The 410 kilometers—about 10 hours on a bus—between coastal Lima , up the Carretera Central and all the way to Huánuco is a magnificent day trip and crosses at least five different geographic regions.
After passing by Chosica and San Mateo, among other smaller towns, the highway makes a winding ascent on its way to Ticlio and the Anticona Pass at 4,820 meters. At the mining center of La Oroya (3,700 meters), the highway detours north to Huánuco.
It crosses the high-altitude puna at 4,000 meters and runs next to the Reserva Nacional Junín, which protects wetlands and the highly endangered Junín grebe in Lake Junín. The Carretera Central passes by the detour road to Cerro de Pasco before descending the Huallaga River, which eventually broadens into a fertile valley where Huánuco is located.
Situated at 1,894 meters of altitude, the inhabitants of this small city on the Upper Río Huallaga Valley boast they have the best climate in Peru, due to its warm weather all year-round. Founded in 1541, the town itself has some churches and old historic buildings, but its major interesting sites are located in the surrounding area.
The Temple of Kotosh, known in Spanish as Templo de la Manos Cruzadas (9 a.m.–5 p.m., US$1 pp), is five kilometers west of the city and is one of Peru’s oldest archaeological sites. It was intensely studied by Japanese archaeologists, led by Seichi Izumi, in the 1950s and 1960s. It can be easily visited hiring a taxi (US$8, including a 30-minute wait, and return).
South of the city lies a long and wide stretch of the fertile Upper Huallaga Valley where the Cachigaga Hacienda is located and which can be reached by taxi (US$5, one-way). It is well reputed for its aguardiente (distilled sugarcane alcohol), and rum, which are sold there. The owner, Honorato López (tel. 062/962-94-7140), is a friendly man who doesn’t speak English, but he will gladly tour you around his small hacienda showing you the process to make his spiritous drinks, if he is around and you know some Spanish.
About 20 kilometers up from Cachigaga are the Lagunas de Pichgacocha, a beautiful set of five waterfalls and lagoons, which you can reach by trekking from Conchamarca (5–6 hours) or by driving if you hire a taxi (US$30 for a roundtrip). It is possible to camp, explore, and trek around the lagoons.
Huánuco has some backpacker hostels, such as Hostal Huánuco (Huánuco 777, tel. 062/51-2050), and a couple of midrange hotels, such as the centric Grand Hotel Huánuco (Dámaso Beraún 775, tel. 062/51-4222, www.grandhotelhuanuco.com , US$45 s, US$64 d).
The best is Hotel Trapiche Suites (General Prado 636, tel. 062/51-7091, US$25 s, US$32 d), with extremely comfy beds (with lots of pillows!) in cozy rooms, impeccable private bathrooms, cable TV, WiFi, and minifridge.
El Bambú (Av. Universitaria Km 2.2, tel. 062/51-6097, US$1.5–8), a bit outside the city, is an excellent place to try regional food such as fried or stewed cuy (guinea pig).
El Leñador (28 de Julio 1233, tel. 062/50-3467, US$3–8) is ideal for meat-eaters or grilled chicken-lovers.
If you prefer pizzas or pasta, Pizzería Don Sancho (General Prado 645, tel. 062/51-9606, US$3–6), just across Hotel Trapiche Suites, is your place.