to explore the city itself. The main square definitely looked different during daytime. I think I preferred it at night. I also visited the Parque de la Identidad Huanca, a relatively new park, built in honor of local Huanca people. I even had time to go to the handicraft market. A tip: be ready to bargain. At night, I went to listen to some live music and see traditional dances. It was time to go back to the hotel. I wanted to wake up early next morning and visit the market. One of the things I recently learned is that visiting an open market is the best way to get to know a place better. The market is a place where you can really interact with the local people.
It was Sunday, the best day for visiting the market. On my way I could see street vendors offering all kind of food: sweets, salty snacks, quail eggs, soup, pork sandwiches etc.
|Massive squash outside a Huancayo market. click to enlarge|
Finally, I arrived at the central building. Since there are not many tourists visiting the market, taking pictures is welcomed, but be careful with your camera. It was an eclectic mix of colorful flowers, fruits, vegetables, tongues, hearts and tripe. I like to watch people and this was the right place to do it. All the people were friendly.
Well, it was time to go to the bus station. The bus was cheaper than the train and the trip takes five hours less. Huancayo is not far away from Lima, therefore it’s a good choice for a weekend getaway if you want to leave behind the busy city and go somewhere peaceful in the Andes. There are two beautiful towns really close: Tarma and Jauja, plus the lovely valley. My advice is to go there by train, yes it’s more expensive, but worth it. As somebody said: “Life is a journey and not a destination.”