Trekking through the Cordillera Blanca, Peru’s hidden gem

23 June, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The sound of silence, breathtaking views of the Andean mountains at day and of the starry sky at night, surrounded only by wildlife you had never seen before… That is exactly what is awaiting you if you decide to take the road less traveled and to spend a few days (or a few weeks) in the Cordillera Blanca. The Peruvian mountain chain, part of the greater Andean range, is the world’s highest tropical mountain range and a haven for local flora and fauna. It is still relatively unknown to the tourist crowds, making it a must visit for the adventurous nature lovers. So, if you are in Peru between the dry months of May and September – also known as the Andean Summer – make sure to add this spectacular stop to your itinerary.

Huaraz: the entry point

Your journey will start from the town of Huaraz, the point of entry to the Huascaran National Park. The city is located North of Lima and while unfortunately, flights between the two cities have been suspended, you can reach Huaraz by taking an 8h bus ride from the capital. If that seems daunting, various companies offer night buses and ‘Service Ejecutivo’ tickets for more comfort (think about the bus version of business class). And remember that as soon as you arrive, you will already be rewarded by phenomenal views over some of the mountains the Cordillera can offer. 

Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca

You are now in Huaraz, hiking boots strapped on and ready to explore the beauty of the Peruvian nature. The options for multi-day hikes are varied, but here are some of the most rewarding ones.

Santa Cruz Trek 

The most popular multi-day hike of the Cordillera Blanca, and for good reasons, the Santa Cruz trek will take you for 50km across beautiful sceneries of crystalline lakes and snow-capped mountains such as Huascaran, the highest peak in Peru. While the difficulty of this trek is moderate, you will be able to experience the incredible feeling of surpassing yourself as you cross the Punta Union pass, towering at 4750m. The classic route will take you 4 days to complete, but most tour companies will offer a ‘mini trek’ option of 3 days that will take a slightly different route but still offer stunning views of most of the highest mountains of the region. On the other hand, if you wish to spend some more time taking in the views, you can decide to embark on the Santa Cruz Ulta Trek. In addition to the Punta Union pass, you will have to cross the Punta Yanayacu pass (4860m) and will finish your journey in the Ulta Valley. This trail will take you between 7 and 9 days depending on your physical condition. Finally, and if you have not yet been, you can include the Laguna 69 at the end of the Santa Cruz trek (Laguna 69 is an easy day trip from Huaraz, see our other post about it).

Quilcayhuanca – Cojup Trek

The Quilcayhuanca – Cojup Trek is a short but intense option, ideal if you are an avid hiker but do not have much time in the Cordillera Blanca. It is much less crowded than the Santa Cruz trail, and is a great alternative if you are looking for a deeper connection with the Peruvian outdoors. You will cross both valleys, Quilcayhuanca and Cojup, and climb the Choco Peak culminating at 5000m. Here again, you will get incredible views over some of the highest peaks of Peru and come across dreamy lagoons. This is the closest hiking trail to Huaraz but as mentioned, this is an intense trek without campsites or facilities on the road; therefore, mostly adapted to experienced hikers.

Olleros Chavin Trek

A great option of moderate intensity, the Olleros Chavin trek is culturally one of the most interesting hikes of the region. For 3 days, you will be walking in the footstep of the ancient men of the Andes, who came from as far as Ecuador for their pilgrimage to the most significant ceremonial center of ancient Peru, Chavin. This hike is around 35km and culminates at 4700m.

Alpamayo Trek

The Alpamayo Base Camp trek is another option for physically fit hikers. Taking between 7 and 12 days, it will take you through secluded trails and will reward you with incredible views of the Alpamayo peak, often described as the most beautiful mountain in the world. If you are an avid climber, you have the option of undertaking a climbing excursion of the peak – see our dedicated post about climbing Alpamayo.

As you can see, the region of the Cordillera Blanca offers as many options as there are preferences, so make sure that you include it to your Peruvian itinerary. And most importantly, be ready to lose your breath – both figuratively and literally –at the postcard like scenery of this hidden Peruvian gem.

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