Carhuaz is a quiet town with spectacular views of Hualcán. At 2,650 meters above sea level, the town is about 400 meters lower than Huaraz  and about 32 kilometers farther down the valley. Carhuaz has just the right amount of tourist infrastructure to make it a comfortable place to stay without being a go-go tourist destination. It is pleasant relief from Huaraz.
The relaxing Plaza de Armas is full of fragrant rose gardens and palm trees. The town’s Wednesday and especially Sunday markets are busy and diverse. Colorfully dressed vendors hawk local fruits and vegetables, dried herbs, crafts, and even livestock.
The outskirts of Carhuaz stretch into the Cordilleras Negra and Blanca, which means the town has some great options for day trips. For US$3, you can hire a taxi to take you to Mirador Ataquero in the Cordillera Negra . Walk back following a trail that drops you on the edge of town.
There are rustic hot baths above town at the Baños de la Merced (US$0.30). Combis heading that direction leave the Plaza de Armas once an hour, or hire a round-trip taxi (US$6). The Cueva de Guitarreros, a cave that was inhabited 12,000 years ago, is an hour’s walk west of Tingua, the town north of Carhuaz .
Another highly recommended day excursion is hiking in the Cordillera Blanca . Take an early-morning combi heading east up the Quebrada Ulta to Chacas. Before the combis wind the final switchbacks to the high pass of Punta Olímpica (4,890 meters), there are starting points for two excellent day hikes. The first leads to Laguna Auquiscocha (4,320 meters), where there is a granite waterfall reminiscent of Yosemite Falls. The second leads to the stunning alpine cirque around Lago Yanayacu (4,600 meters). The last Carhuaz -bound combi leaves Chacas around 4 p.m.
The best budget option is the family-run Casa Alojamiento Las Torrecitas (Amazonas 412, tel. 043/39-4213, US$8 pp). Simple rooms face onto a long sofa-lined patio. Guests are allowed to use outdoor sinks for washing clothes and the family kitchen.
Las Bromelias Guesthouse (Brasil 208, tel. 043/39-4014, US$6 s, US$12 d) features a garden with a chirimoya tree and roses. Rooms are clean with good beds, tile floors, and hot water.
A great country retreat is Casa de Pocha (1.5 kilometers east of town, tel. 043/961-3058, www.socialwellbeing.org , US$40–55 pp with breakfast and dinner). Perched in hills above Carhuaz with views of Hualcán, this hand-built home is surrounded by trees and a working organic farm. Peruvian Pocha and American Patricia live with a great consciousness of the natural world. Breakfast is cooked on solar stoves, showers are heated with solar energy, and dinner is made over an open flame. Have in mind most meals are vegetarian. Both women speak fluent English and love engaging in political, environmental, and social justice conversations.
The retreat’s adobe rooms are simple and rustic, and dinner is served outdoors or in a charming dining room. The grounds hold a sauna, a rec room with a pool table, and a sun-filled yoga studio. The lodge is 1.5 kilometers east out of town on a dirt road heading up the valley. Call or email ahead for reservations and directions.
More modern and centrally located is the immaculate El Abuelo Hostal (9 de Diciembre 257, tel. 043/39-4456, www.elabuelohostal.com , US$30 s, US$40 d with breakfast). The first-floor lobby opens onto a lovely garden full of local trees and plants. And upstairs, the rooms, decorated with Andean rugs, have comfortable beds and modern baths. There is also a terrace with great views of the Cordillera Negra .
The best restaurant in town is El Abuelo Café (La Merced 727, Plaza de Armas, tel. 043/39-4149, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, US$5–10). Operated by Felipe Diaz, the owner of El Abuelo Hostal, the clean restaurant looks on to the Plaza de Armas. For a midafternoon treat, have an espresso and a natural ice cream (flavors include pisco sour and beer!). And at mealtime, order up ají de gallina, lomo saltado, or a lighter sandwich and salad. The café also sells homemade marmalades of sachatomate (Andean tomato) and sauco (gooseberry), as well as local sheep wool weavings colored with natural dyes.
La Punta Olímpica (La Merced 785, Plaza de Armas, tel. 043/39-4022, 8 a.m.–10 p.m., US$1.50) serves a cheaper but less reliably clean comida típica.
Carhuaz is a half hour north of Huaraz . For long-distance trips to Lima  and Chimbote (both eight hours), Movil Tours (Plaza de Armas in Helados Huscarán, tel. 043/39-4141, 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily) and Yungay Express (Progreso 672, tel. 043/39-4352, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) are good options. The latter also has buses to Huallanca.
To get here from Huaraz, hop a Caraz -bound combi and get off in Carhuaz.