Situated in the perfectly steep-sided Callejón de Huaylas valley, HUARAZ – 400km from Lima – is the focal point of inland Ancash. Only a day’s bus ride from either Lima or Trujillo, it’s one of the best places in Peru to base yourself if you have any interest in outdoor adventure or just sightseeing. As a market town and magnet for hikers, bikers, canoeists and climbers, the city centre has a naturally lively atmosphere, making it the ideal springboard for exploring the surrounding mountainous region; besides the stunning mountain scenery, the area boasts spectacular ruins, natural thermal baths and beautiful glacial lakes. The valley is dominated by the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, and Huascarán, Peru’s highest peak. The region is best experienced between May and September when the skies are nearly always blue and it rains very little. Between October and April, however, it’s often cloudy and most afternoons you can expect some rain.
Occupied since at least 12,000 years ago, the area around Huaraz was responsible for significant cultural development during the Chavín era (particularly 1500–500 BC), although the Incas didn’t arrive here until the middle of the fifteenth century. Following the Spanish conquest of Peru, and up until less than a century ago, Huaraz remained a fairly isolated community, barricaded to the east by the dazzling snowcapped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and separated from the coast by the dry, dark Cordillera Negra. Between these two mountain chains the powerful Río Santa valley, known as the Callejón de Huaylas, is a region with strong traditions of local independence.
For several months in 1885, the people of the Callejón waged a guerrilla war against the Lima authorities, during which the whole valley fell into rebel hands. The revolt was sparked by a native leader, the charismatic Pedro Pablo Atusparia, and thirteen other village mayors, who protested against excessive taxation and labour abuses. After they were sent to prison and humiliated by having their braided hair (a traditional sign of status) cut off, the local peasants overran Huaraz, freeing their chieftains, expelling all officials and looting the mansions of wealthy landlords and merchants (many of them expatriate Englishmen who had been here since the Wars of Independence). The rebellion was eventually quashed by an army battalion from the coast, which recaptured the city while the Indians were celebrating their annual fiesta. Even today, Atusparia’s memory survives close to local hearts, and inhabitants of the area’s remote villages remain unimpressed by the central government’s attempts to control the region.