Huaraz: Gateway to Peru’s Cordillera Blanca

Before coming to Peru, we didn’t know a thing about it besides that Machu Picchu was there. When we started looking online and in guidebooks, we were quickly amazed at the wide range of things to explore. I was most excited about a place I’d read about called Huaraz, which is located in the valley between the lower Cordillera Negra to the west, and the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca to the East. Reading about the amazing trekking opportunities immediately put it at the top of my wishlist of places to visit. And visit we did!

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Getting to Huaraz was a bit of adventure in itself. From Arequipa we first took a 15 hour overnight bus to Lima. We then waited for 8 hours in the bus terminal. Luckily, we had bought expensive seats, so we had access to the VIP lounge. I think it may have been pretty miserable otherwise. At 10 pm, we hopped on yet another, 8 hour, overnight bus northeast to Huaraz. Let’s just say we were a bit fried by the time we arrived.

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Nevertheless, we found our way quickly and made it to the great Akilpo hostal, right next to the main market. The family that runs the place is really helpful and friendly, and we even got a small discount as it was the beginning of the low season. Well, as you can imagine after that ride, we promptly crashed, and woke in the afternoon to explore a bit.

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Huaraz isn’t a pretty city by any stretch of the imagination. There is a decent amount of trash and lots of stray dogs. But it’s very lively, with street vendors everywhere, selling the full range from pots of honey, to wheels of cheese, to live guinea pigs stuffed in a mesh sack (almost enough to turn one vegetarian).

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The main sqaure is fairly pretty, though the Cathedral is a bit of a concrete mess, presumably having been reconstructed after a major avalanche wiped out most of the town and about 20,000 people back in the ’70s.

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By far the most charming aspect of Huaraz is the fact that you can see the big mountains from most places on a clear day. The Cordillera Blanca is a sub-range within the larger Andes, having 33 major peaks over 5500 meters (half of these over 6000 m), and about 280 glaciers. The whole area is stunning, and Huaraz is a perfect base for exploratory day hikes, longer treks, and climbs if you’re up for it.

Some of the best views we got while in the city were from the rooftop lounging area and kitchen of our hostel. Sometimes you could even see the far off Huascarán Sur (6768 m), the highest mountain in Peru. We’d be getting a closer look soon though!

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