I’ve lived in Huancayo, Peru now for 18 months and I must say it is a safe, peaceful, relaxing, big-little city (with a greater Huancayo population of nearly 1/2 million people). At an elevation of 3,300 meters (which is 10,826 feet or over two miles high) travelers often need to acclimatize (by taking it easy) a day after arrival. Nestled in the scenic Mantaro Valley, about a 7 hour bus ride to the east of Lima and just over the crest of the Andes on the high eastern slope facing the jungle, this area is nearly ideal farmland growing a wide variety of crops year round.
Once the area had three distinct seasons (wet, winter and dry), but now it increasingly seems to simply just have a wet and a winter season. Many inhabitants say that the climate is changing here, with the dry season nearly gone or reduced to a little bit drier season (where it can possibly rain just once or twice during the month of August). The rest of the year rainfall ranges from nearly daily to about every few days, with rain falling for about an hour per day. Daily temperatures generally range from the mid 40’s to high 70’s (with a few days per year falling outside this range). Nightly temperatures range from the low 30’s to mid 40’s year round (with a few nights per year falling outside this range).
While the dwindling Huaytapallana glacier can be seen (when it is not shrouded by clouds) from the streets of Huancayo, it rarely snows here (never in for me) though hail is often seen, beginning many rainstorms from November to April. While this seems like a cold and wet place, the range is actually very favorable for crops due in part to the ground never freezing and moderately warm days. For instance, in the Northeastern United States, peas have a short productive season, of about one month. Here, in Huancayo peas are harvested 9-10 months per year.
The abundance of excellent farming, proximity to the jungle (about a three hour drive down the Eastern slope) and the rich farming culture makes a wide array of food very inexpensive here. However, being in the Andes means that any imported items are more expensive (technology, fuel, rice, and branded products like junk food). In addition to farming, the Mantaro Valley has rich pasture lands that are exclusively used for small scale family operated livestock rearing. So far, the big Agra complexes have not made it here. Milk, cheese, butter, meat, honey, grains, pseudograins, fruits, vegetables and to some extent coffee are all artisanally produced, using primarily time-honored, community and culturally based methods. The Andean way of life is by some people’s standards hard, there is poverty and other gender, child, ethnic and social inequalities. However, there is also a great sense of community, family, culture, and connection with the earth here that is all but lost most other places. I’m hoping that Andean life can improve where it needs to and at the same time hold on the qualities that make it so wonderful.
One thing that will stand out here is the difference in cultural values. You won’t find a single museum here (not one!), tourism to local sites and attractions is mostly undeveloped, bars will serve what most Peruvians consider horrible drinks, restaurants that serve a high standard of cuisine go empty all the while equally priced fast food seems to be gaining ground. Movies shown at the theater tend to be of the poorly produced Hollywood variety, where elsewhere in Peru independent films and thought provoking Hollywood comedies, dramas and documentaries are popular. Bands tend to only play covers, and many lip sync. All of this can leave visitors wondering what there is to do. But upon closer inspection, and once you start to interact with the locals here you begin to discover a whole different culture that is widespread, popular, vibrant and healthy. So come to Huancayo, to meet the people, taste the food and connect with the earth–there will be plenty of time to experience your own culture later–so set aside your expectations and experience Andean life!
Finally, just in case you think life here is solely rural, I want to show you this photo taken in the front yard of the first place I lived in Huancayo (a regular occurrence!), where the city and the farm are commingled: