35 Best Sights in The Central Highlands, Peru

Ferrocarril Central Andino

Fodor's choice

The Central Highlands' Ferrocarril Central Andino once laid claim to being the world's highest rail route. With the 2006 opening of China's Qinghai–Tibet Railway, the Peru route was knocked down to second place. No matter, though: this is one of the country's most scenic areas, and tracks cut through the mountains and plains all the way from Lima to Huancayo. The line these days is a shadow of what it once was, and trains ply the route only a few times a year. Tickets are easy to come by, but you will have to plan around the infrequent departures if you want the journey to be a centerpiece of your visit to Peru. The railway's website lists departure dates, with Lima–Huancayo service operating just a handful of days between April and November. Trains depart the capital's Desamparados train station for the 12-hour journey to Huancayo, twisting along the 335-km (207-mile) route through the Andes at an average elevation of 4,782 meters (15,685 feet). The engine chugs its way up a slim thread of rails that hugs the slopes, traveling over 59 bridges, around endless hairpin curves, and through 66 tunnels—including the 1,175-meter-long (3,854-foot-long) Galera Tunnel, which, at an altitude of 4,758 meters (15,606 feet), is the climax of the journey. Snacks, lunch, and soft drinks are included in the price. You can request oxygen if you get short of breath over the high passes, and mate de coca flows freely at all hours. The decades-old clásico cars are okay in a pinch, but the newer turístico cars are much more comfortable, with reclining seats and access to the observation and bar car.

Mines of Santa Bárbara

Fodor's choice
This ghostly abandoned mine dates from 1563, when the discovery of mercury in the hills south of Huancavelica turned the region into a key cog in Spain's precious-metals machine. It closed in 1786, after one of the mine shafts collapsed, killing 200 workers. If you make the two-hour trek from town, you can see what remains of the former mining village, complete with church and school. The mine itself, however, is sealed off due to the poisonous gases still present inside. You can also pay a taxi driver S/60 to take you and wait as you explore. The mine is tentatively slated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so to get the jump on the crowds, go now.

Ruinas Huari

Fodor's choice

Recent excavations at this massive archaeological site have uncovered multilevel underground galleries, burial chambers, circular plazas, arched portals, and other architectural magnificences. Together they make this capital city of the Huari culture one of the most impressive non-Inca ruins in the Peruvian sierra. The Huari flourished from around 700 to 1200 AD, and wandering the quiet alleys of this 5,000-acre complex gives you a sense of how its 60,000 residents lived, worshipped, and died. Especially noteworthy are the temples and communal tombs. There's a small museum on-site with mummies and ceramics, as well as a lounge to rest in after roaming the cactus-covered grounds. The best way to visit is to take a tour from a travel agency in town for S/30, as taxis andcollectivos to the site are sporadic and hard to figure out.

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Vilcashuamán and Intihuatana

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Four long hours south of Ayacucho on winding, unpaved roads is the former Inca provincial capital of Vilcashuamán, set where the north–south Inca highway crossed the east–west trade road from Cusco to the Pacific. You can still see the Templo del Sol y de la Luna and a five-tiered platform, known as the Ushnu, crowned by an Inca throne and surrounded by stepped fields once farmed by Inca peasants. An hour's walk from Vilcashuamán (or a half-hour's walk south past the main road from Ayacucho) is the Intihuatana, where Inca ruins include a palace and tower beside a lagoon. Former Inca baths, a Sun temple, and a sacrificial altar can also be seen on the grounds. Check out the unusual, 13-angled boulder, one of the odd building rocks that are an Inca hallmark. Ayacucho travel agencies can organize tours of both sites (S/65), or you can catch a bus or colectivo for S/15–S/20. Ask around to confirm where these public transport options are leaving from, as pickup points change frequently.

Capilla de la Merced

In front of the Río Shulcas, the Capilla de la Merced is a national monument marking where Peru's Constitutional Congress met in 1830 and the Constitution was signed in 1839. In addition to information about this historic gathering, the Chapel of Mercy also exhibits Cusqueña paintings.

Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay

Joaquín López Antay was Ayacucho's most renowned maker of retablos; this lovely museum pays homage to his work. Biographical displays, explications of the retablo- making process, and on-site classes make this a must-visit for art lovers. You can also buy finished works in the museum shop.

Casa Ruiz de Ochoa

Across from the Iglesia Merced, one block from the Plaza de Armas, you'll see the colonial-style Casa Ruiz de Ochoa. The intricate, 18th-century doorway mixes European and indigenous techniques in a style known as Mestizo. Climb up to the second floor for a bird's-eye view of the cobbled patio.


The twin bell towers of Ayacucho's catedral, built in 1612 under Bishop Don Cristóbal de Castilla y Zamora, crown the Plaza de Armas. Step inside to view the cathedral's carved altars with gold-leaf designs, a silver tabernacle, and an ornate wooden pulpit, all built in a style mixing baroque and Renaissance elements. Look for the plaque inside the entrance that quotes from Pope John Paul II's speech during his visit in 1985.


Tarma sits at more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), but it's just a stone's throw from the ceja de selva , where many of Peru's citrus plantations lie. For around S/60, you can organize a day trip from town to visit Chanchamayo's magnificent waterfalls, butterfly-filled forests, and local indigenous groups. These tours take you to the major attractions in the area and typically include a refreshing dip in the 30-meter (98-foot) Tirol Falls, a jungle lunch of cecina (cured pork) or doncella (river fish), a visit to the local Ashaninka tribe at Pampa Michi, and a tasting of local coffees and other artisanal products. If you can't otherwise make it to the Amazon during your time in Peru, this is an inexpensive way to experience the pleasures of jungle living (as well as a welcome escape from the cool highland air). Peru Latino Tarma offers daily tours. It's also possible to take a bus directly to La Merced, the main town in Chanchamayo. There are simple hotels and restaurants surrounding the small plaza, and from there you can undertake excursions that go deeper into the central jungle to the fascinating German-Austrian colony of Oxapampa or the coffee plantations near Villarica.

Convento de Santa Rosa de Ocopa

Originally a Franciscan mission whose role was to bring Christianity to the Amazon peoples, the 1725 building now has a reconstructed 1905 church and a massive library with more than 25,000 books—some from the 15th century. The natural-history museum displays a selection of regional archaeological finds, including traditional costumes and local crafts picked up by the priests during their travels. A restaurant serves excellent, if simple, Andean food, and several spare but comfortable accommodations are available in the former monks' quarters. Take a S/25 taxi ride for a round trip to the convent from Concepción's Plaza de Armas. Admission includes a guided tour.

Feria Dominical

The Sunday market (feria dominical) attracts artists and shoppers from all the nearby mountain towns. It's a good place to browse for local crafts—although you'll get better quality (and sometimes better prices) in the villages.

Gruta de Huagapo

Head northwest of Tarma 28 km (17 miles) to Palcamayo, then continue 4 km (2½ miles) west to explore the Gruta de Huagapo limestone cave system, a National Speleological Area. Guides live in the village near the entrance and can give you a basic short tour, but you'll need full spelunking equipment for deep cavern explorations. Numerous tour operators in Tarma offer day-trips to the caves and the surrounding villages. It is also possible to arrive at the caves independently by taking a colectivo at the corner of Jr. 2 de Mayo and Jr. Puno.


This ruined temple was built by the pre-Inca Huanca culture between 800 and 1200 AD. It consists of stone walls enclosing cells where captives were held prior to being sacrificed, as well as underground conduits to bring water to the region. You can still see the sacred spring that flows through the channels; legend says that this spring gave rise to the foreparents of the Huanca people. Several mummies have been discovered at the site. The closest village is Huari, which has a little museum on the main square with ceramic figures, pottery, and a few bones and skulls.

Huancayo, Peru
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Rate Includes: S/3

Iglesia de San Francisco

Begun in 1673, the Iglesia de San Francisco took nearly a century to complete. The dual white towers and red stone doorway—carved with regional motifs—make the church one of the most attractive buildings in town.

Iglesia La Merced

The Romanesque Iglesia La Merced was built in 1566, possibly by the friar Diego de Porras. Colonial treasures include a silver tabernacle, paintings of the Cusco School (Escuela Cusqueña), and the images of the Virgen Purísima and the Corazón de Jesús that were gifts from King Phillip II.

Iglesia San Cristóbal

Fronting a landscape of steep, grassy mountain slopes, the Iglesia San Cristóbal, with its three-tiered bell tower, was erected in 1542, the first local church built by Spanish settlers. Inside is a valuable collection of colonial-era paintings and baroque wood sculptures of San Agustín, the Virgen de la Asunción, and the Virgen Dolorosa.

Iglesia San Francisco

The 16th-century Iglesia San Francisco, the city's second-oldest church, has Cusco School paintings and a few colonial-era antiques. Peek inside to see the spectacular gilt wall and arches behind the altar.

Iglesia Santo Domingo

The 1548 Iglesia Santo Domingo is now a national monument. The first bells ringing out Peru's independence from the Spanish after the Battle of Ayacucho were sounded from here. The church's facade features Churrigueresque architectural elements, a style of baroque Spanish architecture popular in the 16th century, while the interior is coated in pan de oro (gold leaf).

Instituto Nacional de Cultura

The best place for contacts on local culture in Huancavelica is the Instituto Nacional de Cultura, which offers language, music, and dance lessons; cultural talks; a library; and details on historical sights and regional history. There's also a small museum.


Considered one of South America's oldest temples, the 4,000-year-old Kotosh is famous for the Templo de las Manos Cruzadas (Temple of the Crossed Hands). Some of the oldest Peruvian pottery relics were discovered below one of the niches surrounding the main room of the temple, and the partially restored ruins are thought to have been constructed by a pre-Chavín culture whose origins are still unknown. Inside the temple you'll see re-created images of the crossed hands. The original mud set is dated 2000 BC and is on display in Lima's Museo Nacional de Antropología, Arqueología, e Historia del Perú. The site was named Kotosh, Quechua for "pile," in reference to the piles of rocks found strewn across the fields. Taxi fare is S/20 for the round-trip journey from Huánuco, including a half-hour to sightsee.

Huánuco, Peru
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Rate Includes: S/5

La Compañía de Jesús

You can't miss the striking red trim on the baroque-style exterior of this 17th-century Jesuit church. The towers were added a century after the main building, which has religious art and a gilt altar.

Museo Cáceres

Located in the Casona Vivanco, a 17th-century mansion, the Museo Cáceres was once the home of Andrés Cáceres, an Ayacucho resident and former Peruvian president best known for his successful guerrilla leadership during the 1879–83 War of the Pacific against Chile. This is one of the city's best-preserved historic buildings, which today houses a mix of military memorabilia and ancient local artifacts, including stone carvings and ceramics. Note the gallery of colonial-style paintings. The Museo de Arte Religioso Colonial can also be found within these storied walls, and exhibits antique objects from the city's early days.

28 de Julio 508, Ayacucho, Peru
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Rate Includes: S/4, S/2, Closed Sun.

Museo de Arqueología y Antropología Hipólito Unánue

Regional finds from the Moche, Nazca, Ica, Inca, Chanka, Chavín, Chimu, and Huari cultures are on display here, at the Centro Cultural Simón Bolívar. Highlights of the archaeology and anthropology museum include ceremonial costumes, textiles, everyday implements, and even artwork from some of the area's earliest inhabitants. The museum is locally referred to as Museo INC.

Museo de la Memoria

Designed and run by a women's nonprofit in Ayacucho, this small but moving museum recounts the atrocities of the Sendero Luminoso era from the perspective of the local peasantry. The walls feature folk-art depictions of the violence, as well as photographs of the conflict's victims. The exhibit detailing the tortures and mass graves at the nearby Los Cabitos military base is chilling.

Museo de Quinua

Immerse yourself in Latin American revolutionary history through exhibits in the compact Museo de Quinua, which has on display relics from the Battle of Ayacucho. Next door, be sure to visit the room where the Spanish signed the final peace accords recognizing Latin America's independence. Come the first week in December to celebrate the town's role in Peru's democracy, when you'll see extravagant local performances, parties, parades, and crafts fairs. There's also a little local market on Sunday.

Museo Salesiano

Look for the well-preserved rainforest creatures and butterflies from the northern jungles among this museum's more than 10,000 objects. Local fossils and archaeological relics are also on display.

Jr. Santa Rosa 299, Huancayo, Peru
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Rate Includes: S/5, Closed Sun.

Palacio del Marqués de Mozobamba

Built in 1550 and now part of the cultural center for San Cristobal de Huamanga University, the Palacio del Marqués de Mozobamba is one of the oldest mansions in Peru. The colonial-era, baroque-style architecture includes portales (stone arches) in front and a monkey-shaped stone fountain in the courtyard. On the left side as you enter, you'll see the remains of Inca stone walls discovered during restorations in 2003.

Pampa de Huánuco

Also known as Huánuco Viejo, this was formerly the ancient capital city of Chinchaysuyo, the northern portion of the Inca Empire. These highland pampas contain Inca ruins and are near the town of La Unión, a S/30 taxi ride from Huánuco. Note the trapezoidal double-jamb doorways, an Inca hallmark. During the last week of July, the Fiesta del Sol (Sun Festival) takes place at the ruins.

Parque de la Identidad Huanca

The focus of the beautiful Parque de la Identidad Huanca is the pre-Inca Huanca culture, which once occupied the area but left few clues to its lifestyle. A 5-km (3-mile) drive from Huancayo, the park has pebbled paths and small bridges that meander through blossoming gardens and past a rock castle just right for children to tackle. An enormous sculpture at the park's center honors the local artisans who produce the city's mates burilados.

Parque del Cerro de la Libertad

An all-in-one amusement site 1 km (½ mile) northeast of the city, the Parque del Cerro de la Libertad lets you picnic in the grass, watch the kids at the playground, swim in the public pool, dine at a restaurant, or stroll through the zoo. Folkloric dancers and musicians perform at the Liberty Hill Park amphitheater on weekends. A 15-minute walk from the park brings you to the site of Torre Torre, a cluster of 10– to 30-meter (30- to 98-foot) rock towers formed by wind and rain erosion.