Orientation Otuzco is the gateway to the sierra of La Libertad. It is within 2 hours of the coastal regional capital, Trujillo, making it the shortest trip from coast to mountains in all of Peru. From around 120 ft above sea level to above 8,600ft, the winding road follows a river through diverse and stunning […]
Otuzco is the gateway to the sierra of La Libertad. It is within 2 hours of the coastal regional capital, Trujillo, making it the shortest trip from coast to mountains in all of Peru. From around 120 ft above sea level to above 8,600ft, the winding road follows a river through diverse and stunning landscapes. The view alone is worth the trip! Its proximity to Trujillo makes it a great day trip option or you can make it a multi-day trip before making your way to see the ruins of Marcahuamachuco in Huamachuco (about 5 hours) or the hot springs in Huaranchal (3 hours).
Otuzco, a quaint Andean town with cobblestone streets, has Quechua roots and is translated as “Pueblo de origen pobre”. Now it is known as “La Capital de la Fe” due to the people’s devotion to the Virgen de La Puerta. There are many stories about why the Virgencita is revered, ranging from her protecting the city from a pirate attack to her feeding the poor from a deserted church to her image being found in a lake à la Excalibur. While the people may believe different legends, they all worship her and participate in the multiple festivals honoring her throughout the year, the largest being held December 13-15. The festival attracts more than 10,000 visitors and includes a pilgrimage walk from Trujillo ( a grueling 46 miles uphill), Burro Cross (an event where kids riding donkeys race each other…hilarious fun!), a 9 hour procession around the town, and all-night parties with over 20 bands and as many castillos lighting up the night. If you want to participate in the pilgrimage, and have your wishes granted by the Virgencita, but don’t want to spend 2 days walking uphill, you can also walk from the halfway point in Shiran (about 12 hours walking). Thousands of people walk annually so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Smaller scale versions of the festival occur October 24-27 and New Year’s Day. Another elaborate festival is held during Semana Santa (Easter) and includes a full reenactment of the Stations of the Cross. Every festival includes lots of delicious street food and dancing and drinking throughout the night with the incredibly friendly and welcoming Otuzcanos.
If you aren’t planning your trip around a festival, the best time to come is the end of April-June. The rainy season (end of December – beginning of April) is over but the land is still green and lush. Also, during the winter months when Trujillo and Huanchaco are overcast and cold, the sierra is sunny and beautiful.
Step 1:Take a taxi to the Paradero de Otuzco en Calle Union (4 soles from the center of Trujillo and 12-15 soles from Huanchaco).
Step 2:Have combi and colectivo drivers fight over taking your bag to their vehicle. While it may seem like they are stealing your things, I have never had any problems myself nor heard of any from other people. Combis vary between 7 – 10 soles and colectivos vary between 10-15 soles.
Step 3: Sit back and enjoy the view! The drivers will take you directly to the Paradero in Otuzco.
Word of caution: Colectivo drivers can drive very fast, especially on the return trip, and they swerve in and out of traffic around curves they can’t see beyond. Take motion sickness pills if you have a history of problems and don’t be afraid to say something if you think the driver is being too reckless.
Visit the Church in the Plaze de Armas and walk up the stairs to the outside balcony to get an up close look at the Virgen de La Puerta and a nice view of the plaza from above. The upstairs also has an inside area where you can light candles and say a prayer if you want. The museum next door was the old church which is now devoted to housing artifacts donated to the Virgencita. It is a small museum that doesn’t have any descriptions, but I still say it is worth a look (it’s only S./ 1.00) if nothing more than to marvel at how many robes she has (over 2,000!) and the variety of the gifts people have left for her over the years. If you are interested in offering a gift, you can deposit small items and money in the blue barrels in the back of the new church. If you want to donate something more significant, such as a robe for the Virgin to wear, you must write to the church authorities, who then write back approving and scheduling the gift. The capes are such popular offerings that they are allocated far into the future and a current donation may not be worn until around 2025.
If you want an even better view of the town, walk down Calle Bolivar towards the market and veer left after crossing the bridge. Follow the steps until they end and you are standing on top of a hill at the Mirador de Otuzco (25 mins). It is a great spot for a picnic and you can stop in the market on your way. Given its unique location, the Otuzco market has a variety of food. La Libertad is the only department in Peru that has coast, mountains, and jungle, and the Otuzco market has a little bit from each zone, from jungle fruit to seafood to an entire alley dedicated to the many varieties of potatoes grown in the Peruvian Andes (over 5,000).
For a longer hike, follow Calle San Martin up the stairs and a take a left. Follow the path uphill (2 1/2 hours) until you get to Tarcumarca. The Tarcumarca people (around 600 A.D. – 1400 A.D.) settled here and left behind geometric carvings in stones. Although most of the stones have been removed and placed in the Otuzco library or in houses in the community, a large stone sculpture still stands at the top of the hill. It is thought to have been used to tell time. The townspeople are very friendly so ask around to find people willing to show you the treasures they keep in their houses. If you want to ‘do as the locals do’, take a bit of salt and sugar with you and bury it near the cross on the hill. Sprinkle water towards the major hilltops and on the buried salt and sugar. Then have everyone in your group drink from the water container in appreciation of Pachamama, or Mother Earth. If you want to hike a little more, continue up the main path towards Urmo, a formation of large rocks with a spectacular view. There is also a waterfall nearby during the rainy season (1 ½ hours).
Another beautiful hike is to Trigo Pampa and Machigon. Go to the Barrio Santa Cruz and take Calle Atahualpa until it becomes a dirt path. Continue on the path alongside fields of wheat, twisting century trees, and the unrelenting stares of cows, sheep, donkeys and all the other animals you see along the way. When you see the sign for the Cementerio de Machigon, make a left and hike up to the ancient cemetery at the top of the hill (about 2 hours).
The community college has an experimental learning center in Trigo Pampa where the students practice farming, raise guinea pigs, and have a small dairy production area in addition to many other activities. Also, a Peace Corps Volunteer installed a biodigestor that converts manure into cooking gas and a hydroponics system powered by a solar panel. In the future, they want to make it an ecotourism site with hands-on activities for tourist. Until that is created, you can go to the center and request for an informal tour.
La Otuzcanita. Calle Progreso 302, near the Paradero. Cel. 980206249. 8am-1pm & 3pm-8pm.
7 dairy associations from the province of Otuzco work together to form this store. They sell yogurt (try the lucuma flavor), manjar, sauco (elderberry) jam, and a variety of cheeses (try the queso andino).
If you are interested, it is possible to do an informal tour of one of the small dairy factories. The one in Paraíso (1 hour and 30 minutes into the mountains) is located in beautiful hills and run by a friendly and knowledgeable community. There are also some easily accessible ruins within walking distance of the factory. Just call Rafael to set up a tour Cel. 980892146.
Take a combi to the desvio (S./ 1.00) and get on a Royal Travel bus (S./ 4.00 – 5.00). Get off in Paraíso and take the road by the school down to the Vaqueria. This is a VERY small town so look out for the Paraíso sign or you may miss it. As of July 2013, the first bus shows up at the desvio 9:45am and the last bus leaves Paraíso at 6pm given the road construction delays.
Hostel Portales. Across the street from the hospital.http://www.hotellosportalesotuzco.com/
Hospedaje Casa Otuzco. Cel 949238439. Calle Tacna and Independencia.
Simple S./30; Matrimonial S./50; Doble S./60; Triple S./70
Hotel ‘El Men’. On the Plaza de Armas. Cel. 974849403. Recommended if you are coming during any festival as there are balconies that view the plaza. Doble: S./ 60. Breakfast included.
**If coming for the December festival, rates will at least triple and reservations need to be made at least 2 months in advance. Don’t let that deter you from experiences one of the best festivals Peru has to offer. You can always bring a tent and camp in a peaceful spot in the hills just outside of the city.
Otuzco has some tasty street food, which is mostly served in the late afternoon and evening. I’ve listed a few below with their intersections:
•Papitas Rellenas. A small version of the traditional dish served with a delicious onion/pepper sauce. 10 centimos per papita. Calle Tacna and Bolivar. 3:30pm – 6:30pm. (A favorite with volunteers)
•Arroz con leche with or without mazamora. Calle Lima and Bolivar. 50 centimos
•Emoliente: Warm herbal tea that will give you a nutritious boost. Ask the street vender to make you his or her favorite mix if the choices are overwhelming. Calle Tacna near La Plaza de Armas and near the Paradero.
•For the adventurous eaters: Chicken feet kabobs and/or anticuchos. Calle Tacna in between Bolivar and La Plaze de Armas. S./ 1 per kabob.
Otuzco Querido. Grau 495, corner of the Plaza de Armas. A new restaurant that offers fresh seafood (try the chicarron de pescado), traditional sierra dishes ( try the cuy guisado or anything made out of pig. Otuzco is known for their cerdo), and pastas if you want a break from Peruvian food. Prices vary but expect to pay around S./ 10 per dish. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed on Mondays.
San Jose Polleria. Tacna 679. 5:30pm -10pm. The BEST Pollo a la Brasa I’ve had in Peru. Ask for your fries bien frito if you want them crispy. Octavo S./ 3.50.
Find Profesor Jorge on Calles San Martin and Atahualpa at his Pollo a la Brasa cart from 6pm to 11pm. He is very knowledgeable about local history and will proudly share what he knows while you eat some rico pollo. He can give you more advice on what to do while you are in Otuzco and background information on the historical sites
During the day, go to the Biblioteca on Calle Caceres and talk to the enthusiastic librarian who everyone knows as Pepe. He not only will tell you about local history but will also share works from local artists, including his own poetry and songs. A lot of the carved stones found in the Tarcumarca ruins are kept in the library, too, so be sure to take a look at those while you are there.