When you read about places to visit and things to do when travelling through Peru, most blog posts and articles seem to recommend arriving in Lima and working your way South. However, as we were coming by bus from Ecuador we wanted to stop at a couple of places in the North of the country first, so we made plans to make a quick stop in the small beach town of Huanchaco before heading to Huaraz, capital city of the Ancash region.
The first part of our journey was an overnight bus from Cuenca, and as the sun started rising a few hours after we crossed the border into Peru we were immediately struck by the drastically different landscape. All around us for as far as we could see there was nothing but desert – rolling sand dunes reared up on all sides, and there was nothing but a long stretch of dusty tarmac ahead of us. After a short while though the arid landscape gave way to something less pleasant: rubbish. The dunes were replaced by immense mounds of trash, heaped up on the roadside and way out into the distance. We drove past scenes like this for several hours, and quite honestly it was quite a disheartening first impression.
Eventually after a brief stop in the city of Trujillo to change buses, we arrived in the small seaside town of Huanchaco. This popular backpacker spot is supposed to be great for surfing, but as none of us are surfers we contented ourselves on our one day in the town with strolling along the waterfront – which was bizarrely misty and murky for the whole time we were there – and having our first taste of ceviche, a traditional Peruvian seafood dish.
From Huanchaco we made our way to Huaraz, on yet another long bus journey with nothing but sand dunes to look at from the window! Huaraz is a top destination for mountain climbers and trekkers, as there are some spectacular mountains in the surrounding area – most of them though are for serious climbers and require specialist equipment and a decent amount of experience. For the average backpacker visiting Huaraz the big pull is Laguna 69, an absolutely stunning natural lake situated in the Huascaran National Park. It’s a tough hike to get out there though, and as it is at a pretty high altitude we decided to spend a few days in Huaraz before Dan and Michelle attempted the hike (as usual, I had decided to sit this one out) to give them a chance to acclimatise.
We stayed at a hostel called VacaHouse Lodging which was absolutely crazy cheap, with a private room for the 3 of us for just £15. Admittedly their organisation wasn’t the best – they had lost our booking when we first arrived, and at the time of writing this they seem to have disappeared from Hostel World and TripAdvisor, so it’s entirely possible that they no longer exist – and the shower only seemed to have hot water for about 10 minutes per day, but it was a perfectly comfortable stay for our time in Huaraz.
So what could we do in the city to entertain ourselves during our few days of acclimatising? Naturally we had to find some great places to eat and drink! One of our favourite spots that we went back to numerous times was Trivio, a great little restaurant with decent wifi (always a bonus in Peru) that served the most delicious and enormous burgers. Another place that we visited was Mi Comedia Pizzeria, a super popular gringo pizza place that serves amazing pizzas and pretty decent red wine.
We also went to a slightly bizarre restaurant down the road from our hostel that boasted quite an extensive menu stuck on the side of the building…but each of the three times we went there, we were informed that the only thing they had on the menu was chicken and chips. This was fine with us the first couple of times – the plates were piled with food and the chicken was delicious – but when, on our third visit, the waiter paused by our table half way through the meal and asked Michelle if she wanted her slightly pink looking chicken cooked a bit more, we decided that was enough chicken and chips for us!
After a few days it was time for Michelle and Dan to hike out to Laguna 69. They arranged a tour with the front desk of the hostel to take them out to the park and back – apparently you can get there by public transport, but it can be tricky to get return buses to Huaraz in the afternoons – and the next morning they were picked up right outside the door at 5.30am. It took about 3 hours to drive out to the start of the trail, including a stop en route for breakfast, and then just under 5 hours to complete the hike. Dan and Michelle made it to the lake in about 2 and a half hours (normal time is closer to 3 hours, so they hiked it pretty fast), and they said it was a pretty grueling mostly uphill climb to get there. The breathtaking views and scenery were totally worth it though, and the return journey was thankfully mostly downhill.
Unfortunately, the day after they got back Dan came down with a bug – we suspected something was going round the hostel as we heard that another guy staying there got sick as well – so we decided to spend a few more days in the town until he recovered. Huaraz is a great place to spend a few days mooching though, with it’s nice sunny park, colourful markets, awesome places to eat and – as Michelle and I were thrilled to discover – cheap and delicious ice cream. When we came to leave a few days later it was pretty tough to say goodbye to the ice cream in particular, but we were all looking forward to getting to our next destination and the capital city of Peru: Lima.