Huancayo is the capital of Peru’s Junín region and one of the most tourist friendly Andean towns in Peru. It is best known for the Maté Burrilado, a hand carved gourd found sold all across Peru, and for the spicy potato dish, Papas a la Huancaina. Blessed with sunny days almost year round, green hills, and unspoiled surrounding villages, Huancayo (population 350,000; 3240 meters above sea level) is quickly becoming one of the staple visits for travelers to the Andes, partially because the Andean railway from Lima makes consistent weekend trips here after a major restoration with help from the tourist agency Incas del Peru.
Farmers, craftsmen, schemers, coffee growers, tribal women, and various others descend upon the small towns for some of the most authentic, and tourist free, markets in Peru and all the Andes. Alpaca textiles, silver filigree, carved gourds or mates burilados, can all be found. Each day of the week there is a different market that goes on in Huancayo and the surrounding villages. Compared with those near Cuzco, these markets are far more authentic and exist for the locals rather than camera-wielding tourists.
The largest – and most touristy – market occurs within the city of Huancayo every Sunday. This market has been running continuously since 1572 and villagers from far and wide attend to sell their crafts and produce. The best crafts and Maté Burrilados can be found along Avenida Huancavelica.
Friday: Cochas Chico and Cochas Grande
The famous mate burilados, or carved gourds, that are sold throughout Peru come from the Cochas, just twenty minutes east of Huancayo reached by taxi or combi. The most skilled craftsmen sell the best quality and cheapest gourds here, as well as the largest and most expensive. The detailed scenes of Andean life are etched in the gourds much the same way they have been for hundreds of years and can sell for hundreds of dollars.
Hualhuas is best known for the alpaca textiles that are made on traditional looms. The small village twenty minutes north of Huancayo has several large cooperatives and small and independent craft shops. Shop owners will give loom demonstrations for visitors.
Wednesday: San Jeronimo de Tunan
Silver shops and jewelers line the main streets of the pleasant town twenty-five minutes to the north of Huancayo. Colonial style silver pieces, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and various other works are offered at cutthroat prices, even for Peru which already sells silver quite cheap.
Wool and alpaca weavings are also the main craft of Viequez, however, are made on small back strap looms. The village, thirty miles south of Huancayo, is most known for its colorful belts.
Wednesday, Sunday: Jauja
About an hour north of Huancayo is Jauja, once the Spanish capital of Peru before it was moved to Lima. There are a few stunning cathedrals and mansions dating back to the 16th century. The modern architecture is quite bland though. The town really comes alive during the Wednesday market.
Getting to/from nearby markets from Huancayo:
Day tours are offered in Huancayo from every tourist agency to whatever market is going on that day. Many will also take you to a collection of the best craft towns. Combis, large vans, and small buses transport people to and from Huancayo. Most head direct to each village and depart frequently throughout the daylight hours.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.