One of the most important backpacking and mountaineering centres in South America is Huaraz, about 355 kilometres north of Lima. The capital city of the Department (district) of Ancash, it's tourism-central for the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andean mountains. And at 3,090 metres (10,140 feet), it's the perfect place to acclimatize to altitude before trekking higher into the mountains.
In Huaraz, rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1970, hotels, restaurants, internet cafes and travel outfitters flourish – alongside colourful stalls laden with local Indian weavings and knitted goods, and the Peruvian version of tacky souvenirs.
2. Serene lodgings
You may have to spend several hours along wildly picturesque mountain roads to reach the Konchukos Tambo eco-lodge, but it's worth the ride. At day's end, you'll find yourself in an 18-room inn overlooking the fertile Conchucos valley, on the eastern side of the Cordillera Blanca. Stay at this serene sanctuary for a few nights (at a rate of about $50 per person, including all meals, you can't afford not to), and use it as a base: from here you can hike rarely used trails into this remote region of the Andes, explore lively local towns and visit the archaeological site of Chavin de Huántar.
At day's end, relax on the terrace and breathe the fresh air as you watch the moon rise over the mountains.
For more information, visit www.konchukostambo.com
3. An archaeological wonder
The 3,000-year-old Chavin de Huántar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the best-preserved site from the Chavin, a powerful pre-Inca culture. The site, containing ruins originally constructed around 900 B.C., may appear unimposing, but it represents a monumental achievement of engineering. Its huge central square, with underground pipes for carrying water, was a gathering place for people to worship, consult an oracle or witness powerful religious ceremonies.
Modern-day visitors can climb down steep stairways into narrow tunnels, marvel at the remaining statues, and try to imagine what rituals might have taken place in the dank stone chambers.
Page 1 of 24. A taste of farm life
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to live in a remote mountain village, wonder no more. The pastoral community of Humacchuco, a few hours outside of Huaraz, is part of a project that invites tourists to live with mountain families for short or long stays.
The charming hosts in Humacchuco are farmers: three brothers and their families who, along with working the land and caring for livestock, accommodate guests in traditional-style guest cottages.
Here, they truly understand the term, "eat locally;" the women sit outdoors preparing just-picked potatoes, beans and corn, and trout fresh out of mountain streams, then cook them over an open fire. After the meal, wander the terraced fields, ask to visit the impressive one-room schoolhouse or convince Jaime, the one-man-band in the family, to play you some dancing tunes.
5. Nature supreme
Huascarán National Park, another UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, is the ultimate destination for hikers and mountaineers. The 3,400-square-kilometre park contains all the Cordillera Blanca peaks above 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) - including Huascarán, which, at 6,768 meters (22,200 feet), is the highest mountain in Peru.
For an entrance fee of just a few dollars, you can see spectacular mountain valleys, steep ravines, torrential waterfalls, glaciers, snow-covered peaks and, with luck, rare animals and birds, such as the spectacled bear and the Andean condor.
Best to avoid the rainy season from December through April.
6. Hiking and climbing
There are hundreds of trails throughout Huascarán National Park, including steep heart-pumping paths that take you up to sites such as Laguna 69, a glacier-fed lake at 4,600 metres (15,100 feet); days-long backcountry treks, and breath-taking routes for serious climbers.
But if time or experience is limited, take a day trip by car or local minibus from Huaraz and visit Laguna (Lake) Llanganuco. This brilliant-blue lake, surrounded by panoramic views, is just metres from a parking lot.
The best way to get in and out of Peru is to fly via Lima. Take a few days before or after your Andean adventure to experience this fascinating city-by-the-sea. Though they're disappearing quickly, architectural gems still stand in historic neighbourhoods like Barranca, Miraflores and San Isidro.
In these areas, too, are stores selling fine Peruvian fashions, jewellery and contemporary crafts. Not surprisingly, restaurants abound; check out a cebicheria - a small restaurant that specializes in fresh seafood.
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