The Himalayas of South America: A Detour to Huaraz in Northern Peru
Did you know that the highest mountain range in the world outside the Himalayas can be found in Peru? We’re not talking about Cusco and the Andes in the south. Hidden away in the north is a real gem for adventurers and the outdoor scene: the Cordillera Blanca. With 22 snow-capped mountains, each more than 6,000 meters high, this mountain range runs through northern central Peru and is a true mecca for all adventurers.
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Where exactly is Huaraz?
Huaraz is located in northern central Peru, about 440 km from the capital Lima. Nestled in the middle of the Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz lies at 3050 meters altitude and in direct view of the mighty Huascarán, Peru’s highest mountain at 6768 meters. Yes, that doesn’t just sound high, it really is! Your body will get used to the height gradually because you’ll be travelling there by bus. You should, however, allow for at least one day of acclimatization in Huaraz, which you can use to explore the city. If you are planning a trek, you should first be acclimatized properly, so make sure to factor in enough rest days.
How can I include Huaraz in my itinerary?
Due to its central location in the middle of the country, Huaraz can be scheduled either as a detour from Lima, as an extension of a journey through the south, or in a round trip in the north of Peru. Find out more about the different ways to integrate Huaraz into your itinerary in our guidebook ALL ACROSS PERU.
How do I get to Huaraz?
Various bus companies depart to Huaraz from Lima, Trujillo, or Chimbote several times a day. We recommend the bus companies Línea, Móviltours, and Oltursa, which operate with comfortable and safe Semi- and Fullcama buses, meaning they are equipped with seats that can be reclined up to 180°. You can search for a suitable bus connection on the website redbus.pe.
Orientation in Huaraz
Huaraz is not very big and can be easily explored on foot. Nevertheless, we recommend taking a taxi to the accommodation upon arrival, so that you don’t have to walk from the bus station to the accommodation with all your luggage. It could be a little early for that — buses usually arrive at 6 o’clock in the morning.
As in all other Peruvian cities, it’s easy to orientate yourself with the help of the Plaza de Armas, the main square. This is where you find the Cathedral of Huaraz — there is a nice, but quite touristy craft market to the left of it. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for pretty gifts and souvenirs. There isn’t much to see in downtown Huaraz. You’ll get a good view of the city from the Mirador de Retaqeñua, a viewpoint in the surrounding mountains, which is accessible from the city. Theoretically, it’s within walking distance, but you shouldn’t underestimate this stretch. From the Plaza de Armas, it’s first a good walk to the edge of the city, then another zigzag up the mountain. The quick and easy option is a taxi ride up. You can also ask the taxi driver to wait 10-15 minutes to take you back down.
Above all, Huaraz is the starting point for the spectacular nature that awaits just outside the city. Dizzying high mountains, glaciers, crystal-clear turquoise lagoons in an almost surreal landscape, and a lively flora and fauna. In short — the landscape around Huaraz is simply breathtaking! The mountain Huascarán with its 6654 meters is omnipresent in Huaraz and can be seen from many points of the city on a clear day. The mountains Pastoruri or Alpamayo are also suitable for trekking or climbing, for example. But like we said: You’ll be spoilt for choice in the Cordillera Blanca.
Trekking and excursions around Huaraz
Huaraz is an absolute trekking paradise! The entire city seems to be in „adventure“ mode. Dress code: Hiking boots and a fleece jacket! The cafes and restaurants are full of pictures of mountaineers in dizzying heights, of white peaks and glacial lakes. Those still looking for trekking equipment will find what they need in one of the many outdoor shops.
Incidentally, excursions and tours don’t have to be booked long in advance. In most cases, it’s enough to organise them 1 to 2 days before.
The Huascarán National Park covers 340,000 hectares and includes more than 600 glaciers, 300 glacial lakes, and 40 rivers gushing with cool and clear water. You have to pay an admission fee to get into the park. You can either enter the park on your own or join a tour. While we’re big fans of doing things on our own, the guided tours and treks are also worth their while. For one thing, the transport is organized for you so you don’t have to worry about anything, and in small groups, you usually have nice guides who’ll take their time to explain the local plants and animals.
By the way, you’ll automatically enter the Huascarán National Park if you book a tour to Laguna Llanganuco or Laguna 69. We highly recommend the day trip to the Laguna 69, as it kills three birds with one stone. The bus takes you from Huaraz to the Laguna Llanganuco, which is already in the National Park. The guides will sort out your admission, and soon after you’ll encounter the first surreal shimmering lagoon at the foot of Huascarán. Then the bus continues a bit further through the national park to a parking lot. From there, you’ll start the day hike to Laguna 69 — and it has it all! Your walk begins in a beautiful valley, past crystal-clear glacial rivers and cows grazing among the trees. At some point you start the first ascent, which also leads past a waterfall. Granted, the hike is exhausting. With this rewarding view, however, you won’t mind at all. The first ascent is followed by a longer plateau, where you pass another glacier lake. Push through the second, steeper ascent, and you’ve made it: You’re at the Laguna 69 at 4600 meters, where a small waterfall splashes directly into the bright turquoise lagoon. Dare you swim in the ice-cold glacier lake?
If you want to do a longer hike over several days, you should ask about the Santa Cruz Trek. It’s one of the most beautiful hiking routes worldwide and can be done in 4 to 5 days. The highest point is the Punta Union pass (4,759 meters).
As already mentioned, Huaraz is an absolute outdoor mecca and offers a variety of opportunities for hiking and mountain climbing for both experienced athletes and mountaineers as well as for beginners. The glacier Pastoruri and the lagoons Churup, Shallap, or Parón are further options for excursions. You could probably spend years in Huaraz and it wouldn’t get boring.
If you’ve had enough exercise, we recommend a tour to Chavín de Huantar. This archaeological site is really worth seeing because it contains remnants of this ancient civilization from over 2500 years ago. The underground tunnel, in particular, is very impressive.
The small town of Caraz is about 2 hours from Huaraz and is often referred to as its „little sister“. It’s much less touristic here, and you can use the small mountain town as a break from Huaraz, or as a point from which to continue your travels. Combis and Colectivos drive from Huaraz to Caraz several times a day.
Our tips for accommodations in Huaraz
Hostal Zarela — Pretty and central bed & breakfast
Highly recommended bed & breakfast accommodation near Soledad square, very close to Plaza de Armas. You’ll live centrally here and the owner will help you plan your activities and tours.
Homestay Lennin — Living with a local family
A great way to get to know the everyday life of a Peruvian family. If you don’t feel like yet another hostel and want to get to know the country and its people better, we recommend a homestay — with Nancy, for example. Diana from the Lady Dog Inn will help with the organisation. Get in touch and ask for prices by calling 973896391 (Spanish) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org (English).
Boutique Hotel San Sebastián – Boutique Hotel
This really beautiful and elegant boutique hotel San Sebastian has a delightful charm, wonderfully comfortable beds, and fantastic views over the city and Huascarán from every room. The hotel is family run, with great attention to detail. The son studied in Innsbruck and even speaks German!
The Lazy Dog Inn – Living in the midst of Nature
You’ll find this exceptional Canadian-run property at the foot of the Huascarán national park, 20 minutes outside of Huaraz. There are cozy single or double rooms in the main house, in a holiday home, or — quite extravagant — in a Canadian teepee. By the way, the name is the game here, you can just be lazy and let your soul wander. Or join one of the many activities offered by the owners, like horseback riding through the mountains on one of their very own horses.
Our restaurant tips for Huaraz
Restaurant Vegetarian Salvia
Pasaje Vivar Farfan 793
Offers Peruvian classics such as Lomo Saltado or Chicharrón in a vegetarian version. You need to try this if you are a vegetarian, it’s a rarity!
BU: Lomo Saltado with seitan — 100% vegetarian!
Lúcar y Torre 530
Friendly and cozy cafe in the attic. You can easily enjoy the whole morning here, have a delicious breakfast, use the good internet connection, or get comfortable with a good book on one of the sofas.
At the Parque Ginebra
What could be better than drinking Pisco Sour on a balcony after a strenuous trek? You should totally try the „Coca Sour“, a Pisco infused with Coca leaves.
So? Are you curious about Huaraz? Both Anne and Nora have been to Huaraz several times, the scenery is truly incredible, and there is always something new to discover. If you are looking for a real adventure, this is the place for you.
Who is writing?
Hola! I’m Anne, Co-founder of ALL ACROSS PERU. In 2011 I travelled to Peru for the first time: I had planned to stay for 6 month that turned out to become 2 years! Since then, I regularly keep coming back to the most beautiful country in the world.