The High Road- La Union to Huanuco

The small, muddy town of La Union, an unlikely travel destination, is where we began our lengthy adventure through Peru's central highlands. From the number of astounded local expressions that followed our everyday movements, it was obvious that finally we'd well and truly escaped the gringo trail.


La Union is a friendly town however and everyone was interested to know what we were doing there. Before long the lady selling fruit-bread in the market was greeting me like an old friend and children were asking the name of my father. Where was he?! 


This is the ramshackle view from our hostel (Hostal Picaflor)...




One not-so-sunny morning, Dan and I decided to climb the steep path to the next hamlet and nearby Inca ruins. Surprisingly, the two hour walk was just as enjoyable as visiting Huanuco Viejo itself and allowed us a chance to see what life is like away from modernisation. With tiny ladies in indigenous dress, their grazing pigs tied up outside of disintegrating adobe houses, walking through the hamlet felt like stepping back in time. There were no cars so the wide, grassy central road was also a feeding ground for horses, sheep and chickens, while their owners calmly observed from tiny doorways. Although the people here are very helpful and happy to give directions if you're lost, it is advisable to carry a stick for the less welcoming dogs.* 



By no means Peru's most extensive ruins, Huanuco Viejo is one site where you can still feel some sense of discovery. We had the place to ourselves and could marvel at the massive, tessellating Inca stone and disintegrating carved animals quietly in our own time. At 3700m, with 360 degree views and little for hundreds of miles around, it's easy to see how, guarded by the strong leader Illa Tupac, this settlement resisted long after many others had fallen to the Spanish.




As the weather set in for the worst, we didn't stay too long and I wished on the two hour journey back that my raincoat had cost more than £3 all those months ago.




To reach the city Huanuco from La Union, it is currently only possible to take a shared car. Looking at the map, it seemed impossible that a 100km journey could take five hours, but as soon as we began I understood- the sometimes single-track, often unpaved road hurtled around the curves of the mountains with a terrifying drop on one side. I often had to shut my eyes and we stopped twice to help people who'd crashed. Our lack of wing-mirror and tire-tread wasn't encouraging, but I was glad our driver seemed to know the road well.


We arrived relieved and exhausted to find Huanuco bursting with election fever- packed streets, megaphones and the giant leery faced posters of opponents decorating every wall. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for in the mountains and, after buying a little flask for coffee in the market, we were happy to be on our way the next day...


*A note on vicious dogs...

Most dogs in Peru are kept solely to protect property and livestock. This means they can become very aggressive at the sight of strange looking foreigners like us. If they're trying to attack you and you're frightened it's best to shout at them, "NO!" or "VAMOS!" (just in case they speak Spanish...), back away and whip your stick sharply towards them. If you're lacking a sturdy stick it can also be effective to throw rocks, although obviously best not to actually hit them. Under no circumstances run away- that is a sure-fire way to get your ankles bitten.


Finding the Inca ruins


The best way to find the path up to the Inca ruins is to ask people in the village. Anybody will understand "los ruinas?" if you look like a tourist. The path up through the mountains starts behind the market and is fairly obvious until you reach the small hamlet. From here walk along the main grassy road until the houses finish where there is a sign telling you to turn right. Follow this path until you can see the ruins. It costs S4 (less than £1) to get in.



For other ancient ruins and beautiful mountains in Peru see my previous posts including the adobe ruins of Chan Chan and the glaciers, lagoons and snow capped peaks of Huaraz.


For other interesting and unusual places that you might never have heard of try...



Write a comment

Comments: 6
  • #1

    Nathan Anderson (Wednesday, 15 October 2014 14:04)

    Woah, Huanuco Viejo looks awesome! I love places like that off the beaten track. I really enjoy places with a strong sense of history as well, this sounds like it would be right up my alley.

    Did you actually get attacked by one of the dogs? Lots of places in Central Asia are like that well, I've had a few close calls. Scary stuff!

  • #2

    featherytravels (Wednesday, 15 October 2014 17:41)

    Thank-you! Yeah I think you'd like it too. So nice to get out of the city sometimes.

    Niether of us have been bitten, but there are often 3 or 4 very angry dogs that seem like they would have a good go if you didn't hold your ground properly. I like dogs generally, but if they have their top lip curled back and are trying to get your ankles, it seems fair enough to use a stick to get rid of them!

  • #3

    Charlie (Saturday, 18 October 2014 05:29)

    Oohh, sounds like a great off the beaten path place to visit! Not sure about the dogs :/ Costa Rica has a lot of dogs like that as well though mostly they are fenced in - they sure do go crazy when they see a foreigner though!

  • #4

    featherytravels (Sunday, 19 October 2014 05:55)

    Yeah it was a great place. The dogs are scary all over the mountains here, but I haven't been bitten yet. :/

  • #5

    Janet (Sunday, 26 October 2014 09:49)

    What a privilege to have the ruins to yourself - amazing!

  • #6

    Agness (Sunday, 06 March 2016 17:38)

    What a lovely place to explore. How long did you stay there? I could pay this place a visit, 3-4 days would be enough I guess! :)

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