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The Mantaro Valley

The scenic Mantaro Valley is located not too far to the east of Lima and is easily reached from Huancayo. This fertile valley is known for its potatoes, corn, quinoa, artichokes, barley and other vegetables. Besides being agriculturally rich, Mantaro Valley also produces an abundance of Andean artesanía. The charming adobe villages that line the valley are famous for their handicrafts, and some of the artisans have even received national awards for their work.

In particular, the twin towns of Cochas Grande and Cochas Chico specialize in the ancient art of gourd carving, Hualhuas is known for finely woven tapestries, and San Jerónimo de Tunán produces a lot of silver jewelry. In short, visitors are bound to encounter some of the most masterful crafts in Peru.

Perhaps more valuable than the goods themselves is the opportunity to sit and chat with the artisans as they deftly work on their latest creation. And unlike the more touristy dives around Peru, the people in Mantaro Valley seem innocently oblivious to foreign visitors. Having maintained their traditional ways of life, the inhabitants of this region provide a refreshing, remarkably un-touristy glimpse of life in the valley.

There are a number of interesting sites sprawled across Mantaro, including ruins from the Xauxa and Huanca cultures. Adventurers and active travelers can explore the area on foot or with mountain bikes. One of the best ways to see the landscape of the Mantaro Valley, however, is via the historic train from Lima to Huancayo, the highest train in the Americas, which weaves its way across the hillsides and along the valley floor.

The locals of this area are amazingly friendly and are usually eager to hear what brings you to their region, as it is still largely off the usual tourist path. Don’t be surprised if children giggle and watch you with a curious grin as you pass; foreigners aren’t a common sight. While most inhabitants of this region today speak Spanish, Quechua is still a predominant language, and a basic understanding of it, even just a couple words, will earn you big points with the locals.

27 Dec 2011

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