Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
Our flight from Cusco was scheduled to arrive in Lima at 330PM, and I had previously booked an overnight bus to Huaraz from Plaza Norte terminal in Lima, with Cruz del Sur. Our bus ticket was 75 soles for the VIP seat. By the way, when in South America, always try to see if you can get a semi-cama (semi-bed) seat downstairs (most overnight buses are double decks). Usually, the first floor has only 3 larger seats wide, vs 4 seats on the second floor. You will be paying a bit more, however I always keep in mind that I am saving one night of accommodation, so I can spare a few bucks for the bus to make my night of sleep slightly more comfy. I am quite a sleeper, so when on the road, I tend to get sick quicker if I don’t sleep enough!
While reading online, I saw a few comments about how the area around the Plaza Norte Terminal wasn’t necessarily the safest to hang out. The day before our flight, I started looking at some last minute options for us. We would have about 6hrs to kill in Lima before our night bus departure time, and I wasn’t really keen to just taxi to Plaza Norte and wait on a bench with all of our luggage for that amount of time. I decided to book a cheap hostel room between the airport in Lima and Plaza Norte. I booked at Mama’s Backpackers, which is about 10min drive from the bus terminal. They offered a pick up from the airport, and Mama’s brother also offered to drive us to the terminal for a cheap fee later at night. In Lima, you can also use Uber or EasyCab apps. They recommended a good local restaurant where we went for dinner, and we used the massive and lovely common area to relax and refresh before heading for the night bus. I don’t think I would stay in the area as my base in Lima, however this was a perfect spot for transition and proximity to the airport.
I was so surprised when we got to Plaza Norte. This was a MASSIVE bus terminal, and it reminded me a lot of the main bus terminal back in Buenos Aires. They actually had a luggage check-in system, and we had to drop our large bags at the Cruz del Sur counter ahead of time, we got a ticket for it, and then we had to line up for the departure area, pay our traveling tax (a few soles per person), and headed downstairs for the departure gates. Honestly, this terminal is larger than some airports I’ve seen! It was pretty neat, actually! Our bus was a bit late, as this is the second terminal Cruz del Sur stops at in Lima on the way to Huaraz. The bus actually departs from Xavier Prado Terminal in Miraflores, but I booked our tickets from Plaza Norte as it is much closer to the airport.
The bus ride was uneventful and I was able to sleep a few hours. We arrived around 6AM in Huaraz and we took a cab to our hostel, which was a bit outside of the center of the town. I knew, from reading info on our hostel website, that it cost 4 soles by taxi to go to the hostel from the Plaza de Armas. However, a lot of taxis at the bus terminal are waiting for the bus to arrive and sort of increase their fee to compensate for the time wasted. Fair. Our cab first asked us 20 soles to head to our hostel, which I categorically refused. He then offered us the ride for 12 soles (strange way to negotiate), so I went with it with my more or less 4hrs of sleep. Every other time I paid 4-5 soles max.
We stayed at the Casa de Maruja BB, about 10min drive North of downtown Huaraz. I knew from the comments online that it was a bit off center, but no one seemed to mind too much the short cab ride every day. To be fair, there are cabs passing by pretty much every 30 seconds on the main road, and depending on what you are planning to do, you might not need to go downtown every day anyway. When we arrived, we were quite happy to learn that we would be able to check-in our room by 9AM. They also offered us breakfast even if we just arrived, at no charge. The owner came to sit with us, gave us a map of the area and suggested some tours that we might want to look into based on our interests, fitness and time in the area. He does all the bookings from the hostel with a company he trusts, and he suggested that for our first day, we walked around town and checked the tour companies for pricing, so that we could give him the prices we are willing to pay for our chosen tours. That was quite surprising to me, so I asked him to give me his prices first, and that we would shop around and get back to him that evening. He also told us that “if you don’t like it, you don’t pay for it” – which I thought was a pretty great policy knowing that they would charge us our tours on our total accommodation bill. Anyways, it put us at ease quickly. We got into our room and slowly prepped to head out for the day. We were hoping to do 3-4 day trips in the mountains when we were in Huaraz, so we knew we needed to do some groceries for lunches and a few dinners, as we wouldn’t necessarily feel like going out/eating out after long hikes in altitude.
We decided to take a walk all the day to downtown, in order to move our legs a bit after the night bus we just came out of. It took us a good 50min to reach the Plaza de Armas, with a few short stops here and there on the way to take photos and explore. I don’t think you need more than one day to explore the city of Huaraz itself – outside of the center of town, there isn’t much to see, although the vibe near the main Plaza in the evening is lovely with a bunch of patios and restaurants to eat in. There are also a few artisanal markets with good prices, but at this point, we had bought pretty much everything we really needed (and let’s be honest, all these markets sell the same stuff!!). Huaraz is also at 3000m, so for us, coming from Cusco (3400m), it wasn’t much of a deal in terms of altitude. At this point, we had been over 3000m for the last 8-9 days with a few days in higher altitude, so we felt good and just needed to stay well hydrated and drink some coca tea here and there. By the way, while in Peru, I strongly suggest you try Muna tea as well. It tastes a bit like mint. Loved it!
We did a big grocery list and planned for a few pesto pasta dinners that we could cook at our hostel. A good, recommended way to fight altitude sickness is to stay well hydrated and eat carbs (or sugar). Our bodies definitely felt that, and our crabs craving got much bigger all the time we were in altitude, especially after coming back from trips or hikes heading high up for a few hours. You might now always feel it, but you body is working much, much harder in altitude to get your oxygen and your nutrients, so it makes sense to crave so fast, easy energy.
During our days in Huaraz, we tried a few places to eat but ended up going to the same restaurant all the time ; the Café Andino. It is just about 1-2 blocks off the Plaza de Armas, on a side street, on the 3rd and 4th floor. They have great views of the town and the mountain range, it is clean, the vibe is fun, trendy and the food is great! It probably isn’t the cheapest option in town for sure, however, as I mentioned before, we were on a “safe food” vibe after I got sick in Cusco, and everything else was so cheap that we didn’t mind paying a bit extra for it.
Here again, we went to visit the Central Market, where locals buy their foods and common items. Here again, we were a bit disturbed at the lack of hygiene in the place and the skinned cow heads left at room temperature on a dirty counter at the butcher. My mom favorites were the line ups of dead chickens hanging by their feet all over the place. Just be ready for pungent smells and for your senses to be quite triggered. My stomach didn’t feel strong enough to handle all of it, and we didn’t spend much time in the market. Still, happy to have walked through, as this is always a good reminder of how good and easy we have it back home!
The other thing we wanted to check out in Huaraz was a viewpoint up on a hill near the town’s cemetery. We were told that we could actually take a Collectivo (a small city bus) in front of our B&B all the way to the cemetery, and from there, walk about 40min uphill on the road to this viewpoint. One day, we did try the Collectivo (my mom’s crazy idea) instead of a cab to head to the city center. WOW. It probably is worth it just for the sake of it, however I do not recommend it if you are taller than 5’8”! So here’s how this goes : you will basically wave at the driver, and someone (in our case, a nice lady) will open the side sliding door to let you in. Usually, this happens QUICK! She greeted us screaming “SUBE SUBE SUBE”, which basically means GET IN ASAP, as she is already almost closing the door on you and pushing you inside. We gave her 1 sole as we got in, although we realized we were supposed to pay on our way out. Never mind, I’d figure she wouldn’t forget us considering we were the only non-locals in there! So the key here for them is to have this mini-bus (no, it really is a mini-van) as full as possible at all time to make the most money possible out of the little bus ride. It was also the first day back to school after the vacations following the Peru Independence Celebration holiday, so there were tons of kids in school uniform going back home after school jumping in and out of the collectivo. The fun part is that, you have to stay up in the middle of the van when the seats are taken – which is what happened to me. I am 5’10”, and I couldn’t actually stand – I had to bend my neck and head over, and literally had my lower neck and upper back touching the ceiling for most of the trip. About half-way in, I was able to sit down at the back. My mom ended up holding the school art project of one of the student in the bus, as the kid was worried she would damage it if she held it to come sit at the back. Often, the nice collectivo lady would open the door and scream “BAJA BAJA BAJA” “SUBE SUBE SUBE”, as the bus slowed down but barely stop to give people time to get out and others to get on. It was the most surreal experience, and I wish we took photos or a video of it. However, we didn’t even have enough personal space to reach our devices and take shots. That was just that. We didn’t end up making it all the way to the cemetery. I knew generally where we were supposed to be heading, and at some point, near the center of the town, we took a right turn in the opposite direction. I didn’t have enough space to get my map out. As I was a bit unsure of how long the ride could be, we decided to get off the bus in a location we knew and walk the rest of the way, instead of risking to be driven too far off and not making it to our initial destination. Phew! When I saw that many locals were getting off the bus at the same time, I told my mom “OK NOW” and we just followed the wave and got off the bus as well.
We made our way to the cemetery walking uphill for a while and at this point realized we would have to walk a lot more than we thought to get to the view point. We tried to get a cab to take us, but they were all charging us ridiculous amounts to get up there. We did this little adventure on our last day in Huaraz (got you, I just skipped over 3 day tours that will be posted on their own after this one!) and our bodies were quite tired by then. So we just decided to skip the viewpoint and we went to visit the cemetery instead. It actually had quite a beautiful view of the city and the mountain range, as it is already higher than the city center. It felt enough for us that day!
Huaraz was really for us just the starting point for mountain adventures, and I wouldn’t recommend you go there unless you are going to spend time in the mountains. That said, after looking at different options for day tours, we decided to book a tour to Laguna Paron (4200m), Laguna 69 (4600m) and the Pastoruri Glacier (5050m).
I will be posting next details for each of these excursions, so stay stuned!
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