One can almost always find a small church or village of red-tiled roofs with a fragance of freshly-baked bread on the air, amidst the high Andean pastures and cropfields that make up the department of Ancash. These are the everyday wonders of the Peruvian Andes. There, in all its ancient glory, lies the Callejon de Huaylas. This wide valley, some 200 km (124 miles) long, is split by the Santa River and fringed by a picturesque group of towns and villages, among them Recuay, Huaraz, Carhuaz, Yungay and Caraz. It is a land where time appears to have stood still. Wedged between two soaring mountain chains: the cordillera negra and cordillera blanca - The Callejón de Huaylas - gave rise to the ancient Chavín civilization, who have left a legacy in the Chavín de Huantar temple just hours from the city of Huaraz, the capital of the department of Ancash.
Ancash, however, is a vast territory that includes not only the highlands, but also stretches as far as the coast where one can find cities like the fishing port of Chimbote or Casma, a tranquil town by the shores of the Pacific. Possibly Ancash’s geographic and climactic diversity has made it one of Peru’s premier tourist destinations. Huascarán National Park, named after the 6,768 meter (22,000 feet) high Mount Huascarán, offers opportunities to practice just about every adventure sport under the sun, from rafting down the Santa River to climbing up the Pastoruri snowfields. Mountaineering Week is one of the major events in the region Lake Llanganuco and the pre-Hispanic stone temple of Sechin are also famous. These and many other attractions are reason enough to explore one of the most beautiful and rugged parts of Peru.
:: CHAVIN THE HUANTAR
The unique remains of the intricate past of an entire nation, the archaeological site of Chavín de Huantar is a symbol of Peru’s ancient northern cultures. At 3,185 meters (10,447 feet) above sea level and just three hours from the city of Huaraz, the magical and religious center of Chavin was built in around 327 BC. Its walls are made of stone, while its structures are shaped like pyramids, which have sparked a great deal of controversy over what was the purpose of the complex, a temple or a fortress. The local inhabitants call the site “el Castillo” (the castle). The construction features a labyrinthine network of passageways and tunnels lit by strategically-placed skylights. Inside the temple still stands the Lanzon, 5-meter (16 feet) high monolith carved into ferocious deities and figures of monstrous beasts. There is also a set of gargoyle heads which once decorated the outer walls of the complex.
Chavín was one of the earliest civilization in the Americas, contemporary to the Olmecas in Mexico. The culture achieved a remarkable level of skills in agriculture, architecture and pottery, in addition to their administrative capacity. This enabled them to dominate much of the north and central parts of Peru. Its strategic location as a link between the coast, highlands and jungle possibly what made Chavin de Huantar so important.The ruins, discovered in 1919 by Peruvian archaelogist Julio C. Tello, are a crucial part of Peru’s history.
:: HUASCARAN NATIONAL PARK
The park is located in the department of Ancash, in the Cordillera Blanca which is, the world’s highest tropical mountain chain. It was established as a national park in 1975 with an area of 340,000 hectares, and it was declared Mankind Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
The park is home to one of the most extraordinary high-mountain eco-systems on Earth: 663 glaciers, 269 lakes and 41 rivers, as well as hundreds of mountain peaks, 26 of which top 6,000 meters (19680 feet). The park teems with an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna, including 800 plant species and dozens of kinds of animals. It is also the site of 33 pre-Inca archaeological complexes (such as Wilcahuain) and dozens of Quechua-speaking peasant farming communities who use traditional farming and livestock herding techniques.
:: THE CORDILLERA BLANCA
Located in the department of Ancash, the Cordillera Blanca, held to be the Peruvian mountain climbing capital, rears up on the eastern flank of the Santa River Valley, in the Callejón de Huaylas valley. This mountain chain features the largest number of spectacularly beautiful peaks in the country, including Mount Huascarán 6,768 masl (22,200 feet); Huandoy, with three peaks, all over 6,000 meters (19,680 feet); Chopicalqui 6,354 meters (20,841 feet);Chacraraju 6,112 meters (20,047 feet); Alpamayo 5,947 meters (19,506 feet) and Copa 6,118 meters (20,067 feet).
Some of the advantages of this mountains area include the climate (the ideal time for climbing is between May and October) and access to its mountains. This gives climbers the chance to tackle several summits within a short space of time.
• Picante de cuy. Stewed guinea pig in a peanut and hot chilli pepper sauce.
• Cuchikanca. Tender suckling pig marinated in vinegar and roasted.
• Charqui. Salt-dried llama jerky.
• Pecan caldo. Sheepshead soup with tripe.
• Pachamanca. Various kinds of meat, potatoes and tender corn cooked over hot stones.