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Sacred Valley

: Huancaya, Vitis and Vilca (Yauyos/Lima).

Altitude: Huancaya (3,554 masl), Vitis (3,616 masl) and Vilca (3,815 masl).

Climate: Dry climate. From December to April, it is balmy by day, but cold at night. From May to November, the weather gets considerably colder.

Access: Huancaya lies 318 km from the city of Lima (around 6 hours) down the South Pan-American Highway. From San Vicente de Cañete (km 148), the road climbs up to the highlands, but is only paved as far as Lunahuaná. From here, a dirt road runs for 126 km as far as Huancaya. Vitis lies some 6 km before Huancaya. One can also reach the area along the road that runs through the town of La Oroya (175 km/3 hours). From here, the road runs for 117 km (3-4 hours), of which just 43 km have been paved. The rest is dirt road, apt only for four-wheel drive vehicles. Vilca is 28 km northeast of Huancaya.

Just six hours from Lima lies the town of Huancaya, which offers visitors a natural environment away from the smog and traffic, with bucolic surrounding countryside. Despite the fact it is the largest town in the area, Huancaya is one of the few places in Peru that has not been spoiled by modernization. One can stroll through its cobbled streets and feel like one has gone back in time, as even the modern constructions have been done in the traditional style, maintaining architectural harmony with the adobe mud-brick homes and wooden balconies.

On the outskirts of the town, surrounded by splashing waterfalls and turquoise lakes, visitors can camp out and enjoy the breath-taking landscapes. Nearby lie the towns of Vitis and Vilca. Vitis lies just 15 minutes from Huancaya (6 km beforehand, on the road up from Cañete). This small town lies on top of a small mountain saddle and is surrounded by gullies and steep hillsides. Nearby lies Lake Piquecocha, a taste of things to come in the rest of the valley.

From Huancaya, the road to Vilca (28 km) crosses through the gorges of Paccha, Huinsa and Potente, heading to the largest and most striking lakes in the area: Huarimanca, Cuchupasca and Huallhua. These lakes, which unfold one after another, are linked up by thundering waterfalls which make them unique in their beauty. A peculiar phenomenon in the area is that the waterfalls do not splash, but rather, the water pours gently into the lakes. It is believed that this is due to the fact the stones on the riverbed are permeable, allowing the water to seep through, thereby masking the true force of the flow of the Cañete River. The turquoise waters are as beautiful as they are treacherous for this very same reason: in some parts, this creates underwater currents which can drown unwary swimmers.

Just 3 km from Vilca lies Lake Paparrucha, around which the Cañete River flows through a dense eucalyptus forest, a common tree species in the area. With a little luck, on a clear day, visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of Mount Pariacaca.

But there are greater surprises in store. The lake is also home to vast quantities of trout. Ever since the lake was stocked with fish from the central Andean Mantaro Valley in 1938, trout have multiplied at a staggering rate, despite the fact that a few years ago the fish almost disappeared from the lake due to overfishing. The locals worked together to prevent the fish from disappearing from the area's rivers and lakes. Today, fishing is controlled in the area to ensure there is fish for local consumption and restaurants.

Huancaya and its surroundings form part of the Nor-Yauyos-Cochas Reserve, which features a wide diversity of flora and fauna, such as the vizcacha rodent, puma and fox, as well as birds and reptile species which are native to the area. The region also features archaeological sites and ideal routes for trekking, mountain climbing and biking. The rivers also provide some excellent whitewater rafting, while the whole family can go on horseback rides and taste the dairy products for which the area is famous.

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