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.