Tucked amidst the white-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca range, the city of Huaraz, home to 120,000 inhabitants, sits at over 3,000 metres in elevation. This is the perfect home base for a multitude of single-day and multi-day treks in the Peruvian Andes.
I arrived in Huaraz via an overnight 7.5-hour bus ride from Trujillo, serviced by Movil Tours for about $15 USD. Despite the early-morning arrival, I was able to check into my hostel quickly and grab a couple hours of sleep before seeking out a cheap breakfast of my standard bread and fruit (plant-based diets in South America are not always easy).
My itinerary was empty when I first arrived in the city. I knew what kind of adventures were at my disposal, but my prior experiences in Peru had taught me that this was a country that fit my propensity for planning on the fly. I spent my first day wandering the city, checking out the central market, treating myself to a tofu salad at veg-friendly Cafe Andino, and sending postcards back home to Canada. The next day, it was time to start visiting tour operators, scheduling, and getting familiar with the Andean wonderland that surrounds the city of Huaraz.
Rock Climbing at Los Olivos
I do not consider myself an experienced rock climber, despite climbing indoors and outdoors in several different countries. My fear of heights gets the better of me, so this is a concern I wanted to make known when Tim and I visited the Quechuandes office. Luckily, they understood and did their best to empathize with my fears and make me feel comfortable.
The following morning we met up with our climbing guide on a downtown street corner. He handed us a few Peruvian pesos and we waited for a Colectivo (a mini-bus that acts as a shared taxi) to pick us up. It took us up winding roads into the outskirts of the city, where we got off and followed a dusty path to a volcanic rock crag. We climbed several different routes that were luckily within my ability and Tim was instructed in lead climbing for the first time.
This is an experience I would definitely recommend to beginners and experienced climbers alike. The opportunity to see this part of the city and the views of the Cordillera Blanca in the background alone make it worthwhile.
Due to the city’s altitude, there are several different places to go ice climbing within a couple hours of the city limits. We booked our trip with Galaxia Expeditions — which I won’t recommend for reasons I’ll soon get into.
A beat-up old sedan picked us up early from the tour office. Tim and I, along with a German traveller, crammed into the backseat as our guide took the passenger seat beside the driver. For about an hour and a half, we weaved through the bumpy roads and rose up into the Cordillera Blanca. We stopped near a park office, put on our mountaineering boots, and hiked for another 40 or so minutes to a small wall of ice.
Over the next couple of hours, we took turns donning crampons and ice axes and making our way up and down the wall via a couple routes. The climbing itself was easy and repetitive, but worth the experience.
What soured my experience was that once we made it back to the park office, we waited for over two hours as the day grew late and cold in the mountains before our ride showed us to bring us back to the city.
Once we began driving, we quickly realized what caused the delay — the steering on the beat-up sedan was giving out. Every few minutes, the driver got out, grabbed some tools, and pounded on something under the dash. After another two hours, he realized this was a lost cause and called a taxi to pick us up and bring us back to the city. We arrived back to the city four hours late, chilled from the cold mountain air, and too exhausted and hungry to go back to the tour office to complain. Instead, we grabbed bruschetta and pizza at Luigi’s Pizza (which I definitely do recommend) and reminded ourselves that there’s just an inherent degree of uncertainty when it comes to travelling in this region of the world.
I was excited to try mountain biking for the first time after really getting into road biking over the last year. Tim and I met with Julio in the Mountain Bike Adventures office below Cafe Andino to plan our trip.
We initially thought we might be interested in a multi-day trek, but luckily Julio persuaded us to try the single-day option. The following day, we met up with Julio and two others, an American and a Dutch traveller, got fit for our bikes, loaded up a van, and set off for the mountains once again.
I’ve got to say that I was completely out of my league when I thought I’d be able to do a multi-day mountain-biking trip through the Cordillera Blanca. I thought I’d gotten used to the altitude over my time in the Andes, but biking uphill at almost 4,000 metres is no joke. I choked on my breath as I struggled my way through the first hour or so of the adventure. The moments of descent were like a welcome reprieve from the aching in my muscles and lungs. So much so that I forgot to be my regular scared-of-everything self when it came to riding over impossibly rocky terrain and falling too many times to count. We road through rocky mountain paths, through tiny villages, and as fast as we could away from barking dogs that nipped at our feet.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted and bruised, but high on adrenaline. I felt proud when our fellow bikers said this route was ten times harder than their first mountain biking experience.
I would definitely recommend this experience for fit travellers who enjoy a challenge or experienced mountain bikers. Seeing the mountain landscape and riding through Peruvian mountain villages made this one of my most memorable travel experiences.
Hiking to Laguna 69
One of the most famous expeditions from Huaraz is trekking to Laguna 69. This was the last trip we took from Huaraz, and it was well worth it. We booked the excursion through our hostel and were picked up there in the early hours.
Because this is such a popular hike, our group was made up of at least a dozen other travellers, and several other packed buses made the same journey with us. The hike takes about 5-6 hours roundtrip. Again, the altitude makes it a lot tougher. Taking it slow and steady, as with any hike, is the best course of action.
Luckily, the fantastic views of turquoise glacial lakes, white-capped mountain landscapes and waterfalls, and potential sightings of chinchillas scrambling around piles of rock detract from the moderate difficulty.
As I made the final push to reach Laguna 69, reaching a final altitude of 4,600 metres after beginning at 3,800, the air got notably frosty. The contrast of the turquoise-blue lake against the grey-white stone and the dense fog just above was striking — enough so for me to struggle to eat my lunch in view of it despite the freezing temperatures.
Tim and I kept a brisk pace as we headed back to the bus at our starting point — we were exhausted from the early-morning start and just wanted to rest our legs. We made it back and slumped in the back of the bus, nodding off for half an hour or so as we waited for the rest of our group to arrive and head back to Huaraz.