Pisco to Lima via the Central Highlands Scenic Route

The mountains east of Pisco are some of the most scenic in Peru - we are glad we detoured...

The mountains east of Pisco are some of the most scenic in Peru – we are glad we detoured…

It’s just 225Km from Pisco to Lima along the coast of Peru – most of it Autopista. But if you have the time, and want to experience the Andes in all their majestic and colourful glory, you can take a scenic route through Ayacucho and Huancayo. The mountains are lovely, but there are also other attractions along the way. Of course it’s over 900Km to go that way, and more with visits to the interesting places off the main route, but we found this road trip really worth it.


Pisco to Ayacucho

Our first stop out of Pisco along Via de los Libertadores was the Tambo Colorado archaeological site. Due to the dry desert climate, this is a well-preserved adobe fortress of the Incas. It was formerly painted in strong red, yellow and black colours and some remnants of this paintwork can still be seen.

It doesn’t have the ‘wow factor’ of Machu Picchu and other sites in the Sacred Valley , but it’s another aspect of the Incan culture that is worth experiencing.

Tambo Colorado archaeological site is about 30Km from Pisco. The adobe fortress gives a different view of the Inca culture.

Tambo Colorado archaeological site is about 30Km from Pisco. The adobe fortress gives a different view of the Inca culture.


Puya raimondii, is the largest species of bromeliad, and grows in some parts of Peru and Bolivia between 3000 and 4800m in altitude. They are very impressive, with a total height of around 15m, and must be even more so when they flower. Considering that their reproductive cycle is 40 years, and that they are an endangered species, the chances of seeing them at all is small – and in flower…

Along this route you can see them by the roadside near the highest pass, Abra Apracheta, which is at 4750m.

The largest existing bromeliad in the world - Puya Raimondii - can be seen at over 4000m on the road from Pisco to Ayacucho.

The largest existing bromeliad in the world – Puya Raimondii – can be seen at over 4000m on the road from Pisco to Ayacucho.


Nearby we spotted another interesting sight on the mountain side. It reminded us of Puente del Inca on the pass between Mendoza , Argentina and Santiago de Chile. And for those who have been to Yellowstone National Park, the Mammoth hot springs also exhibits this curious phenomenon. Further ‘googling’ gave me a name, Geyserite: A white or grayish silica-based deposit formed around hot springs. (Read more about Geyserite here .)

This was an unexpected sight on the way from Pisco to Ayacucho. El Milagro - a geyserite formed by a hot spring, close to the road.

This was an unexpected sight on the way from Pisco to Ayacucho. El Milagro – a geyserite formed by a hot spring, close to the road.


These were certainly interesting individual sights along this 300+ kilometre journey to Ayacucho, but the most impressive sight was the mountains. We have never seen such colours in the Andes before, and we have certainly shown many examples of coloured mountains in previous blog posts . They were set off nicely by the occasional snow-capped peaks and the lush green of recent rain-induced vegetation.

Snowy peaks in the distance always enhance a mountain scene, and we saw plenty of these on the way to Ayacucho.

Snowy peaks in the distance always enhance a mountain scene, and we saw plenty of these on the way to Ayacucho.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Pisco to Ayacucho - coloured mountains and green grass produce a truly impressive vista.

Pisco to Ayacucho – coloured mountains and green grass produce a truly impressive vista.

Then we reached Ayacucho, our original reason for heading to the mountains. We found a city which is definitely worth visiting . Then there is the bonus of the nearby Wari ruins and the artisan town of Quinua.

It's rain season in the Andes so there is plenty of green, which contrasts with the plentiful rocks to make a great picture.

It’s rain season in the Andes so there is plenty of green, which contrasts with the plentiful rocks to make a great picture.


Ayacucho to Huancayo

The Carretera Central Sur is not a road for the faint-hearted! We checked with the iPerú office in Ayacucho and they told us it was certainly passable in our truck.

It winds along a river for most of the way – sometimes almost at river level, but mostly on the side of the mountains high above. For the most part, it is a one lane road with turnouts for passing. The edges of the road are often broken, and large chunks can be washed away leaving huge gaps on the downhill side. There are many landslides or evidence of landslides that had been pushed off the road – it’s been an unusually wet rain season this year and the soggy mountains tend to slip easily, huge rocks and all. Add to this mix trucks, buses and semitrailers and you have a nerve-wracking experience. Fortunately the traffic is not high volume and, as usual, Juergen managed it in a reasonably calm and totally expert manner. He knows his truck and Berta always performs well for him.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


Ayacucho to Huancayo: wash day by the river. No washing line necessary.

Ayacucho to Huancayo: wash day by the river. No washing line necessary.

Huancayo had little to offer us, except for supermarket shopping and the opportunity to get Berta a grease and a wash. But there are nearby attractions that are worth the visit.

We drove out of the city towards the villages of Cochas Grande and Cochas Chico. Although they are only about 10Km outside Huancayo, it was a bit of an adventure getting there in our truck. The main roads in the city are paved but when you drive away from them there are many roads closed for maintenance; others never paved, wet, muddy and full of potholes; many of them were just dead-ends! So we drove much further than predicted but finally found a spot in Cochas Grande to spend the night.

The next day we went searching for the workshops of the gourd carvers, for which these villages are famous. We ended up in the house of Familia Veli, where we met 4 generations of the same family, three of them working on the production of creative objects made from the simple gourd. They were very happy to chat to us and show us the processes they used. We spent quite some time there waiting for them to complete one of their creations that we wanted to buy.

 
Cochas Chico: just some of the elaborately decorated gourds offered by the Veli family.

Cochas Chico: just some of the elaborately decorated gourds offered by the Veli family.

Just 25Km north of Huancayo is the small town of Concepciòn, quite an attractive town in its right. But we came here to visit the Franciscan Convento de Santa Rosa de Ocopa. The convent was founded in 1725 for the purpose of training monks to evangelise the Amazon. The only way to enter is with a guided tour, which was in Spanish. But it was still worth it for the little we understood and also to see the inside of this interesting complex.

Photography is not allowed inside, although we were allowed to photograph interior of the church, the Comedor Franciscano (Franciscan dining room) with its amazing, colourful murals (depicting evangelisation and martyrdom in the Amazon jungle by Josúe Sánchez and completed in 1993), the original convent courtyard, and various outdoor locations. Interesting parts, which we couldn’t photograph, include the library, which has 25000 books dating from as far back as the 15th century; a large collection of original artwork including many works from the famous Cusco School; and the Museum of Natural History of the Forest, which is full of stuffed birds, animals and reptiles, as well as displays of insects. Not quite my thing, but I’m sure it would be interesting to many.

The church of the Convento de Santa Rosa de Ocopa near Huancayo.

The church of the Convento de Santa Rosa de Ocopa near Huancayo.

Convento de Santa Rosa de Ocopa: Comedor Franciscano with its colourful murals by Josúe Sánchez

Convento de Santa Rosa de Ocopa: Comedor Franciscano with its colourful murals by Josúe Sánchez

 

Huancayo to Lima

We took a bit of a detour from Huancayo, towards Tarma, to visit a 250 year old hacienda that is still a working farm – Hacienda La Florida. They offer hotel accommodation and camping, and also welcome people like us travelling in overland vehicles. It was tempting to settle in and stay a while, but we could only manage 2 nights because we had things to do in Lima.

Hacienda la Florida near Tarma - we could have stayed a lot longer. A beautiful environment and lots of history.

Hacienda la Florida near Tarma – we could have stayed a lot longer. A beautiful environment and lots of history.

I’m sure that the trip from Tarma to Lima along the Carratera Central would be very scenic at other times of the year. We chose to drive over the weekend because we wanted to arrive in Lima on Sunday – best day of the week to enter big cities in our experience. This is also the time when the residents of Lima like to head for the mountains to escape the summer heat on the coast.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

It was also rain season and this major highway is not exempt from rain induced landslides. On Saturday we had a 3 hour hold-up due to a landslide further downhill. We stayed overnight in the small village of San Jeronimo de Surco. When we wanted to leave next morning, there was another traffic jam going uphill and completely blocking the exit from the town. It took us around half an hour to inch our way towards the highway. Then we could eventually cross the line of traffic into the downhill lane that was completely traffic free at the time.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Nevertheless, this is quite a scenic mountain drive – up to a pass of over 4800m, across a long plateau, and then quite quickly reducing altitude down towards the coast. We drove through incredibly green valleys with terraces up the sides; had views of snow-capped mountains and some more coloured mountains; drove through deep gorges where you felt like it went down for ever to reach the bottom and the mountain tops were high above us. This is also a huge mining area, so be prepared for the scars on the landscape produced by these activities. It always seems to be a shame, but this is a silver mine, and the silver I wear has to come from somewhere!

Snow peaks make great postcard pics - but not when the mine reaches up to the snow line. On the Carratera Central to Lima.

Snow peaks make great postcard pics – but not when the mine reaches up to the snow line. On the Carratera Central to Lima.

900 against 225 kilometres does seem to be a bit more than a detour. Travelling as we do with no deadlines – except visa expiry dates – it is nice to have the flexibility to take the long way round sometimes. This brought us more stunning mountain scenery, and interesting sights along the way.
We chose to drive from the coast back into the mountains of Peru because we wanted to visit the town of Ayacucho. The road from Pisco to there was one of our most scenic drives in Peru! We passed through some amazingly colourful Andean mountains. From Ayacucho north the mountain scenery also held us in awe. See our gallery post for more!

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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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4 Responses

  1. Love that painted gourd you found in Cochas Chico! I didn’t realize that Pisco was even a town! I love the drink. :-) Will have to revisit Peru and spend more time on the interior, as most of my time there has been spent along the coastline.

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Doreen. The coastline of Peru can get quite depressing – except for December to March. The rest of the year it has heavy fog. And it’s almost all desert. So we find the mountains very uplifting with their colour and interesting cities, towns and even villages.

  2. The views are fascinating. I’ve never seen a mountain as beautiful as this and I love the interior painting of the church. I hope you’ve captured it up close.

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