Before my arrival into Peru, I have to admit I’d never even heard of Huaraz, let alone considered travelling there.
As such a huge country and with a tight travel timeframe, I’d already pretty much mapped out my time in Peru before my arrival into Lima in September as I fled the impending winter in Europe.
But then I met a girl in my hostel in Lima (La Unsha Hostel FYI) who showed me her photos from Huaraz and everything changed!
Dreamy blue lakes seemed to sit like something from a film among soaring Andean mountains with snow-capped peaks and an untouched aura.
And with her talk of epic hikes, untrampled wilderness and views to die for, I knew I had to go.
So out the window any tentative Peru plans I had went and instead of heading south along the coast, I hopped straight on bus north and inland to Huaraz.
And, as a result, here’s my complete travel guide if you’re wanting to head out to Huaraz too…
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Why Visit Huaraz?
Let’s be clear, you don’t visit Huaraz for Huaraz!
Instead you visit Huaraz for the nearby National Park – namely the Huascarán National Park – which is a UNESCO-listed beauty of staggering proportions.
This is where all the epic views, lakes, mountains, hikes and snow-capped peaks are.
Huaraz is simply the city nearest to the park, and therefore the logical base where most people stay, book tours and begin their hikes into the wild.
Despite being a local and very authentic town, which has a strong traditional feel to it, Huaraz is certainly not the main attraction in this area and despite its cultural appeal, it’s not worth heading all the way here just for that.
Instead, you’ll want to visit Huaraz solely if you are interested in a) nature and national parks, b) hiking some of the most incredible trails you’ll likely encounter in South America and c) getting a little more off the beaten track in Peru.
And if you are, great, read on!
Where is Huaraz?
Huaraz is a city north of Lima high in the Central Andes of Peru… 3050m above sea-level high to be exact.
It is the capital of the Ancash region and home to around 120,000 people.
But do not be fooled by this number however, because if you rock up to Huaraz expecting a small, sleepy city like I was, you’re going to get a reality check!
Huaraz is BUSY!
Like super busy!
Not in a bustling, metro kind of way, but in a taxi-tooting, market madness, Latin America lively kinda way!
That’s because it acts as the centre for hundreds of small villages in the mountains around and so, it seems, every Inca family and their goat comes to this town to sell their wares, buy their necessities and catch up with friends.
The streets are alive and noisy and this pretty much continues from 6am until 11pm!
But don’t let this put you off, because Huaraz is very authentic and if you happen to come here for the hiking and lakes, you’ll double up on seeing a very real Andean town.
Because unlike Cusco, Huaraz doesn’t feel dominated by tourists. Tourists here are a by-product of the stunning scenery only.
Huaraz exists as a centre for locals and while there are travellers passing through, Huaraz’s location north and inland from Lima mean it’s not on the most common gringo-trail.
If you want to get away from the hordes therefore, Huaraz and Huascarán National Park could be the spots for you!
When to Visit?
Travel seasons in Peru are often a little complicated, purely because of the diversity of this country’s topography.
When it’s summer on the coast, for example, it’s rainy in the mountains and when it’s cooler in the jungle, it’s freezing along the Pacific.
As such, you’re always going to be rolling the dice a little when you travel Peru, especially with global warming messing everything around too.
Bearing all that in mind however, the best time to visit Huaraz is during the dry season in the Andes aka winter in Peru, which runs largely from the months of June through to September.
Trying to combine the best of both worlds i.e. spring on the coast and dry season in the mountains, I visited Huaraz in late September and actually found it ideal as there were even less tourists (because it was shoulder season) but it was not yet too cold or wet in the mountains.
That said, it can, of course, rain any time of year at this altitude, so maybe it was just luck!
Learn more in my post about the best time to visit Peru.
How to Get to Huaraz?
And now that we know where Huaraz is, we move onto the practical factors of actually getting there.
Well the good news is, this is pretty easy with regular buses from Lima, as well as from the city of Trujillo, on the northern Peruvian coast.
In fact, there are buses to Huaraz from around the country, but these just tend to be the most common locations travellers arrive from / depart to when hitting up Huaraz.
Buses from Lima take around 8.5 hours and around 8 hours from Trujillo.
As usual in Peru, you can book buses online and choose from a range of services including day or night buses with varying levels of luxury. The more you pay, the better service you get.
Because this was my first adventure outside of Lima in Peru, I decided I want to travel in comfort and so I headed to Huaraz with a company called Cruz Del Sur, which are one of the most luxurious coach companies in the country – I know, budget traveller pushing the boat out or what!!
The fare was $28 USD one way and it was simple to book the ticket online at the Cruz Del Sur website using my Mastercard.
If you’re staying in either the Miraflores or Barranco areas of Lima, you can take the Metropolitana or an Uber to the Cruz Del Sur station, which is situated along Javier Prado Este.
The service from Cruz Del Sur to Huaraz included a meal option (with a vegetarian choice available!) as well as huge comfy seats, TV screen, aircon, blanket and pillow.
Security is tight on these buses and you have to show your passport, have your bag checked and have your photo taken before boarding the bus.
For this reason, I think Cruz Del Sur would be a great option if you are travelling overnight to Huaraz as you’ll likely get a fairly decent sleep.
My top tip is to select, when booking, a seat downstairs at the front of the bus, because the twisty, turning Andean roads up to Huaraz mean it can be a wobbly ride – worse if you’re at the back of the bus or high up!
Alternatively, if you want to save your pennies, many other bus companies, such as Movilbus, offer services to Huaraz from as little as $8 USD – a good budget option for day buses perhaps.
Always book your long distance bus tickets in Peru at least a day in advance, preferably 2 – I recommend the website Bookaway for the job.
On arrival in Huaraz, it’s good to know that all bus stations are situated in the centre of the city and should only be a few minute’s walk from your accommodation
Where to Stay?
Talking of which, we come to the important question of where to stay in Huaraz on a backpacker budget.
After reading several other blogs and checking online reviews I settled on my choice of Akilpo Hostel in Huaraz… and I didn’t regret it for a second.
Seriously, this place gets all those rave reviews for a reason.
Centrally located, super clean, well-priced with great staff and a huge variety of tips and trips on offer, it’s a one-stop shop for a great stay in Huaraz.
But the reason I like this hostel the most is because of the huge common room and kitchen, which is a great spot to meet other travellers, arrange hikes together and generally hang out and be cosy!
Book your stay at Akilpo Hostel HERE and say hi to Benjamin on reception from me if you visit!
(FYI. My stay at Akilpo was not sponsored!)
Otherwise, if Akilpo is tragically full when you visit Huaraz, 2 other good options are Aldos Guesthouse, which is on a quieter street but less social, or Selina Backpackers, which has a lovely garden but is not Peruvian-owned.
A Word About Altitude
I normally put the “important things to know” section at the bottom of my destination travel guides, but there is something so important you need to know about Huaraz that I had to move this bit up.
And that is altitude!
Being in the Andes and situated at over 3,000m above sea level, Huaraz is high and altitude sickness is a real and serious thing here.
This is even more true given that some of the hikes in this area go up to 5,000m above sea level.
As such, you must, ABSOLUTELY MUST, take altitude issues seriously when you come to Huaraz and spend at least 1 day here acclimatising before attempting any hiking.
This is especially true if you’ve come from the coast i.e. Lima or Trujillo, as you must allow your body to get used to the lower levels of oxygen in the air in Huaraz before attempting any serious exertion.
Honestly, I had people on all the hikes I did not, be able to make it to the top and feeling absolutely rotten as a result.
I’ve also had altitude sickness myself in Ecuador and can definitely attest to the fact it is not nice.
In fact, it can be very serious and sometimes lead to hospitalisation and even death.
Do not take this issue lightly when travelling to Huaraz and if you start to suffer any symptoms then take the necessary precautions.
You can learn more about altitude sickness, what causes it, what the symptoms are and how to avoid or treat it in this useful medical article.
Important Things to Know
With the altitude information out the way, there are a few other practical things to know about Huaraz.
There are ATM machines here, so getting cash isn’t a problem and many places accept cards.
Food can be bought at the local market or at one of the 2 supermarkets in town (I think the Novaplaza one is the best), but do be aware there’s not a huge amount of choice and most stuff doesn’t seem to be that fresh.
Nevertheless, you should be able to pick up hiking snacks and enough to rustle up a hostel dinner, especially as there is a health food shop in Huaraz – hoorah if you’re a vego / vegan / health nut, comme moi!
Yes, the excellent Perutambo Biomarket is just 3 blocks up from Akilpo Hostel and has nut milks, nut butters and organic treats a go-go. Obvs I was there every day stocking up!
Otherwise, if you want to go out for dinner there’s loads of restaurants and cafes across Huaraz.
One thing Huaraz is not big on however, is nightlife.
However, as most of the hikes involve you getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning and drinking alcohol really won’t help with the altitude acclimatisation, it’s probably a blessing!
Top Things to Do in Huaraz
As we’ve discussed, there’s not a huge amount to do in Huaraz itself, but when it comes to the surrounding area, well woah mumma, is there a lot to get your teeth stuck into or what?!
Of course, that “a lot to get your teeth stuck into” is mostly of the “puffing your way up mountains” variety, but there’s a lot of puff-inducing routes to choose from!
So yeah, the main things to do in Huaraz are hike, hike and more hike.
And as you hike, you can also take in the views, photograph the views, gaze at the views, be amazed by the views.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when you get there, trust me!
And some of these views include the most incredibly colourful lakes, snow-capped peaks and glaciers I’ve ever seen
Y’know, just the usual!
How Long to Spend in Huaraz?
Ah ha, and now we come to the main problem or blessing, depending on which way you look it at, because Huaraz is going to take a big chuck out of your Peru itinerary.
And when I say a chunk, I mean at least a week, because anything less and you just won’t do this place justice.
And that’s because the journey to Huaraz and back is basically 1-2 days, you need 2 days there to acclimatise / try a practice hike and then at least 2-3 days to just enjoy the starter day hikes.
And that’s without getting into the multi-day hike bad boys!
Honestly, I spoke to people who rushed up to Huaraz on a night bus, acclimatised for a day, did a practice hike the next, puffed their way up to Laguna 69 the next day and then left… and none of them enjoyed it as much as those who were able to relax and see a lot more.
Because once you’ve come all this way and spent time adapting to the altitude, to do just one hike – especially if the weather isn’t good that day – feels like a real shame.
As such, I’d really allow a minimum of 1 week in Huaraz. Up to 2 weeks if you can!
Perfect 1 Week Huaraz Itinerary
And so, on that note, here’s my perfect 1 week Huaraz itinerary that will have you seeing the best of Huascarán National Park and the incredible landscapes it boasts.
Each day involves a different hike, and builds up in terms of altitude, so that you can see the best of this area as safely as possible.
Travel to Huaraz using a day bus so you can enjoy the views.
Check into Akilpo Hostel when you arrive.
Relax and eat dinner in town.
Spend day 2 acclimatising by simply exploring the city of Huaraz at a relaxed place.
Visit the Plaza De Armas, the Cathedral, the Regional Museum of Ancash, the Archaeological Museum and the local markets.
Chill in a café – California Café is a good option with sofas – and stock up on trekking snacks and water for the coming days.
Time for your first acclimatisation hike on day 3.
The trek to Laguna Wilcococha is a great one here as it ascends to only 3,900m
It’s also accessible without a guide and will cost you just 2 Soles for the return collective journey to the trailhead from Huaraz.
This is an easy trek, which also makes it a good beginner, and it takes only half a day – about 40 mins ride to the start of the trail in a collectivo, 2 hours to hike up, 1 hour to hike down and 30 minutes collectivo ride back to Huaraz.
Collectivos for this route leave from De La Cruz Romero Street in Huaraz, basically opposite Akilpo Hostel.
If you ask the driver for Laguna Wilcococha he will drop you at the right spot.
Take a stick for this walk and try to hike with others as wild dogs here can be a problem.
On day 4, it’s time to get some really hiking on the go and I suggest starting with the trek to Laguna Churup.
Another self-guided hike, this one will take you up to around 4,450m and is another good early one to make.
Get to the Churup trailhead via local collective, which leave from Avenida Agustin Gamarra in Huaraz and will be marked with the destination Pitec, which is basically where you want to get off.
Best to start this one early, as the collectivos only run when they are full and if you miss the first ride, you’ll be hanging around for a while to get the next one. (I met tourists who had waited 2 hours).
As such, I headed out to grab a collectivo at 6:50am in Huaraz and we left when it was full at 7:15am, reaching the trailhead at 8am. The cost was 10 Soles one way and we were told the driver would wait for us until 1pm in the same spot, when the collectivo would return to Huaraz.
That gave 5 hours for the hike.
After about an hour of hiking, you’ll reach the park gate aka hut, where the 30 Soles entrance fee will need to be paid, unless you’re lucky like me and there’s no one on duty that day!
This hike is quite tough, being wholly uphill on the way to the lake and including some rope climbing moves, but most people will be able to make it.
Even though this trail is clearly signed and clear, I do suggest you downloading maps.me before you set out for extra peace of mind.
Don’t leave the lake later than 11:15am to ensure you reach back to the collectivo by 1pm via the Mirador aka lookout.
This hike provided some of the most stunning views I saw in Huascarán National Park, so don’t miss it!
You can camp in a designated spot near to the lake too if you fancy staying overnight.
On day 5, it’s time to start getting serious with the hiking and tackle to the Paramount Route.
This hike takes in the stunning Lake Paron, which sits at 4,200m, and continues onto gorgeous scenes of the huge mountain behind it – rumoured to be the mountain in the Paramount Film clip – hence the trail name.
Get full info on this tour from Akilpo Hostel who can arrange transport, a guide and a group for you.
Don’t miss the mirador / lookout above Lake Paron either and if you want to stay the night you can camp on the shores of Lake Paron.
The entrance fee to this part of the park is just 5 Soles, which goes to the community.
If you don’t want to make the full Paramount hike, but still want to glimpse the famous Lake Paron, you can also visit this place as part of a day tour, which requires no hiking, but which will include a long bus ride and a Spanish guide who can teach you a lot about the National Park and surrounding area.
This trip can be arranged through Akilpo for 50 Soles.
And on day 6, it’s time to tackle the most reason travellers come to this area, the glorious trek to Laguna 69.
This is a full day guided trip which begins at 4:30am.
Or, if you’re feeling super keen, you can begin the Panorama Route at 3am, which starts higher up and brings you to Laguna 69 via a more scenic and less touristy route.
Akilpo can help you with both treks, which will see you tackle altitudes of 4,600m+.
Whatever you do, don’t miss this one.
It is truly spectacular and I’d describe it as one of the best day hikes I’ve done anywhere ever… and it cost me just 32 Soles.
And if you still have any energy left, on your final day in Huaraz, you can take things a bit more relaxed with a trip to the Pastururi Glacier.
This is a full day trip that largely involves driving to the glacier in a bus – hence more relaxed – but there is an hour hike to this high altitude glacier and back.
The glacier sits at over 5,000m.
This trip can be arranged through Akilpo for 30 Soles.
More Time for Huaraz?
With more time in Huaraz, you may want to consider the 4 Day Santa Cruz trek or the 8-11 day Huayhuash Trek.
I would strongly consider going back to tackle either or both of these when I have more time!
I heard epic things about both hikes, but you got to be prepared for these sort of treks.
Gear and guides can be picked up in Huaraz.
Alternatively, with more time in Huaraz, you may also just want to take my week long itinerary at a more relaxed pace.
This is especially true if the weather isn’t good one day. In this instance, I’d honestly suggest chilling that day and ensuring you get to those high altitude lakes when the weather is clear.
The views and photos are going to be a lot better when the clouds aren’t masking the mountains and when you don’t get caught in snow you’ll enjoy it a lot more!
What to Pack for Huaraz?
When you are coming to altitudes like those in Huascarán National Park, you’ve got to be prepared for all weathers.
Like ALL weathers!
Sunhat, sunglasses and high SPF factor sunscreens are a must.
So are a waterproof & windproof jacket, woolly hat, gloves and thick hiking socks.
I’d also suggest merino base layers, thick fleeces and good activewear leggings and sports bra for ladies.
Waterproof hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as is a warm, packable down jacket – yes I took 2 coats with me!
You’ll also want comfy, warm clothes to change into when you finish the hikes and return to Huaraz each night.
For the treks, a good day pack is essential, so is a decent water bottle and a good camera will not go a miss.
Don’t forget your smartphone too and downloads maps.me onto it before you set off.
To learn more about what to pack for a Peru trip in general, check out my ultimate Peru packing list here.
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If you’re not totally comfortable with travelling this country independently, then a small group or guided tour is a great option that will have you seeing the best of Peru safely, securely and easily.
Check out these top picks for some super ideas and prices.
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You can access loads of great volunteer opportunities in this country when you sign up to Worldpackers. Learn more here.
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And so there it is, my complete travel guide to Huaraz.
Are you planning a trip to Peru?
Have I convinced you to add this spot to your itinerary yet?
Let me know any questions you have in the comments box below…