Church bell towers dominate the skyline of Ayacucho, Peru. It is a city almost exclusively known to tourists for its 33 cathedrals—one for each year of Christ’s life—and its vibrant Semana Santa festivities. But beyond the city’s religious attractions, Ayacucho serves as an excellent hub for day trips to some of the region’s most fascinating archaeological and historical sites. Make sure to spend enough time in Ayacucho to check out the following attractions for additional insight into the local culture and history:
The Wari-Quinua Route
The journey to the Wari ruins and the village of Quinua in Peru is manageable by local transportation (combis), so there’s really no need to schedule an organized tour. Combis depart from the corner of Jr. Salvador Cavero and Jr. Ciro Alegría; double-check with the driver to see where the combi is going before you board. The journey to Wari takes about 45 minutes and costs S/4.
The entrance fee to the Wari ruins is S/3. It includes a small museum at the entrance and free reign of these wonderfully desolate pre-Inca structures and ceremonial sites (500 to 1000 CE). Unlike the perfectly cut stone structures of the Incas, the rocks used in Wari structures were often fit together with mud.
The extensive ruins are still under excavation, but you’ll have the opportunity to see tunnels, underground burial chambers, and the outlines of homes and ceremonial plazas during your visit. The best part of the trip is undoubtedly the stunning mountain landscape, and the site contains several modern structures specifically built for tourists to relax and take in the view.
When you’re finished with the ruins, hail a combi headed for Quinua. The trip takes 15 minutes and costs an additional S/2. The charming village of Quinua is known for its locally made handicrafts, especially the small ceramic churches that are placed atop roofs all over the village to bless those who find shelter within.
The village of Quinua also has the distinction of housing the Pampa de Ayacucho, the site of the final battle between the Spanish and Independentists in the Peruvian War of Independence in 1824. The battle is commemorated by a 44-meter obelisk that symbolizes the 44-year struggle for independence. The Pampas de Ayacucho also serves as a base for horseback riding tours through the surrounding countryside.
The Vilcashuamán Route
The round-trip voyage to the ruins of Vilcashuamán takes at least six hours, so arranging and organized tour is probably in your best interests. There are several tourism agencies surrounding the Plaza de Armas in Ayacucho; the full-day group tour with transportation should cost around S/75. Alternatively, you can include it in an itinerary with an agency that services all of Peru.
The first two stops are the waterfall of Pumapaqcha and the Bosque de Puyas Titankayoq (or Puya Raimondii), a forest that houses Seussical-looking trees with bushy bases and cylindrical tops that only flower once every 80 years. While the scenery is fascinating, the cultural part of the tour picks up at stop number three, Pomaqocha.
Referred to by locals as a “mini Cusco,” Pomaqocha houses several exemplary Inca ruins, including el Templo del Sol (Sun Temple), El Baño del Inca (Inca Bath), and several stones with sacred animals—condors, alpacas, serpents, etc.—carved into them If you’ve ever been to Cusco, you may have visited the famous 12-angle stone on Hatun Rumiyoc Street; at Pomaqocha, the local guides are eager to show off their 13-angle stone, which forms the backdrop of the Inca Bath located there.
The grand finale is Vilcashuamán, a village with an interesting history. First inhabited by the Chanca people, the city was overtaken by the Incas, who built El Templo del Sol and El Ushnu pyramid there in their signature imperial style, in which no mortar or mud is used to fit the stones together. The area was later conquered by the Spanish, who kept the Inca structures intact but built their own colonial-style cathedral atop of the Inca’s Templo del Sol. The new cathedral was meant to be a visual reminder to the local people that a new ruler and religion had entered the region. The two conflicting religious structures still stand together today.
Water is hard to come by in this arid Andean city, so don’t expect to always have access to showers when you want them. ATMs are also somewhat unreliable, so it’s best to take out cash before you go to avoid waiting in the massive lines when the machines are re-stocked with bills.
By Kayla Washko