Lima to Tarma
If you want a crash course in Peruvian geography, take a bus up the Carretera Central, the well-paved highway that connects Lima with the interior of the country. Even on the foggiest of Lima’s winter days, blue skies and sun can usually be found after less than an hour’s drive inland to the towns of Chaclacayo, Chosica, and Santa Eulalia. From here the Carretera Central follows the Río Rímac through the subtropical valleys outside link Lima, sheer rock canyons, desolate expanses of puna (high plains) and down into the jungle on the other side.
This trip is not for the fainthearted: In two hours, or 126 kilometers, travelers head from sea level to the town of Ticlio and the Anticona Pass at 4,820 meters (15,080 feet)! One of Peru’s greatest engineering achievements was building a railroad over this pass in the 19th century. When traveling this route, bring warm clothing and water, and travel quickly to avoid headaches, nausea, crabbiness, and the other effects of altitude sickness.
After passing snowcapped Nevado Anticona and Lago Huacracocha, the route drops through striking, pea-green puna and a string of grimy mountain towns that end with La Oroya, an industrial rust heap hemmed in by bare hillsides. The river that runs through it is choked with foundry runoff and crossed by a series of concrete bridges, over which miners with plastic helmets and sooty faces trudge to and from their shifts.
At La Oroya the highway branches toward two Lima weekend spots, both of which are about a two-hour drive away: to the south lies the highland countryside around Huancayo; to the east lie the towns of La Merced and San Ramón, or Chanchamayo as they are collectively known.
The Chanchamayo road winds gently to Tarma, a colonial city at 925 meters that is famous in Peru for its Easter celebration. Past Tarma the road plunges another 2,300 meters to Chanchamayo, a fertile region for growing coffee, yuca, and banana.
A third route to the north leads past Junín, a battlefield from Peru’s war for independence, Tingo María, and the low-jungle city of Pucallpa. Tingo María and the Upper Huallaga Valley north of it is Peru’s prime cocaine-producing region and is not safe for travel. For that reason, the route is not included in this travel guide.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition