Why you must add Huaraz, Peru to your bucket list

Alix M Campbell

Senior Contributor

You’re planning a trip to Peru, but the one thing you don’t want is to be yet another traveller posting a photo on top of Machu Picchu. If you’re looking to explore the stunning Andean landscapes of an outdoor Mecca at 3,050 metres, meet the locals and climb to some serious altitudes, then the Himalayas of South America should be on top of your list.

Experience an authentic Peruvian city in the mountains

Huaraz sits in the Andes at an altitude of 3,050 metres and is the capital of the region of Ancash. It’s located about 450 km north of Lima and is considered the window to the high mountain region, the Cordillera Blanca.

You have the most incredible alpine views from the city and it’s hard to miss the mighty Huarascán, Peru’s highest mountain at 6,768 metres. When you check out Huaraz, stop at the main square, the Plaza de Armas, and drink in this jaw-dropping vista.

If you just arrived in town, you might want to take it easy for the first 24 hours, given that it takes about a day to acclimatise at this altitude. Stroll around the main square, watch locals go about their business (with the occasional alpaca in tow) and browse through the artisanal market to stock up on woollen beanies, sweaters and ponchos.

Artisanal market

Photographer: Marisa Estivill

A city that isn’t overloaded by tourists

Huaraz might be a city, but it definitely has an outdoorsy vibe and you’ll meet lots of fellow-adventurers. On the other hand, you never have the feeling of being totally engulfed by tourists. For this reason, Huaraz welcomes a good mix of people, all of whom are drawn to its down-to-earth charm.

It’s true that lots of people come here for the excellent hiking and climbing opportunities, but not everyone you meet is a hardcore trekker. Even leisurely adventurers can find great day trips in a group or with a private guide.

Simply passing through? Exert as little energy as possible and soak up the town’s inimitable beauty, enjoy the warm sun-rays and breathtaking vistas by day, and breathe in that fresh mountain air by night. While trying out different restaurants all around town, of course. Word of warning though: If you plan on enjoying a drink at the end of a day, be careful not to go overboard at this altitude!

Huaraz city in Peru

Photographer: Oliver Foerstner

Take day trips into the stunning Huascarán National Park

The national park boasts 600 glaciers, 300 glacier lakes and 40 rivers, so it goes without saying that it offers photo opportunities around every corner. All in all, this natural gem stretches over 340,000 hectares of land and can be easily visited from Huaraz.

Even though you can drive your own (rental) car to the national park, it’s much easier to take a guided trip from Huaraz, unless you have a 4-wheel-drive and don’t mind navigating incredibly challenging roads. Plus, if you join a tour into the national park, you’ll have a guide with you to provide information about the park and the various mountains, lakes and plants found within the region.

There are several popular tours that let you venture into the national park areas of ‘Laguna Llanganuco’ or ‘Laguna 69’. If you want to get those Instagram shots while not having to go on a very strenuous walk, then the first tour is for you.

If this sounds too easy, then you should join a tour to Laguna 69, which passes Laguna Llaganuco before taking you through beautiful valleys and along crystal-clear rivers, with the occasional group of cows and glacial lakes at 4,600 m altitude. Other one-day and multi-day treks into the park will see you visiting the glacier Pastoruri or the lagoons Churup, Shallap or Parón.

Huascarán National Park in Peru

Photographer: LMspencer

Find a new outdoorsy hobby and connect with like-minded adventurers

If you ended up in Huaraz by accident (true story) and are suddenly convinced you want to climb 6,000 m peaks (not me, but I don’t judge), then this is a perfect place to connect with fellow hikers and meet professional guides for some pointers on climbing, ice-climbing and trekking.

There are numerous shops with the latest climbing gear in town and it is far cheaper to climb a mountain here compared to well-known peaks such as Mount Everest, K2 or Kilimanjaro. Any hostel or tourist accommodation will happily organise a professional guide to brief you on the various treks and hook you up with the necessary equipment.

Huaraz city in Peru

Photographer: Marisa Estivill

Prepare for your climb of the Himalayas or other peaks

It could be the case that you came to Huaraz with one goal and one goal only, which is: Climb the Himalayas of South America to train for other peaks. You’ll be greeted by the Cordillera Blanca and the highest peak in Peru at 6,768 metres: the mighty Huarascán.

After acclimatising for a day in Huaraz you can start your adventure upwards and onwards. There are several tour companies around town that offer everything from one-day to multi-day treks.

The Santa Cruz trek is very popular among Huaraz visitors and takes place over 3-4 days at an altitude of 4,750m, altogether with amazing mountain views (e.g. the mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo).

For seasoned hikers, there’s an 8-12-day hike called Huayhuash that includes 9 mountain passes at altitudes of 4,200-5150m and provides you with spectacular views along the way. And then there’s of course the 6-day trek to reach the summit of Huarascán to conquer the highest peak of Peru and the fifth-highest mountain of South America.

Santa Cruz trek in Peru

Photographer: Saiko3p

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