Peppered with traditional towns and cities sitting in remote valleys, the green and mountainous Central Sierra region boasts some of Peru’s finest archeological sites and colonial buildings. Although significantly fewer travellers make it here, compared with hotspots like Cusco and Machu Picchu, anyone with the time to spare will find this region a worthwhile destination in its own right, rather than just somewhere to stop en route to the Central Selva. As well as fantastic mountain scenery, this amalgam of regions in the central Peruvian Andes offer endless walking country, a caving opportunity and a gateway into the country’s Amazon rainforest.
Almost all travellers from Lima enter the Central Sierra by road, along the much-improved Carretera Central. The road passes close to the enigmatic rock formations centring on Marcahuasi and the village of San Pedro de Casta before climbing over the high pass at Ticlio. The old train – the “Tren de la Sierra” – now only rarely takes passengers up to the city of Huancayo.
The most attractive hub in the Sierra Central is the laidback town of Tarma, which has a relatively pleasant climate influenced by the cloud forest to the east, and is a major nodal point for pioneers from the jungle, traders and, to a lesser extent, tourists. To the north, pleasant Huánuco serves as a good base for exploring some of Peru’s most interesting archeological remains, and Tingo María, the gateway to the jungle port of Pucallpa. To the southwest of Tarma lies the largest city in the northern half of the Central Sierra, Huancayo, high up in the Andes. South of Huancayo are the two most traditional of all the Central Sierra’s towns: Ayacucho – one of the cultural jewels of the Andes, replete with colonial churches and some of Peru’s finest artesan crafts – and Huancavelica. Immediately north of Huancayo lies the astonishing Jauja Valley, which has beautiful scenery, striped by fabulous coloured furls of mountain.Read More
The Andes rail line
The Andes rail line
The original opening of the Lima-to-Huancayo railway line into the Andes in the late nineteenth century had a huge impact on the region and was a major feat of engineering. For President Balta of Peru and many of his contemporaries in 1868, the iron fingers of a railway, “if attached to the hand of Lima would instantly squeeze out all the wealth of the Andes, and the whistle of the locomotives would awaken the Indian race from its centuries-old lethargy”. Consequently, when the American rail entrepreneur Henry Meiggs (aptly called the “Yankee Pizarro”) arrived on the scene, it was decided that coastal guano deposits would be sold off to finance a new rail line, one that faced technical problems (ie, the peaks and troughs of the Andes) never previously encountered by engineers. The man really responsible for the success of this massive project was the Polish engineer, Ernest Malinowski. Utilizing timber from Oregon and the labour of thousands of Chinese workers (the basis of Peru’s present Chinese communities), Malinowski’s skill and determination finished Meiggs’ railway over a 30-year period. An extraordinary accomplishment, it nevertheless produced a mountain of debt that bound Peru more closely to the New York and London banking worlds than to its own hinterland and peasant population.