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Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit: Planning and Preparing

Alpine lakes all over the place on the Cordillera Huayhuash
Alpine lakes all over the place on the Cordillera Huayhuash

The Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced “why-wash”) Circuit is an up and coming trek in the Peruvian Andes and is said to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. It’s where the hardcore hikers go to avoid the crowds of the Cordillera Blanca. It’s remote, it’s high altitude, and there’s a low number of tourists doing it.

In the words of some random girl I met at a hostel in Lima, “You have to be tough to do the Huayhuash.”

High elevations
High elevations

WHY THE HUAYHUASH

  • If you like to hike, the Andes are a bucket list destination up there with the Himalaya. I found the scenery on the Cordillera Huayhuash comparable to what I saw in Nepal, although the on-trail experience was totally different. If you live in North America, the plane ticket to Peru will be about half the cost of a flight to Nepal.
  • It’s tough. If you’re up for a challenge, take on this circuit. Months later, I’m still telling people that the Cordillera Huayhuash was the hardest hike I’ve ever done.
  • It’s remote. While the trail is obvious and there are designated campsites, it still has the new adventure feel.
  • It’s quiet. Come here to avoid the Blanca hikers. I ran into a few organized groups and a few independent trekkers, but there were not a lot of people compared to other trails I’ve done.
  • It’s cheap. During my entire 18 days in Peru, I only spent about $500 (and that was with splurging on a pricey tourist hostel in Huacachina during my last few days). This was mostly due to the fact that I spent nine of those days in the mountains, barely paying for anything.
Mountain sunsets
Mountain sunsets

BEFORE YOU GO

Food Planning

If you are hiking without an agency, I would strongly recommend bringing your own food from home. I figured I would just buy food at the grocery store in Huaraz. While they had plenty of options available, it wasn’t the type of stuff I would usually be eating on a multi-day hike. I ended up with bags of lentils (that take forever to cook), a loaf of bread, sauce packets that weren’t to my taste, a $5 jar of peanut butter, and more cookies than I really wanted to eat.

Length of Time to Hike

Most sources estimate the trek to take anywhere from seven to fourteen days. This is a wide range of time, especially if you are trying to plan how much food to bring. For some context, my trek took nine days. On day six I reached the town of Huayllapa, which is the first and only place to resupply. Plan to bring enough food to get to that town. They have one small shop that has things like Ramen noodles and oatmeal. There is not a lot of options, but it’s enough to get you through the last few days of the trail.

Mountain passes
Mountain passes

There are gear shops in Huaraz, but plan to bring most things with you to Peru.

Gear Checklist:

  • Backpack, 50+ liters with good hip support
  • Freestanding tent, there are no trees for tying tarps or hammocks
  • Sleeping bag, around 20 degree F (or -7 C)
  • Sleeping pad, both foam or inflatable will be fine
  • Camp stove, canisters can be purchased in Huaraz
  • Water treatment and capacity for 2-3 liters
  • Hiking shoes or boots
  • Outfit to hike in
  • Rain jacket
  • Base layer top and bottom for night
  • Down jacket
  • Gloves and hat
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Toiletries- toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, etc.
Scenic campsites on the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit
Scenic campsites

ONCE IN PERU

I flew into Lima and booked a hostel in the Miraflores area ahead of time. From there I needed to make the eight hour bus ride to Huaraz. I bought my ticket online the night before from busportal.pe I didn’t realize there was an English version of the website, so I spent a long time trying to translate words and figure out what exactly I was purchasing. I felt silly afterward, but the important thing is that I bought a ticket and made in to the bus station on time.

Acclimatization in Huaraz

Take a few days to acclimatize in Huaraz, otherwise say hello to altitude sickness. The elevation of Huaraz is 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). You probably also should do an acclimatization day hike while there. Transportation for a day hike can be organized through trekking agencies or hostels. Huaraz is also a cool city to hang out in. I enjoyed filling up on  cheap beer and shopping for homemade jewelry. There’s some delicious Chifa restaurants, which is a type of Chinese Peruvian food.

Transportation to the Cordillera Huayhuash

When you finally do want to leave Huaraz to start your trek, walk down to the bus station and buy a ticket for Chiquian. This should cost about 10 soles and the bus will leave in the morning before daylight. From Chiquian, you will get on another bus to Pocpa for about 12 soles.

Bring at least 250 soles for the camp fees along the trail. Small change is preferable, as sometimes the cobradores can’t break large bills. Bring additional money if you need to do a food resupply in Huayllapa.

More alpine lakes
More alpine lakes

THE CORDILLERA HUAYHUASH CIRCUIT

The Huayhuash Circuit is a beast of a trek. I would only recommend it if you have done a trek before and have an idea of what you’re getting into. I would only recommend going guide-less if you are at a confident level of backpacking experience, have taken the time to acclimatize, and are physically fit and able to carry a pack loaded with a week of food.

The guidebook for this trail is Peru’s Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash, available on Amazon. I found this to have all the information I needed, from getting to the trail to information on elevations and campsites. The only downside is that I didn’t find the hiking time estimations to be accurate. It usually took me longer to get between campsites. I bought a map in Huaraz, which I didn’t end up needing.

For the most part, I could clearly find the trail for my whole journey. There were a few times I accidentally veered off trail, but I do have a tendency to get lost more than the average person. On my iPhone I installed the maps.me app and pre-downloaded the maps for the region I was in. Once downloaded, my phone could use it’s GPS while on airplane mode. I also found this to be useful while hiking and trying to figure out how far away from camp I was.

This circuit goes over a pass everyday, ranging from 15,400 to 16,500 feet (4,690 to 5,050 meters). This means you will be hiking slower than usual, due to the altitude, and the walking itself is physically taxing. This also means that you will have spectacular views of the Andes every single day.

There is usually a fee associated with passing through certain regions on trail. The campsites all have a water source and a toilet. I enjoyed experiencing the land features that different campsites offered such as alpine lakes,  hot springs, and views of white peaks.

Once you have finished your Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, hop on the bus back to Huaraz. Congratulations, you have hiked one of the most gorgeous, difficult treks out there.

Blue skies on the Cordillera Huayhuash
Blue skies
Views for days on the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit in Peru
Views for days

alpine lake and mountains

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