Huaraz, Peru—The Ultimate Hiker’s Playground

Huaraz, Peru—The Ultimate Hiker’s Playground

Peru has become a wildly popular travel destination in recent years. Seasoned travelers and holiday seekers can find many exciting experiences in this culturally rich, geographically diverse country. 

Maybe, you’ve heard of Machu Pichu? The Inca Trail? Or big cities like Lima and Cusco? 

Huaraz, Peru - Laguna Paron, one of many high-mountain lakes in the area, and the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca in the background
Laguna Paron, one of many high-mountain lakes in the area, and the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca in the background

However, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path and enjoy some of the best hiking in the world, think about Huaraz, Peru—a small city nestled high in the Andes Mountains and a longtime mountaineer’s mecca. 

If you’d like to read some tips and tricks for becoming a digital nomad yourself check out this article from a longtime traveler. 

Where is Huaraz, Peru? 

Huaraz, Peru is situated 420 km (261 miles) north of Lima and is the capital of the Ancash region of Peru. It sits in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca, a stunningly beautiful mountain range inside the greater Andes. 

The Cordillera Blanca range is known worldwide for its formidable peaks and massive glaciers. The highest peak in Peru, Huascarán, is visible from Huaraz. The region has been dubbed by many travelers as the “Peruvian Alps” for a good reason—the surrounding mountains’ astounding size, scope, and natural beauty are simply breathtaking. 

Huaraz, Peru spreads across the Callejon de Huaylas valley, surrounded by several of the tallest mountains in the Andes. 

Huaraz and some nearby mountains
Huaraz and some nearby mountains
The Plaza De Armas or the center of Huaraz
The Plaza De Armas or the center of Huaraz

With a population of approximately 120,000—Huaraz offers the conveniences and amenities of a big city. And it serves as a great launching point for hiking, trekking, and mountaineering trips. More on that later. 

The elevation of Huaraz, Peru is no joke, at slightly over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. For intrepid mountaineers, this can be an exciting prospect. For those less adjusted to life at high elevations, there are some time-tested methods to acclimatize quickly.

To avoid elevation sickness

  • Drink Coca Tea 
  • Drink Coffee 
  • Stay Hydrated 
  • Get Sleep 
  • Take Rest Days 
  • Take Several Days To Acclimatize 

All of these factors will be vital to avoiding elevation sickness. And take it from me, elevation can kick your butt. 

Getting To Huaraz, Peru

The closest hub to Huaraz is the Peruvian capital, Lima. If you’re in Cusco, take the short, usually affordable, flight to Lima and start your trip from there.

If you have some time to spare, spend a day or two in Lima. It’s a world-class city with beautiful walking trails perched high on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and some of the most delectable culinary delights you’ll find anywhere. 

Enjoy a stroll along the Pacific in Miraflores, try Peruvian ceviche with a Pisco Sour, and get a slice of what life is like in Peru’s premier city. 

Huaraz, Peru - View from Parque De Amore in Miraflores, Lima, Peru
View from Parque De Amore in Miraflores, Lima, Peru
Miraflores at night
Miraflores at night

Once in Lima, you have a couple of transportation options. The simplest way to get to Huaraz, Peru is to take a bus. However, for some renting a car may be better.

There are plenty of trusted car rental agencies in Lima. But be forewarned, the traffic in and around Lima can be wild. And local drivers tend to be pretty aggressive, especially the swarms of taxis cramming the roads at any given time. Lima has almost no reliable public transportation, so everyone uses cars, which severely strains the infrastructure. If you want to drive, more power to you, but please be careful out there. 

Since I’m generally against stress, I opted to take the bus. I went with a company called Transportes Julio Caesar. They offer three daily buses from Lima to Huaraz for 14 USD (55 Soles) one way. The bus ride takes about seven to eight hours. 

My recommendation would be to take the night bus. The plush seats recline and have a privacy screen that you can close to get some shut-eye. That way, you awake refreshed in Huaraz. 

The Julio Caesar bus terminal is located near the National Stadium of Peru. It is an easy Uber or taxi ride from Miraflores and Barranco, two popular neighborhoods for travelers. You can book tickets directly through their website.

If you’d like to upgrade your bus experience, check out Santa Cruz Del Sur. They’re a bus company that caters primarily to tourists. For about 30 USD (118 soles), you can get a more luxurious ride from Lima to Huaraz. Check out their webpage for more information.  

Where To Stay In Huaraz, Peru

If you’re looking to make your trip on the cheap, it’s definitely possible. Huaraz, Peru has several great hostels, hotels, and Air Bnb options. And, if you’d like to spend a few extra bucks and live in luxury, that’s also possible. 

You can find these places on sites like Booking, Hostel World, or Expedia. 

Being a long-term traveler, I’m generally looking for the best deals. Many accommodations in Huaraz will have veteran guides on staff who can safely take you on fantastic mountain excursions. 

I stayed 10 days at Artesonraju Hostel in a quiet neighborhood outside the center of Huaraz, Peru. Rooms start at as little as 12 USD (47 soles) a night, and the accommodations are excellent for the price. 

We spent many post-hike afternoons sipping complimentary Coca Tea on the Artesonraju roof deck as we planned our next excursion. 

Huaraz, Peru - View from the roof deck at Artesonraju Hostel
View from the roof deck at Artesonraju Hostel
Complimentary locally sourced Coca Tea, all you can drink!
Complimentary locally sourced Coca Tea, all you can drink!

Artesonraju is run by a local family who lives on-site. So, they’re always there to answer questions and give advice. Their guides are superb. They offer reasonably priced multi-day treks, ice climbs, and camping trips. 

My friend got sick the morning we were supposed to scale a nearby mountain. We told the owners she would be unable to attend, and they were totally understanding. They gave us a full refund and even brought tea to our room throughout the morning. 

You can also rent gear from them, including boots, tents, ice picks, warm clothes, and really anything you could need. I must say I was thrilled with this place, and the price was well worth it. I recommended this hostel to three separate groups, and each one told me how amazing their experience was. Check out Artesonraju Hostel if you’re looking for an authentic experience at a great price. 

If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, check out an Air Bnb or highly-rated hotel on Booking. 

Best Hikes In Huaraz, Peru

It’s not a stretch to say that the Cordillera Blanca and the surrounding Huaraz area offer some of the world’s most spectacular mountain terrain. The snow-capped peaks, the stark mountainside cliffs, the rushing rivers, the beautiful lagunas, and the roaming alpacas all combine to make this place magical. 

If you want to get out there and see it for yourself, I have a few hikes you should consider. 

1. Laguna Wilcachoca—Moderately Easy 3-4 hours 

Laguna Wilcachoca is a small lagoon located just outside the Huaraz city limits. It’s a great first hike to help you acclimatize to the elevation. Or if you have just a few hours to burn, this hike will provide some exercise and incredible views. 

Huaraz, Peru - Megan hikes Laguna Wilcachoca
Megan hikes Laguna Wilcachoca

Getting to the Laguna Wilcachoca trailhead is relatively easy. You can hop on a local collectivo, a passenger van used for public transportation. They congregate near the Plaza De Armas and the prominent market nearby. 

Make sure the collectivo is heading south on 3N, the major road out of town. But if you tell your driver you’re going to Laguna Wilcachoca, they will know where to drop you off. 

Once you hop off the collectivo, you proceed across a bridge to the right of the road, and the trail begins to your left just across the bridge. From here, it’s all uphill. 

On your way up to the lake, you’ll pass through a sleepy village with locals going about their day. If you want a truly authentic experience of traditional Peruvian village life, this is your chance. We met some friendly locals who pointed us toward the vista. 

Passing through a village on the way to Laguna Wilcachoca
Passing through a village on the way to Laguna Wilcachoca
Sleepy village near Laguna Wilcachoca
Sleepy village near Laguna Wilcachoca

There are two options for trails after the initial ascent. Once you get above this small village, you’ll see a dirt road that wraps around the mountain. This path will take you to the lake. It’s less steep than the other trail, but it will take longer to reach the top. 

We opted to take the steeper trail, which is very well-maintained, and located off of the dirt road. You can’t miss it.

At certain points, it has broad stairs carved right into the mountain. I’d consider the ascent to be moderate. It gets a bit strenuous at some points, but anyone in reasonable health can do it. 

It will take 2-3 hours to reach the top and 1-2 hours to come down. But the view is absolutely worth it.

Huaraz, Peru - Looking Southeast from Laguna Wilcachoca
Looking Southeast from Laguna Wilcachoca
Enjoying the view with a friendly local pup
Enjoying the view with a friendly local pup

The laguna itself could be more spectacular. But the views are outstanding. And seeing an authentic village in its natural state was also pretty cool.

2. Laguna 69—Moderately Difficult 6-7 hours 

Laguna 69 is a more challenging hike, but hugely popular with visitors. For this hike, you’ll need to hire a tour guide because the trail is located inside a national park which is fairly remote. 

All of the local tour operators offer guided Laguna 69 hikes. Generally, you’ll need to leave Huaraz by five or six in the morning to get there. 

The hike is more strenuous than I thought it would be. It’s 13.8 km (8 miles) out and back with an elevation gain of 842 m (2,760 feet). This elevation gain is nothing to scoff at, but it’s even more difficult because you begin your ascent at 3,800 m (12,467 feet).  

The trail itself is easy to track, and there are enough hikers out there that you’re unlikely to get lost. But, this hike can be difficult for many. So, please stop, take breaks and regain your breath as you ascend the trail. 

On the way up to Laguna 69
On the way up to Laguna 69
Huaraz, Peru - Reaching the Laguna, mesmerized by the beauty
Reaching the Laguna, mesmerized by the beauty

Coming around that final bend and reaching the laguna will leave you overwhelmed by the natural beauty. The juxtaposition of the clear blue lake against the snow-capped peaks is unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. 

This hike is challenging, but the view and the pictures will be unforgettable. 

Look at that water
Look at that water

You’ll have no trouble finding a guided tour of Laguna 69. We used a company called Golden Expeditions, and they were excellent. Their office is located in the Plaza De Armas in Huaraz, Peru. 

3. Santa Cruz—Difficult 3-4 days 

The Santa Cruz trek is why many travelers visit Huaraz, and its beauty is famous in hiking communities worldwide. But this trek isn’t for the faint of heart. It involves ascents and descents in and out of large valleys. It’s generally done over four days and three nights. 

Sleeping accommodations on the Santa Cruz Trek
Sleeping accommodations on the Santa Cruz Trek

You’ll be traveling with a guide and a team of several people on this trek. Generally, each group will have a few mules to carry the gear and a cook to prepare delicious meals each night. 

You’ll be hiking every day for about six to seven hours in order to complete the entire trek in four days. But it’s incredibly beautiful and well worth it. We’d recommend taking time to acclimatize to the elevation before doing this trek. In total, you’ll travel 50km (31 miles). 

Huaraz, Peru - Mules lend a hand on the Santa Cruz trek
Mules lend a hand on the Santa Cruz trek
You’ll pass loads of crystal-clear lagunas and snowy peaks on the Santa Cruz trek
You’ll pass loads of crystal-clear lagunas and snowy peaks on the Santa Cruz trek

Nearly everybody who does Santa Cruz goes with a tour company. However, a few daring souls do it alone, but we wouldn’t recommend it. You will be far away from any help. The area is very secluded.

We used the guide service provided by Artesonraju Hostel. Their team has my full endorsement and recommendation. The operation was top-notch, from the guides to the food to the sleeping quarters. They get a ten out of ten. 

Enjoy Huaraz, Peru

Huaraz, Peru is easily accessible from Lima and can offer loads of great experiences for outdoor enthusiasts. So get out there today and make memories. After all, as travelers, we’re building up a bank of unique experiences. Get on that road and enjoy everything this fantastic world has to offer! 

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