Ayaviri, a Historic Andean Town

Historic town Ayaviri lies at 3,900 metres in the Andes’ high plateau. Ayaviri is the capital of Melgar Province in southern Peru’s Puno Region. Known for its Kankacho (baked mutton accompanied by potatoes) and cheese, Ayaviri also has hot springs and a notable cathedral.

Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, Ayaviri, Melgar Province, Puno Region, Peru

Ayaviri’s late 17th century Andean Baroque-style Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi dominated the town centre

After meeting Rocío in Arequipa, in September 2016 we travelled to some of her childhood places, including Ayaviri, her maternal family’s hometown. From Juliaca, colectivos travel direct to Ayaviri with flamingos visible on the way.

Staying at the Hotel Gemely on the central Plaza de Armas, a good, economic hotel, the biggest annoyance was colectivos tooting their car alarm-sounding horns. Our first day in Ayaviri included a relaxing visit to the natural hot spring pool on the outskirts of town and a meal of kankacho.

Kankacho, Ayaviri’s traditional dish, is made with mutton that’s marinated and then baked in wood-fired brick oven. I first ate it before I knew what it was on the Arequipa-Cusco bus. The most famous kankacho cook is Doña Julia who has several restaurants across southern Peru. We were lucky enough to visit Doña Julia’s original Ayaviri restaurant while she was there. Although delicious, the meal is heavy and I recommend a half serve unless one is ravenous.

Joe and Doña Julia at Kankachos Doña Julia, Ayaviri

With restaurant owner, Doña Julia, at her restaurant Kankachos Doña Julia, Ayaviri

Kankancho, baked mutton with potatoes, Kankachos Doña Julia, Ayaviri

Kankacho with a chuño (freeze-dried potato) and normal potato (under the mutton on the right), Kankachos Doña Julia

Kankachos Doña Julia, Ayaviri, Melgar Province, Puno Region, Peru

Doña Julia’s original Ayaviri restaurant: Kankachos Doña Julia; the left-hand side banner contains photos from Mistura, Peru and Latin America’s premier food festival

For non-meat eaters, Ayaviri also has a surprisingly good vegetarian restaurant which we ate at multiple times.

Mercado Central Market Stall, Ayaviri, Melgar Province, Peru

An overhead view of a market stall at Ayaviri’s Mercado Central

Ayaviri railway line, Melgar, Puno

The Cusco-Puno train line passes through Ayaviri

Ayaviri’s museum, Centro Cultural Museo San Juan Pablo II, contains ancient pre-Columbian artefacts, liturgical ornaments, paintings from the Cuzco School of Art and Architecure, old Catholic sculptures and a restoration workshop. Rocío had previously met museum curator Oscar and he generously gave us a guided tour of the museum.

Restoration Workshop, Centro Cultural Museo San Juan Pablo II, Ayaviri, Melgar Province, Puno Region

Statues being restored at Centro Cultural Museo San Juan Pablo II’s restoration workshop

Centro Cultural Museo San Juan Pablo II, Ayaviri, Melgar Province, Puno Region

Artwork from the Cusco School of Art and Architecture and religious sculptures at Centro Cultural Museo San Juan Pablo II. Note the animals with human faces – the local artists had not seen cows and horses before creating the sculptures

We were lucky to be in Ayaviri for its weekly open air market held every Wednesday. My market highlight were the scrumptious caramel brazil nuts.

Ayaviri Weekly Market Stall selling both black and white chuño (freeze dried potatoes)

A stall at Ayaviri’s weekly market selling both white and black chuño (freeze dried potato), popular in Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine

Weekly Market Stall, Ayaviri, Melgar Province, Puno Region, Peru

A weekly market stall selling limes, apples, garlic, rocoto chillies, cacao paste, coffee, brazil nuts, peanuts, delicious caramel brazil nuts and honey

In Ayaviri town, Rocío pointed out her family’s home. One late afternoon we walked across the plain to the nearby Ayaviri River. Rocío enjoyed the landscape and walking in the shallow river.

Rocio standing in the river, Ayaviri

Rocío in the cool Ayaviri River

For people travelling between Puno or Juliaca and Cusco, a stopover in Ayaviri, the home of kankacho, is worthwhile.

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