Your Guide to Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: The Cedros-Alpamayo Circuit

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Mention hiking in Peru and chances are that most people immediately think of the classic trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Well, here’s a little secret: while the Inca Trail is fantastic, it’s not the only game in town. Many people may not realize that Peru is home to countless other trekking opportunities that can give the world-famous (and extremely popular) Inca Trail a serious run for its money any day of the week. So, if you are looking for a serious romp through a beautiful alpine paradise with only a handful of other people, have we got a place for you! 

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Just 500 kilometers (300 miles) north of Lima lies the Cordillera Blanca, a majestic range of “white” mountains in the Central Andes named for their permanently snow-capped peaks. With numerous peaks topping the 6000-meter mark, the Cordillera Blanca is a mecca for mountaineers, but it has a lot to offer avid hikers, too. Here you will experience a high-altitude world of wonder that includes stunning peaks, turquoise lakes and the trail’s namesake, the alluring Alpamayo, which is frequently touted as the most beautiful mountain in the world. Imagine that!

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Who’s to say if Alpamayo is actually the world’s most beautiful peak, but photographing it at the edge of this unbelievable lake all by our lonesomes with not another soul in sight sure put a smile on our faces.

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And the multitudes of other peaks you pass on your way to Alpamayo aren’t too shabby either. Just sayin’!

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What’s more, this hike also offers the  chance to escape the crowds found on the Inca Trail, so you will enjoy all this magnificence often with no other people around, except perhaps a local shepherd or two.

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Right now, you must be thinking that this sounds altogether too good to be true, right? Surely, there must be a catch…

Though undeniably breath-taking, trekking in the thin air of the Cordillera Blanca is tough stuff. We wouldn’t advise coming to the Cordillera Blanca if you aren’t in good physical shape and have lots of grit. With most days spent on the trail averaging in the 12,000-16,000 foot (3500-4500 meter) range, the splendid scenery you encounter can literally take your breath away. This trail tests a hiker’s physical and mental stamina, pass after stunning pass.

Luckily for hikers like you and me, supported trekking is the norm in Peru, and, for a very reasonable price, trekkers are able to hike with a guide/cook, an arriero (a donkey driver) and a team of donkeys to carry all the heavy gear. The ability to travel with only a daypack leaves trekkers free to enjoy this incredible experience as much as possible.

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In the summer of 2015, we spent 11 days in the Cordillera Blanca on the 140 kilometer (87 mile) Cedros-Alpamayo Circuit, hiking with a terrific 2-person crew from local company Active Peru. Eliseo and Shefi spoiled us rotten on a private tour at a nominal cost. We’re talking camp set up and broken down for us, fresh and delicious home-cooked meals, a cozy, warm dining tent, having to schlep only our daypacks up to 16,000+ feet, expert guiding and great company to boot—all for about $100/pp/day. Yep, a supported trek in the Cordillera Blanca is definitely worth every penny in our books.

The North American summer is the perfect time for a trek in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Dry days and bright blue skies are the norm, and temperatures are at their most pleasant.

Be sure to read that last sentence with a grain of salt. While certainly comfortable in the daytime, temperatures at this altitude plummet once the sun sets, and waking up to a layer of frost on the tent was practically a daily occurrence. Dealing with nights of constant cold is yet another challenge of hiking in this remote area, but day after day enjoying unbelievable alpine scenery is an excellent trade-off.

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In this next series of posts, we will share more details about our time on the trail, including all the highs and lows we experienced on this incredible 11-day trek around the Cordillera Blanca. Enjoy!

22 thoughts on “Your Guide to Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: The Cedros-Alpamayo Circuit

  1. Stunning, both. I still would really love to connect – it’s been too long – and see what magic we can make happen together. I’ll be stateside from tomorrow, maybe we can connect?

    1. Thanks, Jessica! It has been way too long. We are still waiting for you two to renew your vows, so we can do the South Africa trip all over again. How fun would that be?!?!
      We would love to make some magic with you and Synchronicity Earth. Let’s definitely connect while you are Stateside. Just keep in the back of your head that we will travel to any corner of the earth to get the photos you need! 🙂

  2. WOW! I am left speechless at the beauty of it all. The cost seems extraordinarily reasonable and given the high altitude I think a very good idea to be supported. Having cycled in Peru last year I can appreciate the challenge such a hike would be. Although we are used to the cold in Canada, camping out in the frosty nights is another consideration. I appreciate how you have presented the pros and cons very fairly in your article.

    1. Thanks, Sue. We find that the prices in many countries are very reasonable when you book directly with a local outfitter and avoid using the glitzy foreign companies who actually work with local outfitters, giving you the exact same trip at quite a mark up.
      Where were you biking in Peru? Were the road conditions challenging? I bike to work here in Chicago every day and wonder the conditions would be tougher than the enormous pot holes and crazy drivers I deal with here!

      1. What an amazing journey you had. The areas you biked are well known on the tourist circuit, but how cool that you saw them in a way that most people never do. I am looking forward to reading more about that trip in the near future!

    1. Thanks, Drew! Peru is awesome, and we hope to go back and head south to do the Salkantay and Ausangate Treks that you did at some point in the future. We hope you can make it north some time soon. So many treks, so little time!

      1. Due to the arrival of my son, it’s probably going to be something close by. I was thinking NOBO on the JMT with Julia in support mode with him, and then another week after that hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail together. I think the Tahoe Rim Trail would be an easy one with a child if we had an easy way to get off trail if need be. He’ll be one at that point, so he should be able to tag along pretty easily.

      2. Sounds great, Drew! I hope you and Julia end up with a great little hiker. I’ll be eager to hear/see how he does out there on the trail on your blog. Good luck to you both!

  3. Gorgeous photographs!! The turquoise lake is absolutely magnificent.

    We were in Peru for a month, years ago and this brings back memories of the landscape and special people. A ” supported trek” sounds like the ideal way to go. Looks fabulous!

    Peta

    1. Thanks, Peta! Peru is definitely one of those gems of a travel destination where you could spend a lot of time. We have been twice now and feel like there is still so much to see. Glad you enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane!

  4. I got my answer here. Active Peru huh? I’ll have to look into it. I’d be going on my own while husband and child stay in Lima, so I’d prefer to join a small group than be totally alone. Cheers.

    1. Hi, Anna! Our tour ended up being private, but we paid a “group price” to have the possibility of others joining us. In the end, nobody actually did. We really liked the quality of service Active Peru provided. You might see if they offer any group departures that you can join. If they don’t have any currently, tell Denis you are interested and ask him to get back in touch with you when he does. We hope it all works out for you!

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