High in the Andes only a short flight from Lima, lies Huaraz, a scruffy highland town at the heart of the Cordillera Blanca Mountain range, surrounded by majestic, glacier topped peaks. Despite its appearance, having suffered a serious of devastating earthquakes, Huaraz is Peru’s trekking capital and the perfect base to set out and explore the mountains. The gateway to the Cordillera Blanca is the picturesque Huascarán National Park, now UNESCO world heritage site, with 120 turquoise, glacier-fed lakes and lagoons and over sixteen 6000m peaks whose centrepiece the Alpamayo Mountain has been dubbed the world’s most beautiful mountain. The park offers wonderful day hikes amidst glorious scenery while serious walkers flock from far and wide to hike the Santa Cruz circuit, a 7 day circumnavigation (allowing for acclimatisation) which takes in the very best of the range. Bordering the Cordillera Blanca are the Cordillera Negra and Cordillera Huayhuash whose peak Siula Grande was immortalised in Jo Simpson’s book “Touching the Void”.
Close to Huaraz and an ideal daytrip for acclimatisation, lies the fascinating pre-Inca pyramid and complex of Chavín de Huántar which dates back to 1200BC. Surrounded by terraced mountains, this is one of Peru’s earliest sites, painstakingly restored over the last few years whose highlight is the Lanzón Stela, a 4½m intricately carved stone shaft found at the heart of the old temple.