Switchback after switchback, our bus slowly chugged up the mountain passes to reach the gateway to the Peruvian Andes, Huaraz. Some of my fellow giants got a little road sick, but i was glued to the window as we scraped the sides of the valley walls, slowly ascending up the mountains. There was a movie playing in the bus, but I didnt come to Peru to watch a movie on a bus. Situated at 10,000 ft above sea level, Huaraz is often the starting point for many serious trekkers. Huascaran National Park, home to the tallest mountain in Peru (Mt. Huascaran) and all sorts of gorgeous alpine lakes await you. Deep blue skies, fresh mountain air and loud traffic greeted us as soon as we stepped off the bus that we were on for 8 hours.
5 Soles (less than $2) and a fun taxi ride later, we arrived at our hostel, Casa de Zarela. What a scenic and cozy hostel, and you are floored when you take your first step in the door. Curvy iron staircases, warm coral colored walls, and a patio on each balcony, this place was easily the best value ($13 a night). It had a nice 4th floor balcony, where we immediately took our flasks to have a high altitude cheers. Salud, we have officially arrived. The snow capped mountain tops of Churup and Huascaran could easily be seen, poking their faces above the clouds, as if they were acknowledging our arrival, and inviting us to come explore them. This is what I personally came for, the mountains.
Huaraz itself is a small yet thriving mountain town. It is not as over run with loud and annoying tourist (compared to Cusco). Quail egg stands (so delicious), side shops trying to lure you in for their amazing deals while the local kids gossip as they pass you, random full brass bands playing music in the streets, Huaraz had a more welcoming and authentic feel than Lima. I felt like I home.
The food scene was also a delight. The first night we had cuy, which is guinea pig. Yes guinea pig, a touristy treat, and was actually very good, grilled with some chimichuri sauce. The street vendors were also a sight to behold. As mentioned earlier, quail egg stands were found on all the main corners, where it cost 1 sole for a bag of 8 or 9 quail eggs. They also added this green salsa, which was a god-send after 8 hours of hiking. The street food didn't end there. We ate everything, from fried dough with syrup to pig/cow intestines, heats and stomachs. I do not discriminate when it comes to eating. I often say that the best way to experience any culture is to eat it, who cares if you get sick, at least you tried.
Surprisingly, the best food we had there was a Thai/Indian/Mexican restaurant, nestled in a small courtyard, called Chilli (two L's) Heaven. The food is actually spicy, which got my attention. The food was fantastic and tasty, actually better Thai food than Thailand (ooo high statement but believe me), all found 2 miles above the sea in the mountains of Peru. Go figure. I would have went there twice, but we got there too late on a Sunday.
Huaraz would ultimately end up being my favorite city I visited in Peru. Its small town charm and gorgeous scenery will instantly cast a spell on you. It offers many things to do, from exploring urban landscapes to trekking higher up in the mountains, Huaraz is the place to be.
Next up, climbing mountains and exploring alpine lakes.