Characterized by clusters of non-descript concrete buildings and streets crowded with buses, Huancayo is a visually unspectacular town. What it lacks in optical allure, however, it more than makes up for in cultural draw. Located in the heart of the Mantaro Valley, the city has garnered a reputation as the center of Andean artesanĂa.
Although tourism to the area dwindled from late 1980 to early 1990, when the region was the stage of a bloody conflict between the Shining Path and the Peruvian army, the town and its vibrant inhabitants seem to have recovered. Huancayo has re-emerged as a bustling commercial hub and cultural center that draws people from around the world for its food, crafts, dancing and music.
The town's Sunday Market on Huancavelica Street is worth a wander, though youâ€™re probably better off heading to one of the local villages for handicrafts. If you donâ€™t make it into town for Sundayâ€™s market, there is also a daily market located behind the railway station and a handicrafts market between Ancash and Real, which are both worth a look.
Besides shopping, the town has a couple of interesting sites, which can be reached by taxi or on foot. Some of the highlights include the sandstone towers of Torre Torre and the Parque de la Identidad Huanca, which has interesting surrealistic sculptures dispersed among a variety of indigenous plants and markers highlighting the history of the Mantaro Valley. There are also a variety of good-value Peruvian restaurants located in this area. The Cerrito de la Libertad has a worthwhile view of the city and a small park.
Huancayo makes a great base for exploring the surrounding Mantaro Valley, whose craftspeople produce an amazing variety of high-quality handicrafts and artwork. If youâ€™ve been to Lima, Cusco or any hotel with a gift shop, youâ€™ll recognize these Andean treasures. Visiting the towns around Huancayo is easyâ€”they're surprisingly closeâ€”and fun. You'll get a better price for locally made goods than in the big cities, plus the awareness that your money is going directly to the artist and not some middleman.
In addition to its fine crafts, Huancayo and the Mantaro Valley are also famous for their local festivals. In particular, the Festival de ApĂłstal Santiago is a can't-miss occasion if you're around for it. Kicking off on July 25th, the festival presents an eclectic mix of Christian and pre-Hispanic traditions, featuring spectacular dances and ritualistic cattle branding.
Altitude: 3244 m, Population: 387,700, Phone code: 064