Caraz is a quaint little town in the Cordilleras where the temperature is pleasant most of the year and which offers a calming and relaxing atmosphere to the seekers who come here with the intention of discovering some of the gems of the Andes, namely Laguna Paron, Laguna 69, Lagunas Llanganuco and the surrounding mountains.
Where to stay
I crowned my latest trip to the Cordilleras by choosing for my stay a lovely rustic hospedaje Casona Lara Lodge & Distillery which offers not only spacious rooms with luxurious bathrooms (with really hot water and massive waterflow in the shower), but also beautiful gardens and an outside bar where you can taste the locally produced agave liquor. Actually, the distillery itself with its huge glass windows is located right at the property.
I loved the breakfasts there as most commonly in Peru you just get a cup of coffee (sometimes tea), a glass of juice, two buns and two eggs scrambled in oil. Casona Lara offers a wide range of herbal teas, locally produced bread, a variety of sweeteners (panela, agave syrup, honey, stevia), dairy products (the area of Caraz and Carhuaz is renowned for its manjar blanco, cheese, yoghurt and ice creams), fruits, avocadoes, cereals and many other things which surely light up your breakfast, simply depending on the season when you arrive.
My partner and I were lucky enough to receive an invitation to the agave fields in the sierra where the Juipon community tears down the plants that grow savagely and abundantly in order to use their hearts for sell. These are then turned into syrup or liquor, while the fibres from the leaves are sold to companies that make ropes, matting and coarse cloths from them.
I myself tried out this hard work of cutting the leaves of the plant but I did not find the courage to refute its heart from the Earth. My silly effort to be seen HERE.
Where to go
When in Caraz the usual choice of “tourist attraction” is Laguna Paron, which I spoke about HERE. Normally, there are day trips for circa 40 soles from Caraz, but due to the pandemic now there are only private taxis (160 soles per car) and vans (250 soles per car). Moto taxis do not come here and if you go in a private car, just beware that you need to take a dirt-road which in the rain season (from the second half of November till the end of March, with February being the wettest month) can get pretty muddy. Once you arrive to the lagoon you can enjoy a boat ride or hike a little to the viewpoint.
Another attraction is a three-hour (one way) hike up to the Laguna 69 which I also spoke about in my previous articles. As for the transport there currently (an hour and a half from Caraz to the starting point of the hike – just like to Paron), there are some tours, but mostly starting from Huaraz (you may also find some trips from Huaraz to Paron actually; contact Peru expeditions tours or Grupo Alpamayo Peru for more and most recent information). If you come in the rain season the chance of truly clear visibility is not high and make sure you bring good water-proof clothing and altitude sickness medicine as you will be hiking up to 4,650 metres. The hike is not easy for those who did not have a chance of acclimatization but is totally worth all the effort.
On the route to the start of the hike to Laguna 69 you encounter the complex of Llanganuco lagoons within the Quebrada de Llanganuco. It is a high mountain gorge of glacial origin located in the Cordillera Blanca, within the Huascarán National Park made up of two joined lagoons: Orconcocha and Chinancocha, flanked by the great mountain formations of Huascarán (6768 m), Huandoy (6395 m), Pisco (5760 m), Chacraraju (6108 m), Yanapaccha and Chopicalqui (6395 m). The gorge is crossed by the Yungay-Yanama regional highway and the María Josefa road. To hike the mountains, make sure you go with a tour. Several companies in Huaraz could help you out.
The first lagoon, located at an altitude of merely 3,850 metres, is charming with its turquoise colour and it is allowed to swim there. The water is truly cold though. You may take a boat ride too but only on a part of the lagoon as there are currents supposedly.
The entrance to the Huascarán National Park is currently 5 soles for the people from the area (the province), 12 soles for the people from the same region of Ancash and 30 soles for all foreigners.
If you come to Caraz from Chimbote or leave in that direction, take the shorter way (not via Huaraz and Casma) through Cañón del Pato. The scenery is striking but you have to drive slowly, as the asphalt road often turns to a dirt-road, there are rocks falling and more than 40 unlit tunnels, while the route is one-way only for a half of the journey.
Make a stop in Yuramarca to enjoy the sweet mangoes (3 soles a kg), local food and various fresh juices as well as stunning views into the canyon.
Local Food and Wine
As mentioned before, the area is well known for its dairy products, but also its berries, flowers, dried meet (especially pork and beef) and pachamanca, similar to the Mexican pib (see the process HERE). Sadly, you can enjoy this dish merely on Sundays and bank-holidays. A pot filled with pork, chicken and guinea pig previously seasoned with ingredients such as chincho, huacatay, chili pepper and other spices, along with the additional Andean native products such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, and eventually cassava, is placed into a hole in the ground where everything is cooked as a form of a communal ritual in the heat of pre-heated stones. The term “pachamanca” comes from the Quechua voices pacha, “land” and manka, “pot”.
The best ice cream of the region is to be found at Carhuaz square (Helados Huascarán, Heladería Porvenir, Heladería El Manantial) or Caraz square (Heladería Caraz Dulzura). For 7 soles you can enjoy 4 different creamy rich tastes.
If you like berries in their liquid fermented form, Arandino is the place for your visit. It just so reminded me of the Moravian wine vaults typical for the south of my country. Lovely staff and light fruity wines. Directly from the fields of Caraz at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, they extract the best selection of natural berries to produce their artisanal wines of the ARANDINO brand. Their signature wines are namely: BLACKANDINO (blackberry wine), BLUEANDINO (blueberry wine), BERRY PASSION (raspberry wine), GOLDANDINO (gooseberry wine), BERRYANDINO MIX (raspberry, blackberry and blueberry wine). You can taste the various berry wines they produce here for free and buy as many as you wish to take with you (from 11 to 28 soles a bottle).
Night life in Caraz
Caraz is not Huaraz; it is much smaller and more peaceful, with higher temperatures and more sunshine. You won´t find the artisanal markets with alpaca and llama clothes and there is merely one phone shop – unlike at the Huaraz Main Street – where I do not recommend you to go as the only technician there (and the owner of the shop) screwed up my phone (which only had some trouble with the battery) in five minutes (due to his arrogance and being busy answering personal messages on Instagram on his own phone) and even the police could not do anything about it…
As Karaoke bars are now closed for the pandemic and the nightlife in Caraz is generally limited, the best is really to enjoy a glass or two of some good drink or/and going to a nice restaurant.
The recommended choice for your chill out night is:
Pizzeria Café de Rat: Very good pizza, courtesy starters (including the local cheese) and good wine (mostly from the local Arandino production) are served in a chamber-like place of lovely rustic design. It is well-located right at the edge of the main plaza so from the upper balcony (where there is a fireplace too) you get a view over the roofs of the old houses and over the square. Right across stands the renovated stone church and the tranquil atmosphere and generally not cold nights will help you enjoy a good conversation. The staff is friendly and helpful on giving you tips where to go and what to see.
Casona Lara Lodge & Distillery: upon a prior agreement, they might set up a private BBQ for you (your family, your friends) with a selection of the local organic meat (pork, beef, chicken or a fresh water fish, usually trout, including potatoes, cheese, corn and tomatoes). It goes without saying that their signature agave liquor and various cocktails are perfect to accompany such feast. The bartender is very skilful and uses organic herbs growing in the garden. There is no “Drink List”, you simply say what you feel like drinking (e.g. something bittersweet with many herbs and a strong liquor flavour or a sweet and light fruity cocktail etc.) and he mixes something up especially for you… This “individual approach” would cost you around 15 – 25 soles per cocktail.
The Pukayaku Lodge: (currently only upon a previous phone call agreement) offers two to three artisanal beers and a beautiful serene environment close to the river. As a bonus, two cuddly Labradors and a eucalyptus forest right by the backyard where you can get a few branches for decoration, tea or inhalation. Each beer is 10 soles and their home-made hamburgers (accompanied by chips) come with the same price. The place currently does not offer lodging.