Ayacucho - Peru

The ebullient Peruvian city is rich with ornate architecture and has plenty for the hungry traveller, from piquant stews to spicy, frothy drinks. Lucy Kehoe savours the highlights

Travel Time 17hrs 10min

Why go?

Located in one of Peru’s most archaeologically important valleys, Ayacucho has been a settlement since as far back as 700AD, when the pre-Inca Huari culture ruled the country. Despite the Spanish architecture of ice-cream-coloured houses, its buzzy atmosphere is firmly rooted in its indigenous heritage. Expect to hear the rhythmic song of the native language Quechua float around street corners and spot locals in brightly embellished traditional dress jumping on buses. With a pleasant climate year-round – and little chance of rain, thanks to its position 2,761m above sea level – there are no weather-dependent timings for a trip, but arrive in February to catch the annual carnival (22-26), which explodes onto the streets in a riot of swirling woven shawls, brightly coloured powder paints and flying water balloons.

What to do

Nicknamed the ‘City of Churches’, the centre of Ayacucho is easily walkable. The vibrant streets sit in a grid pattern, like orderly paint charts, interspersed with 33 ornate religious properties, representing each year of Jesus’s life. The 17th-century Catedral de Ayacucho is considered one of Peru’s most beautiful, a mismatched renaissance-baroque masterpiece built by Phillip III of Spain. Inside you’ll discover ten elaborate altarpieces draped in gold leaf. This is a city of syncretism: for every alter filled with religious iconography, there’s a streetful of handicraft workshops celebrating the ancient Huari civilisation that founded the city. Trawl artisan souvenirs at Mercado Centro Artesanal Shosaku Nagase Avenida Maravillas 103 or explore the studios of the Santa Ana neighbourhood, where generations of families craft intricately woven fabrics and filigree jewellery. The region’s famous retablos – ornate portable boxes depicting historical and religious events – are a must-buy for those with space in their suitcase. Nearby, the ramshackle village of Quinua is home to a thriving ceramics industry. Wander the cobbled streets and spot decorative figurines adorning rustic homes before visiting the renowned potter Mamerto Sánchez on Jirón Sucre.

Where to stay

While Ayacucho hotels haven’t quite caught up with Lima’s luxurious accommodation options, they more than make up for it with charm and warmth. Housed in two colonial-era mansions in the historic centre, ViaVia Peru Ayacucho 00 511 066 312834, viavia.world is an intimate guesthouse, with simply furnished rooms and a cactus-filled courtyard. Tucked behind one of the city’s many churches, you’ll find the colonial-style Altipacha Ayacucho Hotel 00 511 066 280891, altipachahotel.com where you can snuggle under beautiful blankets in comfortable, well-appointed rooms.

Where to eat and drink

Platefuls of puca picante (a hearty dish of pork cooked with yellow chillies, potatoes and toasted peanuts), warming bean teqtes (stew) and popular qapchi (a snack of crumbled fresh cheese over potatoes) are in plentiful supply at Mercado 12 de Abril, Ayacucho’s central food market. Seek out the fruit-laden smoothie stall for a half-litre breakfast of your favourite fruit blended, for around 90p. For a more formal arrangement, La Casona 00 51 66 312733 on Jirón Bellido is a bustling courtyard restaurant that serves big portions of regional specialities. If you’re tempted to try the Ayacucho version of cuy – guinea pig – duck under the stone archway of Recreo Las Flores 00 51 66 526104 in the east of the city and join Ayacucho families tucking into Andean favourites. For those wondering what the frothy drink favoured by locals is, it’s ponche, a spiced peanut-and-sesame-seed medley. Try it with wawa bread, a sweet dough that’s baked for festivities. To taste some local beers, spend an evening at low-key YAKU 00 51 966 669 300 on Plaza de Armas – there’s even live music.

Time running out?

Be sure to seek out the ice-cream stalls on the Plaza de Armas for a taste of Ayacucho’s extra-creamy, hand-churned sesame soft scoop, served by friendly locals.


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Peruvian sol (S/). Time is five hours behind GMT. Flight time from London to Lima is around 17 hours, from where it’s a one-hour flight to Ayacucho with Latam Airlines. latam.com

Getting There

Avianca offers flights from London Heathrow to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport, with a stop in Bogotá. avianca.com

KLM flies from regional airports to Lima via Amsterdam. klm.com


Peru Travel has plenty of listings, including attractions, restaurants and festival dates, plus practical tips. peru.travel

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

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