Ground zero for outdoor-adventure worship in Peru, the Cordilleras are one of the preeminent hiking, trekking and backpacking spots in South America. Wherever you throw your gaze, perennially frozen white peaks razor their way through expansive mantles of lime-green valleys. In the recesses of these prodigious giants huddle scores of pristine jade lakes, ice caves and torrid springs. The Cordillera Blanca is one of the highest mountain ranges in the world outside the Himalayas, and its 18 ostentatious summits of more than 6000m will not let you forget it for a second.
Huaraz is the urban decompression chamber through which practically all hikers, trekkers and mountaineers pass and swap stories. Plans of daring ice climbs, mountain-biking exploits and rock-climbing expeditions are hatched over ice-cold beers in fireplace-warmed hostels and bars. Lurking quietly on the sidelines, and worth a day of quiet contemplation, are the enigmatic 3000-year-old ruins of Chavín de Huántar.