Equivalent to taking a step into Middle Earth and directly being transported into the stunning mountainscapes of the Lord of the Rings, Huaraz is a breathtaking gem located in the Andean Valley.
Sitting pretty at over 3,000 metres above sea level, Huaraz is surrounded by the Cordillera Blanca (snow-capped mountains) to the east and the Cordillera Negra (mountains without snowy tops) to the west. These spectacular mountain ranges are not just beautiful backdrops for the area though. Amongst them are actually some of the highest peaks in Peru and even the Western Hemisphere.
Acclimatize to the altitude
I arrived on an overnight bus from Lima, ready to breath in the fresh air and explore Peru’s very own outdoor playground. Arriving early in the morning, I spent my first day jumping from tour agency to tour agency looking for the best group to join. I was also using this time to let my body acclimatize to the altitude.
Stay in a high-altitude town long enough and you’ll hear plenty of stories of how it affects each traveller differently. There are the ones that get slight headaches and shortness of breath. But then there are those that claim of intense chest pains, chest restrictions that prevented air flow and even vigorous vomiting.
I wasn’t particularly affected by the altitude of the town, but I still didn’t want to chance it. Being completely unaware of how my body would react to it, I took precautionary altitude pills the day before to help keep the potential sickness at bay.
Huaraz, as a town, doesn’t really have a lot of attractions. Visitors can find the standard food market, main city square and church. However, what really motivates travellers to visit are the copious amount of attractions just outside of the town.
Nicknamed the outdoor playground of Peru, Huaraz is an absolute hiker’s paradise. There are day hikes to prestine glacial lagunas, month-long and multi-day treks through the mountain ranges. There are alpine trekking on mountains over 5,000 metres, archeological ruins and even hot springs.
Even though I had planned to stay in Huaraz for almost two weeks, I still had difficulty narrowing down what I wanted to do. Eventually, I decided on two highly rated activities that promised me a staggering experience. I’m usually skeptical when claims are this grand. But when everyone I encountered said the same thing, I had to experience it first hand.
Laguna 69 is the perfect one-day hike to get you into gear. Nearly every tour agency offers a tour to Laguna 69, but it’s also completely doable independently. In the end I decided to join a tour, as it would’ve cost me around the same amount either way.
Tours start early in the morning, before the sun is even up. You’ll more than likely be picked up at your accommodation at around 5 a.m. From Huaraz, it’s about a 2 hour drive to the starting point of Laguna 69. Most tours would also make a quickie pit stop for breakfast and give trekkers one last opportunity to stock up on last minute snacks and drinks.
It’s good to note that none of the tours provide lunch on this trek, so this stop is also a great time to get a pack away lunch for later on.
At approximately 12 kilometers long, the hike
usually takes visitors around 3 hours to ascend and 2 hours to descend. The opening stages are relatively easy and flat. A great way to get into the groove and acclimatize to the altitude, because you start hiking well above 3,500 meters, which for most people is when altitude sickness starts hitting.
The hike progressively climbs to almost over 4,000 meters, and it’s not until the last several kilometers that it really gets tough. The last section is a steady and steep climb, full of switchbacks. The reward at the end is priceless. With the sky opening wide and the turquoise blue laguna sparkling so brightly in front of you.
This multi-day hike is one of the more popular ones in the area, possibly because it offers amazingly diverse views and is less challenging than some of the other hikes in the area.
Similar to Laguna 69, pretty much every tour agency will offer this trek. It’s possible to conqueror the journey completely on your own too, though I didn’t want to carry my own gear so I opted to join a tour.
At about 50km long, there’s only one really difficult bit; when you climb through the Punta Union Pass on the second day. Otherwise, it’s picture perfect every step of the way!
For a more detailed account of my experience trekking Santa Cruz, check out my post here.