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Weekend trip from Lima: the Nor Yauyos-Cochas mountain nature reserve

Sometimes you need more than just a day to escape the big city. Our next suggestion for a trip from Lima is ideal for a weekend away. It’s about five to six hours driving inland and uphill from Lima. This one is perfect for those that love idyllic nature, hiking, rivers, waterfalls and small villages. Oh, and of course delicious local food. It’s Peru after all. Join us to the Pearl of the Andes, Nor Yauyos Cochas.

Huancaya © Ozesama/CC-BY-SA-4.0

The picturesque mountain nature reserve of Yauyos Cochas is definitely an up-and-coming destination. And rightfully so! It’s a magical place with lagoons, snowy mountain tops and a myth or legend around every corner. You might feel discouraged by the rather long drive, but the drive is an attraction by itself: You’ll travel through idyllic villages and there are plenty of other attractions along the way.

Yauyos is known as the land of pumpkins, but, no disrespect to the pumpkin, its greatest treasure is without a doubt the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve. Obtaining the title of ‘Landscape Reserve’ is quite an achievement, because it’s not easy to get this in Peru.  Of all the impressive tourist sites in the country, Nor Yauyos Cochas was the first to obtain this recognition! You’ll instantly realize why when you get there.

Pariacaca sacred mountain © Stéphane VALLIN/RPNYC/Facebook

Huancaya © CapturandoKilometros.com

Known as one of the most beautiful high Andean landscapes in Peru, Yauyos-Cochas has emblematic snow-capped mountains, beautiful crystal-clear turquoise lagoons, deep canyons, vast forests of native trees and enormous Puyas Raimondii flowers (the largest species of bromeliad, reaching up to 15m in height). In addition, it’s the native habitat of typical Andean animals, such as the Andean fox, vicuñas, grebes and herons. This huge reserve’s main objective is not only to protect its ecosystems, but also to do so in harmony with the traditional activities of the local peasant communities.

Cuicocha Mountain © Jacinto Jimenez/RPNYC/Facebook

Giant hummingbird (patagona gigas) and Puya raimondii © Alan Quispe/RPNYC/Facebook

One of the first places to visit in Yauyos-Cochas is Huantán, a district famous for its delicious cheeses. Keep an eye on the sky because you might see one of the mighty Andean condors defying air currents on the way. The landscape is dominated by the thousands of ancient platforms in excellent condition on the mountain slopes. These are ancient laboratories of roots and grains that are part of the living cultural heritage of the Lima mountains.

Taruca (hippocamelus antisensis) © RPNYC/Facebook

Pre-Inca terraced landscape of Laraos © PromPerú

A must for cave enthusiasts is the town of Laraos, where you can see extraordinary cave paintings of scenes from primitive cattle life in Quillcasca (4,375 meters above sea level). Or you could visit the Qaqa Mach’ay cave, the highest in the world at 4,930 meters above sea level (16,174 feet) and 125 meters deep (410 feet). There’s also Pumacocha, the deepest cavern in South America, located at 4,400 meters above sea level, with a vertical drop of 638 meters (150 meters deeper than the Centennial Grotto in Brazil).

Rock art paintings of Cuchimachay © RPNYC/Facebook

Speleology in Laraos © RPNYC/Facebook

Continue to Alis, where you can still find 70 hectares of the critically endangered Lloque tree, which grows on abandoned platforms. Where the Alis river enters the majestic Uchco canyon, you can go for a 3km walk that leads to the ghost town of Huaquis in the district of Miraflores. This pre-Hispanic city was abandoned 150 years ago.

Finally, we arrive to Huancaya, one of the most famous towns in Yauyos-Cochas, where the stonecutters carve the boulders to build their houses and show off their streets. Below, on the Cañete river, a series of waterfalls and lagoons display some spectacular nuances of blue and green. Colonial stone bridges cross the river. Because of this heavenly landscape, visitors prefer to camp here to be closer to the stars and nature.

Ghost ancient village of Huaquis © Stéphane VALLIN/RPNYC/Facebook

If you continue upstream for about 10 km, you’ll reach the almost abandoned town of Vilca. This town suffered a lot during the domestic conflict in Peru in the 1980s. That’s why they had to escape to the high mountains where they became excellent ranchers. They now produce more than a thousand kilos of cheese every week. Besides more beautiful lagoons, there is also the Forest of Love just outside town. This karkac forest on the calcareous rock of the Cañete river got its nickname because there is no young man or woman who doesn’t fall in love among its idyllic shadows.

Forest of Love

Another important attraction is the snowy mountain of Pariacaca, located in the Tanta district. It was one of the most important deities in Inca times. Historians consider the route to get there as the most important pilgrimage path, because of the many associated cultural and religious practices. It still has a great influence on the worldview and daily life of the surrounding populations. Within the scope of the Pariacaca is one of the sections of the Qapaq Ñan or Inca Trail network that linked Cusco to various destinations of the ancient Inca empire, such as the Pachacamac Sanctuary just south of Lima.

How to get to Yauyos-Cochas

If you travel by car, go to San Vicente de Cañete (kilometer 144 of the Panamericana Sur), take a detour to the left towards Imperial. Then pass through Lunahuaná and continue on the road up to kilometer 135, a place called Magdalena del Río. The detour to the left leads to the town of Yauyos (9 km). You can also continue along the banks of the Cañete river towards the Nor Yauyos-Cocha Landscape Reserve.

Huancaya © PromPerú

Where to stay in Yauyos-Cochas

The Yauyos towns provide accommodation, inns and hostels, while in Huancaya, there is a camping area free of charge passing the colonial bridge on left bank of the Cañete river. In Vilca, there is another place in the upper part of town where you can camp in the middle of a eucalyptus grove. 

Ticllacocha lagoon © Stéphane VALLIN/RPNYC/Facebook

What to eat in Yauyos-Cocha

Don’t leave Yauyos-Cochas without trying its delicious food! Since all the towns are along the river, trying the delicious fried or smoked trouts is obligatory. But there are several other dishes you can try, such as pachamanca, lamb broth, patasca, cheese with potatoes, ram steak, alpaca steak, cheese and milk soup, nettle and goose porridge. Among the drinks the “chamis” or “quemadito” stands out, a combination of herbs, cinnamon, lemon and a local brandy. 

Adobo de Alpaca with potatoes © RPNYC/Facebook

Why go?

The question should be, “why not?” The answer would be a lot shorter. In brief, in Yauyos-Cochas you can do fishing, mountain biking , trekking, experiential tourism, rafting, photography, visit archaeological sites and camp next to lagoons. You can also cross canyons, walk Inca trails, and take a rest in endangered and ancient forests. You can try delicious food and party with the locals dancing around bonfires. You will not regret this weekend trip from Lima!

Typical dance © RPNYC/Facebook

Kayaking in Yauyos-Cochas © RPNYC/Facebook