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Located in the province of Huarochirí (Lima) at 4,000 masl, Marcahuasi, considered one of the country's most enigmatic and mysterious spots, is a high mountain plateau stretching across 4 square km which are filed with gigantic granite formations shaped like human faces and animals. The inexplicable formations have baffled experts, while researchers in extraterrestrial matters believe the site is a meeting point with UFOs. Marcahuasi seems like something out of this world as it lies so far from civilization. However, centuries ago it was the cradle of ancient pre-Hispanic civilizations, which have left a legacy of archaeological sites.

To get there, either by car or bus, one needs to head up the Central Highway. Busses leave from Chosica (km 35) for San Pedro de Casta (some 4 hours from Chosica), the nearest town to Marcahuasi. Travelers should make sure that the bus they take feature a sign reading San Pedro or Marcahuasi, as the busses marked Las Cruces will head elsewhere.

Whichever way visitors choose to travel, the road, fringed by eucalyptus groves and San Pedro cacti, winds its bumpy way up to the town of San Pedro de Casta (3,350 masl). This town, which is lined with cobbled streets and wooden balconies, features a vast church with a main square that runs across several different levels, from where one sets off on the final climb up to Marcahuasi.

The climb runs up a trail apt only for hikers (six hours) or horseback (three hours). Those choosing to ride up on horse- or muleback, can hire beasts of burden in the main square, where there is also lodging to be had for those wishing to spend the night in the town.

The climb up to the plateau should be done together with an experienced guide. The altitude of the site may cause soroche, or high altitude sickness, along the way. Hikers are advised to drink plenty of liquids and eat little or nothing before setting off. Those who are not in good physical condition should not carry much weight.

Marcahuasi is an ideal spot for camping and rock climbing. The rock formations resemble animals such as the turtle, lion, dog and hippopotamus, but the most remarkable formations are those shaped like human beings, particularly the Monument to Humanity. This impressive boulder, which rears 25 meters high, clearly resembles a human face, and those camping up on the plateau will discover new shapes as these change depending on the time of day and the angle of the sunlight and the shadows. At night, campers will be treated to a spectacle of millions of stars glittering in the highland sky.

The site lacks enough tourist infrastructure, in addition to an extreme climate, which can send temperatures plummeting below zero at night. Visitors should dress warmly and bring the right camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag, food, water, warm clothing).

For nature lovers, Marcahuasi feature four lakes which attract a wide range of fauna, including condors, vicuñas and vizcacha rodents; particularly from April to July. For archaeology buffs, the area is dotted with interesting pre-Hispanic ruins, including a small cemetery, funeral towers called chullpas, and a site dubbed The Fortress.The Marcahuasi stone formations.

The four-hour hike starts out from the picturesque town of San Pedro de Casta, a one hour's drive up a zig-zagging dirt road which climbs up from Chosica (40 km east of Lima along the Central Highway). San Pedro stands out for its cobbled streets and venerable weathered balconies. A large church towers over its sloping main square, from where the trail sets off up to Marcahuasi (4,000 masl).

The site is famous for its collection of stone formations where esoteric writer Daniel Russo spotted faces and other shapes, including the Monument to Humanity, which from certain angles appear to be a human face. Other shapes include that of the lion, toad, tortoise and other faces spread out across the 4 square kilometer plain. The four existing lakes feature water from April to July; temperatures can plunge below freezing at night, when the skies glitter with the icy glow of thousands of stars.

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