Peru is embedded with a rich history, and whether you are watching llamas at Machu Picchu at 6 am, or inhaling a street churro dusted with sugar, or taking a bus for the 8th hour up a steep mountain road, this place is truly magical.
When Huaraz came into view, my body was suddenly covered in goosebumps as the enchanting landscape filled my dirty bus window. Mountains have always been my favorite landscape, but the Peruvian mountains were something else.
The town itself is bustling with people, street vendors, and various shops, but the true reason for coming to this area is to access some of the craziest and most beautiful high altitude hikes in the world. Whether you decide to do day trips, a weekend backpacking excursion, or a full-on immersion into the mountain range for weeks, you will leave knowing you saw some of the most epic mountains in the world.
Huaraz is seated at 3080 meters (10,000 feet) and you will immediately feel it upon arrival. Altitude brings all sorts of illnesses, whether it impacts your stomach, causes headaches, or gives you crazy dreams, acclimation is no joke. The town has some very Gringo areas where you can access high-quality outdoor shops to rent gear and overpriced vegan food (but I would highly suggest packing some of your own gear because these shops are super expensive).
While most travel areas you can find places to party, the hostels in this area are unique because most people are getting up at super early hours; everyone is buzzing about their outdoor adventures, and swapping stories of their epic views. As a solo female traveler, I was hesitant to go hike alone and go to Huaraz, but you will absolutely meet like minded people who want to hike with you!
Huaraz does have a lot of awesome agencies to book through for hiking, but of course that comes with a pretty hefty fee, so if you have the time, I would absolutely recommend creating your own adventures. There are various parks that require a fee and depending on how long you plan on staying, I recommend buying a pass so you can access multiple hikes for less money. Planning collectivos (shared taxis) is fairly easy and people are so friendly you can find the right car to take and save a lot of money so you don’t have to go in a large group via hostel packages.
My Huaraz must-dos:
First and most importantly get the street Churros. Most likely you’ll be hiking tons and need to refuel, and I still daydream over these churros, seriously life-changing.
Laguna Churup: This gorgeous hike is located in Huascaran National Park and can be accessed from a cheap collective from Huaraz. This hike is still high elevation and a great hike for acclimating. The lake is 4450 meters (14599) above sea level so absolutely no joke but leads you for about 3 meters to a gorgeous lake. You get your first views of the dramatic mountain scenery and your first taste at high altitude and potentially crazy weather. We dodged a couple of stormy clouds and soaked up the views.
Laguna 69: This is one of the most famous day hikes in Huaraz and for good reason. You can experience your first look at the turquoise Peruvian waters. These lakes are seriously incredible and worth the journey. This hike we took with a tour group because it’s a little more complicated to get a collective there (but still possible). Sitting at 4600 meters (15000 feet) above sea level, this hike features glorious waterfalls, incredible mountain views, and ends at an insanely beautiful turquoise lake.
Santa Cruz: Once you’re feeling strong and acclimated, cruise on the Santa Cruz, a four-day trek in the Cordillera Blancas for an incredible and challenging multi-day 50 km trip. This was my first backpacking trip, and to say I was underprepared is a huge understatement. I went with a sweet Kiwi girl, and the night before the trip we gathered packs of ramen, tested out our backpacking stove, and filled our packs way too full. We actually ended up camping at Laguna 69 for our first night, then took a collectivo to the town of Vaqueria. As we wandered, and our bodies immediately aching, we crushed the first day and hiked 20 KM (12.5 miles). Our campsite got soaked and we ended up waking up at 4 AM to start what was supposed to be the most challenging day. The pass, Punta Union, was no joke, and we walked through some crazy clouds, stumbled and waddled, almost offered to pay a man for his donkey services, and finally made it to the most incredible view. Unfortunately hiking during the rainy season, the second half of the day was very wet, and we ended the trek in 3 days due to soaked gear. All around though an amazing trip and a great one to do without a guide!
Huayhuash: This is the absolute mecca of a backpacking trip. If you want your jaw to drop hourly, to do multiple high altitude passes a day, and meet incredible people, Huayhuash is your trek. This hike I did with an organized group because there was no way after Santa Cruz I could carry 8 days worth of food. The organized trip was completely worth it, and despite lots of rain, the trip was the most incredible view of my life. If I could do something over and over again, it would absolutely be this hike. Just google Huayhaush and let your travel bug absolutely go crazy.
Monsters Burger: After the 8-day trek, I was starving and went to Monsters Burgers. Seriously this shop is a must for an incredible burger. They are massive and will squash any immediate cravings.
I highly recommend Huaraz for an incredible and challenging outdoor experience. This place is so magical and allows you to do world-class hiking for a fraction of the price.
About the Author
After spending six months in Chile, Hailee found her obsession with South America. Climbing mountains, budgeting to the max, and exploring new regions of Spanish speaking areas, Hailee loves traveling with limited funds, working in hostels, and meeting incredible people from around the world. She currently is exploring her own state of Colorado and has Switzerland and New Zealand on the bucket list.