By Matthew Barker – Peru For Less
Despite still being in the Lima region, the tiny settlement of Huancaya is a world apart from Peru’s cloudy, bustling and noisy capital city.
Hidden deep within the valleys of the central Andes, but just 8 hours drive from Lima, Huancaya is an ideal destination for a pleasant short break in the country.
Huancaya is known for the spectacular series of waterfalls that flow past the village, a pleasant stretch of the River Cañete that leads from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The river broadens out just above the settlement to present a broad, staggered cascade of falling water that rushes past the old stonework walls and traditional adobe houses.
Further upstream the river runs calmer and frequently leads into enormous lakes of sparkling blue water, nestled between the canyon-like walls of the Cañete valley. The river and lakes are packed with trout and locals can pluck them out of the water with their bare hands: the restaurants of Huancaya serve delicious fresh trout for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As you climb away from Huancaya the valley begins to level out, leading to the wide, windblown grasslands of the puna. Semi-wild horses roam the bare fields and the river winds a meandering pattern across the valley floor. This is the route to Vilca, another small village that lies on the Cañete.
Despite its tiny size, Vilca has a long and sometimes turbulent history. It was once home to ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who these days calls a high-security prison home, convicted of various corruption and human rights charges.
The town was also the scene of violence during Peru’s civil conflict era, with local people caught between the Shining Path terrorists and the state security forces. The town square is named the Park of the 8 Martyrs in honor of local people that died during the conflict.
Not far from Vilca are some of the most spectacular falls on the Cañete.
Back in the town of Huancaya, an evening of fun revolves around the local bonfire, with everyone sharing bottles of Calientito, a cocktail of warm apple syrup, honey and plenty of pisco. A local boy plucks traditional Andean songs on a guitar as his sisters sing along. After just three days in the mountains, it’s hard to believe that you are in the same country as Lima, let alone the same region.
This photo report on Huancaya was created by Matthew Barker, a travel writer and photographer at Peru For Less, specialists in Peru travel and Peru vacation packages. All photographs: Matthew Barker 2010.