Yungay – Whenever I come to the Callejón de Huaylas, the first thing that I want to do is go to the old town of Yungay, known as the “Pearl of the Cajellón de Huaylas” I love to walk along the picturesque paths, contemplate butterflies landing on the rose bushes, breath the fresh cool air from the highlands and enjoy the magnificent view of Perú’s highest peak Huascarán (6768m / 22205ft).
Yungay was an attractive, traditional small town until it was destroyed in seconds on May 31, 1970, during a massive earthquake. This was not the first catastrophe to assault this city; in 1872 it was almost completely wiped out by an avalanche, and on a fiesta day in 1962 another avalanche buried some 5,000 people in the neighboring village of Ranrahirca. The 1970 quake also arrived in the midst of a festival when almost the entire population of Yungay disappeared almost instantaneously; though a few of the town’s children survived because they were at a circus located just above the town, which fortunately escaped the landslide.
The town still cowers beneath the peak of Huascarán but it is hoped that it is more sheltered from further dangers than its predecessor. You can visit the Old Town of Yungay daily form 8am – 6pm for a minimal fee, which has developed into one of the region’s major tourist attractions. But every time I come here I have hardly ever seen any tourists. That’s why I love to come here to find a moment of silence and meditation. You can breath a breeze of loneliness, sadness but at the same time hope and courage.
The site, entered through a large, blue concrete archway, is covered with grey flow of mud and moraine, now dry and solid, with a few stunted palm trees to mark where the old Plaza de Armas once stood. When you walk here you can still see a few things like an upside-down, partially destroyed school bus, stuck in the mud. The graveyard of Campo Santo, above the site, which predates the 1970 quake, gives the best vantage point over devastation. A tall statue of Christ holds out its arms from the graveyard towards the deadly peak of Huascarán itself, as if pleading for no further horrors.
Paron Lake – When it comes to acclimatize, charge batteries and get used to rarefied mountain air; I come to do a half day trekking here in Paron lake (picnic included). This is another spot that is not overcrowded by tourists at all.
Some 30 km east of Caraz, the deep-blue Paron lake (4185 m / 13730 ft) is sunk resplendently into a gigantic glacial cirque, surrounded by imposing icy peaks. It is considered as one of the biggest lake in the Cordillera Blanca. I’ve brought friends here and they were always fascinated with the views; especially with the Mount Piramide de Garcilaso’s pyramid of ice (5885 m. / 19308 ft ). There is a footpath around the lake which you can walk and reach to the end. The path becomes narrow as you walk towards the skirts of the glacier and it gets colder. However it is a unique sensation because as you get closer and closer it is like you are entering into heaven. It is all intriguingly white and massive. You think you are getting nearly there as you walk but it is still a long way to go. I think it takes two hours to get to the end of the lake and two hours back. A visit here is ideal for acclimatization and is suitable for hikers and non hikers.