Junín to Huánuco; Huaraz or Tingo María.

Junín to Huánuco; Huaraz or Tingo María.

The smelter town of La Oroya is, as mentioned elsewhere, a point from which three routes run to Huancayo, to Tarma and to Huanuco, by way of Junín and Cerro de Pasco. Here, we follow this third route, but also take time to explore the Cordillera Central. (Some of this can be done on short trips from Lima, as we will explain.)

Much of the area which is covered by this section is at high altitude. The area is typical of much of the high Andes, and is inhabited by people who are both less shy than those in the South and less habituated to tourists than those in the Northern mountains, such as Huaraz. The area around Cerro de Pasco has a history of intensive mining and rough industrial relations, and the town is itself as unattractive as any large, old mine. Huanuco offers you a fine place to rest, and provides the choice of heading up to Huaraz and Chavin, or on to Tingo María and the jungle.

La Oroya to Junín.

The journey is made on an adequate tarred road which is well served with public transport. The road follows the approximate route of the old Inca Royal road that connected Cusco to Cajamarca. Scenery is of low hills covered in ichu grass, with the occasional cluster of grazing animals and poor villages. The railway line, which services the mines in the area, parallels the road, as does the muddy Mantaro river.

A road which joins from the right about three quarters of the way to Junín leads down to San Pedro de Cajas, a pretty village that is famous for its textile work and handicrafts. There are also a set of almost unexplored cave systems close to the village. The entrance to the village has an ancient site called Cachi pozo, where a series of pools yield saline water with curative properties.

Click here to see a series of images San Pedro de Cajas (3250m) is a pretty village in an arid environment in which virtually the entire population are engaged in producing textiles: carpets and blankets, shawls and ponchos. They also make "paintings" by stuffing different coloured wools behind a tightly drawn net. These show Andean scenes and examples are on the walls of most hotels in Lima. The fibres used are cotton and alpacas, and the village makes a point of using only vegetable dyes. The women of the village are famously beautiful. The village patronal is on the three days of 28-30 June, involving a procession, feasting and dancing. [More here.]

The region supports two major cave systems. The Pacopahuay structure is in the Yocu Ishquisha cerro, 16 km from San Pedro de Cajas on the road down to Palcamayo. You can walk this in two hours, taking three to return if you wish. The village lacks organised transport except through buses. It is necessary to make yourself known in the municipal offices in the village Plaza de Armas, in order to pay a small fee, acquire a guide and the key to the door that locks the inner caves. These doors have been put in place because people were stealing stalactites and stalagmites for sale in Lima. The entrance to the caves is 500m above the road, if you drive down. The lengthy picture series (above) has images of the entrances to both cave systems.

A second structure, the Huagapo caves, is three hours away. These are situated in a different mountain, the cerro Racasmarca, with the entrance at 3570m. A pretty river cascade emerges from the cave's entrance. This is thought to derive from the río Cauquirán, which disappears into the Milpo de Racasmar cave several kilometres away. The entrance is 20m high and 30m wide, with rock paintings deeper inside that show human-animal hybrids of undoubted shamanic meaning. This has been a site of religious significance for millennia. The ceiling is patched with stalactites. And bats, of which there are many, and which sally forth at dusk in a gray cloud.

The Pacopahuay cave system has not been explored. The Huagapo complex has been followed for 2,800m and is said to be particularly rich in stalactite formations. One 500m from the entrance has formed a 15m tower-like structure. There is a vertical break to the surface at 1,200m. This is followed by a part of the tunnel known as the 'siphon', where the channel narrows such that the river entirely fills it. Progress beyond demands oxygen and a mask. The water beyond contains fish - referred to as "trout" but I doubt it, somehow - that have developed huge but useless eyes. A second much longer water-filled section appears at 2800m, marking the limits of exploration.

Returning to the main road to Junín, one passes the monument erected in the 1920s to the fallen at the Battle of Junín, where Simón de Bolivar engaged the Royalist forces in 1824. De Bolivar had brought his army South from Ecuador and beyond, and General de Canterac sallied from the stronghold of the Mantaro valley (Juaja and Huancayo) to meet him. The engagement occurred at Chacamarca, and was fought to a standstill until a cavalry charge broke the Royalists, who fled towards Tarma, leaving the road open to the remainder of the Andes. The battlefield is now a sanctuary, full of birds and managed by wardens. Snow peaks from the Cordillera Raura appear on the distant horizon. This area, sandwiched between the Cordilleras Central and Occidental is called - for no reason that I cannot uncover - the meseta de Bombón.

The road continues on to Junín (3880m). (A rough road to the right leads to Chanchamayo, arriving below Tarma by way of Huasa Huasi.) The town lies on a busy route between two major mining centres, but has made some effort to beautify itself. The Plaza de Armas is ringed by red-tiles, two story buildings and has a pleasant Cathedral and an elaborate town hall. There is a strange concrete structure in the middle of the square, appearing as though a gazebo had mated with a mosque. The Plaza Libertad has a mature garden in it with a 25m tower that offers a view over the city, at the foot of which there is a little museum of the region. Junín has full facilities, adequate accommodation and not much charm, but it is a useful jumping-off point to study the rest of this region. Its special dish is cabeza de cordero,which is a whole calves head, served boiled with vegetables (and eyes). Even more disconcertingly, the Quechua for this is human soup.

One obvious place to visit from Junín is the lago Junín (4065m), Perú's second largest body of fresh water. This is 78 km long and about 17km wide, discharging as the source of the Mantaro river which you will have been following. It is a Nature Reserve of some importance. The lake is shallow, and bordered with extensive parches of reeds, called tortorales. These are used in houses but not - as at Lake Titicaca - for the construction of artificial islands. They are, however, a paradise for birds, and the waters and skies are full of flocks going about their business. The waters are usually blue in the morning and change to a red-brown in the afternoon, as edible alga rise to the surface. Birds exploit this, and the late afternoon offers the best bird watching. (Pictures are given above.)

A species endemic to the lake is the Zambullidor (Podiceps tacznowski). This little coot-like diver lives on fish in the alga. It is flightless, and environmental change - and pollution from mining - has made it one of the most endangered species on the planet.

The Western side of the lake is bordered by a number of interesting villages, and a road conveniently loops all the way around it from Junín. These villages split their time between livestock, cereal cultivation and fishing. Huarmipuquio is 5 km off the main road, bordering a sea of reeds, and the largest of these - Ondores - is 23km off it. All are constructed from mud brick and reed thatch, and populated by Quechua-speaking people, the women of whom continue to wear traditional clothes. Pari is a village that is close to the lake but raised somewhat above it, offering interesting views. None of these have anything to offer by way of accommodation. There is a 4420m look-out point at Chaqiscancha that is a few hours walk off the road North from Ondores, where only the wind breaks the silence, and you can see clouds piling up over the jungle to the East.

Junín to Cerro de Pasco.

The main road follows the Lake for its length, rising to cross some hills. It descends into Carhuamayo (3890m). This is a busy little town of scant charm, but it is the global centre for the cultivation and trading of the maca (Lepidum meyenii). This is a turnip-like root that was once used as a tonic for livestock and is now used as a herbal aphrodisiac. The root contains steroids which have been glycosylated, and clinical trails suggest that these can increase everything from muscle mass to spermatogenesis. Maca is becoming widely used in products designed for body builders, being used as a natural alternative to anabolic steroids. Demand has recently shot up and the region is doing well from this. The road to Oxapampa (see here) leaves from Carhuamayo.

The next two villages are Shelby - named after a US citizen who was instrumental in helping the people of the region with veterinary knowledge - and Vicco. This last is important for two reasons: it is here that the trip around the other side of the lake ends, and it is here that the road to the extraordinary seventy million year old stone forest of Huayllay sets out.

Click here to see a series of images El Santuario Nacional de Huayllay lies between 4150 and 5100m, covering 6800 hectares. It can also be reached from Lima via Canta (see map) or one can even arrange to fly into the airport at Vicco. The chief attraction are strange stone forms that have been worn by rain and wind, glaciation and the patience of mosses from limestone overlaid by columnar basalt. The chief village in the area is Canchacucho.

The centre of the area is marked with a hot spring at La Calera, from which water emerges at 60C. Various facilities for tourists have been developed here, including the hire of horses and guides. There are no lodgings, however, and if you want to stay several days in the area, of catch dawn and dusk, then you will need paraphernalia such as a tent, sleeping mat and four-seasons bag.

The area offers several coherent walks, which are described below. This is also a centre for lama and alpaca grazing, and you will almost certainly come upon prodigious herds of these. Whilst the trails that follow are good samples from the area, a good guide, a couple of mules and proper equipment will allow you to wander unmolested in this region for several days, taking in all that you want of it without following artificial routes of this sort.

The main road continues on to Cerro de Pasco (4330m), passing several mines and the bright waters of the lagoYanamate. The area is largely deserted, not least due to past labour and insurgency difficulties in the area, but there are usually herds of llama and alpaca to be seen. The copper mining town itself is tucked between barren cerros, and has been the source of considerable pollution in the past. The delicate puna is only now recovering from this.

Cerro de Pasco was founded in 1771 as a service to the Yauricocha mine, which had been worked since 1630. This was the richest source of copper in the world, visited by curious foreigners, such as Humboldt. Its mining methods, in common with those of the Spanish in general were extremely oppressive and there were numerous local revolts, both at these and at the damage which the mine was doing to the ecology of the region as a whole. This tradition of labour activism continues right across the region, recently expressing itself in the simultaneous dynamiting of around 30 hydroelectricity installations in the nearby Huaraz valley. People who feel that their identity is tied up with the land - written on the Garashipo or cured leather - become explosive when their heritage is attacked. In addition, the lower Huallaga valley has been a major centre of the cocaine traffic, and Cerro de Pasco has not been immune to the effects of this.

The town centre had been built over the main seam, and the entire thing was moved in 1966. Consequently, the town is neither modern nor old, but simultaneously tatty and humming with trade and commerce. Its patronal is in 14th September, when the best festivities are at the village of Paragsha, celebrating the Señor de Exaltación.

This event is the result of a three month build-up, during which the mayordomos invite friends, relatives - anyone- to come and join in. Formal events begin on the 12th of September and then run for six days. The run-up day follows, when musicians and dancers perform and the evening offers a grand fireworks display. Dances continue around bonfires, with the performers warmed by the local aguardiente, called shiguirito. The 14th September is the central day, in which a Mass is said and the figure of the Señor de Exaltación is processed around the main streets amongst a crowd of thousands. The mayordomo is blessed, as is his house and family and he is released from his annual duties. A new figure is selected. This leads to further dancing and feasting that lasts for a further four days.

Click here to see a series of images Yanahuanca (3180m) is 64 km from Cerro de Pasco on a road of poor quality, but a visit is well worth the effort. It is located in a charming situation, and has access to well-preserved and extensive ruins. There are regular bus connections., and the town has an array of basic hotels and restaurants that serve the regional specialities. The town has around 5000 inhabitants and is located in the steep Caupihuaranga valley, supporting itself through farming. The image series shows the trip across the Cordillera towards the coast and Lima.

A peculiarity of the region is the focus on squashes and gourds (calabazas, Lagenaria sp.), the latter being used both as a food and as a storage container. (These are sold in an elaborately decorated form in the Huancayo valley, but no there.) A second oddity - largely confined to this set of villages, but dating back into prehistory - is the practice of agricultural migration, following the seasons throughout the year with physical migration of animals and families. This means that whilst Yanahuanca is the provincial capital, and whilst its Sunday markets thrive as the outlet for the output of the province, it cannot really be seen as 'a' town, but rather one of a family of fixed points for the population who have bases in at least seven villages. Each of these is around eight hours walk from the others, on ancient tracks worn by time. Some of these are cut into or actually tunnel through sheer rock faces, making them an unusual walk. It is easy to arrange longer or shorter walks on these paths, and although there is no organised tourist industry it is easy to find potential guides. Few will have many words of Spanish, however, and you will need to bring everything that you will need with you. The municipal centre in the Plaza de Armas will be able to organise guides and routes for you.

Yanahuanca has a little Plaza de Armas with a colonial church. It was built on wet land and the town is laced with little drainage canals. The cultivable lands are high above the river and much effort has gone into providing these with irrigation by canal. Some of these are subterranean and their routes lost, so that - for example - the chilly waters that emerge at one point are thought somehow to have come from the high Huacraycocha lake by means of one such forgotten canal.

Thermal springs at Tambochaca-Villo offer curative waters which, as usual, the Inca turned into a spa. The waters emerge at 75C, and are rich in sulphur and a number of minerals. This site is 5 km from the town and an easy walk, but visitors should be warned that an extensive modern structure has been erected to exploit the spring.

The region has a long history, indicated by cave paintings and a succession of ruins. The Huari, a group called the Yaros and the Inca all left a significant presence. The Inca ruins at Pillao, Huarautambo, Astobamba and Goñicutac are exceptionally preserved and little explored by archaeology. An Inca road came through the valley and three way stations or tambos are preserved, showing finely-cut massive square masonry and the characteristic trapezoidal doors and windows. The bridge over the river into the town is of Inca construction, and still used. Astobamba has a cluster of buildings that are probably pre-Inca that appear not to have been touched since they were abandoned, but which are in a relatively good state of repair.

Cerro de Pasco to Huánuco

The road passes over a series of rolling hills on which animals graze. This is one of the country's centres for alpaca wool. A series of little lakes appear, many of which drain into the Huallaga. The road begins to descend gently and the landscape begins to change. Settlements - and roads to settlements - appear, leading up to the town of La Quinua. This is surrounded by rolling hills on which potatoes and barley are grown. The queñual trees that give the town its name are located higher. In groves that are reached by a short trip off the main road, passing the hydroelectricity station. The views over the valley are every fine, particularly in the rains when the hillsides are parti-coloured patches of crops, turned red earth and yellow Oxalis.

Further down the main road, Eucalyptus trees appear to mark and area of extensive mining (and mine traffic) around Chicrín. The valley narrows to a gulch, and the road switchbacks steeply down to Huarica (2920m). This is a dramatic stretch of the road, the more so for the huge trucks that grind up and down it.

Huarica is a good place to rest. The town is a centre for trout-breeding and - amongst other amenities - has the province's largest hospital. The Tunaspampa hotel is located on the river, in a fine Eucalypus grove. Restaurants around this wood serve a local speciality, the pachamanca de tres sabores. Pachamanca is, of course, meat wrapped in herbs and cooked on fire-heated rocks underground, and the tres sabores are three flavours in which this is done. The Plaza de Armas is pleasing, with the colonial church of San Juan Bautista. It is also graced by one of the municipal conceits so much favoured in the central sierra, which is a strange multicoloured concrete construction with a large faux bronze lion on the top of it. The town has its patronal on 24th June.

Continuing the descent, however, the road passes Pallanchacra, an area developed for tourism with camping grounds and with lakes and streams stocked with trout. The village has a colonial church. The descent leads into a wider, drier and cactus-strewn terrain as it enters Huánuco province. The Huallaga river appears at the town of San Rafael, crossed by a series of suspension bridges that give access to farming communities across it. The narrow valley opens up at Huarcalla, and three kilometres further on one reaches Ambo, (2060m).

Ambo is surrounded by low, rolling hills covered in maguey prickly pear cactus. It is a pretty red brick-and-tile village absolutely typical of the region. The church of the Virgen de Carmen is a low white construction with the details picked out in red stone. Its appearance owes as much to Mexico as it does to Perú, with a central body set in a simple circular arch, decorated by a complex doorframe, itself flanked by two elaborate cupolas. The arcades around the square are modern, but reflect this design. The Huallaga is joined by the Huertas river, flowing down from the Cordillera de la Viuda. There is a modest but pleasing hotel in the nearby Ayancocha village.

Around 10 km further along the road towards Huánuco brings Tomayquichua, a Quechua word meaning 'mild valley'. It is the birthplace of a famous actress who rose - or sank - to become the mistress of one of the Spanish Viceroys. The village is across the river and, whilst mellow, does not offer much by way of attractions. Buildings are chiefly adobe, and the main interest is the rum sellers who dominate the town. Intensive cultivation begins to surround the road, particularly sugar cane. The huge haciendas that once ruled the region are now largely either converted entirely into rum distilleries or abandoned. Many can be visited - at Quicacán and Cachigaga, for example - whilst the building at Andabamba is ruined.

Huánuco

The town is a pleasing one, founded in 1539 as the "very noble and loyal city of the lion of Huánuco of the Knights of Perú" and sensibly shortened to current usage. In fact, the region had long been inhabited as evidenced by the Inca ruins at Kotosh and the local yarowillca population. The town served as an administrative centre and focus for Franciscan missionary work before the development of the copper mines in the sierra, when its wood and aguardiente began to serve these. Its peak of prosperity was perhaps a hundred years ago, and it has been in a gentle decline since then.

Click here to see a series of images Its chief function today is as an administrative centre and major way-station on the way from the jungle to the coast. It is also a farming centre, with several hundred varieties of potato in cultivation in the region. Huánuco is known for its craft work in silver, textiles, ceramics and paja-mimbre - wickerwork - from which anything from hats to furniture is made.

There are a wide range of hotels, including the good if old Gran Hotel in the Plaza de Armas, which is built around a courtyard with restful blue tiles. The large Plaza de Armas is filled with mature trees and is much used in the evening, but is built with chiefly modern and ugly buildings. It does, however, retain a gem of a town hall. An adjacent square has a range of old street lights and buildings that catch the sense of what the town must have been like in its prime. There is a fine colonial period bridge over the river, complete with escape niches for travellers threatened by road-width carriages.

The modern Cathedral resembles a pretentious office block, but there are a number of older churches scattered around the town. San Cristóbal is the largest church in Huánuco, and is worth a visit if for no more than the baroque wood carvings that it contains. The religious icons are of wood, with plaster hands and feet. The San Francisco church was built in 1560 in the neoclassical style, complete with a cupola, and has a fine baroque altarpiece. La Merced is a little later in 1600 and is more of a typical colonial church.

The patronal of el Señor de Burgos is celebrated on 23rd-30th of October, and is a lengthy explosion of excitement and processions to which people come from all over the local sierra. The Baile de los Negritos - "dance of the little black boys" - occurs in the first fortnight of January, and is a dance festival in which this black-face dance is a predominant form.

Huánuco is surrounded by archaeological ruins. Kotosh is only 5 km from the city centre, and is dated to an initial 2000BC. Its inhabitants were certainly people of the alta selva rather than the sierra, and - until the emergence of the Chachapoyas culture many centuries later - this was the largest monument left by such civilisations as arose in the jungles of Perú. The name means "heap" or "hillock" in Quechua.

The site has occupied for around 2200 years. The Temple of the Crossed Hands was built around 1500BC, and consists of mud-cemented stone on which a bass relief showing crossed hands has been applied in clay. These are best preserved in niches in the walls of the rectangular temple, although one of these was destroyed by vandals and another removed to the Museum of Anthropology in Lima. There is a site museum.

There are two directions in which you can proceed from Huánuco. One of these goes to Tingo María, the other to the Huaraz valley. We describe both of these below. They are also referenced from other relevant routes.

From Huánuco to Huaraz

The area that this route penetrates is inhabited by Quechua-speaking people who are descended from the ancestral yarowilca people. They were more absorbed than conquered by the Inca and then subjugated by the Spanish, chiefly as miners and workers on the system of latifundia, or landownership.

This is an adequate but largely unsurfaced set of roads that wander up through La Unión to the pass at Chiquián and thence into the callejon de Huayllas. The trip takes around seven hours and should not be attempted in anything but a solid 4x4. There are public buses that ply the route, but most are short distance carriers and it may be necessary to change several times.

The road begins by following the Río Higueras - fig tree river - in a fertile wedge between two bare mountains. Willows line the river, which has trout in it. The site of Kotosh is just off the road and the trips can obviously be combined. A pretty but ruined church across the river at Pucocinche marks the beginning of an ascent. As a reminder of the hazards of travel in the Andes, we found the road here blocked with a large stone, on which sat a drunk, hairy troll-like man who demanded one Sol to let us pass.

The road ascends, slowly at first through irrigated cultivation dotted with old farm buildings once dedicated to the production of aguardiente. The largest of these is Miraflores, close to the village of Canchán, which also has a trout farm and an agricultural research station. All of this is left behind as the valley narrows, and then in a fierce series of switchbacks through agave and open scrub. Dry-land Bromeliads cling to the rocks. The road sweeps around the head of the valley and rises to the substantial village of San Cristóbal de Jacas Chico at around 50km from Huánuco. (There is usually fuel for sale and a tyre repair service.) This is a deeply traditional village with a fine view over the valley. Its little streets serve as a conduits for flocks of sheep, turkeys and ducks.

A further steep climb to Punta Unión (3855m) brings the first of several passes on this trip. The transition from dry valley flora to puna is abrupt and very striking. There is a rough settlement at the pass, and some eroded rock formations and a few groves and hedges of queñual trees. The road contours down into the adjacent valley, passing various farms and settlements before arriving at Chunta Raqra. This offers the first real views around the valley, with a glimpse of the young Marañón river. (This runs North, parallel with the spine of the Andes, to be at least arguably the chief source of the Amazon.)

Click here to see a series of images The descent passes into Chavinillo - a village with a few shops and primary services - and then detours left and up to pass around a tributary river. Having crossed this, the descent leads into trees and cultivation, but continues to follow this tributary to the Marañón, called the Vizcarra. The Quechua called this the "male river."

The next village of any substance is Tíngo Chico (2850m), where roads from Chavin and La Unión meet. (You can, of course, head for Chavin, which takes about two hours under good conditions. It is easy to connect from Chavin to Huaraz, see here.) However, we continue towards La Unión. Tíngo Chico has an extensive array of essentially unsurveyed but fairly crude ruins from the yarowilca people. The road to La Unión continues to follow the river, however, heading up the valley and passing only two villages of any size. Pachas, around 120 km from Huánuco, has a division of the road, with the left fork leading to La Unión. (The village is marked with an arch over the road, making it hard to miss.)

La Unión (3120m) straddles the Río Vizcarra. The bridge was out of service when we got there, and we can report that it is possible - with much trepidation and the cheers of several dozen schoolboys - to ford the river unscathed in a 4x4, doing so on a shingle bank 200m upstream of the town. The town has all services, good restaurants and a fine daily market. It is a pretty place, with small white- and pastel-painted houses lining tarred roads, all sandwiched between two arid cliff faces. The church of the Virgen de Rosario is the focus of the patronal on 28th September, and there is also a major festival on May 2nd. The town lives by servicing the local agricultural communities, and by shipping their produce out to market.

There are two attractions close to La Unión. The Conoc Inca baths are located on the road, three kilometres before reaching the town on this route. The Inca fort that is sometimes called Huánuco Pampa is somewhat further. This is an impressive site, with its ruins showing fine masonry work. It was developed from older constructions by the Inca Tupac Yupanqui and, whilst we do not know its function, it was probably a strong point from which to manage the conquered yarowilca people. The ceremonial centre has a large square, and buildings with a series of East-facing doors, on the surrounds of which one can just discern carved pumas.

To reach the site, go 11km up to through Huallanay to a little beyond Aguamiro. It is best to ask for guidance (and perhaps a guide) in La Unión, and it is anyway necessary to pay a small fee before setting off.

Tauripampa is just beyond La Unión, notable for its curative springs. A couple more villages remain to be passed and then the landscape becomes closed and largely uninhabited. This is called the Wajtawaru by Quechua speakers, and is the habitat of a large and vocal species of ibis called the bandurria. The road divides after a particularly dramatic pasture-based cañón, and we follow the left fork towards Huallanca, not the right to the Antamina mine and Chavin.

Huallanca (3400m) is around 20 km from La Unión. It is a quiet, pretty town that it is too easy to bypass. The little streets are closed in by low adobe buildings with thatched roofs. The oldest of these are built around the Plaza de Armas and the Plaza de Carmen Alto. There is a small but clean hotel, the owner of which maintains a private regional museum. He is a mine of detail on the wildlife, social practices and history of the region. The patronal of the town is July 16th.

The Huanzalá mine appears after passing a lake, and the road forks, once again heading for Antamina on the right and to Chiquián and Huaraz on the left. The road - now tarred - rises steeply, switch-backing up to the Huarapasca pass (4780m). The views from the top show a row of snow peaks to the left - a part of the Burro range - and a long prospect ahead. The road sweeps down through the impressive high altitude scenery provided by the Yanashalla and Burro ranges.

The first village serves the Pachapaqui mine, and is also the headwaters of the Pativilca river. It has fuel and vehicle services, as well as a few restaurants. The road divides, and we shall take the left one to Chiquián. (You could use the right turn, which accesses the Huaraz valley directly. However, we shall take the more scenic and longer road.) The new main road bypasses Aquía and Chiquián, and you have to take care to turn off it if you want to visit these.

Aquía is a 7 km further from Pachapaqui. It is a village that it is worth visiting for its church of San Miguel, constructed in the polychrome baroque style that is particular to this region. The church is predominantly blue and white, with details in many colours. Its patronal occurs at the end of September, on no fixed date.

The Cordillera Huayhuash presents a fine, glittering spectacle to the left as the road approaches Chiquián (3210m). The town's name means "dawn" in Quechua, perhaps in respect of the morning alpenglow that brightens the snow peaks. Yerupajá, Carnicero, El Toro and Diablo Mudo are all visible from the town. (This cordillera and the walks around it are described here.) The town itself is generally welcoming and a pleasant place to be. It offers a number of hotels, of which the best is the San Miguel, and good restaurants. There are many forms of public transport that will get you to Huaraz.

The road to Conococha skirts the isolated Nevado Pastoruri before heading down the Huaraz valley, also called the Callejon de Huaylas. The name Conococha means - again, for no obvious reason - "hot lake" in Quechua. The town is known for its dairy products, honey and manjar blanca, a sort of milk fudge which is a speciality of the area. Transport from here into the Huaraz region is straightforward.

From Huánuco to Tingo María

Huánuco is the last major town at altitude before the ceja de selva, the 'eyebrow of the jungle'. Tingo María is the first major tropical town that the main route into the jungle region encounters. Tíngo itself and routes from it are described here.

The main road leaves Huánuco down the valley, following the river between arid and eroded walls. Irrigated land, scattered with Eucalyptus, willows and pepper trees, presents a pleasing picture against this backdrop. After a while, the road rises, offering even stronger views. Mayobamba farm sells pomegranates and watermelons by the roadside. Al the while, the terrain becomes more vertical and wetter, with the appearance of grasses and Bromediads on the cliffs to supplement the cactus and agave. The road begins to climb away from the Huallaga river and as it rises, so the density of vegetation becomes richer. However, this side of the mountain is in rain shadow, and it is only close to the Carpish tunnel (2710m) that one can call the terrain "green".

The tunnel itself is around 400m long, and unlit. One emerges born into a different world; and factually, as something to take into account if driving, one often emerges into fog, populated by trucks.

Click here to see a series of images The immediate surroundings of the mouth of the tunnel have been built up, but the area was mist forest and much of this remains. Small shrubs are laden with ferns, moss, Bromeliads and orchids. This is a good location for orchid-lovers who enjoy the Pleurothallids and Maxilleria family, and a home for hummingbirds. The Cordillera Azul is laid out on the left of the road, a spectacular view often dotted with clouds and hanging mist. Beyond - visible for later look-out points such as el Mirador - an endless gray-green ocean under cloud signals the selva.

The road plunges down the valley of the river Chinchao, passing the village of the same name. It sells tropical fruit and fuel, A succession of small settlements do much the same. It is well worth finding a place to pull off the road now and again and to look closely at the vegetation around you. Often a vertical rock face will have a hundred species growing on it within a couple of paces down the road. The famous butterflies of the region also begin to make their appearance.

The lower reaches of this stretch of the road pass through a deep gorge, over which the trees actually cross branches. This is known as the Voladizo, and it is at its most spectacular in the rainy season, when the overhang delivers a waterfall that parallels the road for its entire length. One should beware of fallen rocks, here as elsewhere in Perú. These cliffs are the nesting ground for swifts and birds called lechuzas, which ordinarily means "owl" but here is something closer to a nightjar: Steatornis caripensis, insectivorous, nocturnal and disconcertingly red-eyed when one is driving at night.

The road becomes more level at Chinchavito, where cultivation resumes but where the crops are now tropical, including orchards of papayas and stands of bananas. The Huallaga reappears and is crossed at Cayumba, and the road gently curves around the edges of the National Park to eventually enter Tingo María itself. We describe the town and its environment here.