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Huaraz - exploring at altitude

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This time last week I had been in Huaraz for all of about 3 hours, having arrived with 5 other volunteers in the early hours. We'd taken an overnight bus from Trujillo to Huaraz, and were already waiting to go on our first excursion.

Huaraz about 3000m above sea level, and all of the expeditions from there go higher still. All the advice is to acclimatize to the altitude before going much higher or attempting a difficult hike. So naturally, we chose the Pastoruri hike - the trip that takes you to the edge of a glacier at over 5000m. Naturally. I should mention here that we had been advised that although it's high up, the walk itself at the top wasn't too taxing.

The bus ride takes you through the vast Cordilleras Blancas y Negras. We stopped at various points on the way up, to get some coca tea, to see the unique Ancash cacti, to take in the scenery on your own two feet rather than a moving bus. The stops are also supposed to help you adjust to the altitude as you climb. We reach the final bus point at about 1pm, ready to start the hike. Unfortunately, I stepped off the bus and the mountains around me continued to move, the tour guide told me I just needed to breath, which at the time, and at 5000m, was easier said than done. I stayed on the bus whilst the group went off to the glacier. As I got back on the bus, the heavens opened and the 1pm rain started, except at 5000m, it was a snow storm. After about an hour, the group came back back having reached the glacier but soaked and cold to the core. Having been a bit unwell in the days before the trip, the snow storm seemed like a sign that perhaps, I just wasn't meant to do that hike! I slept for a lot of the drive back to Huaraz, and felt significantly better once we were at a lower altitude.

The next big trip I had wanted to do was Laguna 69, look it up, the photos look stunning. However, it is by all accounts a difficult trek; I was feeling discouraged from the day before, and if truth be told, not 100% better so I opted for the Chavin de Huantin tour. The drive takes you through the Cordilleras Negras (as opposed to the Blancas peaks which have snow). Chavin was a pre-Inca civilisation and the ruins we saw date back to over 2,500 years ago. The site we visited was a former Chavin temple, an important religious centre for the Chavin civilisation. Due to lack of money, and perhaps cultural and political will, the ruins haven't been protected as well as they might deserve. You need a fair amount of imagination to picture the temple in its former glory, and an animated guide will certainly help. Our guide, a former school teacher, was certainly that. He spoke with passion, especially to inform us that the tour would only be successful if we worked together - listened and concentrated on his tour - otherwise we wouldn't learn anything at all. '¡Amiguitos, escuchame!' You can take the teacher out of a school...

On the final day of our trip, we did an independent hike. We took a local bus to the bottom of a mountain and made our own way up through Quechua farm villages to a lake at the top. Half way up, one of our group couldn't walk anymore due to an old injury, so we sent 3 of the group up on foot, whilst we found a taxi for the injured party. 3 of us went up the rest of the way in a taxi, a slightly scary experience, especially when we passed a 4x4 coming in the oppposite direction. I would have preferred to walk, but in the spirit of no one gets left behind, I'm glad we all made it to the lake! From the top you get overwhelmingly beautiful views of the snowy Cordilleras Blancas and the valley below.

I would have loved to have had more time In Huaraz, and ideally to have been completely well, but I'm glad I still decided to go. I would thoroughly recommend Huaraz to anyone with a spirit of adventure who is lucky enough to be close enough by to visit (a 8 hour bus ride is close!).

Posted by Rebecca Heller 07:07 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains ruins huaraz hikes altitude

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