By: Jas Mitch
The beach to the Andes - the lows & highs of Northern Peru
After spending a while hanging out in Cuenca, enjoying the first good coffees of our South America adventure, we decided it was time to head across the border to Peru. We jumped on a night bus headed for the border and after what was supposed to be 14 hours (but turned out to be more like 24) we finally arrived in our first port of call, a small fishing town called Huanchaco.
Our journey into Peru was very different to what we had expected, especially when the sun started to rise over the Peruivan landscape to reveal a vast desert land. Having recently been in the Ecuadorian Andes, this was a huge, and somewhat unexpected change for us.
Huanchaco is set between the ocean and the desert behind it and has a lovely surfy chilled out vibe to it with a lot of hostels spread along the beach provided a great place to hang out for a while (all be it at expensive tourist prices!).
The fisherman here are some of few in Peru that still fish on traditional canoe type boats. In the mornings we would come out and the ocean would be dotted with a mix of fisherman on their canoes and surfers catching a wave.
Our main interest here was the old Chan Chan ruins set between Huacachino and Trujillo (the much larger town set next door). The Chan Chan ruins were the largest pre-Colombian city in South America and was built in about 850CE. Very cool! We spent a day here just wandering around the ruins. You start off in the main reconstructed area but we thought the coolest bits to these ruins were the outside complexes, away from this area, where there was no one else around, the ruins had yet to be reconstructed, there was no signs, and we just wandered through the remenants of this society. They go on for something like 20kms! Amazing!
Chan Chan provided us a look into a society we had very little knowledge of and the ruins were completely different to anything we’d seen on our travels so far, especially. being set in the middle of a desert (something I had never really seen until then).
Our next destination was way up in the Andes, a smallish town called Huaraz. We left Huacachino at about 10pm and were dropped by a taxi in the main bus terminal. It was here that we realised just how serious bus travel in Peru really is. The terminal was better then some Australian Airports! and had security to get into the ‘lounge’ area where you wait for the bus to pull up. This was the first time we experienced VIP seating as well. The buses have seats that fully recline! and are super comfy like a lounge…. and they feed you!! An awesome way to spend 10 hours.
We arrived early the next morning in Huaraz, and upon leaving the bus station discovered an amazing country town surrounded by snow capped mountains!
We were ready to explore! Huaraz is a town filled with ladies in traditional dresses, shawls to carry anything you can think of (including children) and the most amazing hats which appear to provided no sun protection but look so cool all the same. We wandered around the town finding ourselves at the town plaza (which we have since discovered EVERY city/town/village in Peru has! They normally have a water fountain, some grass, trees and a seating. Normally filled with locals just enjoying the outdoors).
It was here we stumbled across the Llama lady as she has come to be known. From a distance we spotted her Llama… I was very excited… then we realised it had sunglasses and other decorations! Before I knew it she had seen us and I was having photos taken with her Llama (for a small fee of course!) but who could resist such a thing!
Over the next week we saw her pretty much daily, looking out and following any tourists who entered the plaza! Her Llama was super cool.
Whilst in Huaraz there was a few things we wanted to tick off the list. Number one on that list was the famed Laguna 69 trek set high in the mountains. We decided it would be easiest to organise a group tour to go with. This basically meant we had guaranteed transport to and from the start of the hike which was about 3 hours outside of Huaraz. We got picked up nice and early the day off and headed out of Huaraz with a group of about 10 people. After a short stop for breakfast and a lot of winding roads, we arrived our starting point (altitude 3800m).
(Another beautiful lake we stopped at on the way to the beginning of the hike)
The trail begins with a tiny descent into a valley where the path winds along beside a small river. We were surrounded by snow capped mountains on every side along and cows just lazily grazing on the lush green grass. It was an amazing beginning to what would be an incredible hike!
For the next few hours we all plodded along at a fairly slow pace as the altitude was taking its toll on us all. We wandered through the valley, past some waterfalls and began the ascent up the first mountain. It was not too bad and Mitch and I coped pretty well (especially considering I was one of the oldest people on the trek… Sigh).
We reached and ridge and just over the top was a beautiful lake. I heard someone ask “is this it?” in a hopeful tone… It wasn’t…
After a quick peanut butter roll stop onwards we went.
Just past the lake was another ridge which revealed a huge green valley! And more cows! We still don’t know how they would have made it up there.
Ahead of us past the valley was a large wall that I knew we would have to go up! This was by far the hardest point in the trek and I was definitely feeling the high altitude here. The trail zigzagged back and forth on this mountain ridge. We took our time and eventually got to the top. Hopeful, I peered past a large rock to reveal… More walking!
But just a few more minutes and we were greeted with the sight of possibly the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen. It was a beautiful turquoise colour and surrounded by sheer cliff faces topped with snow. Amazing!
(a crazy girl who decided to go swimming. the water was freezing!)
We enjoyed our lunch with coca tea at the crazy altitude of 4600m and then made the long (and cold) wander back the way we had come to the bus…
Everyone pretty much slept the whole way back to Huaraz, totally exhausted.
After a day resting our weary legs we set out to tick our second thing off the list, downhill biking through the mountains to get an awesome view of the Cordillera Blanca mountain ranges.
We hired some bikes from a local guide who set us up in a taxi ride to our starting point way up the mountains and off we went.
The views from the top were amazing! It was a beautiful clear day.
We put the tires back on our bikes and hit the road!
Unfortunately within about 15mins my bike began to feel a bit slow and as I looked behind me I saw the culprit of my sudden speed decrease… A completely flat tyre! No worries, the guy gave us a tyre kit… Without tyre levers… Thankfully Mitch had it all under control and managed to get my tyre all fixed and patched up ready to get back to it!
The rest of the ride went off without a hitch (apart from the odd dog gang that decided to make us their target), and before we knew it we were back in Huaraz, having just ridden 40kms and taken in some of the most spectacular views!
We thoroughly enjoyed the week we spent in Huaraz - hiking, biking and enjoying the awesome cafes the city has…