The unfurling ranges of the Peruvian Highlands shelter rugged and remote landscapes, where lake-speckled Andean peaks give way to dense wilderness, mountainside terraces, scattered villages and ancient Inca palaces. Also known as the Central Sierra, this region’s lesser-traveled mountain passes reveal another side of Peru, where hundreds of years of continuous culture can be seen in the bright colors of indigenous dress and vibrant festivities.
One of the first cities you’ll encounter traveling into the country’s mountainous interior from the coast is Marcahuasi, best known for its mysterious rock formations. Visit the charming hub of Tarma to plan the rest of your journey through the surrounding Andean uplands and cloud forest. Head southwest to reach the commercial center of Huancayo, a city perched high in the Andes. The city is the gateway to the traditional splendor of Ayacucho and Huancavelica, as well as the captivating landscapes of the Jauja Valley. See one of the region’s most famous religious monuments at Santa Rosa de Ocopa Convent, which houses a fascinating collection of jungle specimens and indigenous artifacts collected by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century.
North of Tarma you’ll find pretty Huánuco, which is ideal for basing daytrips to the surrounding archaeological sites. Among these is the 4,000-year-old Temple of Kotosh. Keen trekkers can tackle the breathtaking Cordillera Blanca, crowned by Peru’s tallest mountain, Huascaran. East from Huánuco is the sprawling expanse of the Peruvian tropical jungle, the gateway to which is the town of Tingo María. Look out across the tropical wilderness to the limestone outcrops of Bella Durmiente or travel northeast to reach the dense jungle and plunging waterfalls of the Pass of Padre Abad.
The Peruvian Highlands are best navigated by bus. There is a small regional airport in Jauja, however patient travelers on the road and the railway from Lima will be rewarded with astonishing scenery and local insights. Visit between May and September for the dry season. Between the weeks leading up to Easter and July, the villages burst into color for a multitude of fiesta celebrations and religious festivals, such as Semana Santa.
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