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Highlights of Huaraz, Peru: snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes and Seeds of Hope

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Before leaving for Peru, everyone I knew assumed I was heading for Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, and the renowned Machu Picchu. Few had heard of Huaraz, a city hidden in the Andes that stole my heart.

Located in the Callejón de Huaylas valley, Huaraz is approximately 408 kilometres north of Peru’s capital, Lima, and 3,052 metres above sea level. Popular with hikers and outdoor aficionados, it provides easy access to the glaciers and mountains of the Cordillera Blanca and Negra.

Image credit: Chloe Connolly

Admittedly, the city itself is not the most picturesque, but if you are searching for somewhere with friendly locals who will provide an insight into day-to-day Peruvian life, Huaraz is somewhere to consider.

Given the city’s history, you can forgive its lack of colonial architecture; on 31 May 1970, Huaraz suffered a devastating earthquake in Ancash, which reached a magnitude of 7.9 and caused a deadly avalanche. Most of the city was flattened, and an estimated 20,000 people from Huaraz alone were killed.

Almost 50 years later, the city has nearly recovered from this tragedy.

Image credit: Chloe Connolly

Having spent three weeks volunteering here, these are my highlights.

Mountainous day trips

A stone’s throw from beautiful mountain ranges and mesmerising lakes and glaciers, day trips can be taken from Huaraz.

I managed four day-trips, beginning with a hike to Laguna Wilcacocha, which at 3,725 metres altitude was perfect for acclimatisation. Although the lake’s beauty was nowhere near that of Laguna 69 or Laguna Churup, the panoramic views were worth the breathlessness.

Hiking to Laguna Churup felt more adventurous since it required climbing up a waterfall with ropes, as well as lots of varied terrains! A tour guide is not required, so we had all the time in the world to take in the beauty of the sparkling, crystal-blue lake and snow-capped mountains.

Laguna Churup. Image credit: Chloe Connolly

We did not believe that it could get much better than Laguna Churup before we visited Laguna 69, the so-called "crown jewel of the Huascarán National Park”. If you know anything about the Huaraz region, you will have heard of this vivid turquoise lagoon – it features in every travel guide.

Wandering past countless pretty creeks, waterfalls and friendly farmers herding their animals adds to the experience.

First glimpse of Laguna 69. Image credit: Chloe Connolly

Then, there is the tour to Pastoruri Glacier, which is not exactly a hike (fine by me, as we reached 5,000 metres and I’m awful with altitude), meaning that we could really take in our surroundings.  

Shortly after arriving into the national park, we encountered the famous Puya Raimondii, an impressively tall, endangered plant species that only grows at around 4,000 metres altitude. Later, we stopped at the bubbling mineral springs of Pumapampa, and Pumashimin lake.

Puya Raimondii plants. Image credit: Chloe Connolly

Following a short but surprisingly exhausting walk to Pastoruri Glacier, we soon realised the impact of climate change. the glacier was melting in front of our eyes. In 2015, according to The Guardian, it had shrunk by half compared to 20 years before, and the situation has deteriorated since then.

I do not like to say that seeing this environmental catastrophe is a highlight, yet it will always stick in my mind.

Huaraz, the city

Staying in the city for three weeks made me appreciate all its little features, from the friendly fruit and vegetable sellers in the food market (particularly my go-to lady, who would let me try every unusual fruit she had), the chatty sellers in the artisan market, who sold an incredible selection of Peruvian jumpers, ponchos and knick-knacks, and the lady who stood for hours on end in the Plaza de Armas with her alpacas, in the hope that some tourists would pass by for a photo.

Despite the majority of buildings being somewhat unspectacular and seemingly half-built, there are some exceptions, such as El Señor de la Soledad church, which is bright white and very impressive. The cathedral in the Plaza de Armas is also not to be missed, despite falling into the “half-built” category.

 Catedral de Huaraz. Image credit: Chloe Connolly

The Plaza de Armas is perfect for people-watching and entering into spontaneous conversation with locals, in the same way as El Parque de Banderas.

The latter is the place to be to watch countless fiestas, processions and celebrations. I enjoyed mingling with locals during the Day of the Native Language, where students showed off their posters about one of the region’s native languages, Quechua, and the adults proudly wore traditional dress and shared their traditional Solterito bean salad.

Image credit: Chloe Connolly

I also loved watching young people dance in this park during the evenings, something rarely seen in England.

My personal highlight

I could go on and on about other highlights, such as the Regional Museum, or the restaurants and bars in El Parque Ginebra, or my favourite places to go for dessert.

However, my personal highlight in Huaraz is the charity Seeds of Hope, which I volunteered for.

Image credit: Chloe Connolly

Seeds of Hope provides a safe, supportive environment for impoverished children to do their schoolwork, to receive extra tutoring, and to learn the importance of personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. The organisation provides a wonderful opportunity for international volunteers to help out with all aspects of their work and staff and children alike are incredibly warm and welcoming.

I enjoyed every second of my time helping the teenagers do their homework in the morning, playing princesses with the young girls in the afternoons, teaching local adults English during the evenings to fundraise for the charity, getting teased about my Spanish by everybody, and exploring the city with the other volunteers whenever possible.

These moments were what made Huaraz what it was to me.

Lead image credit: Chloe Connolly




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