Peru: Touring the Heights of Huaraz

Huaraz is situated north of Lima in a narrow inter-Andean valley called the Callejón de Huaylas, which is flanked by the highest tropical mountain ranges in the world.
A photo souvenir at Querococha Lagoon.
A photo souvenir at Querococha Lagoon.

In August 2012, Lacey Nutting, a native of Boise, Idaho, and Operations Coordinator for LAFL, ventured to the city of Huaraz, Peru. In this travel tale, she shares the highlights of her trip: the gorgeous Querococha Lagoon, the fascinating archaeological site of Chavín de Huántar, and the spectacular scenery of Huascarán National Park.

Huaraz is situated north of Lima in a narrow inter-Andean valley called the Callejón de Huaylas, which is flanked by the highest tropical mountain ranges in the world. One of these ranges is the Cordillera Blanca, boasting 33 magnificent peaks that reach above 5,500 m, as well as 260 glaciers, innumerable lagoons colored in translucent blues and greens, and several climbing routes that visit all of the above. Needless to say, the possibility of touring the heights of Huaraz exerts a gravitational pull on the imaginations of would-be explorers.

Nevado Huascaran from Huaraz, Peru vacations, Peru For LessThe 22,000-foot peak of Nevado Huascaran dominates the Huaraz city skyline.
Photo by Uwe Behm/Wikimedia Commons

From Lima to Huaraz

Lacey’s journey started with an 8-hour overnight bus that left from Lima late in the evening and arrived in Huaraz at 6 o’clock the next morning. A well-paved road and several daily departures from Lima to Huaraz and back make this bus trip easy and convenient. (For faster travel, there is one morning flight that connects the two destinations.)

Lacey felt the effects of altitude as soon as she stepped off the bus. Between sea level and Huaraz (3,050 m), the air becomes noticeably thinner. Lacey experienced a sluggish start, but acclimated quickly. After some moments of rest at her hotel, she was golden.

Querococha, Huascaran, Peru vacations, Peru For LessLacey is all smiles at 3,980 feet above sea level.

Touring in a trekker’s paradise

Ready for sight-seeing, Lacey arranged a scenic tour to nearby Chavín de Huántar, an archaeological site boasting pre-Inca ruins. The 100-km journey from Huaraz to Chavin, traversing through Huascarán National Park, was embellished by views of Cordillera Blanca, the “white range” whose name derives from its mountain slopes mantled with white snow.

The tour made a pit stop at Laguna Querococha (3,980m). The serene surface of the lake acts like a mirror to echo the beauty of the natural surroundings. Lacey recalls the scene as stunningly beautiful.

At the shore of the lake, Lacey found a señora, dressed in a typical Andean outfit of skirt, sweater, and hat. She cradled a baby lamb in her arms and held an adult llama by its tether. In exchange for a donation, the lady said, Lacey could take a photo. The photos-for-tips business is a common practice among rural women (and sometimes children) at tourist attractions in Peru. “It always feels a little weird,” said Lacey, “but they need that money.” The animals were beautiful and the woman was very kind, so Lacey obliged.

The enigmas of Chavín

At Chavin de Huantar, Lacey was amazed to learn about the rich history and culture of the Chavín society, which is believed to have developed from 900 BC to 200 BC. The site consists of a principal pyramid-shaped temple that presides over a large plaza. Walls were constructed from large stone slabs, polished and stacked one atop the other. One of the Chavin site’s most extraordinary facets is the abundance of stone art – carvings, sculptures, pottery, and tenon heads  – decorated with plant, animal, and human motifs. Depictions of jaguars, monkeys, serpents, eagles, and caimans are common.

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Carved heads at Chavin de Huantar. Photo by Alejandro Balaguer

Beneath the pyramid structure is an enigmatic maze of underground passageways with a single entrance. Small ducts circulate air into the tunnels and transmit sun beams from the outside, creating plays of light and shadow on the carved iconography of the gray stone walls. The passages also display remarkable acoustics; the sound of water rushing into the temple via small canals becomes amplified and replicates the roar of a jaguar. Most thrilling of all is the Lanzón de Chavin, a knife-shaped stone monolith carved with the figure of an anthropomorphic god with a feline mouth and a head of snakes.

First excavated by the famed Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello in the early 1900s, Chavin retains many of its mysteries. “It was cool to see the replicas and actual pieces of art,” remembers Lacey.  The ruins feature a museum which boasts a number of original artifacts, but many have been taken to museums in Lima and replicas put in their place.

 Lanzón Stela, Chavín de Huántar, Peru vacations, Peru For LessThe Lanzón Stela at Chavín pierces through the gallery ceiling.
Photo by Lacey

Taking it easy in Huaraz

Puya Raimondii, Peru vacations, Peru For Less

The return trip to Huaraz again showcased the wonderful flora and fauna of this high altitude environment. Rare animal species found in HuascaránNational Park include the spectacled bear, the puma, the North Andean taruca (deer), the Andean condor, and the giant hummingbird. A highlight for Lacey was the Puya Raimondii, “Queen of the Andes,” an endemic plant with special characteristics. The bromeliad species can grow up to 10 meters tall, thrives at high altitudes and cold temperatures, and can live up to 100 years, but it flowers just one in its lifetime.

Right: Puya Raimondii outside of Chavin.
Photo by Lacey

After her tour, Lacey took it pretty easy in Huaraz. Deciding to explore the outskirts of the city, she stumbled upon two women. “They had a small house made of scraps of things, which they told me they shared with 5 other family members,” recounts Lacey. “The older lady spoke Quechua so her daughter translated for us. They kept asking me why I was so far from my family and told me to go home because my parents were crying!” This gave Lacey quite a laugh and she assured the concerned Quechua-speaking señora, whose name was Luisa, that her parents were happy and trusted that she was okay while traveling in Peru. After more people-watching in Huaraz’s main plaza, Lacey went back to the bus station to go back home.

Huaraz, Peru vacations, Peru For Less

Adventure in Huaraz

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