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!
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!