Exploring the Dizzying Heights Of Huaraz & The Huáscarán National Park

Cordillera Blanca

We were never meant to visit Huaraz. Failure to book the Inca Trail in line with when we landed in Peru at the start of our Inca to Inuit adventure left us with three weeks to explore Peru’s dizzy heights before we headed South to Cusco.

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After the first two weeks of our trip being tainted slightly by ill health, we were tempted by our fellow travellers Alpine retreat description of Huaraz. Dragging ourselves away from the beach town of Huanchaco we jumped on a 12-hour bus journey for a week of cosy warm beds and log cabin style accommodation in search of rest and recuperation.

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Embraced by the Cordillera Mountains and its 722 individual glaciers, Huaraz sits at a mere 3,500 meters above sea level in contrast to the 33 surrounding peaks which surpass 5,500 meters. Needless to say venturing from the beaches of the North Coast to Huaraz was a slap in the face and a punch to the stomach.

The bus ride to Huaraz is not for the weak-stomached and we’re still not sure (having done both) whether it’s a ride better taken by day or by night. By day, you will hairpin bend yourself up and through the Andes. Weaving your way through indigenous Andean villages picking out the specs of vibrant colours of the Andean farmers in order deflect from the summersaults your stomach is invariably making. By night, you’d better have had a stiff drink to ensure you’re fast asleep so not to hear the blare of the coach horn as it overtakes a tuk-tuk on a mountain pass or feel the breaks as it dodges the falling rocks from the mountainside.

tuk tuk and tourquise copy small

As soon as you land in the Cordillera basin of Huaraz, the rollercoaster ride is forgiven. Be prepared to fall immediately in love with this non-assuming city. It’s hard for the cities buildings to not look like blisters against the majestic backdrop of the mountains, however when you learn of Hauarz’s heroic past you can’t feel anything but admiration for what this city has achieved.

old building

45 years ago the beauty that surrounds Huaraz was what caused its demise and the World’s most deadliest avalanche. Despite 70,000 of the region’s inhabitants falling victim to Peru’s worst catastrophic disaster the city today is invariably thriving as it has built a new identity as the gateway to Peru’s adventure playground of the Huáscarán National Park

Huaraz Church Square

The city is a melting pot of Indigenous and 21st-century cultures and traditions. Here the Andean mountain families who have inhabited the surrounding valleys for thousands of years grasp onto the tourist trade with both hands embracing the opportunity to create and cook for the many backpackers who scurry through their cities streets. Every inch of Huaraz has been ceased as an opportunity to exercise entrepreneurialism. Every street corner is another person’s corner shop, knitting factory or kitchen.

woman with fruit small

Huaraz managed to heal our ailments. It’s bizarrely regimented weather system allowed us to bathe in tropical sunshine by day and from 4 pm onwards snuggle in Andean weaved duvets and throws as the Mountains ushered in the thunder and rain. With our new found fitness, we decided to head for the mountains and do what you do when you come to Huaraz. Trek.

Lynds looking down valley

As someone who suffers from back pain, trekking isn’t normally high on my to-do list, nevermind trekking with a couple of thousand meters of altitude sucking the life out of you. When you’re surrounded by such extraordinary beauty it’s hard not want to be a part of it and the best way to explore the Cordillera mountains and the surrounding Huáscarán National Park is to trek.

Santa Cruz

It’s easy to see why even die-hard fans of the Himalaya concede the extraordinary beauty of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world. The combination and variation of glacial wilderness, verdant mountainsides, translucent turquoise lakes and  hidden waterfalls make it one of the Andes’ most stunning ranges (and also one of the world’s best-kept secrets!).

After a couple of free “do-it-yourself” mini treks up the surrounding mountainsides in order to better acclimatise to the altitude we headed to a local tour operator and booked our 4 day Santa Cruz Trek extravaganza.

Jake at top of Santa Cruz

Unlike the Inca Trail which we had to book up to 7 months in advance along with thousand’s others, walkers only share the Santa Cruz hike with a handful of other groups, with no need to book ahead of arriving in Peru. The Santa Cruz trek stretches around a long valley sprinkled with ultramarine lakes, enclosed by sheer walls of granite that are sculpted by thousands of feet of flowing waterfalls.

Tent by glacier

To the West are the raw edges of the glacier rocks and ice, the highest of which is 6,768m-high Huascaran, the tallest mountain in the tropics. The pinnacle of the trek, The Punta Union pass is only reachable by foot, sitting either side of one or two days of exhausting trekking even for the most capable of hiker.

Throughout the trek I was struck by how little bird and wildlife we saw, however, the Santa Cruz trek is known to home bear, puma, mountain cat and white-tailed deer. What does remain in abundance is the Quechua-speaking people who live in and around the national park, living an Andean life that has changed little since the time of the Incas.

pretty in pink

To the people who surround theHuáscarán National Park, the 722 glaciers are their life blood providing water for domestic and farming use. As global warming takes an increasing effect on the amount of snow that covers these magnificent peaks, the surrounding inhabitants are being forced to lean on tourism and further away from farming in order to form a future for their children.

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