Roughly halfway between Cusco and Lima, AYACUCHO ("Purple Soul", in the Quechua language) sits in the Andes around 2800m high in one of Peru's most archaeologically important valleys, with evidence such as ancient stone tools found in nearby caves at Pikimachay, which suggest that the region has been occupied for over 20,000 years. It's an attractive colonial city, with splendid churches and mansions packed together in dense blocks around the central Plaza de Armas. Its climate, despite the altitude, is pleasant all year round – dry and temperate with blue skies nearly every day – and temperatures average 16°C (60°F). The surrounding hills are covered with cacti, broom bushes and agave plants, adding a distinctive atmosphere to the city.
Despite the political problems of the last few years, most people on the streets of Ayacucho, although quiet and reserved (seemingly saving their energy for the city's boisterous fiestas), are helpful, friendly and kind. You'll find few people speak any English; Quechua is the city's first language, though most of the town's inhabitants can also speak some Spanish.