When it comes to mountains, I am not easily impressed. As a Swiss woman, having lived in Nepal, I feel like I have seen it all. This is why I never planned on going to the Huaraz region in Northern Peru. Mountains covered with snow and occasional lakes. Boring.
But then I went anyway and it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my five months in Peru. The landscape doesn’t compare to anything I have ever seen before and unlike Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Huaraz region is very authentic and you feel like you are part of the real Peru.
Huaraz, the city
Huaraz is the capital of the State of Ancas and it has an elevation of approximately 3,050 meters. It is a trekking metropolis and a place for adventure. Tourists from around the world go there for hiking, climbing and biking in the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. Due to the high altitude of the region, it is advisable to stay in the city of Huaraz for a few days before doing any tours. This will give you time to catch your breath and prepare for the adventures ahead of you.
It might not be the prettiest city in the world, but there is something about this place. Most hostels are located within walking distance of the main square. It is definitely worth taking a walk around town. Although some areas are clearly directed towards the needs of tourists, most of it is authentic and visitors get an idea of what normal life in the mountains of Peru is really like. The city center is fairly busy; there are countless trekking shops, supermarkets and restaurants. The best pizza I have ever had in Latin America was actually in Huaraz at Luigi’s Pizza. It was so good we had to go there twice in five days.
In general Huaraz just has a very chilled vibe, especially among tourists. Everyone who goes there is down to earth and loves nature. And although the region has a lot to offer for visitors, tourism is still very simple. Unlike Cusco, this place is not crowded by mass tourism. Just a few backpackers looking for some adventure and a beer at the end.
Where to stay:
Caroline Lodging: This hostel is simple, clean, cozy and cheap. And it has a great roof top terrace, too.
Day trip to Laguna 69
We decided to start our adventures in Huaraz with a day trip to Laguna 69. It is the must-see attraction of the region and should not be missed. An organized tour only cost us roughly 10 USD (35 Peruvian Soles) and included transportation there and back with a guide. We were picked up early in the morning and started our hike after a three-hour bus ride.
The ascent begins at 3,800 meters and takes you all the way up to 4,600 meters, where Laguna 69 is located. It is a nice walk, but it is all uphill and it gets steeper the further you go. And then after three hours, you reach a breathtaking turquoise lake with a color intensity that doesn’t seem real. It is one of the wonders of nature that leaves you speechless and makes you forget all about the tortures you just went through to get there.
We spent half an hour for lunch at the lake and then started our two-hour descent back to the bus. As I was going down, I started to get a slight headache. By the time I reached the bus my head was pounding and was about to explode. I had a clear case of altitude sickness and there was nothing I could do about it except for go back to the hostel, sleep and hope that it would be better the next day.
There was no time for rest, our adventures in Huaraz continued the next morning with the four-day Santa Cruz trek.
The Santa Cruz Trek
The Huaraz region of Peru has a lot of amazing treks to choose from. One of the more popular ones is probably the Santa Cruz trek, which takes four days and three nights. It is ideal for people who want to hike and experience nature for a few days. This trek is not particularly demanding, the daily walking distance is fairly short and the landscape is spectacular. It is totally doable for an average backpacker. The only problem might be the altitude, but the route allows you to adjust to it as you reach the highest point on the second day. Our tour consisted of ten tourists, a guide, three donkey drivers and Poochi, the dog. We reached our starting point after a long bus ride just before noon of the first day. The hike was fairly easy and took us through villages and fields while slowly ascending up to our first night camp. We spent the first night at 3,800 meters, drinking lots of coca-tea, which is the local way of adjusting to high altitude.
While we were hiking in short sleeve shirts during the day, it quickly turned cold when the sun went down. And honestly, the nights were freezing. The tour agency gave us good equipment and warm sleeping bags, but it wasn’t enough for me. Especially the sleeping mats didn’t isolate enough and the cold coming from the ground was really unpleasant.
The second day was the hardest one because it was the day when we reached the peak. What started out as an easy walk, suddenly turned into torture. The trail takes you through a stunning landscape but unfortunately it’s straight uphill. I wasn’t sure how my body would react to the altitude and walked very slowly. I didn’t have any problems and when I finally, after three hours, reached the Punta Union Pass at 4,750 meters, I was overwhelmed with joy. What an amazing scenery!
From there, it was all downhill to our next camp.
On the third day we did a detour up to a lake. It was really nice but after having seen Laguna 69 it just wasn’t as amazing anymore.
We went back down the same way and then walked along a big lake until we reached the other end and had lunch. The blisters on my feet were killing me and I was happy that it only took 1.5 hours after lunch to reach the last camp. And this was the one we had all been waiting for. There was a small shop near the camp and we were finally able to buy a well-deserved beer at the end of a hard day. Our guide was clearly very excited as well and not only did he ask us to buy him beer, but he then also drank the rest of the alcohol we had brought on the tour. After only a few hours, he was so drunk that he fell over and nearly hit his head on a tent peg. It was kind of funny, although clearly unnecessary and a bit tragic too. Luckily, he was fine the next day and we were able to continue with our tour.
The last day consisted of only a short walk downhill along a river and canyons and we reached the bus around noon.
We were exhausted but happy when we reached Huaraz in the evening and of course rewarded ourselves with a pizza at Luigi’s Pizza.
I had an amazing time in the Huaraz region. The people I was surrounded by were great and it was a very good alternation to the rest of my time in Peru, which I spent at the beach.
In comparison to Cusco, Huaraz is still fairly untouched and offers great adventures away from big crowds and an overwhelming tourist industry. Go there and enjoy Peru’s nature and mountain region in its pure form before the rest of the world fids out about this place!
Picture by Juho Karjalainen (Find him on youtube)