One of the Provinces East of Lima, though one of the, at the same time, most easy and difficult to access, is the extensive Province of Huarochirí. It comprises 33 districts, and the basins of the Rivers Rímac and Santa Eulalia, the latter tributary of the former, and partially the basins of the Lurín and Mala Rivers.
Its Capital is Matucana, and amongst its Districts, Ricardo Palma, the closest to Lima, Santa Eulalia, Huarochirí, San Bartolomé, San Lorenzo de Quinti, San Mateo, Santa Cruz de Cocachacra, Santo Domingo de los Olleros and Surco, stand out.
These towns are not integrated among them. You just take the Central Highway, which leads to the Central and Eastern Regions of the Country, to get to several of them such as Ricardo Palma, Matucana or Cocachacra. Whilst to get to the other towns you need to take a dirt road that begins at the District of Cieneguilla in Lima.
The Region was conquered for the Inca Empire by Pachacútec. A legend sustains that when the Conqueror from Cusco arrived to the zone, he felt so cold that he asked for some clothes. Therefore its name: Huara = Clothes and Chiri = Cold.
The zone was much sought after and lusted for during the Colony due to its deposits of precious metals and the richness of its fertile soils. However, the maltreatment of the Spanish conquistadors provoked the diaspora of its inhabitants.
History registers indigenous uprisings in the XVIII Century, and a strong ecclesiastic repression that was called Extirpation of Idolatries since the XVIth Century.
ATTRACTIONS OF HUAROCHIRI
THE WOODS OF ZÁRATE
At the kilometre 56 of the Central Highway begins a detour bound to the Locality of San Bartolomé. It is a small agricultural Town that stands alongside the trans-Andean railway, and which hardly congregates over half a thousand inhabitants.
It is a gentle, picturesque and taciturn corner at 1683 metres above sea level.
From there you climb through a sinuous ascending path by the left bank of the creek, towards a dense and very steep wood: you have arrived to the Woods of Zárate, which are at 3100 metres above sea level.
It is a beautiful hike that travellers will certainly be grateful for at the end of the road. The path goes across various picturesque towns.
Native tree species such as the chachacomo, the calo and the calatillo grow in the zone, and cacti such as the San Pedro are abundant. The latter is used by healers to elaborate hallucinating beverages for the people.
The best time of the year to visit the place is between April and June, when the mountain is green and the creeks carry water. There is an area proper for camping known as the Plaza San Pedro, and a beautiful waterfall at the Hamlet of Llancha.
If travellers wish to take a bath they must go to the nearby Creek of Carnacha. And if you are lucky, and if you are cautious, you will be able to see vizcachas grooming themselves in the mornings at any of the streams cleaving the thicket.
THE WATERFALL OF PALA CALA
It is a small though impressive cascade within the Sierra of Lima. In order to access it, travellers must get to the Town of San Jerónimo de Surco, at the kilometre 67 of the Central Highway.
From there, you walk for two hours through a path alongside the River formed by the Creek of Matala in order to arrive to the Hamlet of Huaquicha, an ideal site for camping, and to the waterfall of Pala Cala.
Travellers won't resist the chance of plunging into the ponds at almost 3000 metres above sea level.
There are Inca archaeological remains in the surroundings. It is recommended to be well informed about the route before undertaking the hike.
A dirt road leading to the Town of Ayas starts at the kilometre 69 of the Central Highway. From there, travellers have two alternatives to access the Archaeological site of Huacapune, at 3800 metres above sea level.
The first one requires a greater effort for it implies the abrupt ascent of the Tompongo Mountain, in which summit stands the site. The other one is longer and more soothing for the road stretches up to end of the creek and goes by the Rock engravings of Peña Culebra (Snake Crag), called after an engraved reptile that can be seen on the cliff.
You have to take a five hour walk approximately in both cases.
More than the external structures, what amazes at Huacapune is the number of subterranean precincts with rooms of small dimensions. The view is excellent. You can see all of the Yanajune Stream and, on the other side of the Valley of the Rímac River, the Huacre Mountain at 4470 metres above sea level.
THE CAVES OF TRES VENTANAS (THREE WINDOWS)
It is a group of caves that where occupied by people who translated their abilities to the rocks 10000 years ago. A selected collection of these works, such as spear tips and other rock artefacts, are exhibited at the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Pueblo Libre, and constitute the best preserved works of the Palaeolithic era in all of South America.
A leg of a Megaterius a pre-historic herbivore animal weighing three tones, was unearthed in one of the caves in 1970.
The caves are 80 kilometres East of Lima, at 3710 metres above sea level. In order to reach them you have to go through a dirt road during the last 50 kilometres until arriving at the town of Escomara. From there, the locals can guide you to the nearby Caves of the Three Windows after a 20 minute walk.
It is the Capital of the Province of Huarochirí. It is 84 kilometres East of Lima going through the Central Highway, pierced on the left bank of the Matucana River, which flows into the Rímac River at the site, at 2378 metres above sea level.
It is a bucolic and peaceful town surrounded by plantations of aromatic apple trees and splendid peach trees, and a suiting offer of restaurants and recreation areas.
SAN PEDRO DE CASTA AND MARCAHUASI
The cold though kind and beautiful Town of San Pedro de Casta is located 35 kilometres away from the Town of Santa Eulalia, going through a dirt road. The latter is accessed from the District of Chosica, in Lima, at the kilometre 40 of the Central Highway.
It is a small though famous Town due to its traditional Water Festivity (Celebrated on the first Sunday of October), and for being the starting point bound to the mythical Forest of Stones of Marcahuasi, at 4000 metres above sea level.
San Pedro de Casta is at 3350 metres above sea level, and is characterised by its pitted streets and the beautiful balconies of its old houses. A big church rises on its uneven plaza, and from there starts the road to Marcahuasi.
This route can be realised on the back of a horse (three hours) or by foot (six hours approximately).
Turned into a Magnetic and Esoteric Centre worldwide, Marcahuasi is a four square kilometre plateau populated by colossal rocks with animal appearances. The place became famous when Doctor Daniel Russo discovered hidden countenances within the Forest of Stones.
There is the renowned Monument to Humanity, a boulder of about 25 metres high which shows the silhouette of a man from a certain angle, and rocks with the shape of a lion, a toad, a turtle and others.
If travellers set camp at the plateau, it is possible that they discover new features for they change depending on the hour of the day and the angle in which the sunlight projects the shadows. The millions of stars invading the firmament at night will give you a unique spectacle.
The place does not have the appropriate tourist infrastructure yet. Besides, travellers must face a weather of various Celsius grades below zero during the night. Therefore, carry the adequate clothes and gear, as well as the necessary supplies (Tent, sleeping bag, food, water and lots of warm clothes).
And for nature lovers, Marcahuasi has 12 lagoons in the surroundings whose waters attract diverse animals such as the Condor, the Vicuñas and Vizcacha; especially between the months of April and July.
If yours is an archaeological interest, the zone is surrounded by interesting pre-Hispanic remains, like a small cemetery consisting of funerary round buildings (chullpas) belonging to the site of Huacracocha, and another one called The Fortress.
The place is also ideal for practicing astronomic observations and spiritual exercises. Marcahuasi is ideal for the practice of rock scaling as well.
You can arrive by bus or driving your own car coming through the Central Highway. The buses bound to San Pedro de Casta part from Chosica.
Lodging facilities are humble at San Pedro de Casta, and the commerce of foodstuff is limited. If you are planning on arriving driving your own car, be advised that the last gas station is near Santa Eulalia, thus carrying some extra fuel is recommended. The plateau of Marcahuasi has no service at all, hence, it is necessary to carry the proper equipment, as well as the necessary provisions: (Tent, sleeping bag, food, water, lots of warm clothes, sun block, first aid kit, etc.).
You must undertake the ascent to the plateau accompanied by an experienced guide. Due to its high altitude, this ascent can cause as a consequence soroche or high altitude sickness, therefore it is recommended to drink lots of liquid and having eaten little or nothing right before the ascent. Besides, you should not carry too much weight if you do not have much physical resistance.
ORCOCOTO AND CRUZ DE LAYA
You need to take the road starting at the District of Cieneguilla, in Lima, in order to access these beautiful places. It is a dirt road that runs parallel to the Lurín River. It climbs and abandons the Valley bound to Huarochirí after passing by the Town of Antioquía.
All the upper zone of the Lurín River is inaccessible to vehicles. This relative isolation gives the region a special charm. Its towns are linked by narrow trails transited by mules carried with baskets full of apples, quinces and small peaches.
The Town of Orcocoto is the doorway to enter this zone, two hours away from Lima. A bridge of planks allows the trail to continue until reaching the Town of Cruz de Laya, after a one hour walk.