Tarma is the first decent lodging option on the long haul between Lima  and Chanchamayo , and strolling townspeople crowd the streets in the evening, a warming sight after the barren landscape of the puna above. Because of its chilly weather and altitude (925 meters or 3,053 feet), people coming from Lima occasionally feel altitude sickness here.
Tarma was founded by the Spanish soon after the conquest, though narrow streets and a handful of old homes are the only clues to its colonial pedigree. There are two churches worth a visit on the main square. La Capilla del Señor de la Cárcel (Chapel of the Lord of the Prison) was built in 1800 and remodeled in 1954 by General Manuel Odría, Tarma’s most famous son and a Peruvian dictator during the 1930s. The church receives its name from the Christ image painted on its left wall and the fact that it was built atop the town’s prison. Across the plaza is Catedral Santa Ana (6–10 a.m. and 5–8 p.m. daily), which was also built by Odría.
What Tarma is most known for, however, is incredible festivals, starting with elaborate processions, singing contests, and water balloon–throwing during February’s Carnaval. During Tarma’s Easter week, millions of flowers and seeds are carefully arranged on and around the Plaza de Armas. The resulting flower carpet—depicting everything from landscapes to religious images—sets a new world record every year, covering every inch of street in an eight-block area around the main square, an estimated 3,400 square meters. At 5 a.m. on Easter Sunday, a religious procession walks over the carpet and through a number of decorated wooden arches on its way to and from the cathedral.
Other nearby attractions include Tarmatambo, a collection of Inca ruins nin kilometers to the south of Tarma. The Santuario del Señor de Muruhuay is a huge white modern church with an electric bell tower, visible from the highway nine kilometers east of Tarma at Acobamba. This is only the latest building to cover a rock carving of Christ reputed to have miraculous properties. Tradition maintains that it was etched on a boulder from a survivor of the Junín independence battle of August 6, 1824.
There is world-class caving near Palcamayo, 23 kilometers north of Acobamba along a dirt road. This town is the launching point for exploring one of Latin America’s largest caves, the Gruta de Huagapo. Cavers using scuba equipment and oxygen tanks have descended as far as 2,800 meters into the cave. Guides can be contracted locally to help descend some distance into the cave, but unguided visitors with headlamps can enter to about 300 meters.
The best budget option in Tarma is Hostal Dorado (Huánuco 488, tel. 064/32-1914, US$11 s, US$15 d), a colonial home with a plant-filled courtyard and wooden second-story balcony. Rooms are simple, clean, and quiet, and cheaper rooms with shared bathrooms are available. Hotel Galaxia (Lima 262, tel. 064/32-1449, US$17 s, US$21 d) is clean and quiet, despite its location on the main square, but lacks charm.
The luxury option in Tarma is Hotel Los Portales (Ramón Castilla 512, tel. 064/32-1411, www.hotelportalestarma.com , US$67 s, US$92 d with breakfast), which was built (of course) by General Odría in the 1950s on the main road just west of town. Rooms are newly remodeled and there is a bar with karaoke.
A German- Swiss couple are running Hacienda La Florida (6 km outside Tarma, tel. 064/34-1041, www.haciendalaflorida.com , US$41–48 s, US$66–80 d with breakfast), a colonial hacienda that once belonged to Peruvian painter José Otero. There are 12 tasteful rooms, some decorated with antiques, and courtyards and gardens for strolling.
For spit-roasted chicken, trout, meats, and meal-sized soups, head to Restaurant Señorial (Huánuco 140, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–11 p.m. daily, US$2–5).
Lo Mejorcito de Tarma (Arequipa 501, tel. 064/32-3500, 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily) has excellent Peruvian food.
Restaurante Midamar’s (Plaza de Armas, Arequipa 221, 9 a.m.–9 p.m.) serves breakfast and has a good lunch menu.
The two main transport companies, with terminals in Lima , have daily buses down to Chanchamayo  and to Huancayo . Empresa de Transporte Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Vienrich 420, tel. 064/32-2937) has buses to Lima two times a day at 11:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. for US$15. The company also offers US$3.50 buses to Chanchamayo  three times a day between noon and 5 p.m. Empresa de Transportes Chanchamayo  (Callao 1002, tel. 064/32-1882) is another reputable bus company for the Lima–Chanchamayo journey. Los Canarias has frequent departures to Huancayo .