Ayacucho is known as the City of Churches for good reason: Locals say there are 33—one for each year of Jesus' life—in this town 250 mi/400 km southeast of Lima (217 mi/350 km by air), including some of the most beautiful churches in Peru. Until the early 1990s, Ayacucho was also known as the home of the less-than-saintly Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerilla group. Fortunately, the terrorists are now gone, but the churches remain and travelers have begun to return to this mountain city (it sits at approximately 9,000 ft/2,750 m).

Start your visit at Plaza de Armas, the city's central square and home of the city's beautiful 17th-century cathedral. We also like Santo Domingo church, which has the prettiest exterior of all the churches in Ayacucho. Museo Arqueologico Hipolito Unanue has artifacts from the local Wari culture and a few items from other cultures.

From Ayacucho, you can take a tour to the Wari Ruins, 14 mi/23 km north of Ayacucho. This capital of the pre-Inca Wari empire has still-recognizable streets, plazas and canals. There are Incan ruins at Vilcashuaman (75 mi/120 km to the southeast). The last battle for Peruvian independence was fought near Quinua, a town known for its handicrafts, 21 mi/34 km northeast of Ayacucho, in 1824. Visit the Santuario Historico de la Pampa de Ayacucho to learn more about it. For scenic walks and massive vicuna herds, visit the Reserva Nacional Pampa Galeras.

Ayacucho is widely known for its Semana Santa celebration, and accommodations are hard to find during this week. The seven days leading up to Easter Sunday include elaborate processions, sidewalk art, music, food and bull-running (a mild version of Pamplona, Spain). Plan at least two nights in Ayacucho, longer if you're visiting during Semana Santa.

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