Due to the pandemic, travelling has become a rather complicated issue. Certain countries won’t let you in, others require expensive Covid tests. Some people are afraid to travel as they could get stuck in a place due to a quarantine. Others are in panic. Thus, the decision of many is to explore the places in the country where they are currently living, be it their homelands, to which they have returned for a save anchoring, or a foreign land, where they got locked or where they resolved to stay – for various reasons.
I remained in Peru, a country of marvellous nature, rich history and stunning heritage, where there is a lot to see and explore.
When we keep our eyes and heart wide open, common sense alert, when we follow hygienic precautions and governmental regulations with responsibility, travelling in Peru is now possible.
Yet, depending on what region or province you travel from or two, you might need a permission: for your car and personal, so just check before you head off. There might be police controls on your way to the final destination and even in the destination.
I thus gained a permission to go from Chimbote to one of my favourite parts of Peru – the Andes ranges of Cordillera Negra and Cordillera Blanca (in the area of Huaraz), about which I previously wrote an article HERE.
I had to choose the hotel carefully, making sure the one I chose had a permission to keep on operating during the pandemic. Alpamayao Guest House II, which you find on Booking.com or Tripadvisor as Hotel Alpamayo Comfortable, was a great choice. The manager is a Peruvian, a professional mountain climber and hiker as well as a mountain guide, who had been living in Europe, including Switzerland, for more than 15 years.
Located in the building of the former Hotel America, right on the main street and just a few blocks away from the main square, the hotel complies with the current strict hygienic rules, as one can see in this video.
My partner and I had a spacious room with a grand bathroom and a balcony overlooking the hilltops of Cordilleras. The breakfasts were substantial and filling and we appreciated the help of Eric, the manager, in choosing which places to go to – as several are now closed by the local mountain communities due to the pandemic.
What to do in Huaraz during the Pandemic
Unless you have a private car or are willing to pay for expensive taxis, the best thing to do is just wander to do the areas on the edges of the town, for instance Unchus or Wilcahuaín, where you can encounter people in their traditional costumes and buy honey or herbs from them, where you can bathe in the streams as the temperature in the valley is pleasant in this season, and where you can do some easy hikes.
The artisanal markets are currently closed but the Central market operates normally, so you can get various fruits and veggies, including a kg of blueberries for five soles, and the superfood yacón for the same price, mountain flowers for two soles a bunch, roses, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products of excellent quality renowned in this area.
Food is available from various restaurants as a take away or delivery and some street vendors still provide their delicious papa rellena and other good, cheap and substantial options.
Gifts shops and shops with trekking clothes are open as well though you need to respect the rules of social distancing and sanitizing your hands.
As many places such as Pastoruri, Laguna Llaca and others are closed by the local communities to prevent the spread of Covid, it is best to go to normally less touristy places, such as e.g. Laguna Wilcacocha, which is nothing like the turquoise lagoon of Churup or Paron, but offers some marvellous mountain views over both Cordillera Negra and Blanca. Plus, you can really get a feeling of the local mountain life, in the few villages you encounter on your way up.
One option to reach it, much longer but less steep, is to follow the dirt road which was created to reach the few villages in the area. The dirt road gets stony and – during the rain season – also muddy.
The other option is to hike up from the point of the bridge that crosses Río Santa. You need to keep looking for the trail, otherwise you end up walking along the dirt road. So, once you cross the bridge, keep alert! In the first five minutes of walking, the dirt road branches and you need to continue to the left. That is where the trail begins. Once you reach the first village, there is a fork, where you need to turn right. Further up, you encounter a dirt road. When that happens, turn left and after circa 15 meters you shall see the trail again.
You can hike down the same path or choose the less known one that begins on the other side of the lake. You might easily get lost on this one though, in which case – as there is no signal in the area (only by the lake, where there are several houses and fields) – ask the locals. If you don´t speak Spanish, you are left with maps.me offline.
(Photo by: Paul Alejandro Meza)
This trek is perfect for those who want to acclimatize to the altitude as the distance is not long and the altitude not so high (3725 m). The trail is steep though, just know that and give yourself sufficient time if you plan to hike both ways, up and down.
I recommend taking proper equipment or arranging a taxi back (if you want to manage to return to town by the toque de queda – curfew – which starts at 8 pm) and enjoying the wonderful sunset there by the lake. The moment the sun hits the snow covered tops of the mountains in the distance is simply stunning. But make sure you take windproof clothing. It is a “wuthering height” up there.
Once again to emphasize: this place is not really the best choice for those who are expecting a pristine clear turquoise lagoon in which they could possible bathe or which they could drink from. It is a low-key lake, or rather a pond, with several ducks and some reed growing out in the middle. What makes it unique is the views overlooking the surrounding mountain ranges, fields of barley, traditional burnt-brick houses and the terraced fields.
Lagoon Churup and Lagoon Llanganuco
If you plan your trip to these locations during the focal quarantine (which shall last till the last day of August 2020), check on their accessibility to visitors as things change every month and the local mountain communities have their major say in deciding which place will or won´t be open to visitors who are seeking the healing power of Mother Nature.
A two-hour drive from Huaraz, a beautiful blue lagoon of Llanganuco is located inside the Huascaran National Park. It is a perfect option for those who love easy hiking. The Maria Josefa trail will take you through some lush vegetation in less than four hours.
Lagoon Churup (only a 40 minute drive from Huaraz, but then plenty of hiking), on the other hand, is quite a demanding hike, especially if you take the faster trail (about 1.5 hour to 2 hours), which includes several rope and chain sections. The longer trail will consume about three hours of your time but is less demanding.
The result that opens to your eyes once there (at about 4 500 m), however, is quite marvellous. They righteously call it the Lake of Seven Colours, ranging from blue and green to turquoise and silver when the sun’s rays play with the water surface.
On the trail you may appreciate a great panoramic view over Huaraz and the peaks of Cashan and Shaqsha, and you encounter beautiful waterfalls and vertical rock walls in the canyon.
- Don’t argue with the local communities if they don’t allow your access to a certain location. Show genuine respect, even apologize, and they might put aside their fear (caused by limited information about the pandemic) and prejudice (believing it is foreigners who spread the disease) and eventually allow you to enter the place, but with several precautions taken. If they don´t, well, YOU took the risk, don’t blame others it did not work out. Respect and compassion are the engines for genuine travelers.
- If you know (or are uncertain if) you suffer from altitude sickness, buy altitude medicine in one of the pharmacies in town and bring mate de coca with you (coca-leave brew). There are basically no tourists in the mountains now and thus getting help might be more complicated than when things work normally.
- Always have some snack (dried fruits, nuts, biscuits, crackers etc.) and enough drinking water with you. There are no restaurants or bistros open in the mountains now!
- Remember that Sunday is the toque de queda so you should not be wandering around anywhere – not even in the mountains. If you do, you do so at your own responsibility.
- NEVER take pictures of the local people unless you ask for their permission. Indeed, the degree of xenophobia due to Covid has risen up; it is essential to be respectful and the truth is that the locals often dislike to be taken pictures of – for various reasons.
- If you are a foreigner in a land, perform double the respect you would when in your country. Not always easy, but can be done. If you fail, apologize. A good, well-meant word that carries a genuine feeling can have a miraculous power.
- There are many amazing herbs in the mountains which can be used as a prevention or treatment to various diseases. If you want to take some of those with you from a certain hike, make sure you do so in an area which is not a private property or a part of the National park! Otherwise, you could be – to say the least – penalized.