High Altitudes: Huaraz, Peru

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“Going to Peru is, well, if you ever have an opportunity in your life to go there, you should do it because it is absolutely mind boggling.” Dean Stockewell

huaraz peru

When people ask me how my spring break trip to Peru went, this quote always seems to pop into my mind because it is so completely true. Its challenging to describe just how amazing Peru was for me, but I am going to try to do my best here. So its been about one week since I’ve been back. What a trip! This was my first trip to South America, but it definitely won’t be my last. I had such a good time, I really didn’t want to leave and come back to the grind of my last semester of college. (The fabulous exchange rate helped too)

So Thursday March 11th began very early with a drive out to Logan airport in Boston to get dropped off for the first part of our journey. We got through security and caught our flight on time to Miami which took about 3 hours. We had a layover there for a while, got some lunch and hung out in time to catch our flight down to Lima which was about 6 hours. We had good seats and the flight went well; we arrived in Lima around 10pm.

It was very nerve racking because once we went through customs and came into the main terminal, we were bombarded by people trying to offer us cabs. Kinda overwhelming. Luckily I had arranged in advanced with out hostel in Miraflores to pick us up. Driving through Lima at night was an experience. I didn’t find it to be a very nice city. The pollution is atrocious, the city is very dirty, and the driving is terrifying.

The hostel we stayed in was really nice, called Kokopelli, right in the center of Miraflores surrounded by a lot of cool bars and clubs. We checked in, went up to the rooftop bar, grabbed a beer before crashing. It was also about 80 degrees which was fantastic! The next morning we got up and grabbed breakfast down the street before walking down to the seaside cliffs. It was overcast but very warm, and we walked around a lot of Miraflores before heading back to the hostel to figure out the bus situation. The bus system in Peru is kinda crappy. There are a million different companies all working out of their own stations, ranging from super nice tourist buses with beds to tiny vans crammed with about 30 people. I was planning to head up to Huaraz about 8 hours north of Lima, which is in the heart of the Cordilleras Blancas mountain range, and a popular trekking center in Peru. I also have a friend from IES Salamanca who is working near there now for the Peace Corps that I was planning to meet up with.

Anywho, after a lot of confusion-typical for the trip-we were able to catch a nice bus up there. It had to be one of the nicest buses I have been on. It had two floors with a lot of leg room, super comfortable seats, with an attendant who served us food! granted, the food was unidentifiable, but still…It was really interesting driving through all the barrios of Lima to get to the “highway”-if you can call it highway haha-because it was my first view of such extreme poverty. The houses are literally one level shacks with tin roofs and sort of woven reed walls, completely open to the elements. Some did seem to have electricity and probably running water and others were made of more sturdy material like cement, but in general they were very basic and very dirty because the landscape around Lima is very much dirt and desert. These houses were almost stacked on top of each other, so I can just imagine what the health issues are like there.

huaraz peru

Leaving Lima we got onto one of many terrifying roads around the country. The road is basically wide enough for two cars, one going in each direction, usually, but apart from that there are no rules for driving. The road followed the cliff along the sea, and there was no guardrail or barrier between the narrow road and a huge sand cliff down to the water with the space between the road and the cliff being about 2 feet. In the meantime this double-decker bus is flying past potato trucks. Needless to say, that was a LONG 8 hours.

We arrived in Huaraz at night, caught a cab to our hostel, checked in, and walked downtown to grab some food. It was called Caroline Lodging house and its run by a super friendly Peruvian family and an odd guy from Holland. Huaraz is the capital of the Ancash region with about 100,000 people living there. It is a really cool city because its surrounded by the snowcapped mountains, and its located at 10,000 feet above sea level. The buildings are all relatively new because most of the city was destroyed in an earthquake in 1970.

huaraz peru
View of Huaraz from the roof of our hostel

Anyways, we were hoping to get to go hiking in the area because it is so beautiful and we got lucky because a lot of people in the hostel were planning a hike to Lake 69 in the Huascarán National Park the next day. It is usually more difficult and expensive to do these hikes without a group because of the logistics of having to hire a guide and transportation and such, so we got really lucky. I was nervous though because its usually recommended that you acclimatize to such altitudes over a few days, and we were planning to go from sea level to 10,000 feet to 15,000 feet in less than twenty four hours. But who would pass up a chance like this? not me. So I took my diamox (altitude sickness pills) and fell asleep.

We were up the next morning before six to catch the van that was going to drive us to the beginning of the hike. We spent the morning gradually driving up beautiful high mountains, stopping at a small bodega to grab food for the hike-fresh bread, chips, and chocolate-you know, the essentials. We were to see five glacial lakes that day, which was really cool. The hike started out in a valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains, with wildflowers and a few cows scattered around a small stream. It was so idyllic it seemed fake. Except for the fact that we were all huffing and wheezing from the high altitude. Just walking was a challenge. Luckily we got lost and our bodies were able to adjust to the change for a bit.

huaraz peru

We finally found the trail, there are no signs of course, and proceeded to climb up towards the second valley. At this point in my memory of the hike, I really wish I had remembered to put sunscreen on my face, since I literally burnt my nose and my cheeks off. The weather was nice and mild; though it started to get cloudy as the day wore on. There were about 1o people on the hike with us, and we all stayed together for most of it.

There was a lot of bonding which was really cool. There were a few of guys from California, a couple from France and from Holland and from Australia, and an American girl and her Peruvian boyfriend. We spent the day sharing stories as we hiked. I was really surprised how I was able to manage the altitude. I worried because of my asthma and not being in the best of shape, but we led most of the hike. It was pretty challenging near the top, and everyone had to stop for a breather every few minutes. It also got very cold and was raining and hailing.

We finally made it to the lake after 5 hours of hiking, and we could barely see the mountains because of the rain and clouds. It was so cold and wet, and we quickly ate and were ready to come back down when the rain stopped, and the clouds lifted, reflecting the beautiful cerulean blue of the water and the snow caps right behind it, with streams melting down from the ice. It was breathtaking! 15,000 feet-I made it!

huaraz peru

It was absolutely worth the hike up there and the headache from altitude sickness, and it turned out to be my favorite part of the trip! We climbed back down which turned out to be just as beautiful because the clouds had lifted a bit from the valley so that we could see more snow capped mountains. By this point our muddy legs were so tired from the exertion we were very glad to climb back into the van and head back to Huaraz.

The ride back down the mountains was pretty intense because it started to pour and the roads are made of dirt. So it looked like we were driving down a brown river with a huge cliff along side that I was sure we were going to fly off at any moment, especially since our driver was doing his best to jerk the van around enormous potholes, undoubtedly made by said potato trucks. 3 hours and many prayers later we made it back alive to our hostel. After riding on mountain roads like this I am pretty sure I found God at some point by praying constantly.

huaraz peru

After getting back to our hostel, I took one of my top 5 most satisfying showers of my life. We went back out and found a tourist restaurant near the main square where we housed our weight in french fries and past-yay carbs! We went out to a bar, the 13 owls or something, where we were going to try to meet up with my friend Pete, but we were so exhausted we came back early to the hostel and crashed. We slept in the next morning, had breakfast on the roof which included fried tortilla and guacamole-YUM! before heading into town.

We met up with Pete at the California Cafe for a few hours and reminisced about Spain and heard his amazing stories from living in Peru. We spent the rest of the day walking around and exploring Huaraz. Later on there was some sort of rally going on to support the regional soccer team, which was awesome! A cute little girl named Carolina came up to me and talked to me for a few minutes. At first I thought she was going to try to pickpocket me, but I realized she just wanted to talk to me because I was foreign. Did I mention I think I was one of 4 blonds in Huaraz at the time?

Anyways, Caroline is a 8 years old a huge fútbol fan, and wanted me to take her picture. It was a pretty sweet. Speaking of cameras, this was the last day my nice SLR worked. It just stopped turning on for some reason, very sad. But I was determined to make the best of it. I still had my little point and shoot with me, thank goodness. Anyways, we rambled back to the hostel, grabbed dinner and then caught an overnight bus back to Lima.

huaraz peru
Me with Pete in Huaraz

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3 Comments on “High Altitudes: Huaraz, Peru

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  1. Hey Liz,

    Love the blog! Heading to Lima this weekend and thinking about taking a bus to Cusco. Any chance you remember what bus company you went with?

    1. Hi Jessica,

      Going in bus from Lima to Cusco is a long journey, the best company to travel in bus in Peru is Cruz del Sur, but keep in mind the travel time to Cusco will be about 21 hours. It is always best to fly there, if possible.

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