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Junín, Peru: Experiencing the High Jungle on the Valle de Chanchamayo Tour from Tarma

Views from Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

Even though Tarma is a pleasant enough city, filled with blooming flowers during much of the year, most visitors actually use Tarma as a base to explore different parts of the Junín region. I was no different; I wanted to make the most of my brief stay. Despite all the travel I’d already done in Peru, I had yet to visit the Amazon, not even the high jungle only a few hours away from Cuzco or Huánuco. For this reason, I opted to take the tour of the central jungle and get a sense for the cultural and climatic differences just a few hours away.

Crazy Wind in Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

As it turns out, this was an excellent choice and one that helped mold my decision making as I moved onto northern Peru and Ecuador later in my travels. For one, heading into the jungle meant getting out of the cool, dry winter weather in the central Andes, even just for a couple of hours. Beyond that, descending into the Valle de Chanchamayo gave me a glimpse into yet another facet of Peru.

Views from Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

Our first stop on the tour was this crossroads you see in the photos above. Because of the way the mountain ridges curve and cross in the landscape, there is a surprisingly strong, powerful wind that rolls off the hills and is said to cleanse you. Naturally, this is an ideal time to take some pictures, but I have to admit I was more fascinated by the way the mountains had started to tower above us.

Nearby, there is a small stand selling artisan treats, including small batches of manjar blanco (milk caramel, otherwise known as dulce de leche) and preserves, which were delicious.

Waterfall (Velo de la Novia/Ducha de Diablo?) in Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, PeruYou know that you are starting to get into the more tropical climate as you begin to spot the waterfalls cascading off the hills all around you.

In quick succession, we saw the Cabello del Angel (Angel’s Hair) followed by the Ducha de Diablo (The Devil’s Shower), two waterfalls named for their appearance as well as their danger.

Old Highway, Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

Views from Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, PeruSoon, we had the opportunity to get out of the tour van and appreciate what used to be the highway in these parts, a narrow road carved along the rock walls of this particularly canyon, closely following the rushing river below.

(Apparently it’s possible to go mountain biking along this old road but it’s pretty narrow.)

This also gives you the opportunity to appreciate how modern construction has made life a little easier and transportation between the two regions much more efficient as well as safer!

San Ramón

Views from San Ramón, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

Arriving in San Ramón, the landscape clearly demonstrates why the Valle de Chanchamayo is a perfect climate for growing so many of the products the high Amazon is known for. Check out those green peaks – quite different than the toasted mountains of Huancayo I’d been hiking around just a week before!

Catarata Las Mellizas, San Ramón, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

Catarata de Tirol, San Ramón, Chanchamayo, Junín, PeruNow it was time to really appreciate the humid, verdant climate and head into the jungle in search of the Catarata de Tirol, the powerful waterfall you see to the right.

It takes about 30 minutes to walk to the waterfall and you have the chance to go swimming under its incredibly powerful water. While it is a fun experience, being surrounded by 30 other people makes it a bit challenging to really appreciate the natural wonder. (Luckily for me, I would see a LOT of peaceful waterfalls during the rest of my trip!)

Butterfly near San Ramón, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

PFresh Coconut near San Ramón, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peruersonally, I enjoyed watching all of the butterflies flying around us. I befriended a cheerful child who was accompanying us on the tour, and he went out of his way to spot butterflies so that I could try to capture a shot of them.

At the end of the walk, I couldn’t resist buying a fresh coconut. One of the things I most miss about Peru when I’m somewhere else is how readily accessible (and economical) all of the fruit from the jungle is.

La Merced

Views from Kimiri, near La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

From there, we headed towards La Merced, stopping at the small tourist village that’s sprung up alongside Puente Colgante Kimiri. Although there wasn’t much to see, I appreciated this cheerful pedestrian bridge and wandering around looking at the stores before heading to lunch.

Lunch in Kimiri, near La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

As with most tours popular among local tourists, a traditional meal of regional delicacies was in order, but as a vegetarian, my options were limited to arroz a la cubana, a common dish consisting of eggs, rice, and fried plantains, with the regional twist of fried yuca. Not bad for S/.5!

Puente Colgante Kimiri, near La Merced, Chanchamauyo, Junín, Peru

Puente Colgante Kimiri (Quimiri), near La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PeruAfter lunch, we crossed the Puente Colgante Kimiri, an old wooden suspension bridge (built in 1901!) which connects the communities on both sides of the Chanchamayo River. Believe it or not, cars cross over this rickety bridge, but I was too scared to do so myself!

Views from Puente Colgante Kimiri, near La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

Instead, I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the views alongside the Río Chanchamayo as the sun began to dip down behind the mountains. I was fascinated by the cool trees.

Nativo Dormido

(Nativo Dormido) Sleeping Beauty in Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru
Continuing on, we passed the Nativo Dormido, or the Sleeping Native. According to legend, a young indigenous man saved a Spanish woman when she was wandering lost through the jungle and brought her to his community to help her. Naturally, they fell in love and promised the jungle god that they would get married before the full moon. The woman returned to her family, who punished her for wanting to marry a local and kept her from leaving. When she finally escaped, it was too late, and the jungle god turned the young man into the sleeping mountain you see here, and the woman into the Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) which can be seen near Tingo María, near Huánuco.

Sunset over Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru

At this point, the sunset grew quite lovely, but we still had quite a few stops before returning to Tarma. Be prepared: it’s a very long day and many hours in a van!

Insight into the Asháninka People

Monkey at Ashaninka Performance, Junín, Peru

The second to last stop is at one of the communities of the Asháninka tribe, who live in this area and have started to earn a significant income from sharing their traditional songs and dances with the many tourists who visit from Lima and around Peru. While my young friend assured me that community enjoys performing and sharing their culture, it felt a bit exploitative as we dressed up in traditional costumes and were invited to participate in the dances. Afterwards, you’re led by the children to purchase jewelry, the same jewelry you see everywhere throughout Peru. I chose just to share this photo of the monkey because I was uncomfortable with the experience. What can I say?

Chanchamayo Highland Coffee

Ice Cream at Chanchamayo Highland Coffee, Junín, Peru

Last but not least, you stop to try the regional products at huge warehouse filled with samples, Chanchamayo Highland Coffee. Tourists are funneled through the explanation of all of the regional specialities in a long, crowded line. The bright side is that the coffee and products sold her are organic and/or fair trade and support the local growers, which is something I can get behind. It was pretty cool to have the opportunity to try juices and liquors made from jungle fruits, but of course, I opted for ice cream.

After our last stop at a small café, we hit the road for the drive back to Tarma. This ended up being a fun experience, as our tour guide explained more of the legends of the area. Someday I’d love to compile the legends of the Andes into English… a project to keep in mind for my next visit!

The tour of the Valle de Chanchamayo was my last stop in Junín as well as central Peru, but it certainly piqued my interest in the unique culture and climate of the jungle. As I continued on to northern Peru and eventually Ecuador, I decided to spend more time in the high jungle and I still plan to head deeper into the Amazon within the next year or so. I’d say the tour was well worth it!

For the latest photos from my travels in South America and in the US, be sure to follow me @blueskylimit on Instagram.

Recommendations for the Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru:

  • The high jungle tour leaves from Tarma and on weekends there are usually several different agencies looking for tourists around the Plaza de Armas and trying to fill up their vans. This also means that they will leave whenever they have enough passengers, so the departure time they tell you should be regarded as just an estimate!
  • The tour cost S/.50 in September 2013. You also have to pay a fee to enter the park at the Catarata del Tirol and are encouraged to tip the Asháninka community after their performance. I spent a total of S/.58 on this tour.
  • You have several opportunities to purchase artisan food products, fair trade coffee, and jewelry and other souvenirs on the tour, so be sure to bring small change. The big coffee warehouse accepts credit cards.
  • Be sure to bring your walking or hiking shoes and a swimsuit so that you can get drenched by the Catarata de Tirol. I suggest wearing layers as you will pass through several climates in only a matter of hours.
[Valle de Chanchamayo, Junín, Peru: September 1, 2013]

Junín, Peru: Descending into the Picturesque Town of Tarma, the Pearl of the Andes

Views En Route to Tarma, Junín, Peru

Views En Route to Tarma, Peru

Under normal circumstances, getting to Tarma is fairly straightforward. There are regular buses and colectivos (shared taxis/vans) to Tarma from Lima, which makes the five hour journey a perfect weekend escape. It’s also only a few hours from Huancayo, making it a logical stop before heading back to the capital.

But me? I wanted to make things a little more complicated, and, let’s face it, a little more interesting. After leaving Huancayo, I headed to Huánuco to see the ruins of Kotosh. I’d been considering two potential routes onwards: heading into the jungle and making my way to Pucallpa, or heading back to the Cordillera Blanca to Huaraz. In the end, I did neither; I backtracked to Tarma!

The thing about public transportation in Peru is that you can get just about anywhere. And if you travel short distances, there’s usually an easy and quick way around, as long as you’re willing to travel like the locals. And so it was.

To get to Tarma, I ended up taking a colectivo from Huánuco to Cerro de Pasco. One of my biggest photographer regrets is that I did not have my camera easily accessible during this trip. Cerro de Pasco is one of the highest inhabited cities in the world; as a mining city, its buildings are purely functional and are toned in somber shades of grey and darker grey. I can still picture the houses clinging to the hillside as we headed into the city.

The Route to Tarma

Views of Distant Lakes between Cerro de Pasco and Tarma, Junín, Peru

Heading to Tarma from Cerro de Pasco was incredibly easy; I got out of one colectivo and directly into another. In the colectivo lot, drivers shout out their destinations and rush to fill their cars and get back on the roads. This part of the journey was even better.

I was lucky to share the car with several friendly passengers, who were eager to talk to me about what the heck I was doing over here and share aspects of their culture with me. They pointed out the series of blue lakes that we whizzed past – there are some natural reserves over here and it definitely seemed worth exploring at a more leisurely pace.

Monumento a la Maca, Huayre, Junín, Peru

But my favorite part? As we drove past the town of Huayre, we slowed so that I could take a picture of this amazing monument. This statue honors maca, that Andean radish-like root vegetable that is known for its medicinal properties. It’s supposed to enhance your energy, athletic performance, and memory, as well as your, ahem, stamina, if you know what I mean.

As you drive along the highway in Huayre, you have the opportunity to buy homebrewed drinks with maca. One of the passengers encouraged me to drink it, but it was way too chalk-like for me – so I gave the bottle of maca to him. I’ll stick to quinua, thank you very much!

Views En Route to Tarma, Junín, Peru

After coasting along the highway for a couple of hours, we ascended back into the beautiful hills of the Andes. In this section, we passed an out-of-the-way mine and saw very little besides this toasted landscape.

Views En Route to Tarma, Junín, Peru

And, well, these clouds. As an avid cloudspotter, I still can’t bellieve the way the clouds looked at this altitude. Dreamlike and gorgeous.

Descending to Tarma, Junín, Peru

From there, we descended toward Tarma. Three years ago, the roads were under construction which made travel less-than-pleasant, but I’m sure the roads are much better now! Good thing we were descending into my ever-loved foothills. This route reminded me of visiting Matucana and Callahuanca, which is no surprise if you consider that they’re located more or less along the same stretch of the Andes.

Tarma

Views from Tarma, Junín, Peru

Views from Tarma, Junín, PeruFinally, we arrived to Tarma, otherwise known as La Perla de los Andes, or the Pearl of the Andes. Tarma is known for its lovely climate, ideal for growing beautiful flowers. It’s one of the top destinations for Semana Santa (Easter Week) due to the beautiful carpets of flower arrangements that you can observe throughout the celebrations.

Unfortunately for me, I arrived at the end of winter, which meant the flowers weren’t really in bloom yet. So I decided to make the most of my visit by getting to know the town as much as I could and venturing outside Tarma to other nearby destinations.

Cathedral in Tarma, Junín, Peru

Views from Tarma, Junín, PeruTarma is an adorable little town because of its colonial architecture, including the church located on its main plaza. The city is easily accessible by foot, so you can wander through the streets, admiring the colonial balconies and the brightly painted walls.

 

Views from Tarma, Junín, Peru

Views from Tarma, Junín, PeruTarma’s charm also lies in its views, which I found hard to capture with my photos. As you walk through the streets of town, you are surrounded on all sides by the foothills of the Andes. You can see the houses perched up above.

As you can see, Tarma is a good place to get away and relax. Tarma is pretty quiet outside of long weekends and Semana Santa. If I had it to do all over again, I would have visited Tarma when I was living in Lima rather than as part of a more extended backpacking journey. I felt it was more of a place for a peaceful getaway, and after two lonely days in Huánuco, I was anxious to be in the company of other travelers again.

The good news is that Tarma provides access to some very interesting journeys around the region – and after considering my options, I signed up for a tour of the high jungle the next day.

Recommendations for Tarma, Junín, Peru:

  • Tarma is located about 5-6 hours from Lima, and you can take a public bus or shared taxi/van (colectivo). Tarma is about three hours from Huancayo. From other parts of the region (like Huánuco), you’ll want to take a bus or colectivo to Cerro de Pasco or La Oroya, where you can get another colectivo to Tarma. For locals, these routes are pretty standard and it’s easy to get around.
  • There are a number of hostales in Tarma, and if you’re visiting in off-season, I suggest checking out a few to see which one suits you best. Keep in mind that you’re in the mountains, so nights can be quite chilly. The colonial buildings with their high ceilings might not be your best bet. As far as I know, there aren’t any hostels in Tarma and I didn’t see any other foreigners during my visit.
  • Wikitravel lists several options for exploring the area around Tarma. If you read Spanish, Y Tu Que Planes? has detailed suggestions for what you can do in Tarma. In general, there are three tours. First, there’s the Valle de las Flores tour, which takes you to Acobamba, to see a religious icon, Palcamayo for the Gruta de Huagapo, a giant cave, and San Pedro de Cajas, for textiles. Second, there’s a tour that takes you along the Inca Trail (Camino de Inca) which passes through this region (and you can also visit some ruins, of course!). Third, there’s the tour to the Valle de Chanchamayo, heading into the high jungle within easy reach of Tarma. I opted for the latter for a change of pace.
  • If you have any flexibility in your travel plans, try to visit Tarma during the spring, when the flowers are in bloom. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see why. 🙂
[Tarma, Junín, Peru: August 31-September 2, 2013]

Junin, Peru: Descending into the Picturesque Town of Tarma, the Pearl of the Andes

Huánuco, Peru: Getting into the Countryside and Visiting Tomayquichua and La Casa de la Perricholi

Views near Huánuco, Peru

When I first arrived in Huánuco, I had one main goal: I wanted to visit the ruins of Kotosh and learn what I could about this very ancient archeological site. But Huánuco is so much more than that, and I want to make sure you know what I didn’t before my visit: the countryside is gorgeous and you should try to spend some time out here rather than in the city.

As it turned out, I was lucky because the taxi driver I hired to take me to Kotosh was eager to show me the rest of Huánuco. He was adamant that I visit the other major tourist attraction of the region, and one that I had never heard of before: La Casa de la Perricholi.

Tomayquichua and La Casa de la Perricholi

Plaza of Tomayquichua, near Huánuco, Peru

UntitledFourteen kilometers outside Huánuco lies the tiny town of Tomayquichua, with a very pleasant green plaza and a story that dates back to the colonial era.

You can get a sense for the story if you look at the statue that sits in front of the municipal building. A tall, regal woman embraced by her short lover.

This love affair being celebrated by the town of Tomayquichua is none other than that between a woman named María Micaela Villegas y Hurtado de Mendoza and the Viceroy Manuel de Amat in the 18th century.

This star of Peruvian colonial theatre is more commonly known by her stage name, La Perricholi.

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

So why does Tomayquichua honor this woman, a famous actress in the 18th century, who had a scandalous fourteen-year-long affair with a man almost three times her age? Because, supposedly, she was born here, in this little house, although there is a strong argument that she was actually born in Lima.

Flower at La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

Flowers at La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, PeruWhatever the actual story, it worth visiting La Casa de la Perricholi because it is a house turned into a museum honoring this one fascinating person.

La Perricholi was born in 1748 and had become a much-admired theatre actress by age 20.

It was soon after this that she attracted the attention of the powerful viceroy, and they defied convention and publicly displayed their relationship on Lima’s social scene for fourteen years. That’s pretty progressive for that era!

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

When visiting La Casa de la Perricholi, you can see the tiny house where she was (supposedly) born, although she lived the majority of her life in Lima. There is this pretty carriage, but I’m not sure if this dates back to that era because it seems to be in pretty good condition.

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, PeruYou can even make a wish at this wishing well. I’m not sure how many women have wished for an extremely powerful prince to make them princesses – what do you think?

Either way, it was nice to get out of the city and into this laid-back town, surrounded by the green hills, with small houses. It certainly gave me a more complete perspective on what life is like in the region, with its lovely climate and agricultural focus.

(As I mentioned in my post on the city of Huánuco, there were haciendas in this area back in the day – which means the growing is good!)

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, Peru

La Casa de la Perricholi, Tomayquichua, Huánuco, PeruAfter touring the tiny property, you can read article after article about La Perricholi. The headline in the article above says “Tomayquichua witnessed the birth of a chola who became a queen.” (In Peruvian Spanish cholo/a refers to someone of Andean birth, generally indigenous or mixed race heritage, and can be used both positively or negatively depending on the tone and intent.)

To be fair, La Perricholi is actually still quite recognized for her role in Peruvian history. She pushed for some of the beautiful colonial parks and constructions in Lima that exist to this day, most notably La Alameda de los Descalzos in Rímac. She has been the subject of countless books, movies, tv shows, and even an opera!

So, if you’re in Huánuco, you should definitely visit. It doesn’t really matter where she was actually born, but it’s a good way to get a sense of her role in Peruvial cultural memory!

Views of the Countyside of Huánuco

Views near Huánuco, Peru

Bridge near Huánuco, PeruAfter my tour of La Casa de la Perricholi was complete, we moved on to a small pisco distillery, but since I wasn’t planning on buying I felt too awkward to take any pictures or even note the name. Be sure to ask in Huánuco if this sounds appealing, or just ask your taxi driver to take you there.

But the part I did like? Heading over yet another suspension bridge and taking pictures over the pretty river.

Looking at these pictures three years later, I’m struck by how much this landscape reminds of the Valle de Elqui in northern Chile. Low brown hills, suspension bridges, maybe a few more trees?

Well, I love the Andean landscape so it makes sense that this would appeal to me. 🙂

Views near Huánuco, Peru

If you have any interest in getting to know the landscape near Huánuco, the Casa Hacienda Shimay comes highly recommended. If I ever make it back to this region, I’m definitely going to stay there. It would be amazing to spend a couple of days relaxing, disconnecting, and going on hikes and horseback rides around the region. Ahhh.

Bridge near Huánuco, Peru

But all in all, I enjoyed getting out of the city and seeing a little more of what Huánuco has to offer. As I mentioned, the city wasn’t for me, but the scenery definitely was. Just another reminder of how your perceptions of a city or a region can be colored by your (usually limited) personal experience. So be sure to get on that local bus to Tingo Maria or hire a super affordable taxi to get into the countryside and really see what this region is about.

Recommendations for Huánuco, Peru:

  • As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn’t a huge fan of the city of Huánuco, but I think the region deserves more attention and exploration. Be sure to visit the ruins of Kotosh, La Casa de la Perricholi in Tomayquichua, and see if you can stop by the river for scenic photos.
  • Although I didn’t stay there myself, the Casa Hacienda Shismay is run by locals and offers a nice way to experience the countryside of Huánuco.
  • You can probably arrange a tour from Huánuco, but I just met a friendly taxi driver who was more than happy to drive me around the countryside. Coming from other parts of Peru, the price seemed super inexpensive to me and he acted as a tour guide so I was happy to pay. I think I paid S/.35 to go to and from Kotosh (on the opposite side of the city), Tomayquichua, the distillery, and the route back, and it took about 3-4 hours.
  • For more information on places you can visit before or after Huánuco, read the recommendations at the bottom of my post on the city of Huánuco and Kotosh.
  • For more information on La Perricholi (in Spanish), you can read this blog post or this Wikipedia article.
[Huánuco, Peru: August 29-31, 2013]