Trekking & Mountaineering
Whether you’re arranging a mountain expedition or going for a day hike, Huaraz is the place to start – it is the epicenter for planning and organizing local Andean adventures. Numerous outfits can prearrange entire trips so that all you need to do is show up at the right place at the right time. Many visitors go camping, hiking and climbing in the mountains without any local help and you can too if you have the experience. Just remember, though, that carrying a backpack full of gear over a 4800m pass requires much more effort than hiking at low altitudes.
Rock climbing is one of the Cordillera Blanca’s biggest pastimes and its popularity is growing. Huaraz is an ideal place to plan excursions, rent gear and set off from on day trips. There are good climbs for beginners at Chancos, while the Los Olivos area has the most varied routes and is located conveniently close to Huaraz. Avid climbers will find some gnarly bolted sport climbs at Recuay and Hatun Machay, located 30km and 70km south of Huaraz respectively. For some big-wall action that will keep you chalked up for days, head to the famous Torre de Parón, known locally as the Sphinx. Most trekking tour agencies offer climbing trips, for both beginners and advanced climbers, as part of their repertoire. Many also rent gear. No serious climber should leave base camp without a copy of Huaraz: The Climbing Guide (2014) by David Lazo and Marie Timmermans, with detailed descriptions of over 1000 climbing routes backed up with photos and colored coded maps.
Agencies specializing in community and sustainable tourism may also be able to help you arrange different kinds of volunteer activities in the region. It's best to arrange volunteering activities in advance although agencies sometimes take short-term applicants. For the latest on volunteering, check out the community notice boards at popular gringo cafes and hangouts around Huaraz.
The Mountain Institute, which promotes environmental awareness in the Cordilleras, may have some volunteering opportunities depending on your expertise.
Festivals & Events
You might want to invest in a waterproof suit or brave the high-altitude chill in your bathing suit if you are in Huaraz on Carnaval’s Fat Tuesday, a day of intense water fights throughout the city. Known as Martes Guerra (War Tuesday), thousands of kids run around the city with buckets searching for public sources of water and have huge water fights. Women, senior citizens and tourists are prime targets. Police are everywhere, even the military, but none of them can control these wild water bandits. Stay inside your hotel if you don’t want to get drenched!
Dozens of agencies along Luzuriaga can organize outings to local sites, including several day excursions. Most of the trips are run by the transportation companies so regardless of who you book through, you'll probably end up on the same bus.
One popular tour visits the ruins at Chavín de Huántar; another passes through Yungay to the beautiful Lagunas Llanganuco, where there are superb vistas of Huascarán and other mountains; a third takes you through Caraz to Laguna Parón, which is surrounded by ravishing glaciated peaks; and a fourth travels to the glacier at Nevado Pastoruri, the most accessible in the cordillera.
All of these trips cost between S50 and S60 each; prices may vary depending on the number of people going, but typically include transport (usually in minibuses) and a guide (who often doesn’t speak English). Admission fees and lunch are extra. Trips take a full day; bring a packed lunch, warm clothes, drinking water and sunblock. Tours depart daily during the high season, but at other times departures depend on demand. Do not take a day trip to Chavín de Huántar on a Monday – the ruins and museum are closed.
Trekking & Mountaineering
All activity within Parque Nacional Huascarán – whether mountaineering or hiking – technically requires that you are accompanied by a certified guide, although in practice this is not enforced at most park entrances. Even so, it is well worth taking a guide even for nontechnical activities as conditions change rapidly in the mountains and altitude sickness can seriously debilitate even experienced hikers. Furthermore, a good guide will ensure you see things you otherwise may have missed.
All guides must be licensed by the Peruvian authorities and registered with the national-parks office. Mountaineers and trekkers should check out Casa de Guías, the headquarters of the Mountain Guide Association of Peru. It maintains a list of their internationally certified guides, all of whom are graduates of a rigorous training program. Bear in mind that international certification is not necessary to work in the park and there are also some excellent independent guides from other associations certified to work in the region.
Many agencies arrange full trekking and climbing expeditions that include guides, equipment, food, cooks, porters and transport. Depending on the number of people, the length of your trip and what’s included, expect to pay from under S100 for an easy day out to up to S750 for more technical mountains per person per day. Try not to base your selection solely on price, as you often get what you pay for. Do your research; things change, good places go bad and bad places get good.
One of the best resources for guides in Huaraz is other travelers who have just come back from a trek and can recommend (or not recommend) their guides based on recent experience. The South American Explorers Club in Lima is also an excellent source of information and maps.
Choosing a Trek Operator
Before you lay out your cold, hard cash for a guided trek make sure you know what you’re getting. Ask the company or guide to list the services, products and price they’re offering on your contract. In the event that they don’t live up to their promises you may or may not be able to do anything about it, but a list ensures that the company understands exactly what you expect.
On your end, it is critical that you are crystal clear with your guides about your experience and fitness level. Also important is that you are properly acclimatized before setting out on a trek. All too often, parties set out for big treks and climbs just after arriving in Huaraz, with the predictable result of altitude sickness and having to turn back. Take the time to adjust in Huaraz, do a couple of acclimatization hikes, and then enjoy a trouble-free, multiday trek.
It is standard to provide food and shelter for the guides, cooks and arrieros (mule drivers), which should be discussed beforehand. Remember that prepackaged dehydrated meals are not staples in the Cordillera Blanca. You will almost certainly be eating non-shrink-wrapped local foods that weigh more and require more effort to carry.
Below are some suggested questions to ask before choosing your guide; keep in mind that the answers will make a difference in the price.
- Can I meet our guide ahead of time? This is an opportunity to meet the person you’ll spend multiple days and nights with, and if necessary, to confirm ahead of time that he/she speaks English.
- Will we use public or private transportation?
- Will there be a cook and an arriero (mule driver)?
- Will there be a separate cooking tent and a separate bathroom tent?
- How many meals and snacks will we get every day? Many trekkers complain about inadequate breakfasts and too few energizing repasts.
- How many people will be on our trek? Larger numbers mean lower prices, but make sure you’re comfortable trekking with a dozen strangers.
- Can I check the equipment before we set off? If you don’t have your own sleeping bag, make sure that the one provided is long enough and warm enough (good to -15°C), and inspect the tents for holes and rain resistance.
Hotel prices can double during holiday periods and rooms become very scarce. Perhaps because Huaraz is seen as a trekking, climbing and backpacking center, budget hotels predominate.
Hostels employ individuals to meet buses, but beware of overpricing – don’t pay anybody until you’ve seen the room.
Restaurant hours are flexible in Huaraz, with shorter opening times during low-season slow spells and longer hours at busy times.
Dining is casual – think hiking boots and fleeces. There is a plethora of international places offering filling pizzas and burgers for exhausted hikers.
Drinking & Nightlife
Huaraz is the best place in this part of the Andes to take a load off and get pleasantly inebriated. Craft beer has made a recent appearance and there are a couple of local microbreweries.
The best area for nightlife is Parque del Periodista and the adjacent Parque Ginebra.
Inexpensive thick woolen sweaters, scarves, hats, socks, gloves, ponchos and blankets are available if you need to rug up for the mountains; many of these are sold at stalls on the pedestrian alleys off Luzuriaga or at the feria artesanal (artisans’ market) off the Plaza de Armas. A few shops on Parque Ginebra, plus several rental agencies, sell quality climbing gear and clothes.