Tag Archives: hikes

How was Huaraz?


Outskirts of Huaraz – view from Andes Camp

Sitting at an altitude of 3,100m, Huaraz is a stop-off for travellers wanting to do some serious hiking and trekking, with options like the Santa Cruz, Huayhuash and Laguna 69 being very popular.

I arrived early in one October morning and already, at 7:00am, the streets were full of moto-taxis and vehicles and honking horns. The place felt alive. I hadn’t read much about Huaraz beforehand but for some reason I had expected it to be a fairly small place.


With approximately 100,000 inhabitants and a sprawl of buildings, it wasn’t the quaint, little town that I anticipated.

Huaraz is busy and chaotic, especially around the market area where you can buy anything from clothing to vegetables to live cuy (barbequed guinea pig is a South American delicacy).

The main street is full of tour agencies, all trying to sell you trips and treks at ‘best price’. There are plenty of warnings and rumours about dodgy dealings, about collaboration between agencies to push prices upwards. I went directly through Franck at Andes Camp and felt confident that he was being fair and honest. He wasn’t the cheapest but was also far away from the higher quotes.

Alongside tour agencies are places to eat and banks and pharmacies and loads of shops offering photography services (triple check costs! – I ended up paying what felt like an extortionate amount after mixing up a quote for one photo and fifteen photos).

Something that I noticed was even more evident than in other parts of Peru was the massive Italian influence with pizzerias on every corner and shops dedicating entire shelves to pannetone of all different flavours.

But the architecture of Huaraz is distinctively un-Italian, full of blocky buildings and unfinished construction work. ‘Huaraz is Peru’s ugliest city’, joked Franck of Andes Camp (and Italians surely wouldn’t dare to create anything lacking in aesthetics).

Indeed, it is not the prettiest of places. To be fair to the city, as Franck explained, Huaraz has had to try and rebuild itself following the devastating 1970 earthquake which killed around 70,000 people and destroyed nearly all of the buildings.

What saves Huaraz from being truly ugly is the striking, beautiful backdrop of snow-capped mountains that reach high into the bright, blue sky and glisten in the early morning sun. The light here, like much of Peru, is penetrating and brilliant.

After a week in Huaraz, I wouldn’t say that I had fallen in love with the place but I was really quite comfortable there, although much of that was to do with the hostel and the host himself. Andes Camp was a friendly, social place to hang out, – use of the kitchen and free movie screenings being a definite draw. Watching Touching the Void in the actual area that it was set added to the intensity of the film.

And it put me off ever wanting to do any serious mountain climbing.

Leave a comment

Filed under activity & sport, hikes, peru, places to stay, south america

Walks and warnings in Vilcabamba

Tourists are drawn to Vilcabamba for the hiking and the laid back atmosphere. At Hostería Las Ruinas de Quinara I was provided with a map detailing five different routes, ranging from an easy stroll to Agua Hierro to a full day bus out and trek to the Solanda Waterfall.

Mandango Peak, a four hour looped hike up to an altitude of 2,050 metres sounded like a great option for some activity after a few city stops and long bus journeys. I arrived at the starting point on the outskirts of Vilcabamba with another traveller to a sign that read:


Before you climb the Mandango Mountain be advised.

The last reported violent robbery on this mountain took place in in broad daylight at midday on Thursday the 21th of July 2011 on the top of the mountain.

Five tourists were robbed by three men with machetes. They received light injuries and lost all of their valuables, including cameras, money, I-pod, cell phones, backpack and more…

The information went on to recommend that ‘you do not climb Mandango’ or, if  determined to do the trek, do it with a group of at least four people and carry absolutely no valuables (‘it is forbidden to take anything with you’).

In a place known for it’s safe, tranquil atmosphere, this was somewhat of a surprise and disappointment. We could go back, dump any valuables and try again, but it still remained that there were only two of us and the likelihood of recruiting two others was slim: there didn’t appear to be any other gringos in town. That, and the fact that the offenders were still on the loose. Great.

The next option that would work time-wise was a relaxed three to four hour walk to Cascada del Salado via the village of San Pedro, home of the notorious and intense hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, something the locals aren’t keen to promote to travellers.

Unsigned, this route took us down through the village and out on to a dusty dirt track alongside a gentle river. The sun shone, the water sparkled, and we hit a dead end. Wrong way. Butterflies and bees flitted about and occasional gusts of wind made the heat bearable. On the other side of the river, four young men lounged in the shade, machetes placed to the side as they took a siesta. We paddled, and picnicked on empañadas and then retraced our steps to another potential route.


The path took us away from the river and along a more established road. We were on the right track, assured a weathered rider on horseback, just another hour to the waterfall. Turning back down towards the river, we followed a stream past fields of giant cacti and into the forest, eventually reaching a house.

Buenos tardes’, said a guy who was tilling the soil as we trudged by. I’m not sure whether I imagined it, but I picked up on some warm amusement and wandered if we were in fact trespassing on private land. He didn’t object as we followed a path up and out the back of the garden, past a mini waterfall and water collection system, and onwards along a narrow, overgrown track with a steep drop down to the river below.

The flow of water was intensifying; surely the waterfall was close. But again, the path reached an end. No waterfall.

Dusk arrived bringing with it some drizzle and a sense of defeat. It wasn’t meant to be. Not this time.

1 Comment

Filed under ecuador, hikes, south america

Getting physical: Cotocachi and the Cuicocha Laguna

Time to get those legs working again

Time to get those legs working again

After more than two weeks  in Quito, I was feeling a real need to get my legs moving and even a walk right across town to Parque La Carolina hadn’t given my muscles enough of a workout. A ramble around the crater lake of Cuicocha at the base of the inactive Cotocachi volcano seemed like a perfect opportunity to check my legs still worked. A bus and taxi ride later followed by an entrance fee to Cotacachi Cayapas National Park and we arrived at a ghost gathering of market stalls. Some travellers jumped onto the boat to take them around the lagoon but a couple of strong lads and myself headed off in search of the starting point for the five hour hike. Who needs a map?

The first hour or so was vicious with constant climbing and sections along the route which seemed to be purposely designed for respite. I quickly lost my breath on the steeper ascents, but rapidly regained normal breathing once I stopped momentarily. The lagoon sits at an altitude of 3,200 metres and we were getting a good height above it, although nowhere near the summit of Cotocachi itself. The sun was beating down and the air was thin, but the far reaching views across dry, craggy edges and across to the surrounding volcanoes were spectacular.

First resting point

First resting point

The next section of the walk took us around the back of the mountain along dug out pathways and away from the lagoon. Completely different in character, I loved this section because, despite not having the grand views, it provided such a contrast and you felt close to the plants and the rocks and the dirt. Finally winding around the right side of the mountain again, we picnicked above clouds as they wafted in towards and above the lagoon.

Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador

Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador

The final part was the most bizarre. In amongst trees and constant up and downhill scrambles, it was beautiful and brought more birdlife to our attention, but as we progressed it also brought us back to the reality of human life with the presence of fencing and horses andcows. By the time we got to the end of the pathway and had trudged along a dusty, dirt road for half an hour past local land workers walking in the opposite direction, we started to suspect that we had taken a wrong turn. But where? There had been no obvious split in the path. Maybe, after all, a map would have been useful. Arriving finally at a deserted restaurant, the owner offered to taxi us back to the bus and I got to sit up front and practise my Spanish a little with some small talk.

I still don’t know if we got lost. Another guy I talked to at the hostel did the same route. It just seems to be a most disappointing, strange ending to an otherwise stunning walk. The one thing it does provide though, I suppose, is a continuation of the diversity of landscapes and views. I would, however, love to know if there is another way.


Filed under ecuador, hikes, south america