The gateway to the spectacular Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz has become northern Peru's epicentre for adrenaline fuelled activities and outdoor lovers' dreams.
In fact, what was not so long ago a sleepy town unknown to many on the backpacker circuit is quickly becoming a must-do stop on the way to or from Ecuador (so much so, that we’ve now visited twice!). And with some of Peru's most beautiful hikes beginning just outside the city, it's unlikely to lose its popularity anytime soon.
Here's our guide on things to do in and around Huaraz - the high altitude hiking capital of Peru - plus transport and accommodation recommendations.
Things to do In Huaraz
Strap on the boots and go for a hike!
For avid hikers, this place simply has to be on your Peru itinerary - and if you aren’t hiking, then you may have to ask yourself why you’re even going to Huaraz! Whether you fancy a one day hike to Laguna 69, or a multi-day trek through the Cordillera Blanca, all can be arranged or started from here.
Huascarán National Park, covering nearly 340,000 hectares, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site home to some of South America's most breathtaking scenery and glaciers with 25 trekking routes and 102 mountaineering spots available to visitors. Unfortunately, entry fees have increased quite considerably in the last year, with a one day pass now costing S/. 30 ( £7 / $9) a 2-3 day pass costing S/. 60 (£14 / $18), and a multi-admission ticket costing S/. 150 (£35 / $45) (updated Jan 2019).
There are a large number of day hikes and trips available, which you can do on your own or with a tour, and many of these are achievable for anyone with a decent level of fitness. Easier hikes whilst acclimatising include Rajucolta Valley and Llaca Valley, whilst Laguna Churup, Laguna Paron and the unforgettable Laguna 69 are more challenging.
We’ve put together a short guide to our favourite day hikes in Huaraz - essential reading for anyone visiting the area.
For the truly adventurous or experience, you can opt for stunning multi-day hikes through Cordillera Huayhuash, the Santa Cruz Trek or the Quilcayhuanca & Cojup Valleys. For details of reputable trekking companies based in Huaraz, see this link. These hikes last anywhere from 5-14 days, so it’s imperative that you do your research in advance, take precautions, pack appropriate equipment, and find a good guide or tour provider (seriously, get a guide).
Cycling | If you'd rather explore the area on two wheels, there are various outfitters in town that can rent you a bike - either for a single day cruise or a 12-day cycling marathon through villages and over mountains. Prices start at around S/. 160 for a day’s experience including bike rental and drop-off. This tour is a great option if you’d like to book in advance (and unlike others, it’s a very similar price to what you’d find locally)
Rock Climbing | Whilst we didn’t have any personal experience of this, rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular with serious climbers of the world. There are a number of tours that you can book online, but we’d really recommend taking the time to have a chat with the guys on the ground before making a booking. If you’ve experienced this yourself, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Explore The Town
Huaraz sits at an altitude of 3,052m, so if you've just crossed the border from Ecuador or have been sunning yourself on the beaches of northern Peru, you're going to have to let yourself acclimate to the altitude and take it easy for the first day or two. So, our recommendation is to take the opportunity to explore this traditional little town. Though low on standout things to do, it’s great for people-watching and getting an insight in day-to-day Peruvian life away from the more touristy cities of the south.
VISIT THE LOCAL MARKET
There was no denying that our hostel Akilpo was right in the centre of the action, with views of the local market from our bedroom window providing endless entertainment and insights. Sunshine yellow chicken carcasses hung from steel hooks and sold by men and women who knew how to shout, old ladies lining the crowded streets next to their overflowing baskets of avocados and green vegetables whilst wearing the most traditional of outfits, street dogs galore, noise chaos and life, life everywhere.
Markets are where you find the truest reflection of a new town or city - and, handily, they’re also where you’ll find the cheapest ingredients.
Whilst we’d definitely recommend that vegetarians avoid the meat section (we’ve become pretty hardened to them, but this one really took us to our limits), this is the best place to buy your fruit and veg and to experience local culture. The Mercado Central de Huaraz can be found on Calle Jiron Juan de la Cruz Romero, but it spills out on to the next couple of streets too.
Top tip | For those few ingredients you can’t get in the local market, head on over to Nova Plaza. Huaraz has a few supermarkets but this is by far the best for everything you actually need to cook a decent hostel meal (we may or may not have bought 8 bags of soya protein that we hadn’t found anywhere else). There’s a few of them in town, but the one on the corner of Jiron Julian de Morales and Jiron Simon Bolivar is the biggest and best.
GET BREAKFAST AT CAFE CALIFORNIA
Run by a woman from California (unsurprisingly), this cafe serves up arguably some of the best all-day breakfasts in town. It’s not the cheapest place to eat, but for between S/. 22 - 28, you can get a ‘main portion’ from a decent selection, coffee/tea, juice and excellent toast and jam. They’re also very happy to swap in/out ingredients. If you’re ravenous after a multi-day hike, then you’ve definitely earned a breakfast at Cafe California!
The cafe’s also a great place to hang out, with comfy sofas, wifi, and a large book exchange, plus board games.
Read Next | How To Deal With Altitude Sickness
PICK UP SOME SOUVENIRS
So, we wouldn't normally have this in our things to do - we're honestly not huge fans of dragging around useless bits of tat for months on end. However, most of you aren't going to leave Peru without at least one llama themed jumper, a ridiculous hat, or some extra thick socks.
Instead of buying them in Cusco, where the prices are a fair bit higher, get them from one of the many street sellers in Huaraz. Exactly the same products - cheaper price. Simple!
If you haven’t packed enough warm weather clothes, then you may actually really need some of these for the chilly nights in Huaraz.
Where to stay in Huaraz
Okay, first things first: the hostels on offer in Huaraz are not fancy. Think of them more as a local's house with lots of rooms that you happen to be staying in. In true Along Dusty Roads style, we visited quite a number in our effort to find the very best our budget could allow and can happily recommend the following:
Hostel Akilpo | Excellent large, clean common areas, dorm beds outfitted with their own little lights and power points, incredibly helpful staff, good wifi coverage across three floors, and a really decent kitchen - all for just £5 a night (unless you’re in a private). It’s easy to understand why this is one of the most popular hostels in town and, on our second visit to Huaraz, this is where we stayed. Honestly, we can’t recommend it more highly - it’s the best option. For more information or to check prices and availability, click here or reserve on booking.com
La Casa de Zarela | Located just a 10 minute walk from Plaza de las Armas, this lovely little hostel has all the facilities you'd require, plus several wonderful terraces from which to enjoy the spectacular views over the Cordillera Blanca. Dorm beds from £10 a night. For more information or to check prices and availability, click here.
La Case de Maruja B&B | Free breakfast and the most helpful of hosts make this hostel a top pick for anybody visiting Huaraz. Dorm beds from £9 per night. For more information or to check prices and availability, click here.
For those with a little more cash
Churup Guest House | A wonderful little guesthouse with beautiful views, delicious breakfast, great staff and an awesome wood burning fireplace - excellent during the chilly evenings! For more information or to check prices and availability, click here.
La Aurora | A clean, modern hotel with all the creature comforts. Nice and secure, great breakfast (with proper coffee!) and fantastic views over the mountain range. Can also arrange airport pick-up. For more information or to check prices and availability, click here.
Apartments in Huaraz
Villa Valencia | Although they do have hotel rooms, it is the bungalows that are worth mentioning here - a good size with kitchens and cooking equipment, clean, and modern decor. The staff are incredibly helpful, speak English, and will happily arrange tours etc. For more information or to check prices and availability, click here.
Eco Departamentos Huaraz | Exceptionally good value, with one bedroom apartments available for as little as £24 per night. Decoration is basic but of good quality with everything you could need. For more information or to check prices and availability, click here.
There are a few options available on Airbnb too. If you’ve never used it before, then register via this link and received £25 off your first booking.
How to Get to Huaraz
Depending on whether you're heading north or south, the most common destinations before or after Huaraz are Trujillo (for Huanchaco) and Lima.
Lima to Huaraz costs around S/. 30 / £7 / $9 in an economy bus or S/. 45 / £10.5 / $13.5 for something a tad fancier. Travel time is 8 hours and there are several departures throughout the day (it’s sensible to book ahead if you’re taking a night bus though).
Trujillo to Huaraz is a little more tricky as there far fewer daily buses, especially if you choose to take the bus overnight like we did (we booked our ticket early afternoon the day before but even then we were in the last two available seats!). The bus takes around 9 hours and tickets can be bought for as little as S/. 40 / £9 / $12 From Trujillo, we advise you then make your way straight to the beach town of Huanchaco.
As with many places in Peru, this is no single central bus station in Huaraz; instead each company has their office which doubles up as their own pick up/drop off point. Thankfully though, all the major companies have ticket offices and departures on or very close to the same street 'Jiron Simón Bolívar' (which is a 5-10 minute walk from most hostels).
For day trips from Huaraz, you will find collectivos running to Yungay and Caraz on the same street, a block or so past the bus long distance bus companies - just ask a local to point you in the right direction. There are regular departures, leaving when full, costing S/. 5 /£1.2 / $1.
We have experienced torrential rain storms and clear blue skies - and both dry and rainy season in Huaraz.
We are aware that many of you reading this post will be visiting Huaraz as part of a larger South American adventure, and so may not have the luxury of picking when to visit - the last thing you need to hear from us is that the rainy season is horrendous or that it should be avoided at all costs.
So, thankfully, we’re not saying anything of the sort. Was the weather better in the dry season? Absolutely. We had glorious blue skies every day, and although the evenings were freezing, we were usually huddled up in our hostel and not roaming the streets in sub-zero temperatures.
The rainy season on the other hand provided us with slightly warmer evenings, blue skies in the mornings, but monsoon-like downpours from around 3 p.m. each day. We would not want to do the Santa Cruz trek between December and March (we’re just not hardy enough to put up tents in the rain and be wet for days at a time) but is the weather still decent enough for day trips and hikes? Absolutely.