Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit | Peru

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru, 2014

Three Lakes view point | Cordillera Huayhuash

In September, 1996, three friends and I were all set to hike Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash circuit.

Supplies and maps had been bought, transport to the trailhead arranged.

The night before we were due to leave Huaraz (the regional capital), news came through to the hotel at which we were staying that a hiking group were robbed at gunpoint whilst circumnavigating the Huayhuash.

Robbery was not an uncommon occurrence in this area during the 1990’s, however, on this particular occasion one of the hiking party resisted (a young Israeli guy), and as a result was promptly marched off and killed at point blank range. The other three members of the group carried his body back to civilization.

As a result of the tragedy, we were informed that the area was “unsafe for foreigners at the present time.” Handing over some cash is one thing, potentially being shot is another matter entirely. After discussing the situation, the four of us decided to postpone the trip and instead do a couple of shorter hikes in the nearby Cordillera Blanca range.

Eighteen years later I returned to hike the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit.

Note: All information has been updated as of February, 2016.

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

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Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit overview map (from summitpost.org)

Distance:  81 miles (130 km) approx.

Avg. Time:  

  • 8 – 10 days
  • If you are hiking the Huayhuash independently, the amount of time needed to complete the circuit can vary considerably from person to person. Factors such as pack weight, high altitude experience, fitness and side trips all need to be taken into account when estimating how long it’s going to take you.

Start / Finish:

  • I started and finished in the village of Llamac.
  • As of 2014, it appears most folks hiking the Huayhuash circuit are beginning their hike in Matacancha (now accessible by road) and finishing in Pallca or Llamac. This cuts one or two days off the overall time needed to complete a circuit (albeit a partially incomplete one).

Transport:

  • Llamac is situated a couple of hours by bus from the town of Chiquian (one or two departures per day).
  • I highly recommend overnighting in Chiquian before starting your trek. It’s a great little town with a lovely plaza and lots of delicious street food options. The very affordable Hotel Los Nogales was one of my favourite accommodation stops in Peru.
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Hotel Los Nogales

  • Chiquian has multiple daily bus services to the regional hub of Huaraz (2.5 hours).

Maps / Guidebooks:

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Llamac plaza

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General Information:

  • Trekking Companies: By my estimation, more than 95% of people hiking in the Cordillera Huayhuash organize their trips through Huaraz based trekking agencies. These businesses provide transport, guides, cooks and pack animals. In fact, I only saw one other solo hiker during the course of my time in Huayhuash – an American guy by the name of Mike, whom I hiked with on the first day of the circuit.

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  • Season: The dry season of May to September is ideal for trekking. Nights can be chilly (-10°C is common), but days are generally clear.
  • Gear: It’s possible to purchase (or even rent) backpacking equipment in Huaraz, but the quality is not always great. You are better off bringing everything you need from home. Click here to see the gear list from my 2014 trip to the Peruvian Andes (which also included a traverse of the Cordillera Blanca).

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  • Supplies: Bring what you need from Huaraz. The only place to purchase supplies on the actual circuit itself is in the tiny village of Huayllapa. If you’re hiking solo and in a clockwise direction, I highly recommend carrying just enough food to get you to Huayllapa (situated about 2/3 of the way through the circuit). Pick up the remaining two days worth of food when you pass through. This will save you carrying the extra weight from the start of your trek. There is a small restaurant and hotel attached to the store. I didn’t overnight, but I did stop in for a breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee.

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  • Acclimatization: Spend at least a few days in the Huaraz area acclimatizing before beginning the Huayhuash circuit. This is very important, as the trail reaches an elevation of some 4300 metres (14,108 ft) within a few hours of leaving Llamac.
  • Water: There are ample water sources throughout the Huayhuash area. I didn’t carry more than a litre at any one time. Be sure to bring means of purification, as livestock can be found in all of the valleys.

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  • Fees: During the course of the circuit you will need to pay a series of fees to local communities. I forked out a total of around 190 soles (US$66) over six payments. It’s a pretty inefficient “system.” However, as of 2014 there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of fiscal trust between the neighbouring peoples. For the time being, this seems to preclude a more convenient “one time regional fee” type deal. Be sure to ask for a receipt after each and every payment.

FAQ’S:

  • Do I need a guide? No. If you have the above mentioned topographic map along with decent navigational skills, a guide is not necessary.
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Descending from San Antonio Pass.

  • What about pack animals? As I mentioned above, the vast majority of folks organise their trek via an agency. This is often the case when foreigners go hiking in the Andes and Himalayas. I wrote an article about this subject for the website a few years ago. Ultimately it’s a personal choice. If you’re well acclimatized, a proficient navigator, don’t mind the idea of carrying 4 to 7 days worth of supplies (pick up the last couple of days worth at the shop in Huayllapa), there is no need to have guides, cooks and pack animals.
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Rio Pumarini hot springs

  • Impact – Independent Vs Guided: As the Huayhuash circuit increases in popularity, issues such as garbage disposal (or lack thereof) and trail erosion are increasingly in evidence. From an environmental perspective, this is perhaps the biggest plus of hiking sans pack animals. A team of donkeys causes considerably more damage to paths (not to mention the trail of poo they leave in their wake) than does a hiker sporting a pair of Vibram soles and possibly wielding a hiking pole or two. In regards to the subject of trash, if you do choose to go with an agency, before setting out double check with those in charge in regards to their environmental policies. If you are hiking solo, “pack it in, pack it out.

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  • How long do I need? Generally speaking, groups take about 8 days for the abbreviated circuit starting from Matacancha, and 10 days for the full curcuit from Llamac. Note that these folks are carrying day packs and generally hike about 6 or 7 hours per day. If you are reasonably experienced, acclimatised and your pack doesn’t weigh the proverbial tonne, I think 8 or 9 days is a conservative estimate for how long it should take your average solo hiker to do a full circuit.

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Route / Conditions:

  • The trail is well trodden. Located entirely above tree line, when conditions are clear navigation is relatively simple. That being said, if the weather turns and you find yourself walking in rain/snow/clouds, basic navigation skills are essential if you choose to hike without a guide.
  • Personally speaking, I recommend beginning and finishing in Llamac. It means three to four hours of retracing your steps at hike’s end, but the payoff is that it includes a cool section of trail between Lake Jahuacocha and Matacancha.

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Lake Jahuacocha

  • During the course of a full circumnavigation there are 12 passes (including Punta Llamac twice) all of which are 4300 metres (14,108 ft) or higher.
  • A short side trip that is not to be missed is to the Rio Pumarini hot springs. The water temps are perfect, neither too hot nor too cold, and there is plenty of camping close by.
  • A pass which is generally not included in your standard Huayhuash circuit is San Antonio (5050 metres/ 16,568 ft). If you are comfortable descending steep scree slopes, I highly recommend including it in your trek. The views are amongst the best in the entire Huayhuash.
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Llamac village – starting and finishing point for the Huayhuash circuit.

Overview:

  • Scenically stunning from start to finish.
  • One of South America’s premier multi-day treks.
  • A shout out to Sylvia, Diamond Dave and Fleischy, my three hiking and travelling partners from 1996. On the remote chance that any of you ever read this blog post, I hope you are all well and I can definitely say that the Huayhuash was well worth the 18 year postponement!

Comments

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit | Peru — 25 Comments

  1. Hi, do you know what the common rates for a guide are? I plan on heading to Peru in May, and am finding it hard to find prices. I am an experienced backpacker but as I am alone, wish to have a guide for safety and help carrying weight due to high elevation.
    Any suggestions appreciated. I do prefer a local guide, versus a big trekking company.

    Thanks.
    O

    • Check with Hisao at Peruvian Andes Adventures (info@peruvianandes.com), a local Huaraz company founded by the first native family in the area to lead international climbers in the Cordillera Blanca! They have great rates and use local donkey drivers to support the remote villages. And their food is fantastic if you use them!

      • Thanks! I waited till I got here, which is the best bet. Better prices and you get to meet your agency and guides. I went with Huracan adventures across from the Churrp hostel. Paulino is owner. Excellent agency, amazing experience. He offers 3 packages. We paid 50US a day. I definitely don’t recommend on line purchases.

        I also think Andean Peru is quite expense. Although if I am not mistaken they own an excellent restaurant too where our incredible cook on the Huayash has worked before 🙂

        • Glad you found someone you like! I didn’t find Peruvian Andes Adventures online – they were recommended to be by locals and I had used them for a previous trip. The owners were one of the first guiding agencies in Huaraz and they run a little guesthouse (Morales Guesthouse) but not a restaurant.

          I have been bringing groups of friends to trek and we don’t like to wait till the last minute after we arrive and then end up in a rush where we risk someone who might be cheap but don’t have reliable equipment or the best guides. Sounds like you might have found a combination of both, well done!

    • Want to join me?
      I’m going to do this circuit beginning around August 26, 2016. I’m a pretty strong hiker, having done 6 weeks on the PCT a couple years ago. I’ve been traveling South America for the past 8 months (from MT, USA) and you can read more about me at lotomojo.blogspot.com.
      Thanks for the great info, Cam!

  2. We used Peruvian Mountains Trekking (Rodolfo Reyes Oropeza owner)in Summer 2013 for a 10 day trek (4 trekkers, all over 65 years of age). Completely satisfied with his arrangements and crew. Approximate cost with tips for crew was about $900 per person. Included 2 days acclimatization hikes from Huaraz. Food was excellent; transport was without a hitch (including bus travel arrangements from Lima/Huaraz). Memorable.

  3. Hey Cam,
    I am so glad to see that you made it back to this area of Peru. I remember that night when we heard that the Israeli guy had been killed.
    -Sylvia

  4. Hello! I’m going to be doing this circuit in August of this year. How did you get to Chiquian? From Lima?

    I look forward to hearing back.

  5. Hi, I am experience and fit hiker I will be in Huaraz next week.
    For personal safety I like to meet an independed walker/s to walk Huayhuash circuit with
    Any idea where about I can meet these independed walkers in Huaraz (this means which hostel or guest house, lodge etc. ) ?
    Appreciate any advice.

    • I hiked by myself, so I can’t really give too much advice on this subject.

      I stayed at the Albergue Churup, which I thought was excellent.

      In addition to the hostels/guesthouses, you may want to try some of the more popular traveller hangouts in Huaraz such as the Cafe Andino. Maybe even take a look online at the Lonely Planet/Thorn Tree travel forum for Peru.

      Good luck.

      Cheers,

      Cam

    • Hi Mohammad, I will be in Huaraz from the 15.6 onwards and looking for the same. I got a recommendation from a friend that Hostel El Tambo is a great place to stay and meet other Hikers/Backpackers , so thats where I ll stay. Maybe just drop by 😉

      • Hi Fabian,

        Thanks for reply , I be in Huaraz 22 June staying at Ebony hotel.
        Tried to locate Hostel El Tambo on web but no luck. I can drop by to see how you going.
        Pls post any info bout how to independly do Huayhuash cct.

        • Hi Mohammad, El Tambo has a Facebook page with their address, else i can also drop by the Ebony. I also posted a buddy request on the Lonely Planet Forum, if you are interested comment there. I would than do some short hikes (e.g. Santa Cruz) and wait for you to do the Huayhuash together …
          I will also post further info there if i get the necessary WiFi to do so 😉
          Looking fwd bearing from you.

  6. Hey Fabian and Mohammad.
    I’ll be in Huaraz on the 11th of July and would love to join you guys on this hike if you plan to leave anytime after I arrive.
    James

    ps. good read thanks Cam

    • Hey James,

      I’ll also be in Huaraz from the 15th of July onwards and am searching for trekking partners to do the Huayhuash circuit with… I’ve only got limited time and would therefore be up for the 8 day option. Have you already found a group?

      Cheers,
      Sarah

  7. Hi Cam!

    This was a really amazing blog to read and so helpful. I’m a very inexperienced hiker from Australia, is it easy enough to join a hiking group. I really want to reach the San Antonio Pass, but is it feasible, having never hiked in such altitude/conditions? I’ve done hikes in NZ, Hawaii and Australia, but they would not compare I’d imagine. I’m 20 and reasonably fit, and would do the Cordillera Huayhuash region with friends (and with a hiking tour definitely).

    Well done on the hike – the blog was a pleasure to read!

    • Hi Zoe,

      Thanks for the message. Yes, it’s easy to join up with a trekking group for the Huayhuash circuit once you reach Huaraz. From what I can gather there are quite a few options.

      In regards to San Antonio Pass, because that’s not part of the standard route, I’m not too sure whether the guided hikes will go that way. Best to check before you start.

      As for the Three Lakes viewpoint, yes it is easily accessible.

      I should tell you that the time you are going to be in Peru, namely from December to February, is not ideal for the mountains (i.e. wet season). If you really want to do some hiking in the Andes at that time of year, you are better off doing so further south in Patagonia (i.e. Chile & Argentina)

      Cheers,

      Cam

  8. Hi Cam

    Also – the Three lakes Viewpoint – is that reasonably accessible? I forgot to mention that I’d be travelling to Peru between December 2016-February 2017. I just want to see as much as possible, but unfortunately must bear in mind my inexperience in serious hiking.

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