"On the left bank of the Mantaro River, in a luscious, fertile valley 310 kilometers from Lima and 3244 meters above sea level lies the city of Huancayo, capital of the department of Junin and the main commercial center of inland Peru.
Huancayo was the cradle of the Huanca nation, the home of a people known for their pride, warrior spirit."
"The Huanca people...[sic]...are hard-working, traditional and very religious. These traits are apparent in the nearly endless chain of local festivals that occur in the region. It is said there is a festival somewhere in the Mantaro Valley every day of the year. And where there are festivals, there is dancing. It is estimated that with all the regional variations taken into account, there are more then 5000 different Andean dances. Though it is impossible to mention all of the dances and festivals of the Mantaro Valley, some certainly stand out. La Tunantada (The Rascal) is danced on January 20 in Jauja and Yuayos in honor of Saint Sebastian and Saint Fabian. It is a picaresque, mischievous and crafty dance that is clearly a product of colonial influence, as it parodies the despotism and presumptuousness of the Spanish powers.
In February, there are carnival celebrations all month long, and the Semana Santa festivities in March/April should not be missed. May is the month of the La Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Cross), where towns throughout the Valley perform special dances such as the Chonguinada in Chongos in which dancers wearing masks and colorful costumes commemorate the wedding of a Spaniard to a beautiful native of the town in a graceful and elegant parody of the French minuet. The same festival in Chupaca features the famous dance of the Shapis, a war dance commemorating the Hunaca's return to their land after fleeing the Incas.
Sapallanga, Orcotuna, Apata and Marcatuna celebrate their fiestas in honor of the Sanctified Virgin of the Cocharas on September 8, at which time they also reproduce the capture and death of the Incan King Atahualpa in a ceremony known as El Apu Inca. This is also celebrated in Lima on September 2 in an homage to Saint Rosa. Finally, El Huaylarsh caps the festive and happy atmosphere surrounding a successful harvest. Huaylarsh is a Quechua word meaning "young lovers," and the dance features couples imitating the cultivation of the potato as well as the "flirtation of the fox," a reference to the strength and virility of young men in search of wives. This dance originated in the towns of Pucura, Viques, Huayucachi and Sapallanga, and has become a genuine representation of Huancayan feeling.
These many festivals are possible because the region has an agreeable and healthy climate. There are three distinct seasons: the rainy season, from November to April; winter, from May to July; and the dry season, with strong winds and lots of sun, from August to October.
Huancayans say that anyone coming to the area will feel a liberation of the senses. The climate, the smells and especially the sights will not be forgotten. It is not only a matter of the colorful festivals, but also of the area's natural beauty. Green fields of corn, artichokes, carrots and potatoes contrast with bright yellow retama flowers and the reddish-brown earth. There are old, stark-white houses with burnt orange roof tiles dwarfed by the snow-capped Huaytapallana mountain. And the Mantaro River, stirred by the rains, is chocolate brown. The legendary river begins at 4000 meters above sea level, in the Pasco region of the Andes Mountains, and runs approximately 300 kilometers until it joins the Apurimac River. Although its waters are now polluted, it is nonetheless used to irrigate the land off of the left bank of the river; the right bank is cultivated only with rain and smaller tributaries and streams."
"Huancayo has been a bustling place for centuries, as it is the link between the capital and the Southern highlands and jungle. The Feria Domincal (Sunday Fair) was instituted in 1572 as an important venue for regional products and now does a brisk business in handicrafts, industrial and agricultural products, and livestock. This market, and others like it, are still as important to local commerce as they were in earlier times. The most authentic, and famous, however, is the Feria Dominical . It is an event that visitors should not miss, as it provides a taste of all that Huancayo has to offer in a setting that will not be forgotten.
Though it is easy to buy Mantaro Valley's famous handicrafts in Huancayo, it is also worthwhile to go to the nearby towns that produce them. Each town has its specialty, and there are many from which to choose: beautiful, intricate works of silver, textiles, weavings, ceramics and much more. Perhaps the best known example of Huancayan popular art, however, is gourd carving. The plain gourds - imported from Chiclayo or Piura - are a modest medium for the intricately designed bowls that result, displaying scenes that are first carved and then burned into the surface of the gourd. Cochas Grande and Cochas Chico are the centers of this artistic activity.
The delicate metal working artistry of the region is also very popular because of the high demand for religious accessories to supply all of the festivals held throughout the year. Because of this, San Jeronimo de Tunan has become the heart of the metal working trade in the area, known for its silver filigree designs. Engraved and laminated silvers, and sheet designs are also very popular. The town also boasts a 17th-century church with lovely wooden altars.
In terms of pottery, the town of Quilcas has been practicing its craft since colonial times, when it produced tiles using techniques imported from Spain. San Augustin de las Cajas is known for its wool weavings and famous broad-brimmed wool hats. Wood carvings like masks and utensils are found in abundance in Molinos, Huertas, Mito, Julcan and Masma. Huallhuas is known for its highly developed knitting.
A tour of the towns of Mantaro Valley should not be missed, but there are also several places of interest in Huancayo and plenty of outdoor activities for nature lovers. The Cerrito de la Libertad is a hill that provides a good view of the city and of the Mantaro Valley; nearby is Torre Torre, a set of eroded sandstone formations on the hillside. Mountain biking is a popular pastime, but for the more adventurous, it is possible to take treks down the eastern slopes of the Andes and into the high jungle on foot, horseback, or with public transportation."
The above excerpts came from a Rumbos Online article, "Huancayo: Plentiful Land, Proud Nation" by Rubén D. Gutiérrez.