Caraz and Laguna Paron
Our first stop in the beautiful Callejon de Huaylas was the town of Caraz. None of the towns in the valley have old colonial buildings because of a massive earthquake in 1970 which destroyed most of the buildings and killed over 70,000 people. Caraz feels like a proper mountain town as you can see snow capped mountains from the main square.
However Caraz is a small, relaxed town with a really nice vibe. The evening that we arrived was a fiesta which involved a procession through the town. It started off with different groups of indigenous people celebrating their history and culture and was followed by groups of school children from the surrounding area who looked like they were having a great time.
We spent a day relaxing in Caraz but then it was time for more adventure. In the mountains above the town is a beautiful glacial lake called Laguna Paron. We asked around and did some internet research to find out if the road up to the lake was good enough for the truck. There was nothing conclusive either way, although we knew it was going to be a narrow, windy, dirt track – well we thought, we’d give it a go.
The road up to the lake starts in the town of Caraz and although its dirt from the start the first few km’s are in good condition and the road is fairly wide. We did hit a small snag when we came upon a team grading the road who had dumped piles of gravel in the middle of the road. Engaged low range and ran straight over the top of them ! The Beast was at a fairly alarming angle but no problem.
With just over 10k to go we reached the entrance station to the National Park and had to inch through the entrance gate which had a couple of inches clearance for us. This is where the road got interesting. Very tight switchbacks up the side of a canyon many of which required a three point turn to get round. There wasn’t any room for something coming the other way but we were lucky and didn’t see any other vehicles.
When we got to a plateau near the top we thought we were through the worst, the road definitely improves but unfortunately it becomes lined with low overhanging trees. With patience and a bit of determination we managed to fight our way through. With a broken mirror , a few scratches and a tonne of foliage attached to the roof we finally made it to the top.
At Laguna Paron we were greeted by an emerald green lake surrounded by snow capped peaks – the drive had definitely been worth it. We were a little breathless though having driven from Caraz at 2300m to the Laguna at 4200m.
We set off on a hike along the lake-side path , which fortunately was fairly level as I am not sure our lungs were up to much climbing. The path stretches down the full length of the lake and then into the valley behind. The lake is longer than it looks though so we didn’t get far into the valley before we had to turn around to get back to the Beast before dark. We did see some Viscachas which are rabbit like creatures on our walk back.
As soon as the sun went behind the mountains the temperature dropped like a stone and the night was sub-zero. We had a terrible nights sleep because of the altitude – serves us right for not acclimatising more slowly !
In the morning we started to head down the canyon back to the Callejon de Huaylas – the journey down was a bit easier as we knew what to expect. However we came across a bridge which we had crossed without too much problem on the way up. This time as we went across there was a sharp cracking sound and we lurched to one side – I gunned the engine and we made it across. That was a close one !