Huaraz, Peru – colorful valley amongst giants [video + photos]
If you happen to visit Peru and want to see something more than Machu Picchu make sure not to miss Huaraz, the capital of the Ancash Region and one of the most important cities of the Peruvian Andes. Settled high up at 3091m in the north – central Peru between the amazing Cordillera Blanca (the highest mountain range in the world outside of Himalayas) on the east and it’s less appealing sister Cordillera Negra on the west, it is a starting point for many trekking trails and roads. Though most people come here for trekking and various winter sports, it’s amazing vistas are well worth a couple of days of your time even if such activities don’t appeal to you. The only thing you must keep in mind is to give yourself some time to acclimatize to such high altitude, don’t exert yourself too much for the first couple of days and drink plenty of fresh coca tea or chew some coca leaves that you can find on every corner. It’s really the best cure for altitude sickness there is and it will give you plenty of energy.
When you first see Huaraz one word definitely sticks out and that is abundance. This place is unbelievably rich in just about everything; markets are full of colorful fruit and veggies of almost any kind you can imagine, there are endless supplies of various herbs freshly picked every day by the local women; besides the local restaurants which are on every street corner, local women are bringing home made food in big crates and you can help yourself to a delicious soup, tallarines, potatoes, cabbage, corn or different kinds of meat for under a dollar. The best part is you can enjoy your meal on a bench or a sidewalk and watch the colorful parade of traditionally dressed women pass you by.
One of the things we enjoyed the most are numerous rolling carts on the streets which offer all kinds of herbal teas, preparations and concoctions that go by the name of emolliente and which supposedly heal or prevent just about any illness or they can simply keep you warm and cozy. On the east side of Mercado Central after 6:30pm we found the best jugo de maca in Peru – juice made of maca root that grows high in the mountains of Peru and is considered to be superfood due to it’s numerous healing properties. The taste is kind of hard to describe, maybe it’s closest to a warm caramel pudding, but it’s definitely one of the tastiest things we ever tried.
Considering that we are not avid hikers and we did not want to spend days in the mountains we opted for a day trip to the Lago 69 or Lake 69, considered to be one of the most beautiful glacier lakes in the world. On a nice sunny day you are supposed to see the bottom of the lake, so we were hoping for some nice photographs and a tan. We got up at 5am to catch a collectivo taxi to Yungay and then another one to take us high up to Cebollapompa (3800m) where we start our 9km trek to the lake. Unfortunately, when we got there the driver told us that the last collectivo back to Yungay is at 2:30pm which meant that we had to be really fast and will not have plenty of time to spend at the lake. We weren’t too thrilled about this, but we didn’t like the alternative so we decided to go for it anyway. Very soon we realized it wasn’t going to be so easy, we already started to feel the effects of altitude and the road was quite steep (the lake is at 4600m which meant 800m climb). To top it all up the rain started very soon and as we were climbing more up it turned into snow. Should I mention that we had summer shoes and it was supposed to be a nice sunny warm day? Anyway, by the time we managed to get to the lake we were soaking wet and it was so cold up that we had to jump around just to feel our toes. Needless to say that even without the time restriction it wasn’t possible to stay there long. We took five photos (which was extremely difficult considering we couldn’t move our fingers a lot), ate a sandwich and ten minutes later we were literally running down towards our starting point. We got down just in time to catch the collectivo back and were laughing at the content of our bags (swimsuits and sun screen) as we tried to regain feeling in our soaking feet wrapped in Alpaca shawls and jumpers. Not really the experience we were expecting, but those ones are usually the ones that make the best stories and that you remember for a very long time. Finally, as we came back to Huaraz we were never as happy to see the multitude of emolliente carts with hot teas and herbal preparations and we took full advantage of them.
While still waiting for our toes to return to their natural size and color we decided on our next adventure, the powerful Chavin de Huantar temple, a 3000 year old religious and political center of Chavin people and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. A temple was supposedly used for ritual sacrifices and human transformation or shape shifting aided by the San Pedro cacti, known for its hallucinogenic properties. Looking forward to it .
Lanita and Sergio