9 Reasons to Visit Ayacucho in Peru – Now

Ayacucho (formerly called Huamanga) doesn’t have the beauty of the sillar stone in Arequipa ; it doesn’t have the hordes of tourists who make pilgrimage to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley ; and it doesn’t have the pull of Peru’s capital, Lima. But Ayacucho, nestled in the central highlands of Peru, has a lot going for it.
Here are 9 reasons to visit Ayacucho NOW.

One of the roof ornaments created in Quinua, protects a house in Ayacucho.

One of the roof ornaments created in Quinua, protects a house in Ayacucho.

1. Ayacucho Really Wants You to Come

The Shining Path occupied the city and region, for the best part of 2 decades in the 80s and 90s, successfully isolating it from the rest of Peru. This would have been the time when tourism to South America was growing, and more people were heading to the wonders of this continent. Ayacucho missed out and now wants to catch up.

The Ayacucho Municipalidad is one of the eye-catching buildings on Plaza de Armas. It is enhanced by its current Carnival decorations.

The Ayacucho Municipalidad is one of the eye-catching buildings on Plaza de Armas. It is enhanced by its current Carnival decorations.

2. Colonial Architecture

Ayacucho has a lot of Spanish architecture and the majority of it is intact – some claim, more so than in any other city in Peru.

Plaza de Armas (or Plaza Mayor de Huamanga) is surrounded by mansions and the Cathedral. The mansions, from the 16th to 18th centuries, have tiled roofs and arched sidewalks. They were formerly homes of the wealthy, and today house government offices, museums and shops.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

If you are a colonial church enthusiast, the City of Churches (another name for Ayacucho) has a total of 33. All are easily accessible, within a few blocks of Plaza Mayor. Churches are not open to visitors every day as you will find in other places, but we did find that some of them were open in the late afternoon – and they are always open when mass is being celebrated.

3. Folk Arts and Handicrafts

According to the information leaflet from iPerú, Ayacucho is also known as “Peru’s Capital of Folk Arts and Handicrafts”. Much of the artisanal work found in more touristed destinations of Peru, such as Cusco, probably originated in this area. It is also exported to Europe, North America and Asia.

The Shosaku Nagase Handicraft Market in Ayacucho is the place to look for local Folk Arts and Handicrafts, like these colourful Retablos.

The Shosaku Nagase Handicraft Market in Ayacucho is the place to look for local Folk Arts and Handicrafts, like these colourful Retablos.

Retablos are the most famous of these artisanal offerings. They were originally portable altars in a box, but have developed into outrageous collections of tiny, hand-carved wooden or hand-formed clay figurines and objects, crammed into several layers inside the box. They are extremely colourful and sometimes very funny.

Besides these, the area is famous for stone carvings, weaving, embroidery, silver filigree jewellery, and pottery.

The Shosaku Nagase Handicraft Market, just 5 blocks from the central plaza, has it all under one roof. If you’re interested in seeing the master craftsmen at work, their workshops are in the barrios of Santa Ana, Puca Cruz, Belén and La Libertad, also all close to the centre.

4. Quinua is Within Easy Reach

Less than 40Km from Ayacucho you will find Quinua. It is a small village full of artisanal potters, but is also interesting because of its authentic and original feel. Just walking streets gives you a real experience of the way of life in this area.

Quinua is a village of potters producing all kinds of detailed ceramic work, but are most famous for the churches.

Quinua is a village of potters producing all kinds of detailed ceramic work, but are most famous for the churches.

The potters produce a variety of ceramic objects, but the most famous are the ceramic churches. Although they may have begun as serious representations, today many of them appear as caricatures of the originals. They are placed as roof ornaments, on the ridgeline, as a protection against evil spirits (similar to the bulls we saw in the Cusco region). Every house in Quinua has at least one, including the church, which has many. You also see them frequently on the rooftops of Ayacucho. Some are so large they can be displayed indoors as a feature.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

5. The Wari Ruins

The former capital of the Wari civilization (Huari in Spanish) is on the way to Quinua. This archaeological complex gives an insight into a culture which dominated Peru from around 500-1000AD. It stretched from Cajamarca in the north to Cusco in the south. They were the most dominant culture in this region until the rise of the Inca.

A view of a large section of the Wari Archaeological Site, including a ceremonial circle. All vulnerable buildings are under cover at this site.

A view of a large section of the Wari Archaeological Site, including a ceremonial circle. All vulnerable buildings are under cover at this site.


Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

We recently visited Pikillaqta , another Wari site, when we left Cusco on our way to Puno.

6. The Colours of Ayacucho

Ayacucho leaves an impression with me of being very colourful. This may be because the buildings are painted in a variety of colours; unlike Arequipa, which is predominantly white, and Cusco, which has a lot of stonework or white-painted buildings with colourful trims.

There are plenty of parks with colourful gardens. Locals still go about in traditional clothing. The markets are colourful, with stalls offering colourful things for sale.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

It may also be that we were there just before Carnival, and there were decorations on buildings and people dressed up for events.

7. Climate & Altitude

The climate is very pleasant. We were there during the rainy season, but most days produced a lot of sunshine, with the rain arriving later in the afternoon – sometimes not until night.

Ayacucho: walking down the pedestrian zone Jiròn 28 de Julio towards the Arch of Triumph is pleasant and interesting.

Ayacucho: walking down the pedestrian zone Jiròn 28 de Julio towards the Arch of Triumph is pleasant and interesting.

At 2700m, the altitude of Ayacucho is very comfortable. While a reaction to this altitude, in our experience, is unlikely, it’s necessary to take the normal precautions when visiting any place in the Andes.

8. Ayacucho is Still Waiting to be Discovered

It feels more like a city for locals, with shops catering to locals, instead of a tourist city. We didn’t see very many foreign tourists and it’s less expensive than other tourist destinations. The locals are friendly but generally leave you alone. You are not being constantly harassed to buy something, eat something, or take a tour.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Ayacucho is a place you can discover in a relaxed way.

9. Its Location in the Andean Mountains

To reach Ayacucho by road, you have the opportunity to travel through some stunning parts of the Andes. Whether you come from Pisco, Lima (via Huancayo), or Cusco, it will certainly be scenic…

One of the amazing views waiting for you if you drive from Pisco on the coast to Ayacucho nestled in the Andes.

One of the amazing views waiting for you if you drive from Pisco on the coast to Ayacucho nestled in the Andes.


If you are in Peru and you have had enough of the bustle of Lima, or the tourist hordes of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, or the windy and sometimes dusty coastline (like us), we recommend a visit to the city of Ayacucho and its surrounding sights. We also recommend getting there by road – and don’t take a night bus!


Additional Information for Overlanders

First a short warning: the entire centre of Ayacucho is closed for trucks. This is for a good reason: too many of the roads in the centre are too narrow for regular trucks. You will also run into difficulties driving through them with a US-sized RV (anything over 2.3 metres of width).

To enforce the ban for trucks most of the main roads into the centre are blocked off by a combination of huge concrete blocks and iron bars – leaving just enough width for small Japanese buses to get through!

Nevertheless we managed to get in, after a number of tries. This was on a Sunday and it would have been impossible on a weekday. To get past parked cars I had to drive several times onto the footpath (which only works if there’s no power pole or street sign in the way).

We overnighted at ‘Casa del Maestro’, a private school marked on iOverlander . This is a convenient location only 1½ blocks from the main square. It’s only suitable for self-contained rigs, although there’s a toilet where you could empty a portable waste tank in the mornings. The gate is locked overnight and the location is quiet enough.

Again: you won’t get in here with a big rig on weekdays; there are usually cars parked opposite the gate, yet you need to turn wide to fit through the gate. We left at 7:30 in the morning to beat traffic and parking vehicles.

Ayacucho in the Peruvian Andes is not - yet - high on the 'tourist radar'. This colonial town has so much to offer to visitors: well preserved historical buildings, the most picturesque main square of Peru, and a pleasant climate. It's also "Peru’s Capital of Folk Arts and Handicrafts"; here you find them cheaper than in other shops throughout Peru and the world. See our post for more reasons to add Ayacucho to your Peru itinerary.

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The Weekend Wanderlust
 

Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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12 Responses

  1. Peter Rogers says:

    What a fantastic post and a fantastic town. Love the retablos and the roof ornaments. Was fascinated by the bulls on the roofs of Ollantaytambo. You folks are making a great case for another visit to South America by self. But could I restrain myself from excessive shopping?

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Pete. We’d love to see you in South America again – and you just have to bring an extra empty suitcase…

  2. I missed Ayacucho during my Peru trip, and it looks like I really missed out on some fascinating ruins. I loved how throughout Peru you can see such a mix of ancient ruins and colonial Spanish architecture. Plus, the Andes are pretty breathtaking. Looks like I’ll have to go back to Peru again! #WeekendWanderlust

    • Yasha says:

      It seems there is always something new to discover. We were in Peru in 2008 and didn’t know about Ayacucho – but we’re glad someone told us about it this time.

  3. Brian Heath says:

    Looks to be quite the undiscovered town. The beautiful colonial architecture, colorful folk art and history will surely attract the tourism crowd they are trying to catch up on for growth in Ayacucho. Just may take a little time to be discovered. Thanks for sharing this new city. Looks like a great place to walk around with the local and discover a new place. We visited Peru a couple years ago, but didn’t know about this town. Hopefully we will be back soon and can check it out.

    • Yasha says:

      Ayacucho certainly seems to be off the main tourist tracks, and that is part of its charm. It has excellent examples of all the things you mention. I hope you get to visit before it’s ‘discovered’.

  4. Rhonda Albom says:

    No trucks, that alone is a reason to visit. We are headed to South America later in the year and still have no idea where we are going to visit. We will have to consider Ayacucho.

    • Yasha says:

      Well Rhonda, we have such a lot of recommendations – but it is difficult to decide. Better to visit several places and see them intensively, than many and just touch upon them – in my opinion. If you do choose to visit Ayacucho, make sure you travel by road in the daytime – don’t want to miss the gorgeous mountains along the way.

  5. Donna Janke says:

    These are all good reasons to visit Ayacucho. I love the colours and the folk arts. And it would be great to see the Wari ruins.

    • Yasha says:

      Donna, Ayacucho is a great place. And I never get tired of pre-Hispanic ruin sites – ever since I visited my first ones in Mexico in 2007. Peru has such a lot to offer.

  6. I love your ‘off the main tourist trail’ posts on South America. We love the continent and your posts are such a source of inspiration.

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Lyn, it’s such a pleasure to hear that we inspire others. We love what we do, and when others are inspired to follow in our footsteps it’s just lovely.

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