By: Adam French.-
Welcome to Huaraz and congratulations on having found your way to one of the world’s special places. If you ended up here as I did for the first time, it was the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca that drew you. These peaks—the highest and most extensively glaciated range in the Tropics—have long been a source of inspiration for the region’s inhabitants and visitors alike, from indigenous cultures who worshipped the Apus (the elder spirits of the peaks) to international mountaineers captivated by the sheer ice faces and precarious ridges of the range.
Over the last several decades, the Cordillera Blanca and the Callejón de Huaylas (the broad valley that separates the Cordillera Blanca from the drier and lower Cordillera Negra to the west) have become a center for international and Peruvian tourism. The landscapes of Huascaran National Park and the adjacent UNESCO Biosphere Reserve are still the main attraction, and whether you are seeking a drive-up picnic with breath-taking views, a relaxing hike, lung-busting mountain biking, or a multi-day trekking or climbing challenge, there is something here for everyone within easy proximity of Huaraz. The first-rate tourism infrastructure and guiding services of the area also ensure that you can find all the support you might need to have the adventure of your choosing.
With so much to do, you may be inclined to rush out of Huaraz and into the backcountry. Instead, I recommend that you take a bit of time in and around the city. This will give your body a chance to adjust to the thinner air of the highlands (Huaraz is located at 3,000 meters above sea level, or nearly 10,000 feet), and provide an opportunity to experience the gastronomical offerings and café culture of the area along with the colorful streets and markets—not to mention the ever-evolving bar and discoteca scene for those inclined. Whether or not you will be visiting Huascaran National Park—and you definitely should if possible—it is worth dropping by the park office to learn about this protected area and World Heritage Site. There are also a few museums to explore in town as well as the headquarters of the recently established National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM). This guide will help you find your way, but be sure to get personal tips from trusted sources as you go, as there are many semi-hidden treasures to be discovered.
Acclimatization time around Huaraz can also be easily combined with nearby day trips. These include drives to scenic vistas in the Cordillera Negra, hikes and bike trips into the rural communities of the Cordillera Blanca foothills, and combi rides along the Santa River valley to nearby towns and sites. There are alpine lakes (e.g. Churup), archaeological ruins (e.g. Willcahuain), and Andean delicacies (e.g. pachamanca) all within easy striking distance. With a longer trip you can visit the impressive archaeological site of Chavín de Huantar, the rapidly melting Pastoruri glacier and its interpretive walk on climate change, the solemn Campo Santo at Yungay, or the picturesque lakes of Llanganuco or Parón. These are just a few of the popular options near Huaraz, and with a little investigation you’ll find endless possibilities—I’ve been coming to Huaraz for nearly twenty years now and find new adventures every visit.
Regardless of the adventures you choose, keeping a few guidelines in mind will help you enjoy your time and promote a healthy and sustainable tourism industry in the area:
1) Respect the locals—like most mountain people I have met, Huaracinos are generally gregarious, kind and generous. Also, like most of us, they appreciate being greeted courteously, asked before being photographed by a stranger, and rewarded fairly for their hard work. Talk to the National Park authorities or a trusted tourism operator about best local practices and appropriate wages, etc.
2) Respect the environment—these are fragile ecosystems. Local landscapes, even within the National Park, have been used by humans and livestock for centuries, but this does not make it okay for visitors to behave badly. Follow park regulations and check out the Leave No Trace principles to familiarize yourself with sustainable practices.
3) Be careful with the water—unfortunately most backcountry water sources are not pristine and require treatment (e.g. boiling, filtering, or chemical treatment). Be fastidious about this, it only takes a drop of bad water to ruin your day…and potentially your trip.
4) Be wary but not afraid of the dogs—while hiking and biking around Huaraz you will encounter aggressive dogs, but generally they are quite skittish if threatened. Pick up a couple of rocks and don’t be afraid to use them. Usually just the action of picking up the rocks is enough.
5) Be adventurous—Huaraz is a unique and magical place, enjoy it.
Adam French, geographer, alpinist, and huaracino de corazón. www.adamfrench.org