Huaraz, Peru is the gateway to the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra of the central highlands of Peru. Once a fairly isolated town tucked away in the Peruvian Andes, Huaraz has quite suddenly begun to thrive on the influx of visitors who flock to the region for its many outdoor adventures. The town itself is certainly rough around the edges. The streets are noisy, dirty, there is a grey tone to the buildings, they always seem to be “under construction”.
Still, there is something very charming about Huaraz. It is lively, it is raw. The views of the mountains from anywhere in town make even the most well travelled people stop and take notice. Whether you come to Huaraz for the outdoor experience or you just want to wander the streets checking out all the strange trinkets sold on the streets, this little town tends to capture the heart of those who visit.
Things to Do in Huaraz
For the great outdoors there is no place like Huaraz. Yes, the south of the country may have Machu Picchu, but the adventure here is much more raw. You´re not likely to find yourself struggling with crowds of other hikers either. For outdoor activities contact La Casa de Maruja (firstname.lastname@example.org). Their prices are great and the service is very good as well.
- HIKING: STRAP ON THE BOOTS AND GO FOR A HIKE!
For avid hikers, this place simply has to be on your Peru itinerary. If you aren’t hiking, then you may have to ask yourself why you’re even going to Huaraz! Whether you fancy a one day hike to Laguna 69, or a multi-day trek through the Cordillera Blanca. All can be arranged or started from here.
Huascarán National Park, covering nearly 340,000 hectares, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to some of South America’s most breathtaking scenery and glaciers with 25 trekking routes and 102 mountaineering spots available to visitors. Unfortunately, entry fees have increased quite considerably in the last year, with a one day pass now costing S/. 30 / $9, a 2-3 day pass costing S/. 60 / $18, and a multi-admission ticket costing S/. 150 / $45.
There are a large number of hikes and trips available, which you can do on your own/with a tour. Many of these are achievable for anyone with a decent level of fitness. Easier hikes whilst acclimatising include Rajucolta Valley and Llaca Valley. Laguna Churup, Laguna Paron and the unforgettable Laguna 69 (coming soon) are more challenging.
For the truly adventurous or experience, you can opt for stunning multi-day hikes through Cordillera Huayhuash, the Santa Cruz Trek or the Quilcayhuanca & Cojup Valleys. These hikes last anywhere from 5-14 days, so it’s imperative that you do your research in advance, take precautions, pack appropriate equipment, and find a good guide or tour provider (seriously, get a guide and, if not, make 100% sure your travel insurance is up to scratch for high-altitude trekking!)
I am currently putting together guides on my favourite (day) hikes from Huaraz, and hope to have them out soon.
If you’d rather explore the area on two wheels, there are various outfitters in town that can rent you a bike – either for a single day cruise or a 12-day cycling marathon through villages and over mountains. Prices start at around S/. 160 for a day’s experience including bike rental and drop-off. Huaraz is also becoming really popular with serious rock climbers, but unfortunately I don’t have any advice on this – hit me up in the comments if you do!
- Explore the town: Huaraz sits at an altitude of 3,052m, so if you’ve just crossed the border from Ecuador or have been sunning yourself on the beaches of northern Peru, you’re going to have to let yourself acclimate to the altitude and take it easy for the first day or two. So, my recommendation is to take the opportunity to explore this traditional little town. Though low on standout things to do, it’s great for people-watching and getting an insight in day-to-day Peruvian life away from the more touristy cities of the south.
- Visit the local Market: The local market definitely provides endless entertainment and insights. Sunshine yellow chicken carcasses hung from steel hooks and sold by men and women who knew how to shout, old ladies lining the crowded streets next to their overflowing baskets of avocados and green vegetables whilst wearing the most traditional of outfits, street dogs galore, noise chaos and life, life everywhere.
Markets are where you find the truest reflection of a new town or city – and, handily, they’re also where you’ll find the cheapest ingredients.
Whilst I’d definitely recommend that vegetarians (like me) avoid the meat section (my wife become pretty hardened to them, but this one really took her to her limits), this is the best place to buy your fruit and veg and to experience local culture. The Mercado Central de Huaraz can be found on Calle Jiron Juan de la Cruz Romero, but it spills out on to the next couple of streets too.
Top tip | For those few ingredients you can’t get in the local market, head on over to Nova Plaza. Huaraz has a few supermarkets but this is by far the best for everything you actually need to cook a decent hostel meal (I may or may not have bought 8 bags of soya protein that I hadn’t found anywhere else). There’s a few of them in town, but the one on the corner of Jiron Julian de Morales and Jiron Simon Bolivar is the biggest and best.
- Mountain Biking: One of my favourite things to do in Huaraz is go for a mountain bike. In many cases you can have you and a bike hauled up the mountain and then ride down through little indigenous villages and beautiful landscapes without having to turn the peddles. Obviously, if you would like to, there are also very intense rides that require much more physical effort as well.
- Rock Climbing: There are some great spots to go rock climbing, and options are available for both beginners and pros.
- Ice Climbing: Ice climbing used to be more readily available in Huaraz, and although it may still be available seasonally, the ice in the area has retreated so much in recent years it’s becoming more and more rare to do so. Email ahead to check on the conditions.
- Horseback Riding: There are some really nice trails for horses out in the Cordillera Negra that pass through indigenous villages and along some impressive landscapes.
Where to Eat in Huaraz
Most of the restaurants in town are located along the main street in town. However, possibly the best quality places are found in Parque del Periodista. I have listed a few below:
- Creperia Patrick: One of the best places in town (located on the main drive), they have really good local fare as well as really nice (and massive) crepes. Meals $5-11.
- El Encuentro: This restaurant actually has 3 different locations, 2 of which are in Parque del Periodista. The food is borders on fast food but the price is right if you’re on a budget. Meals $4-10. Burgers/Sandwiches $2-4.
- Siam de los Andes: A nice variety of different types of foods on their menu, but the specialty is authentic Thai food prepared by the Thai owner (who is also an avid trekker). This place is only open during the high season but is a treat if you can get in. Meals $5-12.
Where to Stay in Huaraz
I have stayed in Huaraz on 2 different occasions and I have only stayed in 1 place. I have my preference, but there are lots of other options available in town:
- La Casa de Maruja: This hotel/hostel might be a little bit out of the center but it is my favourite spot. The staff is unbelievably helpful, the rooms are big and spotless, and the breakfast (which is included) is amazing. They also have about 100 different types of tea and coffee available. Private rooms $15-20 per person. Also staying here makes it easy to organize trekking and other activities.
- Alpes Huaraz: This place tends to be a favourite among the real budget travellers. The place is comfortable and fairly well available. Information on trekking is also available. Dorms = $8. Privates start at $8 per person.
Getting out of Town
My Choice of getting around in South America was driving in a Honda CRV 4×4. But there are of course other possibilities.
Movil Tours is the bus company of choice up here, and are by far the most comfortable. There are options with Movil tours for semi-cama (seats that lean well back), cama (very comfortable seats that lean nearly all the way back) and even cama 180 (seats that lay flat). Most trips out of town are over 8 hours meaning that an overnight bus is a good option. It is also wise to book in advance as all the good seats get scooped up by locals and tour groups quite early on.
- Lima: There are about 10 buses to Lima per day with Movil Tours most of which leave right around 10pm. I would book the last bus possible as the trip is about 8 hours and leaving too early means you get into Lima very early in the morning.
- Trujillo: The bus to Trujillo is about 8-10 hours depending on the conditions of the road leading out of Huaraz. There are much fewer buses heading here than Lima, but there are still at least 4 a day.
So, dear reader, what questions do you have about this region or Peru? Have you had a similar experience? Share in the comments!