Pampachiri is off the beaten-beaten track, it is located in the Andahuaylas Province in Southern Peru and is one of the poorest parts of the country. About 1000 people live in Pampachiri with only 3000 in the Pampachiri district. The main language is Quechua but you could just get by with Spanish. It is one of the poorest areas in Peru with an average family income of $1,000 a year.
The main reason to visit this region is to see the Bosque Del Piedra – a spectacular rock forest.
Getting to Pampachiri is a quite a mission, first you need to get to Andahuaylas a small city between Ayacucho and Cusco. Andahuaylas hasn’t too much to offer apart from a couple of nice squares, a church with reggae Jesus and a good indigenous market. It is a decent place to stop if you want to explore this region or take a break when travelling on the tough vomit inducing Ayacucho – Cusco road. It is 340km from Cusco and 240km from Ayacucho. There are a reasonable amount of buses and collectivos from both cities.
There are plenty of half decent hotels and a few safe restaurants to eat in. We spent one night in Andahuaylas in Sol de Oro, they gave us all the information we needed to get to Pampachiri.
We found a collectivo company Empresa de Transportes Turismo Pampachiri that goes to Pampachiri every day at midday – there was another company nearby that does the same trip at about the same time. We went early to book our seat and then explored the market and the town while we waited – I recommend stocking up on food as Pampachiri can be very limited. Our collectivo was comfortablish as we were in the front seats (Niamh was wedged in the middle knees impaled into the dashboard), it was overfilled to about 24 people as is always the case in Peru.
The journey was very scenic, with views down into Andahuaylas to start, followed by a country airport and rural countryside with mountains, river valleys, villages and plenty of vicunas, llamas, alpacas and sheep. You travel as high as 4348 metres on the Abra Alalaya Pass. There are a fair few scary patches with massive drops off the mainly dirt road, we were fortunate, depending on your outlook, as our driver drove exceptionally slowly (maybe vehicle preservation), he also kept crossing himself. We were overtaken by everything, scooters, motorbikes and the other collectivo – I felt like I could get out and push to speed him up.
With our slow speed we were worried that Pampachiri’s accommodations may be full when we arrived. It took about 4 hours 30 to travel the normally 3 hours 30 110km journey but he got us there alive with our hearts intact.
We arrived and started to look for accommodation, there was one hostel that is on booking.com, Tayta Chapa Samanan which we went to first, it has dorm room for about 10 dollars a bed – we banged on the door for 10 minutes but no answer, apparently you need to prebook and the place was empty, booking.com makes it look amazing if you want a nice place to stay in Pampachiri. We moved on, back to where the collectivo dropped us off, there are a couple of ‘hotels’ on this street. The first one offered us a private room beside a manky animal faeces riddled courtyard for 3 dollars a night, the room was horrible and the toilet was indescribable. We politely refused, at this point we were considering leaving Pampachiri on the next collectivo back to Anadahuaylas, this was in 8 hours at 3 am, so we kept looking for a bed. Further up the street was Hotel Cristobal, this was a 10 room hotel with 1 toilet and shower – the owner showed us the posh room – it was private and cost 6 dollars a night for the room. It was ‘fine’, the room had two beds 3 buckets 1 for spitting, 1 for peeing and another????, it had the mandatory Peruvian TV this one was an 8 inch antique black and white with two blurry channels. There was also a window with decent views over the street and the surrounding countryside. The shop next door was run by the owner.
After settling into our 6 dollar room, we wandered down the town to have a look and find some food. There was a closed market, a nice church, a square with a statue of a bull being attacked and mauled by a condor, a bullring, a few shops and a restaurant. Hungry after our journey and hotel search, we went in to the El Silencio restaurant but there was no sign of life.
We went to the shops to get bread but it would have smashed our teeth up – instead we got some soda biscuits and ate them in the hotel with our processed cheese triangles which we’d bought in Ayacucho. The town has great character, lots of people in indigenous dress, lots of kids running wild and quite a few scary territorial dogs, the hotel owner had two dogs dressed in the latest canine fashion and barked at all the customers. That night we slept well though hungry, we opted to use the shared toilet in the courtyard instead of the buckets.
The next morning we found fruit and biscuits in the shop by the hotel for breakfast. Our hotel owner helped us to find a mototaxi to take us to the rock forest, we had spent a while looking for one, but none seemed interested in taking us there. The cost of the moto for the whole day was about $14. We picked up a random local passenger along the way who squeezed in with us.
The route to the rock forest is spectacular but is hard work as the road is very rough. There are a lot of small villages in valleys and plenty of individual farms with the usual sheep and llamas. We dropped off our passenger and eventually came to a river crossing, the main bridge had a collapsed and a new one was being built. Our moto driver found a pedestrian bridge just wide enough and barely strong enough to hold a moto.
We crossed this and continued until we came to another river, this time we had to drive through the river, our driver selected the shallowest patch and we slowly crossed, water washing through the doors onto our shoes, after this the road narrowed massively and almost turned into a goat/hiking path. The moto struggled on steep and narrow patches and we had to get out a few times to relieve weight and give the moto a bit of a push.
After negotiating a few more hazardous hills, we could see some of the conical rock formations in the distance. The moto stopped and we had to continue on foot for about 300 meters. When we got closer we could see a few people and were greeted by aggressive barking dogs and a few horses. Luckily our moto driver was also a bit of dog whisperer and he managed to scare the dog away without stones. On moving closer we could see some of the fantastic houses of Casa De Los Pitufos – the only description or comparison I could make was that they looked like Rock Smurf Houses.
They were truly amazing, the conicular rocks had rooms carved into their bases. Some houses had a bed with a storage area and another had a functioning kitchen. With limited ventilation apart from the door, the kitchen was smokey and black with a tarry soot, I was fairly overcome by the fumes, but a woman seemed content in the room, cooking her food in pans over the fire.
Outside, there was a mother pig and her many piglets roaming freely, the other women were spinning wool and the men were breaking semi wild horses. It is hard to imagine how the original settlers carved these houses into the rocks and how they survive in this small community now. Nearly all the people were friendly but very shy and didn’t speak much Spanish, so we decided to move on.
We returned to the moto and walked for a bit to allow him to negotiate the nasty bits of road. We then drove for another 500 meters before our moto broke down. It took a short while for him to get it going again and we continued onto the Bosque del Piedra. The view where we stopped was spectacular, a bit like a fat spined porcupine, there were multiple conicular grey rock formations, in the distance the formations changed to a golden colour. We could also see Cerro Pancula a shallow white domed mountain. The whole scene looked totally out of place.
We went exploring dropping into he rock cones, the walking can be tough because there is a fine layer of smooth gravel on the surface – I slipped on my arse a couple of times and in places the only way of stopping is by using and tearing up your hands, I recommend wearing good grip boots, and walking slowly with flat feet on the gravelly bits. The cones are easy enough to climb up and make for cool photos.
We kept walking down through the rock forest, there are a couple of steep patches but nothing too difficult, eventually you get down to a smooth valley with lots of green shrub plants to your right, here you can keep walking straight to Cerro Pancula, we walked up into the shrubs a bit, across this and then to a steep edged valley, here I climbed down on my own and started walking towards the golden section which was about 500 meters away, there is no specific path this way and some steep unstable scrambles that you need to be careful on.
As you approach the golden bit, you drop down into what at the time was a dry valley, around here there were a few Tarantula Hawk Wasps, they aren’t too dangerous or aggressive unless disturbed, I had been stung by one in Villa de Leiva, Colombia and it was the most excruciating pain I had felt, it is the second most painful sting after a bullet ant, so I didn’t want to be stung again. The wasps make it quite dangerous as you have to rush whilst scrambling and jumping to avoid them. The landscape around here was really cool, there were rocks sticking out of the ground in a kind of cone shape but with rocks balanced on top, also the colour changed from white to orange-gold. I walked on to the orange section which was slippier due to a thin layer of sand and extra fine gravel over a hard surface. I kept walking up the orange which gave an amazing view of the rock forest.
I decided to take a different route down, a little more direct to get to the moto. As it was steep and I couldn’t go slowly without slipping, I decided to run down and stop myself using my hands cone to cone. One bit was too steep and slippy to walk on, so I went down on my bum. When I got down to the bottom, I walked up a valley which led to a dry gorge, it was a bit enclosed for my liking, I was worried a jaguar or puma might run out and get me. There are some lovely obsidian glass gems throughout the rock forest, but this valley had more than anywhere, they are easier to see in the sun. Apparently there is plenty of gold in the area but it is currently illegal to mine due to its natural importance, I am sure it’ll all be mined out in the next 20 years when the bigger Peruvian mines close!
I headed back and up in the direction of the moto, there are more rocks resting on top of formations and also a better view back onto the Golden section. I ran back to the moto as I was fairly late, our driver then decided to take me over to another section, here I slipped on some of the gravel and slid out about 15 feet luckily there was a cone to break the fall, so all I had was a sore bum and scratched hands. The elevated area we ended up in offered great views of Cerro Panculo and also further down were spectacular rock formations, three crowns, King, Queen and Prince.
The journey back to Pampachiri was easy enough, we broke down only once, saw condors across a narrow valley, picked up another passenger and had a few photo stops.
Back at Pampachiri we stopped at El Silencio restaurant and had a nice stew for lunch with chicha morada black corn drink. We met a Peruvian tourist at lunch and walked up the town with her. We then booked our bus ticket for 5am, there was one at 3am but we decided to try to get a bit of sleep in Hotel Cristobal. We then visited the church which was as wacky as the one in Andahuaylas, it was hard to see what holds it together and there were some pretty cool statues. I climbed up the bell tower which had 3 antique bells on top and gave a decent view of the square, I also got to smack my head off the ceiling on the stairs, I am short so it must have been built for some pretty tiny people. Other than this there are some nice views from the town and the option of heading to a waterfall a couple of kms out of town.
We returned to the hotel and slept til about 4am and got up to catch our collectivo. This collectivo was packed full and we were in the back this time, it was also freezing. Our driver was also a bit of a lunatic, as in he drove very fast. The sunrise was kind of a relief as we knew he could see where he was going, unfortunately we could see what he was doing which didn’t help our nerves or stomachs. This journey took 2 hours 30, two hours shorter than our journey to Pampachiri. We had planned to spend another night in Andahuaylas but as this journey was so short arriving before 8, we decided to collect or bags and head to Abancay en route to Cusco. I would really recommend the trip to Pampachiri especially if you are spending time in Cusco, it is truly worth the effort just to see the smurf houses and the porcupine rock forest.
Amazing photos and great travelogue Rob. It looks like an amazing place to visit!