The ruins of the pre-Columbian settlement of Tarmatambo are equally close to the city. It is said that this ancient site, eventually conquered by the Incas, gave its name to the present-day city.
Further away, some 25 km from Acobamba along a dirt road, is the Huagapo Cave. This spectacular cavern boasts a mouth more than 30 meters high, from which an icy river emanates from the dark interior. It is said that the cave extends for several kilometers, making it one of the deepest in the Americas. Inside, stalactites, stalagmites and other strange rock formations can be seen all caused by the action of dripping water on the calcareous rock for thousands of years. We recommend that you seek the services of a local guide if you want to explore the cave.
Continuing on past Huagapo one reaches the picturesque town of San Pedro de Cajas, the birthplace of generations of skilled textile workers, famous for their high-quality ponchos and rugs.
The road from Tarma to Chanchamayo (a one hour journey of 77 km) is, despite its relatively short distance, an impressive geography lesson. The highway experiences a dramatic change in altitude of more than 2800 meters, from the highlands to the foothills, presenting the traveler with as many faces of Peru as it is possible to imagine.
The Central Highway leaves Tarma among eucalyptus groves, yellow broom and abundant crops. The steep descent takes us through several small agricultural communities towards Acobamba, an important place of interest. This town of narrow streets and tiled roofs has a lovely central square where its little church sits, its walls as white as the highland clouds above. From here the road that will take us to the Sanctuary of Muruhuay leaves.
Returning to the Central Highway, and continuing our eastward descent, we arrive at Vilcabamba, perhaps one of the most beautiful stages on our journey. The communities of Niñipampa and Llacsacaca are the prelude to the town of Palca, through which the highway literally slices, almost brushing the doors of the houses. Stop off at the plaza in order to visit the Church of Santo Domingo, surrounded by African palms.
From here the vegetation changes dramatically. As the road winds downhill the thick ichu grass gives way to bushes and leafy ferns and bracken. The valley narrows considerably and its walls are suddenly filled with epiphytes, marking the beginning of the forest.
The next place of note on our journey is the Palca river valley, a place of steep cliffs and enormous precipices. Here, in communities such as Huasi Huasi and Valdivia, the best potato seeds in Peru are produced. Shortly afterwards, we enter the area known as “The Carpapata Pass”, which is notorious for its frequent landslides – a fact that has led to the construction of several tunnels, such as Mal Alma, and the erecting of solid retaining walls along the edge of the highway.
One of the tunnels, La Virgen, holds the traveler’s attention, like a kind of symbolic entrance carved into the side of the mountain. On arriving at the Chanchamayo Valley, the change in scenery is marked. The valley widens considerably and the sharp peaks give way to undulating hills studded with lush jungle vegetation. This stretch is characterized by extensive fields planted with the mandarin and orange trees that supply the needs of the cities of central Peru. The next city on our route is San Ramón.
Situated on the banks of the Chanchamayo River, San Ramón was originally a small hamlet established in order to repel the threat posed by the rebel Indian leader Juan Santos Atahualpa, who fought against the encroaching missions of the 18th century. Today, San Ramón has a number of restaurants and hotels, making it an ideal spot to spend a pleasant weekend. It even has a small airport from where air taxis fly to the jungle towns of Iscozasín and Puerto Bermúdez.
Leaving San Ramón, we travel on for a further 17 km to the neighboring town of La Merced, at whose entrance is the imposing La Herrería bridge, spanning the Chanchamayo river. La Merced is an important crossroads from where the roads leading to Satipo, Villa Rica, Oxapampa and Pozuzo all depart.
Bright, tropical places, these twin cities receive many visitors from the capital who go there seeking peace and contact with nature. The climate is typically tropical – warm and humid, with a marked rainy season from December to March (although showers are not uncommon at other times of the year). Both are important centers for the production of coffee, cocoa, rice and timber, and are famous for fruits such as oranges, mandarins, avocados and pineapples – the latter produced in the area around Kimiri, as well as ornamental plants like orchids. This is the birthplace of Arthur Brell, the scientist who first identified the healing properties of the plant known as uña de gato (Uncaria tomentosa).
The few guest houses in the valley fill with visitors during festivals and national holidays like Holy Week and Independence Day, and reservations should be made well in advance. So if you want to avoid such congestion and discover the magic of this beautiful place, then visit at any other time of year.
One of the principal attractions of the valley is the Tirol waterfall, located 3 km from San Ramón along the dirt road that runs past the airport at Puente Paloma. To get to the falls, leave your vehicle at the car park and walk for about twenty minutes along a lovely path that winds through the Teutonia gorge.
Pampa Hermosa is another place that should be visited. This spectacular natural reserve, 24 km from San Ramón, is reached from Puente Victoria along a dirt track only accessible to all-terrain vehicles during the rainy season, through a beautiful wood of walnut trees, cedar and lush vegetation. It is an ideal place to see orchids and perfect for birdwatchers, who may be lucky enough to spot the Cock-of-the-rock.
– more photos in our Galleries
– HOJA DE RUTA –
Hotel Los Portales: Av. Ramón Castilla 512. Tel: 32- 1410.
Comfortable and spacious; located on the outskirts of the city. Has garage facilities.
Hostal Internacional: Jirón Dos de Mayo 307. Tel: 32-1830
Hostal Vargas: Jirón Dos de Mayo 627. Tel: 32- 1460
Chavín: Plaza de Armas. Creole cooking, as well as chinese and international dishes.
Restaurant del Hotel Los Portales: a varied menu and attentive service
Golden Gate: Puente Herrera, San Ramón. Tel. (064) 53-1483. Reservations in Lima Tel: 449-9254. Just before the entrance to La Merced. Comfortable bungalows and a beautiful garden. Owned by a friendly couple, Rudolf and Divna von May.
The Gad Gha Kum Ecological Hostal: Salsipuedes Km 7•8, San Ramón. Tel (064) 33-1580, 37-2336.
El Refugio: In San Ramón. Bungalows and swimming pool. Quiet and comfortable.
El Campa: In the main plaza of La Merced. Typical food, well-served, as well as some interesting local drinks. Don’t leave without trying the fish specialty. It’s extraordinary.
Chifa Felipe Siu: Situated in the main plaza of San Ramón. One of the region’s finest restaurants.