A city tucked away in the mountains of Peru’s Andes, Huaraz is a can’t miss destination in Peru. This region of the world can rival any other mountain meccas out there. Despite its jaw-dropping views and affordable adventures, Huaraz still remains largely untouched by international tourism. Most travelers visiting Peru seem to flock to the southern half of the country, leaving these hidden gems of the north to those of us willing to venture off the beaten path.
And Huaraz is quite literally a gem. Its turquoise and emerald waters flanked by diamond and obsidian mountains are a sight to behold. Is Huaraz worth visiting? Yes, yes, a million times yes. Huaraz might seem a bit out of the way for backpackers doing the typical southern loop around Peru but it is absolutely worth the visit.
How To Get To Huaraz
Taking a bus from Lima is the most common and reliable way to get to Huaraz. The bus ride from Lima to Huaraz takes about eight hours, depending on whether the driver decides to stop for meals or any other breaks. The price should be about 30 soles for a day bus or 60 soles for a night bus.
For travelers coming from the north, it is also possible to get a bus from Trujillo or elsewhere up the coast. From Huanchaco, I took a colectivo to Trujillo and a taxi to the bus station. We took a morning bus and arrived in Huaraz about 10 hours later, including a stop for lunch. The price also ranged from about 30-60 soles, depending on whether it was a day or night bus.
You can also fly to Huaraz as they have an airport near the city. Flights within Peru are relatively cheap but I recommend taking an overnight bus just as well. They are often cheaper and more comfortable and will save you a night of accommodation. If you have taken a Peruvian night bus before, then you’ll know just how much it feels like a first class flight. Plus, it helps reduce your carbon footprint!
The Best Things to do in Huaraz
Huaraz is a mecca for trekkers. Often called the Switzerland of Peru, Huaraz is as dreamy as it gets for the outdoorsy traveler. Thankfully, it is also much cheaper than Switzerland. Whether you just want to chase views on a laid-back day hike or really attune yourself to nature on a multi-day expedition, Huaraz has got something for you.
Best Multi-Day Treks In Huaraz
If you come to Huaraz, the best thing to do is get out to the mountains as soon as you can. Sleeping under the stars and in the shadows of giants is an experience unlike any other.
The Cordillera Huayhuash
Trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve been told I tend to be hyperbolic, but that is not an exaggeration whatsoever. I had dreamt of coming back to Peru to conquer the Cordillera Huayhuash ever since my first time in Peru. After three years away, I finally made that dream become a reality. Despite my otherworldly expectations and the hype surrounding the trek, the Cordillera Huayhuash still blew all of my prior expectations away.
This incredible trek takes you through one of South America’s most remote and stunning mountain regions. The circuit is around 130 kilometers and typically takes about 8 days. If you are doing it solo, you can take as much or as little time as you’d like. Most trekking agencies offer 8-day treks through the Cordillera Huayhuash, although if you’ve got a big enough group, you might be able to coax them into adjusting the itinerary.
The Santa Cruz Trek
For those who want to spend a few days out in nature but don’t quite feel up for the extremely challenging Cordillera Huayhuash, the Santa Cruz trek is a happy medium. It gets you out of the city for a few nights and into the heart of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Peru’s Huascaran National Park is the main attraction in Huaraz and the Santa Cruz Trek puts you right into the thick of it. The circuit typically takes four days if you do it with a tour group, although if you do it solo, you can do it in much less or much more time.
This trek allows you to see some of the most iconic scenes of Huascaran National Park, from Alpemayo, Punta Union, and Artesonraju. As of when I was in Huaraz in October 2019, it cost a little over $100 to do a 4-day trek with a tour agency, not including the $20 entrance fee to enter the national park for 4 days.
The Must-Do Day Trips of Huaraz
- Laguna Paron
Laguna Paron should be one of the first day trips you take from Huaraz. It is a good acclimatization hike to warm you up for some of the more challenging adventures in the area. It starts at 4,200 meters above sea level and the hike up to the viewpoint should take around an hour. The scenes here are absolutely beautiful and gives you an early taste of what type of scenery to expect in Huaraz.
- Laguna 69
Perhaps the most iconic hike in all of northern Peru, Laguna 69 is also among the most challenging. Despite its popularity, it is not for the faint of heart. I struggled mightily on this hike and was the last among my group to finish despite having been trekking for the last couple of months. The altitude definitely played a factor, as Laguna 69 takes you up to 4,600 meters above sea level following an 800 meter incline.
However, once you make it to the stunning waters of the lagoon, you’ll realize it was all worth it. This is one of the most beautiful views you can get in all of South America.
- Chavin de Huantar
For something a little more historic and cultural than another trek, the Chavin de Huantar are some ruins dating back nearly 4,000 years ago. These ruins are the remnants of the Chavin people, a culture that long predated many of the iconic civilizations we remember today. This trip allows you to delve into the tunnels of the ruins and experience another world.
- Nevado Pastoruri
This is one of the more unique adventures you can go on from Huaraz. Pastoruri Glacier is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Huascaran National Park, which makes it a popular destination for travelers. As a result of climate change, it is also rapidly shrinking and is expected to disappear in as soon as ten years. The glacier count in Huascaran National Park has shrunk from 722 a few decades ago to possibly fewer than 400.
- Nevado San Mateo
One of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life was summiting Nevado San Mateo. Conquering deep snow, a blizzard, and slippery conditions, we reached the 5,150 meter summit despite all of the roadblocks along the way. This hike involved rappelling, canyoning, crampons, ice axes, and a lot of snow. Seemingly every few minutes, I would have to try something that I was completely uncomfortable with. Trust your experienced guide and you will be okay.
This was the highest altitude I’ve ever been at up to this point in my life, and my legs were absolutely burning. Although my breathing was fine, you can definitely feel the altitude elsewhere. If you get lucky with weather, this would be nowhere as difficult as when we had to fight through a blizzard just to reach the summit. For the brave, this is a challenge worth taking on.
Things You Can Do From Huaraz
One thing to note before going to Huaraz is that you’ll be leaving Huaraz quite a bit to do the best things it offers. Huaraz just happens to be the biggest city and main transportation hub in the area, meaning that most travelers flock to Huaraz only to find out that they’ll be doing more driving than hiking. However, there are quite a few things that you can do that don’t require a long drive out into the mountains.
- Laguna Churup
This is one of the best hikes you can do that you don’t need a tour group or a long drive for. To get to Laguna Churup, you go to the intersection where the colectivos to Pitec or Churup. Go early in the morning, probably 7:30 AM at the latest to guarantee that you get a seat on a colectivo that will actually depart for Pitec. They won’t leave if they aren’t full, and most trekkers will be leaving early to make sure they catch the 1 PM colectivo back.
It costs 10 soles and is a little less than an hour away from Huaraz. Pay the 30 soles entrance fee to enter the national park (unless you have a multi-day or monthlong pass) and you are good to go. The journey up is pretty straightforward until you get to the ropes section. This part isn’t too bad unless it is rainy, in which the slippery rocks pose more of a challenge than the incline itself. Once you wrap this up, you get one of the most magical views that you can get in northern Peru. The surreal multi-colored waters with the snow-capped peaks in the background makes for a fairy-tale setting.
- Laguna Wilcacocha
This is one of the best do-it-yourself starter hikes that you can do in Huaraz. For 1 sol each way, you can take a short colectivo or bus ride to the trailhead. It takes about two hours to hike up to Laguna Wilcacocha where you will be blessed with stunning views of the mountains. The Laguna itself is far from impressive but on a clear day, this is a view that is tough to be beat. Wilcacocha makes for a good activity on an off-day between longer treks.
- Mirador de Rataquena
This mirador takes you high above the city and offers stunning views of the endless mountains. The hike up there is not the best, as you’ll be mostly walking on congested streets, polluted dirt roads, or very thick brush but the view is quite nice.
- Plaza de Armas Artisanal Market
You came to Huaraz to do a fair bit of trekking, didn’t you? You’ll need to bundle up and stock up on some warm gear and there’s no better place than the artisanal market right next to the main church in the Plaza de Armas. Here, you can get all sorts of colorful and iconic Peruvian wear for cheap.
- Go Thrift Shopping
One of the most unexpectedly fun things I did in Huaraz was thrift shopping. With Huaraz being a trekker’s mecca, a lot of clothes get left behind in favor of new hiking gear. You can get a ton of great hiking gear for discounted prices here. Or even better, you can get some wild, retro styles that you won’t find anywhere else in the world these days.
- Mercado Central
For a sensory overload unlike any other, Huaraz’s central market is… an experience. Potentially the smelliest market I’ve encountered in South America, it is worth walking around just to get a glimpse at what a real local market is like. I’m talking guinea pigs cut open, bloody cow heads, and dozens of other animal parts that I would never be able to tell you what they were.
Where To Stay in Huaraz
As a backpacker, accommodation in Huaraz is the stuff our dreams are made of. Finding a place to stay in Huaraz is pretty easy and even by Peru’s standards, very cheap. Right off the bus, I saw hostels offering rooms for as low as 10 soles ($3) a night with breakfast included. I wasn’t keen on finding out what made those rooms so cheap so I opted for somewhere a bit nicer. And I’m very glad I did.
Without a doubt, the best place for backpackers to stay in Huaraz is Selina. This extravagant hostel felt more like a mansion than a backpacker hostel. I’ve stayed at far grimier places for far more money. Despite Selina being a cheap place to stay, it was a far cry from what one would imagine a backpacker hostel to be like.
The property was complete with everything you could ask for and more. The aesthetic is incredible and it makes for a great place to socialize. If you don’t feel like shelling out money for a meal, then why not cook it yourself? Hostels often offer common kitchens so travelers can save money but Selina’s kitchen is something else. It is spacious, beautiful, and has an incredible view of the mountains in the background.
Okay, so a restaurant, bar, and kitchen might be standard for most hostels, but check this. How many hostels have you stayed at had a co-working space, a library, a fitness studio, a yoga room, or a cinema room? Not very many, I’m sure. Selina has all of those and more.
I stayed at Selina for over two weeks, and never have I felt more at home at a hostel than I did there. From cooking meals with fellow travelers to cozying up in the movie room with some popcorn, it was without a doubt the perfect place to stay for a trekker looking for a home base.
Where To Eat in Huaraz
I’m going to be honest here. Huaraz was very hit-or-miss when it came to its food. I could spend as little as 10 soles ($3) a day on food while I was here, but to act like I was eating good would be a lie. If you want to eat good food in Huaraz, you’ll have to shell out a little bit of money.
- Cafe Andino
- Cozy setting with decently priced Western food. A gigantic shrimp burrito was 27 soles and really delicious.
- Luigi’s Pizza
- Best pizza in Huaraz. A family size pizza is about 30-35 soles, depending on the toppings.
- Junugan She
- Nice aesthetic with outdoor and indoor seating in Huaraz’s Gringo Square. Also my favorite place to get ice cream. 2 scoops for 3 soles.
- Antuco Pizzeria
- Not as good as Luigi’s but it is centrally located and still delicious.
- One of the best-known gringo establishments in Huaraz, Trivio has great food but is also the priciest of all of the places I’ve mentioned here.
- Krishna Bhog
- Vegetarian Indian Buffet, 20 soles for all you can eat.
- Chili Heaven
- For some fire Thai food, Chili Heaven is where it’s at. It is a bit pricier but you won’t find good Thai food anywhere but here.
- Yen’s Gourmet
- 5 soles for their menu del dia, which was one of the best deals I found in Huaraz. That’s as cheap as the places in the central market without having to smell dead animals while you eat.
Nightlife in Huaraz
After spending most of the past six weeks in small villages and remote towns, Huaraz was a pleasant surprise when it came to nightlife. For a relatively small city, there were plenty of bars and clubs that meant that you always had a variety to choose from. All of them were concentrated on a couple of streets close to the Plaza de Armas of Huaraz.
- 13 Buhos
- One of the most trendy and modern bars in Huaraz. Really good beer at reasonable prices with good music and good atmosphere. My friend Simon and I set probably the record for tallest Jenga tower while we were here.
- El Tambo
- The amount of regrettable nights that I’ve spent here… El Tambo is arguably Huaraz’s best nightclub. I can still see the red flashing lights and the salsa music drumming in my ear. If you want a good crowd, come to El Tambo.
- Campo Base
- Although Campo Base is a hostel and restaurant, their happy hour special lasts from 6-11 PM. On a budget, 2 for 20 chilcanos is very difficult to beat.
- Zona VIP
- Apart from El Tambo, Zona VIP seemed to be the other popular nightclub in Huaraz. I never made it here because of my loyalty to El Tambo but my local friends spoke highly of this place as well.
- Although I never heard much of Waraki or ever went in, I would always pass by it and it always seemed like a good time.
- Karaoke Bars
- There are a surprising amount of karaoke bars in Huaraz. I went to two, and they were as far from the spectrum from each other as possible. One was a musky, gloomy setting with cheap drinks and just made you feel dirty afterwards. The other was a classy establishment, with private booths and a spacious, modern setting. Can you guess which one I had more fun at? Yep, the musky one.
- Salon de Billar
- I don’t know how we ended up going here but this became one of our favorite spots in Huaraz. You pay 6 soles for an hour to rent a pool table and just drink and enjoy. The beers here are the cheapest you’ll find in any bar, at about 9 soles for a large Cusqueña.
Where To Go After Huaraz
If you are heading south, Lima. If you are heading north, Trujillo. If you are like me, you just stay in Huaraz for weeks and weeks. You can spend months in Huaraz, but eventually, rainy season came around and I decided it was time to move onto sunnier destinations.
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