After a couple of months along Ecuador and Peru's often unspectacular coastline, I was excited to get back to the mountains. Unfortunately, when our bus arrived at 5am, the only places open
to sit in the warm were a small enticing establishment called 'Sex Burger', which we abandoned after two coffees and being joined by a group of over-friendly drunk locals, and an empty casino
who's security guard offered us a third cup.
By 10am, after a fifth cup, our friend Coraline, Dan and I abandoned all thoughts of napping and tried to decide whether our brain-crushing headaches were just the natural result of little sleep and too much caffeine or an unpleasant effect of the new height above sea level. Three days later and exhausted after a 40 minute walk, it was obvious that those altitude warnings shouldn't be taken lightly.
Surrounded by snowy topped mountains and stunning scenery, Huaraz seems to be a mecca for all manner of expert and novice hikers. Short on money and energy, the three of us didn't fancy the ten day Huayhuash circuit, but instead visited Nevado Pastoruri and took a long, hard walk up to Laguna Churup.
We have Coraline to thank for this excursion. Hopefully the photos give some impression of what the national park is like.
There's an interesting variety of plants up this high- everything from cactus and aloe vera to tiny white flowers among the unusual types of grass.
Of all the weird and wonderful foliage we've seen, the Puya raymondi certainly deserves its title 'Queen of the Andes'. I'm not sure how tall this one is, but apparently they can grow to ten meters. Coraline and I should give you an idea of the scale!
We found a perfect spot for lunch by the glacier...
The next day, after failing to wake up and procrastinating over breakfast, we set out at 10am to find a bus to Llupa and the beginning of our path to Laguna Churrup. Having been shown a
hand-drawn map by some crazy Swizz hikers, we knew that from Llupa to Pitec the path would cut short the distance on the road and save us a little money. By the time we got to the entrance of the
National Park however, our lungs were already struggling.
Beyond the entrance the climb really began and despite the Lord of the Rings style scenery and fuel of many egg sandwiches, life became increasingly difficult.
It was getting a little late and with thunder in the distance, we were encouraged to be told there was only another ten minutes walking before we needed to climb up the side of a waterfall.
Arriving at the pool below the pool below however, it was obvious that the greatest challenge was still to come...
We were lucky to reach the lagoon before the rain, when it was still possible to see the snow up above and reflections in the water. We couldn't stay for long, there wasn't time, but it was one of those places that just didn't feel like it could be real. Possibly the lack of Oxygen to my brain was something to do with that too.
Finding it easier on the way down, but with a good distance left to walk, we spotted the tiny dot of a bus down at the entrance. Terrified of being left ill-equipped in the dark and cold over
night, we began skipping down the hill like goats.
As the last people down that day we were very grateful that he waited for us all, but if you'd rather not take the chance, set off at 7am and have a more leisurely day.
We stayed in Familia Meza Lodging which costs S20 (about £4.20) per person for private rooms. On a good day you can see most of Huaraz's nearby mountains clearly from the roof. There's a nice
communal, kitchen and spotlessly clean bathrooms which the owner actually cleans himself every day and supplies with the much coveted toilet paper.
Transport is relatively straightforward to Huaraz, but sometimes the only option will be a night bus. These are normally comfortable and safe, but arrive early to the bus station rather than having to catch public transport or a taxi at night. Obviously don't be too complacent and leave your bags unattended when you arrive early in the morning as we've heard a couple of opportunist theft stories.
Try to catch a colectivo (mini-bus) to Llupa (S5) or Pitec (S10) at around 7am when they are more frequent. This will also mean you don't have to rush or worry about being left stuck in the mountains for the night. From Llupa follow the relatively obvious and wide path that cuts short the zig-zags of the road. Eventually you'll reach the park entrance. From here the path is also quite obvious until you get to the waterfall where you must climb up the RIGHT hand side. We didn't try the left, but were told by several people that it is very difficult if not impossible.
Park entry is S10 for a day or S60 for 21 days, but we somehow managed to use our ticket twice. :)
The obvious (even for short walks)- wear layers, bring plenty of water and food and you'll probably want a waterproof, warm hat and maybe gloves. Don't be afraid to ask locals or other walkers for help if you're not sure where you're going.
We've met a few people who've done the longer multi-day hikes without a guide or potentially frustrating group of people. Use your own common sense to know if you are capable, don't underestimate the altitude or expect anybody to save you if there's a problem.
There is a huge market down at the bottom of town, but you can find a three course meal for S4 elsewhere. People also tend to leave a lot of spare food in the hostel after their treks, so check on the share shelf before you buy anything if you're trying to save money.
For other beautiful mountainous places you might like:
or maybe even Trying to get lost on Islay
Thank-you for reading!