The mountain town of Huaraz is my favorite destination in Peru. The city itself might be rough around the edges, but few places out there remain as rugged and untamed as this gem in the Andes. Huaraz is an excellent home base for trekking some of the world’s most beautiful trails and summiting mountains that are nothing short of mythical. This trekking mecca is arguably the most budget-friendly place to get your fill of the great outdoors. Whether you seek to summit mountains, lay back at lagunas, go rock climbing, or just eat your fill of Peruvian cuisine, here are some can’t-miss things to do in Huaraz.
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The Best Day Hikes in Huaraz
Huaraz is home to a multitude of hikes that can be done in one day. If you love snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes, and a little bit of challenge along the way, I’d argue that it’s the best place in South America for you to visit. Here are some of the best day hikes to do in Huaraz.
Laguna 69 is the most famous day trek from Huaraz. Whether the name has anything to do with its popularity, we may never know. Even if this laguna had been assigned a different number, I’d reckon it’d be just as popular. It’s an absolutely breathtaking hike, both figuratively and literally. Damn, I used that line already and we’re just on the first item. Laguna 69 sits at 4,600 meters above sea level, and you are going to feel every dang step with a punch to your lungs. Trust me, it’s worth it, though. The turquoise laguna is stunning, but the entire journey to get there may be equally as beautiful. Peru’s tallest mountain, Huascaran, shadows behind you every step of the way. You’ll pass rivers, waterfalls, other lagunas, and plenty of cows to keep you occupied during the punishing journey. As popular as it is, Laguna 69 is a hike that can’t be missed.
My Complete Guide to Trekking Laguna 69
Fancy something equally breathtaking but significantly more chill? Laguna Paron is an excellent starter hike. It only takes about 45 minutes to reach the viewpoint at 4,200 meters above sea level. After that, you can reward yourself with a boat ride or kayak session on this turquoise lake. Legend has it that this is the source of Baja blast.
Guide to Visiting Laguna Paron
Laguna Churup is a beautiful lake and a convenient day hike from Huaraz. You can get to Laguna Churup by colectivo. The colectivos usually leave Huaraz between 7-8 AM and cost 10 soles. The hike takes between 4-6 hours, depending on your pace, acclimatization, and whether you decide to tack on Laguna Churupita a little further up the trail. The colectivos wait for you at the entrance around 1-2 PM to take you back to Huaraz. Laguna Churup is a perfect acclimatization hike, taking you up to 4,450 meters above sea level.
A true hidden gem, Laguna Hualcacocha rivals any lake on this list. You’ll have views similar to what you’ll see at Laguna 69 but with nary another soul around. To the front, you’ll have a turquoise laguna and snow-capped peaks. Behind you, the monstrous Huascaran towers over you. Its lack of popularity means you’ll likely have to book a private tour or rent a car to do this hike. You might get lucky with finding a group, so ask around at trekking agencies, but be prepared to pay a lot more than you would for a more popular tour offering.
Laguna Wilcacocha itself is quite underwhelming. Our group reached the laguna and didn’t even realize it because the lake was so meh. But hey! It’s about the journey and not the destination. It’s a great acclimatization hike that offers stunning panoramic views of Peru’s cordilleras. You can get to the trailheads via colectivo and test your trekking legs out at this great starter hike. The hike is beautiful all throughout, offering a wide variety of scenery that’ll make you feel on top of the world.
Laguna 513 might be my favorite hike in all of Peru. This hike has it all. The views keep it interesting the entire way. There’s even another beautiful laguna at the midpoint of the hike. It’s a tough hike, but the reward at the end is absolutely worth it. There are hardly any other hikers out here, only augmenting the experience. There’s no better feeling than being alone immersed in nature with insane views everywhere you look.
Nevado San Mateo Summit
Oof. Nevado San Mateo was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. If you’re looking to cross off a 5,000 meter summit off your list, Nevado San Mateo is a good choice for beginners. It doesn’t take too long to reach the top, but weather can make things very difficult. I had rain and snow most of the way, making both the ascent and descent significantly more treacherous. To cap it off, it was extremely cloudy so I wasn’t even rewarded with a killer view at the end of a killer hike. All my local friends and guides speak very highly of it, so ignore my experience and go anyway. Buy me a beer and I’ll say a prayer to the mountain gods for you.
Guide to Summiting Nevado San Mateo
This viewpoint is easily accessible from Huaraz. It’s just outside of the city, so the trailhead is basically wherever you are right now. It’s a good acclimatization hike just to test your legs and see how your lungs fare. It’s not a beautiful journey to the top, since you’ll mostly be walking along roads and overgrown paths and big piles of trash. However, the view from the top is beautiful. On a clear day, you’ll have a stunning view of Huaraz and the surrounding mountains.
The Best Multi-Day Treks in Huaraz
If getting out for just a day isn’t enough for you, luckily, Huaraz is home to some of the most epic multi-day treks in the world.
Santa Cruz Trek
The Santa Cruz Trek in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca is an excellent introductory multi-day trek. It takes either 3 or 4 days, crossing a lone mountain pass at 4,750 meters above sea level. Along the way, you’ll see villages, turquoise lagunas, and some of Peru’s most beautiful mountains, including Alpamayo and Artesonraju. It’s not a difficult trek, aside from the ascent to Punta Union. If you want to go on a multi-day trek without too much of a challenge, the Santa Cruz trek is a great place to start.
The Cordillera Huayhuash Trek
The Cordillera Huayhuash might be my favorite trek in the world. I’ve done it twice now and it never gets old. There are a few different routes you can take. I’ve done the 8-day circuit twice, visiting epic landmarks like the Tres Lagunas, Laguna Carhuacocha, and the otherworldly Trapecio Pass. It’s truly one of the most ruggedly beautiful treks in the world.
Summit Nevado Pisco
Nevado Pisco is one of the most doable high altitude summits in the area. Although it stands at a towering 5,752 meters above sea level, the ascent itself is not too difficult. Be sure to spend several days acclimatizing beforehand, and comfortably finishing some of the more difficult day treks in the Cordillera Blanca to gauge your readiness levels. If you can do Laguna 69, Laguna 513, and Nevado San Mateo comfortably, then I’d reckon you are ready to take on Nevado Pisco.
Alpamayo is among the most recognizable peaks in the Andes. It was once named the most beautiful mountain in the world. This difficult summit is no easy task, but it belongs on any experienced mountaineer’s bucket list. It takes around six or seven days to summit this 5,947 meter tall behemoth.
Summit Nevado Huascaran, Peru’s Tallest Mountain
Peru’s tallest mountain might seem a daunting task, but for the experienced and avid trekker, it’s quite doable. Do not take this feat lightly, though. Even the most experienced mountaineer will find difficulty once they reach above 6,000 meters above sea level. Nevado Huascaran’s summit sits at 6,768 meters above sea level, making it the tallest mountain in Peru and the fourth-tallest in South America. To reach the summit with a trekking agency will take eight days.
Coming from Lima?
Keep yourself busy in the meantime with these amazing things to do in Lima:
The Backpacker’s Guide to Lima
Miscellaneous Things To Do in Huaraz
Although hiking and trekking is the best thing to do in Huaraz, there are plenty of other ways to fill up your time. Huaraz has no shortage of amazing activities that don’t involve trekking. Here are some of the best ways to switch up the hiking lifestyle while in Huaraz.
Visit Nevado Pastoruri and the Pastoruri Glacier
Pastoruri Glacier is a must-visit from Huaraz. Peru is home to the most tropical glaciers in the world, and Pastoruri is the most easily accessible from Huaraz. It’s a long drive to get there, but it takes less than an hour to hike to the glacier from the trailhead. Nowadays, it’s marketed as a climate change route, due to Pastoruri’s rapidly receding glacier. It supposedly might not even be around in ten year’s time, so check it out sooner rather than later and travel more sustainably, y’all.
Explore the Ancient Ruins of Chavin de Huantar
Long before the Inca civilization, the Chavin reigned this region of Peru. This archaeological site dates back over 3,000 years to 1,200 BC. My friend said she took San Pedro (a psychedelic cactus) here and could see ghosts in the underground tunnels. Unfortunately, my experience was significantly more tame. Even without the help of psychedelics, these ruins are worth the visit. Chavin de Huantar is a bit of a journey from Huaraz, but many tour agencies will offer a day trip to this historic location. It’s one of my favorite archaeological sites in Peru.
Visit the Hot Springs at Chancos
Fancy a relaxing day in between all the hiking? Close to Carhuaz, you’ll find the hot springs of Chancos. It is rural Peru, so do not expect too much. There are some natural saunas in a cave, as well as some thermal pools and private hot tubs. It’s not a luxury spa by any means, but if you visit on a less-crowded day, it’s a great way to relax on a budget. Unless you’re my friend Nicole who passes out after a hot bath, then it’s not so relaxing.
Visit the Hot Springs of Monterrey
A little closer to the city of Huaraz are the hot springs of Monterrey. It’s only 20 minutes away from Huaraz, compared to almost an hour away if you want to go to Chancos. However, these hot springs are basically just a warm swimming pool. It’s not the best, but if you feel like relaxing for a little bit, you might want to check it out.
Explore the Local Mercado of Huaraz
For a very authentic and immersive experience, be sure to visit Huaraz’s central market. It is… something else. If you don’t have a queasy stomach, it’s a very interesting place to roam around. Just be warned. There will be a lot of dead animals, from skinned guinea pigs to bloody cow heads. It’s a cheap spot to get whatever you need, though. I frequented the tailor quite often while I was in Huaraz and would get things sewed or patched up for as little as $1 per item.
Go Rock Climbing at Hatun Machay
With great mountains comes great rock climbing opportunities. One of the world’s most-renowned places for rock climbing is Hatun Machay. It’s a few hours outside of Huaraz, but is an absolute must if you are an avid rock climber.
Go to the Buried City of Yungay
On May 31, 1970, a huge earthquake wiped out the entire city of Yungay. Over 20,000 people died when the city was completely buried by a landslide. A big chunk of Huascaran fell off and buried the entire city. Campo Santo is a memorial to the city of Yungay. You’ll find remnants of the city that have been turned into a memorial, including fragments of old buildings, churches, and vehicles.
Eat Ice Cream at Carhuaz
Carhuaz is famed for its variety of ice cream flavors. You might not find them anywhere else in the world. My go-to combination is aguaymanto, chirimoya, and of course, maracuya. You know how I know Rodolfo and I were meant to be besties? Out of dozens of ice cream flavors, we got the same three. It’s fate. Make sure to try the pisco-flavored ice cream. It’s not as bad as it sounds, I promise.
Restaurants and Nightlife in Huaraz
Huaraz is admittedly not the best destination when it comes to restaurants or nightlife. But! It’s good enough. Peruvian food is among my favorite in the world, and there are just enough nice restaurants in Huaraz to keep your stomach stuffed. Nightlife pales in comparison to Lima and Cusco, but hey, you don’t want to be too hungover for your trekking days anyway. If you’re looking to celebrate a successful hike or summit, there are a few nice bars and nightclubs to check out, as well.
Happy Hour Drinks at Imantata Bar
Imantata is a bar at Parque del Periodista with a great vibe. The drinks are cheap, especially at happy hour when you can get two chilcanos for 20 soles ($5 USD). Not only are they affordable, they’re pretty dang good, too. I’d say Imantata makes the best chilcanos and cocktails in Huaraz. As for atmosphere, it’s a pretty small bar but there is always good music playing and sometimes a live DJ.
Party Hard at Selina
On top of being the nicest hostel in town, Selina is one of Huaraz’s most bumpin’ nightlife spots. On the weekends, there will usually be a DJ and a big party going on in the courtyard. Selina also hosts other events, like wine tastings, concerts, and other social events. Even if you’re not staying at Selina, feel free to come by for a drink at their trendy bar or by their fire pit. It’s always a good vibe.
Feast Your Heart Out at Manka Fusion Artesanal
This is my favorite restaurant in Huaraz. It’s got a variety of Peruvian dishes, international dishes, and fusion dishes that can be sometimes questionable. I mean, lomo saltado on a pizza? Hey, it was good, but definitely not something I’ve seen anywhere else in Peru.
Treat Yourself at Ancestral Resto-Bar
Although further outside of the center, Ancestral Resto-Bar is worth the visit. I had some grilled octopus here after a hike and it changed my life. Definitely treat yourself to a meal here at some point. You deserve it.
Eat Some Guinea Pig at Don Cuy in Carhuaz
Cuy is one of the most famous (or infamous) dishes in Peru. For those that haven’t tried it, it’s a fried guinea pig. It’s the presentation that usually attracts tourists to it. You get the whole guinea pig served on a platter, usually with its little head on top. I’m not a big fan of cuy, but if you want to try it, there’s no better place than Don Cuy. It’s a little bit of a drive outside of Huaraz but all the locals know it’s the spot for cuy.
Sing the Night Away at a Karaoke Bar
For some reason, Huaraz is home to a disproportionate amount of karaoke bars. You’ll find most of them on the main nightlife street that smells strongly of pee. Hey, it’s a good reason to pop into one of the bars. Karaoke is always a good time. Throw in some cheap drinks and good company and you’ve got yourself a fun night out in Huaraz.
Huaraz is an ever-evolving destination. New trails are being blazed every month in this mountaineer’s mecca. This list should keep you busy for a while, but be certain to go exploring off the beaten path. Breathtaking adventures await.
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