Trekking Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

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Ah, Peru! It must be a blessing and a curse to have the majestic Andes running right through your country. So many great hikes to choose from, so little time! And most hikers don’t even realize all that you have to offer, making Machu Picchu their first and sometimes only trekking port of call, as we did back in 2009. But, if they take a little more time to get to know you, intrepid hikers longing for more adventure would make their next stop Huaraz, the popular center for trekking in your majestic Cordillera Range.

Intrigued, dear readers? Well, you definitely should be. And, if you are traveling to Huaraz and wondering what hike to do, it’s most likely that every trekker you talk to along the way will tell you they are on their way to do the popular Laguna 69 or Santa Cruz treks or perhaps even the more ambitious 11-day Cedros-Alpamayo Circuit in the Cordillera Blanca range, which are all excellent options in their own right. But you, my friend, should consider instead the oft-overlooked sibling of this Andean hiker’s paradise, the Cordillera Huayhuash. It’s sort of like when you find yourself attracted to someone only to find out that they are already taken. Then you happily discover that they have a sibling who is equally stunning and totally available. You win!

Click on photographs to enlarge and view as a slideshow.

The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit is a 10-day, 118 kilometer trek that circumnavigates a cool and compact, white-capped mountain range in the central Andes of Peru.

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Map Source

Located 135 kilometers south of Huaraz, this close relative of the Cordillera Blanca is just as impressive and slightly less discovered. It offers all of the peace and serenity of other hikes in the Cordilleras with a fraction of the trail traffic, meaning you’ll have to share this alpine paradise with even fewer people. Just imagine!

If you have heard of this remarkable range before, it may be because of the 2003 documentary Touching the Void that recounts the crazy but totally true story of Joe Simpson’s and Simon Yates’ harrowing and near-fatal attempt to climb the peak of Siula Grande in the heart of the Huayhuash region. Check that film out! It’s a serious nail-biter, and it will remind you of why you wisely chose to pursue hiking as your outdoor passion over climbing. 

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If your only experience of hiking in Peru is on the crowded trails to Machu Picchu, or, if you have not yet experienced the wide open pampas and expansive views and sense of adventure that come only on a long-form, multi-day supported trek, then the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit may be just the answer to all of your trekking dreams.

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Along the way, you will experience incredible alpine views with azure blue skies, occasionally broken up by puffy white clouds, as you tackle challenging but rewarding mountain passes at dizzying heights of up to 5000 meters.

Just check out the elevation profile of this hike, and you are sure to notice how it resembles a crazy roller coaster ride. If thrills on foot are your thing, then this trek is definitely for you!

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Elevation Profile courtesy of Active Peru

Sure, you will wake up to a thick layer of frost on your tent, but you may also be greeted by colorful sunrises that will stir your soul in the best way possible. Along this 118-kilometer route, your thoughts will be interrupted by rushing rivers, graceful waterfalls, as well as the occasional bird or flower. You will gain glimpses into rural farming and pastoral life as you pass through a small village or two. And you may even meet a local shepherd who gets to call these magnificent mountains home.

The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit also features the occasional side trip for the intrepid hiker who wants just a little more. These bonus excursions will lead you to stunning views of jewel-colored alpine lakes or to an up close look at one of the many glaciers or snow-capped peaks that dot the horizon in this alpine wonderland.

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At the end of the day you will find yourself relaxing with a cup of hot tea in a comfortable campsite with a gorgeous sunset view. If you can stay awake after a hard day on the trail, when the stars come out, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. And perhaps the most beautiful thing is that you can get up and do it all over again the next day.

In this next series of posts, we will share more details about our time on the trail, including all the highlights we experienced on this incredible 10-day trek. So come on along as we explore the magnificent beauty of the Peruvian Andes on the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit!

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39 thoughts on “Trekking Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

  1. Hey!

    What time of year did you do this hike in? Is May a decent time?

    Are you going to post a day by day break down? I read your blog about the Laugavagur Trek before I hiked it and found it super informative!

    Is this a safe hike for solo female in her 20’s?

    Thanks!

    Andrea

    1. Hi Andrea,
      We did this hike in late July in 2015. Our understanding is that it is possible to hike in this area of Peru year-round. According to Lonely Planet, May to September is the dry season in the Central Andes and the best time to trek. They say that May is especially beautiful because there are fewer people and the scenery is “…green and lush at the end of the wet months.” So it looks like May is the ideal time for you to go!
      We are glad to know that our post on the Laugavegur Trek was helpful to you. We will be doing a day-by-day breakdown similar to how we did our Cordillera Blanca posts with a couple of days grouped together at a time, so stay tuned for those in the near future.
      We felt perfectly safe the entire time on this trek, but we did it as a private, guided trek with Active Peru, which was well worth the expense. There is not a lot of signage on the route, and it is VERY cold at night. Trails can be super steep and go super high, so we really enjoyed not having to carry all of our gear at such high eleveations. You can hire a local outfitter to take you alone or join one of their group trips. No matter how you do it, it is definitely a fantastic trek.
      Thanks for reading, and let us know if you have any more questions. Happy trails!

      1. I was going to ask the same question so thanks for the answer. I have dreamt of this hike for a long time, and will be back in peru in dec/jan. I know it’s not the ideal time for weather, but if Active Peru do the tour year round I’ll highly consider it!

      2. Hi Anna,
        Definitely get in contact with Active Peru, and see what they say about trips in December/January. I think it is do-able but rainy. We found Active Peru to be a great outfitter, and we really loved Eliseo as our guide. Please let us know if you go. We would love to hear about your experience!

      3. Thanks guys. It’s out of a hike in this area or some time exploring a nearby country like Bolivia or ecuador. Tough decisions! Cheers.

    1. Thanks so much, Monica! This was truly one of the most stunning places we have ever had the pleasure of hiking in, so the gorgeous photos practically took themselves. Hope all is well with you. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thank you for showing us your breathtaking photos and interesting and well written text. Thoroughly enjoyed it!!!
    Rick Shanahan

    1. Thanks, Rick! Breathtaking is the perfect word to describe these photos, as we were certainly huffing and puffing along these high altitude trails to get them! Are you off on any new adventures soon? I haven’t seen you around Bell in a while. Perhaps you have been on some of your own grand adventures…

  3. You both are such an inspiration. I often share your pictures with Chloe and Nigel in the hope that they too will be inspired to seek out the majesty of this great planet.

    All the best,
    Lisa Wilson

    1. Thanks for sharing our posts with Chloe and Nigel, Lisa. I love the idea that our adventures might inspire some wanderlust in some of my favorite former students. I hope you are all doing well. Perhaps we can catch up at some of Bell’s Centennial Celebrations this spring? Cheers!

  4. You captured some incredible images with that clear, high altitude light. I can only image the awe you must have constantly experienced. Looking forward to more posts.

    1. Thanks, Jeff! We were lucky to have lots of sunny days on the trail, but the light was super intense and not always the most flattering for photography. Of course, the best shots were early in the morning and late in the day, but then the challenge was the super cold temps. If it’s not one thing, it’s another! Just shows what photographers have to go through to get the shot, right? 🙂
      Are you headed back to Alaska this summer?

    1. Thanks so much! One of these days, we hope to put a presentation together about all the “Classic Treks of the World” that we have done to present to camera clubs in the area. Do you think that is something Arlington would be interested in seeing?

  5. Some of the best pictures I have seen yet.
    We went to Peru a few months ago but did not hike. Posted about it too in case you are interested to see how I experienced it and saw Peru. I hope you had a great time.

    1. Thanks, Evangelina! That’s quite a compliment. It looks like you had a fantastic time in Peru as well. It is such a great country, isn’t it? It really offers so many choices to visitors: amazing nature, fascinating culture, impressive architecture, impressive cuisine, etc. It’s easy to see why you want to go back!

      1. Indeed. Go back and maybe see the Amazon or visit Bolivia as well. I would be totally up for it. Nevertheless, for us it’s Chile next. Should be fantastic too.

      2. We went to Bolivia back in 2009 but didn’t do much hiking on that trip. We worked our way from La Paz overland to Sucre, Potosi and Tupiza before doing a tour of the Salt Flats–great country! We haven’t seen the Amazon yet, but it is definitely on our list of places to go. We went backpacking long ago in Patagonia, but that is all we have seen of beautifu Chile. We would love to return there as well. You will certainly have a great trip. Have a wonderful time!

      3. Bolivia sounds wonderful and I get the impression Chile has so much to offer, one has to visit several times. Awesome!
        Thank you. Safe travels to you as well.

    1. Thanks! Hiking in both places is all about the landscapes, vistas and high altitudes and less about the flora and fauna. But they have very different feels to them. Ladakh is very dry and pink. Peru is dry, too, but there are lots of grasses that were very quite yellow while we were there in July, making that the predominant color. Both are definitely beautiful, for sure!

  6. Gobsmacked. Any time I look at your photos I am left awestruck by the beauty. These photos sell the hike themselves but as always I appreciate your honesty about this hiking not being for everyone. Agreed there is so much more to Peru than Machu Picchu and you are definitely showing readers just that.

    1. You are always so complimentary to us, Sue. Thank you so much! We have spent almost 7 weeks total over two different trips to Peru, and we feel like we have just barely scratched the surface of this amazing country. I think it is a place that we will need to go back to often!

  7. Hi guys – me and my wife are planning this trip for summer this year so can’t wait for the rest of your posts on this (any ideas when they will all be up?) 🙂

    We have hiked in Torres del Paine before and are aching to get back to the mountains in South America and this seems like a perfect next destination!

    1. Hi Raj! How wonderful for you! We started with Torres del Paine, too, and fell in love with South America on that trip. We hope to spend a lot more time there on future trips. We are splitting up our Cordillera Huayhuash trek into 3 posts that should come out very soon-hopefully starting this weekend. We usually publish one post per week, so it will take a little while to get them all to you. You may want to subscribe to our blog, so that you get an email notification as soon as we publish something new. We have a lot of excellent hiking destinations to share! 🙂

  8. I love reading about your hikes. Kathleen and I can’t do these so we get to live vicariously through your blog. Your photographs are stunning with stunning subjects!

    1. Thanks, Mike! We are happy to provide some inspiration for you. Even though you don’t do big hikes, you do manage to get spectacular alpine pictures when you two travel, so keep that up. It is definitely working out well for you!

  9. Amazing post! 🙂
    I am an amateur trekker from India and would love to try these hikes someday. Till then, I ‘ll experience them through your blogs 🙂
    Greetings from India!

    1. Thank you, Nomadosaurus. Love your name! It looks like you are quite the trekker yourself. We hope you can make it to Peru someday, but it’s nice that you have so many great hiking destinations in your own country. We were there in 2014 and trekked in Uttarakhand and Ladakh. Amazing places! Have you trekked there yet?

      1. Thank you! 🙂 Glad you to know you liked trekking in India! I am a Masters student from Mumbai and weekend treks in Sahyadri range is all I have managed at present 🙂 So yeah, I haven’t been to Ladakh and Uttarakhand as yet! Hopefully I ‘ll visit those pretty soon!

      2. Yes, we love India. We have been twice and hope to go back and see a lot more of your wonderful country. Good luck with your studies and have fun being a weekend warrior on all those treks in the Mumbai area. Cheers!

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