Huaraz, Peru: Hiking, Camping and Guinea pig for lunch

Hidden deep and high in the Peruvian Andes, at an altitude of about 3100 meter above sea-level, lies the city of Huaraz. Surrounded by staggering mountains tops, reaching over 6000 meters. Huaraz is visited mostly by those who find comfort in the mountains and those who are not afraid of heights. This city is highly recommended if you ever get the chance to visit Peru.

Huaraz Peru

About the city

If you like crowded, busy and lively cities, Huaraz is definitely worth a visit. Personally, I’m not a bigfan of these kind of places but for me, Huaraz had a good vibe and a good feeling to it as soon as my night bus arrived at dawn. The center of the city is full of life. Local Peruvians selling their goods on the streets in traditional clothing. The noise of cars, tuk-tuks and other worn-out vehicles in the busy streets. This place feels like one big market already as soon as you step out the door of your hostel. The highlights of the city for me, are the big indoor markets. There are several of them, and these are the best places to do some shopping for you day to day groceries. Be aware though, don’t go to these markets if you have a weak stomach. Usually there are huge sections of butcher shops who don’t mind displaying their goods freshly butchered on meat hooks outside their shops.

Laguna Churup: photo by Dennis Kirchner, author

Food in Huaraz

Do you know these fluffy, squealing animals? The furry friends we keep as pets? The ones called Guinea pigs? Yeah.. in Peru, they eat them and they are called “Cuy”. It was a strange sight, seeing women sitting in the streets with bags full of those furry friends (still alive) knowing that it’s a delicacy in Peru, especially in less touristic places like Huaraz. These women sell them every day to the highest bidder, only to see them grilled in front of a restaurant the same afternoon. I’m the kind of person who will try shit like this in foreign countries just to know what it tastes like but, after seeing this happening on the doorstep of my hostel, I decided that my time for trying Cuy had not arrived yet.

Why visit Huaraz

Although Huaraz is a pretty cool city to spend a few days, it’s not really known for it’s markets and diesel fumed streets. Most people who take the effort to travel half the Andes, come here for the stunning surroundings and beautiful treks this region has to offer.

At any corner of the street and at all the hostels, it’s possible to rent your gear for a fair price. Usually these offices can also offer guided trips and transport to the starting point of your trek. Like in any place, you will find good and bad ones for high or fair prices. Make sure you do some research before signing up for you next adventure.

If you’re not really a hiker or adventurer and you’re just on a stop in between places, you could also visitone of the archeological sites around the city. Be warned though, I’ve tried afew of these trips but they were never as good as advertised. They were kind of boring to be honest..

Around Huaraz, getting used to the altitude

Tips and useful info about Huaraz

Remember, Huaraz lies at about 3100 meters above sea-level. The altitude can be hard on everybody, no matter how fit you are. Make sure that you don’t get on a tough trek right away. Give yourself some time to climatize to the altitude and start with a less demanding hike.

Especially during the nights, it can get pretty cold up there. If you come straight from the beach, like most people traveling from north to south, make sure you have some warmer clothes with you as well. A t-shirt and shorts are not going to cut it in this climate.

Last, but not least, coca tea. We all know what those leaves are used for but, even in a country where they are widely grown, cocaine is illegal. Dried coca leaves however, can legally be sold and purchased. Fun fact; tea from dried coca leaves helps you deal with the effects of high altitude. You can buy a bag for about 25 cents and it’ll last you the whole trip. Two or three leaves are enough for a good cup of tea. Don’t take it across any border though! Not all countries around Peru have the same laws when it comes to coca leaves.

Hiking and camping in Huaraz

Lake Churup. photo taken by Dennis Kirchner, author

Early morning in Huaraz, Peru. It was the morning of our first trekking day. It was rainy and cold but that couldn’t spoil the fun. In my hostel, I found a few fellow Dutch guys who were up for a good trek and a night in the mountains. We decided to rent some gear and walk the famous Laguna 69 trek.

Normally, this is a trek you can do in a full day. It’s one of the most famous treks in Peru, besides Machu Picchu of course. We didn’t feel like doing this trek in one day though, like all the others walking this trail. We wanted to do something special and spend the night in the mountains without a guide. With this plan in mind, we asked our hostel owner about the possibilities of doing such a trip. After a lot of planning, finding gear and… finding a guide. We had our trip. The first part of the trek was too dangerous to do without a guide. It was off trail so someone had to show us the way. Luckily, the guides in Huaraz are not so expensive if you book them with a group.

After picking the right gear, which we rented from our hostel, we were up for a very long ride in a very uncomfortable minivan. The roads and vans are tough but, the worst were the ones behind the wheel. These drivers make these trips daily and are used to the conditions on the roads but for the less experienced, like us, it can be quite a challenge to put your trust in these men.

Start of the trek

8am in the morning when we finally arrived at the starting point of our trek. It was cloudy and rainy with just enough sun coming trough the clouds to give us a beautiful rainbow over the mountains. There were high, snow filled peaks as far as the eye could reach. Waterfalls in the distance and ancient glaciers above us.

Start of the trek, already above 4000 meters. photo by Dennis Kirchner

Our guide took us off trail straight away. Good choice to take this guy with us. He took us up to one of the huge glaciers nearby at a staggering altitude of 4800 meters! An altitude that guarantees a good headache and short breathing even while standing still. All you can do is drink lots of water and hope for the best.

After a full day of crossing the huge valley in front of us, we almost arrived at the our camping spot, which we could see all day during our descent. Our guide left us for the last few miles when we reached the trail. We were on our own now and we still had a mountain to climb to get out of the valley again.

During the climb, the altitude was taking it’s toll on me. Blurry vision, a huge headache and spaghetti legs made these last meters some of the toughest I ever walked. When we finally reached our spot for the night, there was nothing but happiness. We quickly set up our tents and took our camera’s out. The clouds slowly started to disappear and all the mountains around us became visible.

Huascaran mountain, the highest peak in Peru. 6768 meters

Time to move again

The next morning we decided to get up early again. We wanted the be at the lake as the first ones that day. Knowing that we were the only ones camping there that night and that all the rest still had to walk all the way up to catch up on us, we packed our tents and started walking again.It payed off, after 2 hours we got to the lake and we had it all to ourselves. Perfect blue glacier water, mountain tops covered in snow surrounding it. Time to get those cameras out again.

Me, enjoying the view and beautiful blue water

When we finished our photoshoot and played some cards on a rock, the first people started to come in. they had been walking for hours to get up there and were quite surprised to see us playing cards there on the banks of the lake.

On our way back down, there were dozens of people going up. Exhausted and struggling to get air, one after another asked us how far they still had to walk up. It wasn’t that far anymore but, what is more fun than to fuck a little with those broken souls and tell them that they still have hours to go. The defeat on their faces, priceless.

Not a bad place to camp huh?

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