Like I said here, the weeks I spent in Ayacucho have been a life changing experience for me. However, due to its history and to the fact that it isn’t easily reachable by public transport, this place doesn’t attract many tourists and backpackers.
Here is a bit of information about this place, that might make you change your mind and visit this cute little town.
Ayacucho, a town in the Huamanga Province, in Peru, is located in a remote part of the Andes mountains. The main reason why this place is usually left out the tourist path in Peru, is because of its history. Indeed, in 1980, the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) used Ayachucho as its base for its campaign against the Peruvian government. The goal of this organisation was to overthrow the state by guerrilla warfare and replace it with a New Democracy, through the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1992, the leader of this organisation, Abimael Guzman, was captured and this event marked the end of the movement.
Since then, the people of Ayacucho have been working very hard to improve the living conditions of the town, create new jobs and attract tourists, but this area stays one of the most rural and poor of the country.
However, in Ayacucho I got a cultural experience like no other and I would really recommend visiting this place.
Things to see and do in Ayacucho:
- Visit the Plaza Mayor
- Immerse yourself in the local culture
- Visit its famous 33 churches
- Visit the Museo de la Memoria
- Explore the town’s markets
- Take a day trip to Wari
Visit the Plaza Mayor
Like many towns in South America, the Plaza Mayor/Plaza de Armas is the main place to visit. It is for sure one of the prettiest plazas in the Central Andes, surrounded by many beautiful buildings, including the Prefectura, arcades and bars, from where you can have a delicious coffee with a beautiful view.
Immerse yourself in the local culture
People in Ayacucho can’t wait to talk to you! We were very lucky to be visiting where Carnival was being celebrated and it was amazing. the streets were full of people dancing and singing and lots of them were surprised to see us there, so they would always talk to us.
Living in Ireland, I often miss celebrating Carnival, and experiencing it in a different country was so great.
Visit its famous 33 churches
Did you know that Ayacucho is famous for its 33 churches? Each one represents one year of Jesus life. And, in fact, Ayacucho is a very religious place and apparently, the best time to be there is during Semana Santa – the week before Easter – when there are very big celebrations around the town. Celebrations include art shows, folk-dancing competitions (when we were there we saw young people rehearsing for this), concerts, and plenty of street events and fairs. These celebrations end on the Saturday before Easter Sunday with a huge all-night party with fireworks.
Visit the Museo de la Memoria
One of the best cultural experience to learn about Ayacucho’s history is the Museo de la Memoria, a museum located approximately 1,5km away from the town centre about the Sendero Luminoso. The museum is closed on Sundays and opened only until 1pm on Saturdays, so the best time to go is during weekdays.
The displays in the museum are all in Spanish, they are very simple but interesting and moving. They guide you through how the town and its people were affected by the Sendero Luminoso and most of them are stories from mothers whose children were killed. As some of these women still work in the museum, you might be able to talk to them yourself.
Explore the town’s markets
Another thing I really loved doing was visiting the town’s markets. There are two main markets here – the food one and the artisan one – and they are both great.
We loved the food market and it was a great way to interact with people, but the handicraft market were just amazing. Many of the artisan products like belts and hats that tourists buy in Cuzco are probably from Ayacucho. But here you can also see the famous retablos – portable altars in a box. They are small boxes with floral decorations carved into the wood and clay figurines inside.
The Shosaku Nagase Handicraft Market is the best place to see retablos and other handicrafts.
Take a day trip to Wari
Finally, you can take a day trip to the Wari Ruins. The road to get there is already something to see, with loads of cactus plants on the side of the streets. The ruins of Wari are what’s left of the capital of the Wari empire, a civilisations that was established 500 years before the Incas. Here you can enjoy a nice view, as the ruins are located on top of a hill, and a small museum with information about the empire (but everything is in Spanish).
A reason to visit this place is that, if you visit Peru, you’ll learn a lot about the Inca civilisation, but it’s rare to learn about other cultures.
To get there you can get a colectivo or a mini bus (combi) from a few blocks away from Plaza de Armas. When leaving, don’t leave to late in the afternoon, as the buses tend to get very full.
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