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Spread out high in the Andes, Huancavelica was founded in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors, who discovered the rich veins of silver and mercury threaded through the rocky hillsides. The abundant mercury was vital in the extraction of silver from mines in Peru and Bolivia, including Potosí. Although mining was difficult at 3,680 meters (12,979 feet), the Spanish succeeded in making the city an important profit center that today has grown to a population of around 40,000.
This scenic town is sliced by the Río Huancavelica, which divides the commercial district on the south and the residential area in the north. The road is rough, but the surroundings are beautiful, a mix of quiet, clapboard-style villages fronting vast sheep pastures and snowcapped mountains. If you have a good map and your own equipment, excellent hiking opportunities are in the surrounding mountains.
A lack of good roads leading to the town has kept the Andean city away from the winds of change. You'll still see traditional costumes worn by women in the markets and shops and the narrow, cobbled streets are still lined with elegant, colonial-style mansions and 16th-century churches. Residents from all over the region crowd the sprawling Sunday market, as well as the daily food market at the corner of Muñoz and Barranca.
Most crafts and clothing are made in the villages on the outskirts of Huancavelica, and you're welcome to visit the artisans' shops. Other neighboring explorations include the viewpoints from Potaqchiz, a short stroll up the hill from San Cristóbal. Thermal baths are on the hillside across from town.
Huancavelica at a Glance
Elsewhere in The Central Highlands
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