Situated up in the Andes, at 3,028 meters, Huaraz appeals particularly to those who love to trek and climb. The actual town is somewhat rough around the edges, with concrete buildings and muddy rivers. But once you look past the surface you will see its number of charming hotels, restaurants and coffeehouses.

Its main attraction is Callejón de Huaylas, the section of the Río Santa valley separating the Cordillera Negra to the west from the Cordillera Blanca to the east.

A road goes through the valley, linking villages and providing access to the area’s three cordilleras: Cordillera Blanca, Cordillera Negra, and Cordillera Huayhuash. With a bit of gusto and common sense it’s entirely possible to show up without equipment and immediately head off on a trek or climb. Be careful, however, for con artists and phony guides eager to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.

If you look beyond its lackluster appearance, you will see that Huaraz is full of friendly, outgoing locals and an undeniably festive atmosphere. The Plaza de Armas is often blocked off for children’s parades and military formations.

Luzuriaga, the main street in town, has the most restaurants, gear shops, and agencies. More establishments can be found farther north on either side of Río Quilcay. During Peruvian holidays, when the town overflows with Limeños, prices rise along with the town’s population so be aware of overcharging.

While you get used to the alititude (even the most Herculean of individuals should take at least two days before embarking on any mountain excursion) you can explore the streets and the town’s museums. The Museo Regional de Ancash houses stone monoliths and huacos from the Recuay culture (200-700 AD) and some interesting displays of pottery, textiles, and metal objects from later Wari, Chimu, and Inca Cultures. Art fans should head to the Sala de Cultura in Banco Wiese (Sucre 766), which has interesting art and photography exhibitions by local artists with free admission.

To see some spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, go to the Mirador Rataquenua, which is marked by a giant cross. This is a popular beginning hike that takes about an hour from town. To get there walk up Villón or Confraternidad Este to the cemetery and turn right, following the switchbacks that crisscross through the forest. If you want to do a bit more walking, continue uphill to Pukaventana, where you’ll find even more spectacular views of the valley. There have been reports of armed hold-ups at Mirador, so always travel in a group.

From Huaraz you can organize a number of adventure activities, including mountain biking, rafting and kayaking, bird-watching, fishing, horseback riding, paragliding, skiing, rock and ice climbing, hiking and trekking, and sightseeing tours—you name it and Huaraz probably has it. The town is also a base for excursions to Cordilleras Blanca, Negra, and Huayhuash, Parque Nacional Huascarán, Lagunas Llanganuco, and the ancient Chavín capital of Chavín de Huántar.

Tourist information can be found at Policía de Turismo, located in a small alley between the post office and the Municipalidad (tel. 721-341, ext. 315, Mon-Fri 9am-1pm and 4pm-7pm, Sat 9am-1pm). Always keep an eye on your backpack and be careful where you eat: Huaraz is known for its food poisoning as well as its adventure sports.

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