420km (261 miles) N of Lima

Huaraz is the primary base destination for most visitors keen on exploring the Callejón de Huaylas Valley that runs 200km (125 miles) right down the middle of Peru. At an altitude of 3,100m (10,170 ft.), Huaraz enjoys a spectacular setting at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca: The town is ringed by 20 snowcapped peaks, each higher than 6,000m (19,680 ft.), which rise in splendor just beyond reach of the city. Huaraz itself is a far cry from the postcard perfection of a picturesque alpine village, however. It is rough around the edges -- as well as the center. Of course, it has a major earthquake to blame for its ragged look, a product of rapid and cheap concrete construction: The massive 1970 earthquake leveled nearly the entire city, eradicating half its population in the process.

Today Huaraz hums -- albeit messily -- with the business of mountain and adventure tourism. A wide range of facilities has sprung up to support outdoor travel; dozens of tour operators and travel agencies, restaurants and bars, and hotels and inns can be found in town, most clustered along the main drag, Avenida Luzuriaga.