The Cordillera Huayhuash Trek
Possibly the best alpine trek in the entire world, the Cordillera Huayhuash trek has become well-known among outdoors enthusiasts for its sheer mountain peaks, pristine glacial lakes, and encounters with traditional Andean culture. In past years, this route was considered fairly dangerous and hikers would occasionally die on the trek. Not only was the region a stronghold for the Maoist-inspired Shining Path guerrillas, but the trails themselves were often considered hazard and unsafe as well. In recent years, however, the Peruvian government has invested in infrastructure and security measures which have made the area much safer. Huayhuash is gaining popularity among tourists in recent years, but it’s still not as well-known as treks in other regions of Peru, so the natural environment remains mostly unspoiled. That’s what makes it perfect for those who want to experience the Andes at their most peaceful and picturesque.
About the trek
With a length of about 130km (81mi) and elevations as high as 5,490m (18,012ft), trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash is not for the faint of heart. The weather can often be extreme and hypothermia is a possibility. In addition, those unaccustomed to high elevations could develop altitude sickness, a condition which causes symptoms such as headache, nausea, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. To be clear, this trek is difficult and sometimes dangerous, so the full trek should be attempted only by experienced hikers. Anyone hesitant to commit to the full distance of the classic circuit also has the choice of several different shortcuts which can reduce the length of the hike by several days.
For those who decide they are up to the challenge, Huayhuash will have many rewards in store. The entire path is above the treeline, giving visitors a panoramic view of gorgeous mountainous landscapes at all times. Aside from the main 130km circuit, there are also a number of optional side treks, including climbs of Pumarinri and Diablo Mudo. Visitors are also treated to pleasant natural hot springs about halfway through the route. Wildlife to spot on the trek includes the condor and more than 60 other species of birds, as well as the vicuña (a wild relative of the alpaca) and vizcacha (a type of chinchilla resembling a rabbit). All of this combines to create a setting which can only be described as utterly sublime.
Tour vs solo
The safest and easiest way to complete this trek is to book a guided tour from the many local providers in the region. Though doing the trek on your own is certainly possible, it’s not recommended to attempt this unless you have ample experience hiking in high altitude, adequate equipment, lots of food, and a solid command of either Spanish or Quechua. It’s definitely possible to get yourself in trouble on this route (either with local people or with natural hazards on the path), and you will need to be able to fend for yourself in isolation if something goes wrong. If you do decide, against our advice, to do this trek without purchasing a guided tour, it is essential to hire pack animals such as a mules or donkeys to carry the large amount of food and supplies needed for such a long trek. Hiring pack animals can be arranged while in Huaraz.
When to go
The best months to hike the Cordillera Huayhuash are May through September when the weather is dry but cold (during the wet season there can be snow which blocks the mountain passes). Make sure to always keep current with weather updates before you depart and be aware of how changes in the weather could affect your ability to complete the trek.
How to get there
The most popular departure point Huaraz, a city of 127,041 in north-central Peru, about 8 hours by car or bus from Lima. There are many direct buses operating daily from Lima to Huaraz, including Oltursa, Movil Tours, and many others. There are also flights operated by LC Peru.
From Huaraz, It’s possible to hire private transport to bring you all the way to the first campsite, Cuartelwain. It’s also possible to take a public bus from Huaraz to the town of Llamac, as long as you don’t mind walking along a dirt road for several miles from Llamac to reach Cuartelwain.
Here is an example of a typical route through the Cordillera Huayhuash, this one taken from Huayhuash.com. Most companies will also allow you to add extra days of rest or to reduce the length of the trip via shortcuts on the trail.
Day 1: Huaraz – Llámac – Cuartelwain 4170m
Day 2: Cuartelwain – Qaqanan pass 4750m – Mitucocha 4230m
Day 3: Mitucocha – Carhuac pass 4600m – Carhuacocha 4138m
Day 4: Carhuacocha – Carnicero pass 4630m – Huayhuash 4330m
Day 5: Huayhuash – Portachuelo pass 4750m – Viconga 4400m
Day 6: Viconga – Cuyoc pass 5000m – Guanacpatay (Elefante pampa) 4450m.
Day 7: Guanacpatay – San Antonio Pass 4990m – Cutatambo 4250m
Day 8: Cutatambo, visit the base camp and glacier of Siula Grande mount, route of Joe Simpson.
Day 9: Cutatambo – Huayllapa 3500m
Day 10: Huayllapa – Tapush pass 4800m – Qashpapampa 4500m.
Day 11: Qashpapampa – Yaucha pass 4750m – Jahuacocha 4070m
Day 12: Jahuacocha – Pampa Llámac pass 4300m – Llamac – Huaraz
What to bring
- Walking shoes and socks
- Regular pants
- T-shirts (long-sleeved and short-sleeved)
- Trekking boots
- Warm sleeping bag
- Waterproof pants and jacket
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Baseball cap or bandana
- Fleece for extra warmth
- Warm hat and mittens
The above equipment should be sufficient if going on a guided tour (double check with your specific provider). If arranging your own trek, you will also need tents, cooking equipment, and enough food and water to last the entire trek, at the very least. In this case, it is recommended that you consult with an expert or someone else who has already completed the trek to help you create an appropriate list of supplies.
Each region of the Huayhuash is managed by the specific community that lives in the area. Each community charges an entrance fee to their grounds. This entrance fee will cover different things depending on the community. For some, it only covers usage of the trail. Others include campsites, toilets, and even night patrol guards. If you choose to take a guided trek with a tour provider, these fees may or may not be included–this should be clarified with the specific company.
Llámac: Cuartewain and a part of the Jahuacocha camping site S/. 20.00
Pocpa: S/. 10.00
Queropalca: Mitucocha and part of the Carhuacocha camping site S/. 40.00
Quisuarcancha: Part of the Carhuacocha camping site S/. 20.00
Tupac Amaru: Huayhuash camping site S/. 20.00
Uramaza: Visit to Viconga lake and hot springs S/. 20.00
Huayllapa: Viconga, Guanacpatay, Cutatambo and Huatiaq camping sites S/. 40.00
Pacllon: Qashpapampa and part of Jahuacocha camping sites S/. 20.00
There is also a charge of S/.1.50 per night for each pack animal (donkey, horse or mule) for grass consumption.
After you finish
The best way to continue your adventure after completing the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit is to head back to Lima and book a trip with Peru Hop. This bus service will take you from Lima across all of southern Peru and even to further points in Bolivia. Peru Hop is a hop on hop off style bus, so if you decide that you really like a certain spot or you want to do some extra activities or side trips, it’s no problem at all–your itinerary is completely flexible.