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Huaraz

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You've heard about Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca & Huayhuash from other travelers on the road and you've decided it's worth checking out. A grueling bus ride from the coast takes you over the 4080m Conococha pass before dumping you, slightly breathless, a thousand meters lower in Huaraz. The first impression is good - a horizon filled with massive snow-capped mountains - but take it easy for the first day. Grab a hotel room and relax as you get used to the altitude here. Whether you are hoping to scale a hard-core peak or planning on spending every night in a comfortable hotel bed, there's plenty of ways to enjoy where you are at. There are plenty of like-minded travelers in town and a good way to decide what to do is to talk to them about what they did and what is hot right now. Meet them at the many popular cafes, restaurants and bars all over the town center. Looking for an easy but spectacular day trip? The most popular, and deservedly so, is a visit to Lagunas Llanganuco which sit right below Huascaran, which is not only Peru's highest peak but also the highest peak anywhere within the tropics. Catch an inexpensive tour from Huaraz, or take a bus to the village of Yungay from where pick-up trucks or minibuses will take you up to the lakes. Don't forget the s/5 entrance fee - the lakes are within Huascaran National Park. Want a more adventurous day trip? The beautiful hike up to chilly Lake Churup, in the mountains east of Huaraz, involves a steep scramble which is aided by a short section of fixed rope - no technical climbing experience needed. How about getting really high? A good bet is the day (bus) trip up to the Pastoruri Glacier, where you can touch the ice at 5000m. On the way, ask to see the giant Puya raimondii plant - a 10m-high member of the pineapple family which flowers only once and then dies, after forty, fifty, or even 100 years.
If you are ready to hit the trail on an overnight camping trip, you'll find everything you need for sale or rent in Huaraz. A short, spectacular and popular route is climbing up the Quebrada Santa Cruz over 4750-m Punta Union pass, which is almost completely surrounded by glistening glaciers. A tip - from the pass, scramble up the hill to the south for a few minutes and you'll be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in the Cordillera Blanca. Looking for a longer, harder adventure? Hiking around the remote north side of Alpamayo is a demanding, high trek, but an absolutely worthwhile way to spend a week or more. Or perhaps you'd like to try something lower? Head east from Olleros on the three-day hike to the ancient site of Chavin - it predates Machu Picchu by a couple of thousand years!. There's no shortage of other hikes - and you can mountain bike as well. And if you know how to self-arrest, you're ready to climb some of the easier snow peaks in the area. Guides are available to take you up Ishinca (5530m) or Pisco (5752m), both of which can be used as warm-up climbs for the seriously technical peaks which abound throughout the range. The hardest thing to do is to decide which of the many options to choose. No wonder some folks end up spending their entire trip based in Huaraz and doing a multitude of treks!
Rob Rachowiecki