Huaraz: not just for trekking

Huaraz, 400 km north of Lima and 3100 m above sea level, is nestled in the Cordillera Blanca, a range of snow-capped mountains in the Ancash region of Peru.

Given this location, the city is primarily marketed as a trekking launch pad, and Akilpo Hostel where I stayed, rented out equipment and offered lots of information about routes and conditions.

I arrived in the early morning on a very comfortable Cruz del Sur overnight bus from Lima. They gave blankets, served dinner and the bus was clean. (See my post Staying Safe to learn why I take overnight buses for long journies.)

Men were swarming around the entrance to Huaraz’ bus station, and I remarked that my experiences of bus stations always seem to be the same. They were pushing against each other, probably all hoping to be the first to pounce upon the newly arrived gringos: “Taxi?” “Hospedaje?” “Buscas un hotel?” “Señorita, taxi?”

I pushed through the crowd, ignoring their offers and moved away quickly. Before leaving the terminal I had asked directions from an employee, to avoid looking lost in front of these men, and I walked down the street to my hostel with what I hoped was a confident air.

Not wanting to hike across glaciers for days on end, on my first day in Huaraz I went to Laguna Willcacocha. I took a collectivo out of the city to puente Santa Cruz and walked for about two hours through tiny hamlets

rural huaraz
You don’t see this in Lima

up rocky paths and past grunting pigs. Dogs came running at me, barking loudly on several occasions, which is an irritating feature of walking in rural Peru. Thankfully they stuck to the boundaries of their owners´gardens. It was a steep, uphill scramble and the sun was strong at such a high altitude, but I reached the plateau and was rewarded with the sight of the laguna:

Laguna Willcacocha
Laguna Willcacocha

The sun reflecting in the water and the snow-capped peaks beyond were beautiful

Laguna Willcacocha
Laguna Willcacocha

and I appreciated the clean air and the total silence.

Laguna Willcacocha

That concluded my hiking and I spent the next two days taking in the city, which none of the other visitors seemed to be interested in. The tourists I spoke to were focused exclusively on various treks but I wanted to look at Peruvian life outside of Lima.

One of the most noticable differences between these mountain people and limeños was the clothes that the women wore. Not all, but many women, of all ages, wore a beautiful traditional outfit of a hat with wonderful ribbons, an embroidered cardigan, and a skirt with many layers:

traditional Peruvian dress
Woman who worked in Akilpo Hostel

As this lady worked in my hostel, I asked politely if I could take her photograph and she was kind enough to say yes. As you might expect however, most women did not want to be snapped by yet another tourist, so I leant a few tactics.

This lady was sitting selling vegetables, so I gave her a tip:

Peruvian woman

and these women had their backs to me so I seized the opportunity


tradional Peruvian life

For bags, and to transport their babies, they generally use colourful cloths that they tie around their back.

Most of my time in Huaraz was spent walking along the street and people watching

Street life Peru

when the locals look that distinctive, it was hard to stop myself!

street scene Huraraz

The main attraction for me in Huaraz was the market. A fithly, sprawling jumble of tightly-packed, tiny stands selling everything and anything, housed in an ugly concrete building with a thin roof, I loved wandering up and down its aisles.

Huraraz market
Looking down at the stalls and their stock from the restaurant section on the first floor

You could buy anything from crazy party decorations

Huraraz market

to ugly wedding dresses

wedding dress huaraz market

to a lot of very unclean looking meat.

mercardo huaraz
Looking down from the restaurant gallery at a raw pig being weighed. Yes that is its blood on the floor

The meat stands smelled foul. Flies hovered on the flesh and dogs lingered, looking for fallen scraps.

There was a row of stalls with women sat behind sewing machines, where I got some leggings repaired for just 1 sol (20-25p).

Traders accumulated on the roads surrounding the main building, selling street food

chicken feet
barbecued chicken feet

and the market seemed to be very popular with the inhabitants of Huaraz.

Aside from Jirón José Olaya, the prettiest street in the city,

Calle Jirón José Olaya huaraz
Jirón José Olaya

Huaraz is not a very attractive place. It is however an interesting town, and is large enough to explore for a few days.

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