After my trip to the Atacama Desert I would have been left with a week in Santiago, but all the people I had met in the Atacama were heading home and not staying in Chile. So, knowing that I get bored in cities on my own (I much prefer landscapes), I shelled out some cash and flew back to Peru to check out Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca.
Huaraz (3,050m) is a popular trekking destination north of Lima in the Ancash region. It is famous for mountaineering, the nearby Santa Cruz trek through the Cordillera Blanca and for those into longer and more hardcore treks you can base here to access the Huayhuash circuit. The Cordillera Blanca is home to Nevado Huascarán (6,768m), the highest mountain in Peru, and the Cordillera Huayhuash houses Nevado Yerupajá (6,635m), the 2nd highest in Peru.
After a long layover to catch the only flight from Lima to Huaraz (LC Peru fly once per day), I landed the following morning at the tiny Anta airport. The baggage limit was only 15kgs and so I had a lot of carry on to pack back into my check-in luggage. By the time I left the terminal there was no one left, but a guy smoking a cigarette and a little white car. Fortunately, it was a private taxi.
The guy was quite comical. I think I had my longest Spanish conversation with a local during the 35 minute ride because he spoke so little English. We got along well enough that I got him to drop the price from 50 to 40 soles which was the price my hostel suggested in the first place. It was all good fun and after travelling with friends who spoke Spanish for a while it was nice to practice my own.
I got to the Huaraz city centre with plenty of time to spare, found a nearby Scotiabank (they don’t charge ATM fees), booked my tours and bought some supplies. I was in Huaraz a little after peak season in late October, but I had no problems booking tours when I arrived. There are also tons of adventure stores in Huaraz, but I’d suggest you bring your own gear where possible to avoid the high prices on good gear.
I found a decent pizzeria called Sierra Andina in Parque Periodista to eat big before the Santa Cruz trek and went for a quick walk around the town. The people I hiked with also suggested good places for hot food like Pollo a la Brasa and Polloria Diana. It’s always funny how you can go to a country expecting things to be cheap and yet pay western prices for a meal, but then just a stone throw away you can find a more local place and pay a few soles for your meal and feel like you’re stealing. At night time a lot of locals appeared in the streets and the nightlife felt more alive.
I spent the next 3 days on the Santa Cruz trek. I opted to do it in 3 days instead of 4 to make the most of my time in Huaraz. When I returned I met a nice English girl in the kitchen who was woofing around South America. She’d been living in Huaraz a few months and it turned out that she was also going on the same Vallunaraju climb as me the next day.
Before the climb I went to meet up for dinner with the hiking group from Santa Cruz at El Horno pizza in Parque Ginebra. The pizza was great, jugs of sangria were refreshing and the Peruvian guy who hiked with us showed us some different piscos including a particularly strong one called Pisco Acholado with a blend of grape varietals. I never expected to be drinking so much at altitude, but we were in good company and it was necessary to pay back a few drinks after the Americans brought two bottles of whisky and two six packs of beer to share with us on Santa Cruz.
After getting back from the Vallunaraju climb we returned to find the city alive for Halloween. After a well earned shower, but certainly not a good shower (it was really hard to find good showers in Peru) I went out to find some food. A double decker sandwich, a bowl of chips, a milkshake and a snickers bar really hit the spot. Then I met up with the other survivors from the climb and we went out to a local spot for something I can’t recall the name of but the best I can describe it is that it was like a makan stall (my mum is from Malaysia), we had a hot drink like teh tarik (a sweet milky Malaysian tea) and then some deep fried pastry with a honey sauce. Very healthy to say the least, but I bet we still had a calorie credit after the 14 odd hours of hiking.
In the morning we went to a local health food shop called Yogurt Dayral selling herbs and vitamins to have a healthy breakfast. I have to say the food was actually quite good and I’d go there again! There were some interesting things in the store like ground maca root, harina de haba and loads of quinoa which is normally super expensive for me back home.
Then unfortunately it was time to leave and go home. I had organised for the same taxi driver to come pick me up and take me back to Anta airport, but it is possible to take night buses back to Lima. On the drive out I got one last look at Huascarán from the road which was a nice way to cap off the whole experience. I’d like to go back some day and do the Huayhuash circuit and maybe (if I’m keen) try and break 6,000m!