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Walks around Palcamayo in the central highlands of Peru

Palcamayo is known by tourists for the nearby Huagapo Cave -- a limestone cave system that extends kilometers into the mountain -- but often for little else. Few know that Palcamayo is on the Qhapaq Ņan, the Big Inca Road, which traversed their empire between north and south, leading to the north to Cajamarca and beyond up into Venezuela, and to the south to Cuzco and on into Bolivia and Chile. Chasquis, the Inca messenger runners, would pass by the site of the present-day village and on up the Canchapata Canyon on their way to the valley of Junin and beyond. The nearby hills and ridges are littered with the ruins of Inca and pre-Inca towns, citadels and tombs.

The mountains to the north of the village have an extremely varied geology based on layers of various types of rock stacked at 45 degrees and eroded -- glaciated into wide U-shaped valleys at higher altitude, and cut through by river valleys at lower altitude. The geological formations include jagged white limestone ridges, high pampas and lakes, sink-holes and caves, and a walker's playground of bizarre peaks formed of other types of rock.

The valleys are the home of various species of hummingbird and other wildlife. Trout are naturally found in the rivers, and are farmed in various locations. The village itself is a centre of production of vegetables, the fields irrigated by an ancient system of canals fed from the rivers flowing down from the highlands. The highlands themselves are used for sheep and cattle grazing and for the cultivation of grains, potatoes and local specialities such as maca.

My wife is from Palcamayo, so every time we visit I try to explore a little more of the region. Here are a number of walks that I have made from Palcamayo. You can use these to get an idea of what is around, and perhaps to plan your own walks if you choose to visit:

Visiting

If you do visit, note that the pace of life in the village is slower and more unpredictable than perhaps you might hope for as a visitor, but you should be able to manage. There is a municipal hotel, but you will probably have to call the attendant on their mobile phone to get them to come and give you a room, so leave yourself time.

Colectivo taxis leave for Tarma from one side of the square, and pass to pick up passengers on their way to San Pedro on the opposite corner. Unless you want to hire the whole taxi, the driver will squeeze 1 or 2 in the front seat, 3 or maybe 4 in the back seat, and as many people on their way to the fields as he can manage sat in the trunk. Prices per seat in 2011 were about S/3.50 to Tarma (40 minutes) and S/3.00 to San Pedro de Cajas (45 minutes).

There are a few places to eat local Peruvian food, but it would be wise to check their opening times before counting on getting a meal. Basic survival foods such as bread, cheese and fruit are easy to come by in the local shops, though. There are guides available for Huagapo and some guides also know the routes in the mountains, but since there are few tourists around apart from on public holidays, they are usually out at work in the fields. If you want a guide to walk with you, ask around in the shops and someone will find a cousin or nephew who can help you out for a fee. There are a few English-speakers about, but don't count on finding one unless you're really determined!



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