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