AYACUCHO, Peru -- U.S. travel to Peru, which almost disappeared in
the late 1980s when the Shining Path terrorists made violent
headlines, is once again booming.
Cusco and Machu Picchu are in the forefront of tourism
resurgence, but tourists are even returning to the birthplace of
the Shining Path -- Ayacucho, a colonial city tucked high in the
Andes. The city is a 45-minute flight from Lima aboard
On landing, visitors immediately are introduced to one of the
chief reasons to visit Ayacucho: examples of the region's rich
heritage of folk art -- produced by perhaps Peru's best pottery
workers, weavers and sculptors -- that decorate the new city
Other reasons not to shy away from at least a three-day visit to
Ayacucho include its 33 colonial churches, breathtaking mountain
views, nearby pre-Inca ruins and sunshine nearly year-round.
The battle of Ayacucho broke the power of Spain in the New
World, but the strong religious legacy of the conquistadors is
still visible everywhere, and this so-called City of Churches is
distinguished by its religious sanctuaries with ornate exteriors
and art-filled interiors.
The 17th century Cathedral fronts Plaza de Armas, where the
statue of Liberator Sucre astride his horse crowns the square. Good
times to visit are early evenings and on Sundays, when families
turn out to socialize and treat their children to towering pink
spires of cotton candy.
Other churches of particular note are San Cristobal, built in
1534, possibly the oldest in South America; San Francisco de Paula
with its finely carved pulpit and Flemish paintings; the baroque La
Compania de Jesus, and the wonderful gold and silver altars of
Not all churches have reopened since the heyday of the Shining
Path terrorists, but many of their fine paintings are being
restored under a program called Adopt a Painting. Chief adopters
are the Banco de Credito and the quasi-governmental office of
PromPeru, which promotes tourism to the country and is a leading
force in re-establishing tourism as an economically vital industry
in the region.
To enjoy Ayacucho's full piety and religious splendor, the time
to be here (book far ahead) is during Holy Week when fabulous
religious treasures are paraded in candlelit processionals.
Festivities include agricultural and craft fairs and folk-dancing
Ayacucho also is noted for its colonial houses, most of which
have been converted to government offices or museums.
Of particular note is the Popular Art Museum, housed in the 18th
century Casa Chacon, and the Museo Andres Avelino Caceres,
occupying the 16th century Casona Vivanco and displaying
pre-Hispanic, colonial and republican art.
The Museo Arqueologico Hipolito Unanue (also called Museu INC)
is in the university outside of town. Its collection of Wari
culture artifacts -- mostly ceramics -- is outstanding.
Some 15 miles north of the city are the Wari ruins, the vast
remains of a 10th century city of stone built on volcanic ash.
The Wari civilization ruled nearly all of what is present-day
Peru before the rise of the Incas.
Another 10 miles brings visitors to the village of Quinua, a
quiet Andean community whose beautifully worked pottery is made and
sold in rustic workshops.
Clients should bring lots of bubble wrap for the purchases they
will make in Ayacucho and Quinua.
The famed Ayacucho clay churches, painted in muted browns and
beiges, with tiny figures peering out of windows and spilling out
of balconies, are on sale at prices one should be ashamed to haggle
over. Traditionally and today, the churches are set on roofs of
newly occupied houses to ward off evil spirits.
Other creations are carved retablos, boxed miniature altars with
tiny figures depicting Christian scenes or everyday life in bold
Weavers are settled in the Barrio Santa Ana just above Ayacucho,
where clients will find the workshops of many fine artisans,
including master weaver Gregorio Sulca.
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TIP SHEET: Where to stay
By far the best hotel in town is the Ayacucho Plaza Hotel, a
half block from the Plaza de Armas.
Housed in a colonial building, the public rooms and flowering
courtyards are large and welcoming. The rooms are plain but come
with a bath and television, and inside rooms are definitely
quieter. The hotel staff is pleasant and helpful, and the dining
room serves up a good breakfast and terrific chicken soup.
Phone: (011) 51-64 812-202
Fax: (011) 51-64 812-314
E-mail: [email protected].
Recommended restaurants for regional food include La Casona
(Bellido 463) and Uripicha (Londres 272)
Specialities include puca picante, a spicy stew of pork,
potatoes and toasted peanuts. Craft shopping here is truly
tantalizing, and clients would do well to bring along an empty soft
bag to carry purchases home. One of the best buys in town is
freshly squeezed orange juice, sold on street corners -- five
oranges to the glass for 10 cents.
There are a couple of travel agencies in town that handle
incoming visitors, usually booked through ground operators in
However, the level of English-speaking guides needs improving in