The villagers of Peru’s central highlands were already hard-hit in the 1980s by bad roads, little or no phone communication, and a life that revolved around subsistence agriculture. Then came the Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, a terrorist movement based on Maoist ideals that tried to spark a nationwide revolution by destroying the state and “old oligarchy.”
During the 1980s and early 1990s, a staggering 70,000 people were killed in the crossfire between the Shining Path and the army. Sendero Luminoso began in Ayacucho  and wreaked most havoc in the central highlands—more than 75 percent of those killed were Quechua-speaking villagers.
These days terrorism has disappeared and the highways are in fantastic shape—thanks to the national government, which is doing everything it can to connect this forgotten part of Peru to the rest of the country. The area is safe for travel—even the conservative U.S. Embassy says so. Families have moved back to their towns, and there is a sense of recovery, of wounds slowly healing.
But still, fewer than 500 travelers a month end up in Ayacucho , which is without question the least visited of Peru’s Andean cities. There are 33 colonial churches in Ayacucho, a huge amount of colonial art, colorful markets, artisan studios on every corner, and one of Latin America’s most famous Easter week  celebrations.
Huancayo , farther north, is equally as interesting but for its countryside, not its city. There are a dozen or more quaint adobe villages in the surrounding Mantaro Valley  where artisans make a living by carving gourds or making weavings from alpaca wool and natural dyes. There are more traditional festivals here than anywhere else in Peru, and outsiders are welcome. After such bitter years, they are overjoyed to have guests.