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Spread out high in the Andes, colonial Huancavelica was founded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, and they promptly discovered rich veins of silver and mercury threaded through the rocky hillsides. The abundant mercury was vital in the extraction of silver from mines in Peru and Bolivia, including Potosí. Although mining was difficult at 3,680 meters (12,979 feet), the Spanish
succeeded in making the city an important profit center that today has grown to a population of around 40,000.The Río Huancavelica slices through the city, dividing the commercial district on the south from the residential area in the north. The road between Huancayo and Huancavelica has been completely revamped in recent years, though it still winds through highland villages and vast pastures, and can be closed during the rainy season due to landslides. If you have a good map (or a good grasp of Spanish) and your own equipment, excellent hiking opportunities are in the surrounding mountains.
Tucked into the folds of the Andes, 2,740 meters (8,987 feet) up on the slopes, Ayacucho is a colorful, colonial-style town. Though its looks...