In northern Peru, you’ll find a little pocket of trekking paradise. Encircling the majestic peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash, this unbelievable mountain circuit will not just blow you away, but, the trek will be left firmly cemented in your memory for a lifetime. Indeed, trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru is an unforgettable experience.
The Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced why-wash), in Peru, has long been regarded as one of the world’s greatest alpine trekking circuits. Each day brings a new sense of excitement. With unimaginable views, you can scarcely believe you’re stood in the midst of such natural beauty, or, that it even exists in the first place. The landscape evolves and changes, with each new discovery as mindblowing as the last. Truly, to trek Huayhuash is a life changing experience. And, one every hiker who treks the trails through these mountain passes feels fortuitous to have had the opportunity to do so.
In this guide, we’ll look at what to expect on the hike, as well as discuss your options for hiking with a tour, independently and how long to spend on the circuit. We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions, as well as give some suggestions on acclimatisation and a packing gear list.
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Trekking Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru
For the intrepid traveller and avid hiker, trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru is a real bucket list moment. Located around 140km south of the city of Huaraz, this spectacular mountain range is one of the world’s greatest multi-day hikes. And, for very good reason.
With a compact cluster of snow-capped peaks, many of which scale above 6,000m, the winding trails, mountain passes, picturesque campsites and general unspoilt, natural beauty will leave you in complete wonderment as to just how exquisite the natural world is. All these factors fuse together to make one heck of an adventurous Andean trek.
With various trail options on offer, there’s now a huge variety of ways in which to explore and discover your own little slice of the Cordillera Huayhuash. For us though, and what we’ll describe in this post, the trail is a roughly 100km long mountain circuit that will test endurance and stamina over 8 days. You’ll experience life at high altitude, with no let up. After all, the Cordillera Huayhuash trek is high altitude from start to finish. But, as you’ll read from our experience, what you gain by pushing your body to new limits, is all part of what makes the Huayhuash Trek so rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable.
So, let’s take a look at what to expect.
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Huayhuash Trek Map
Below is the Cordillera Huayhuash map, detailing the trekking route that Dan and I took over our week in the mountains. Also, for your convenience, we’ve broken down the Huayhuash trek map into daily segments, to help with trail navigation for each day.
Huayhuash Trek Overview
The classic 8-day Huayhuash Trek in Peru is a 98km long, high altitude, challenging and above all, incredible hike.
Hard work quickly dissipates into amazement and a week of unplugged bliss brings a certain rejuvenation you likely never realised you needed. Well, it did for me anyway. If you want to experience rugged, untouched and jaw-dropping nature at its absolute finest, then this hike is for you.
But, ultimately, try as I might, my description of this hike will never do justice to being there in person. However, to that end, I feel that leaves you with a little something special to still discover for yourself when you trek Huayhuash.
Below, I’ll describe the first hand experience Dan and I had of trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash, in Peru, with a private guide. But, don’t worry, hiking is the same should you want to take on the Huayhuash trek solo or independently, so I’ll include a few details on that too.
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Huayhuash Trek 8-Day Preview
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 98km
- Time: 8 days
- Accumulated elevation gain: 5,385m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Matacancha
- Map: Wikiloc
Peru’s Huayhuash Hike
- Day 1: Matacancha (Cuartelwain Camp) – Mitucocha
- Day 2: Mitucocha – Carhuac Pass – Carhuacocha
- Day 3: Carhuacocha – Suila Pass – Huayhuash
- Day 4: Huayhuash – Trapecio Pass – San Antonio Pass – Huanacpatay
- Day 5: Huanacpatay – Huanacpatay Valley – Huayllapa
- Day 6 & 7: Huayllapa – Tapush Pass – Yaucha Pass – Jahuacocha
- Day 8: Jahuacocha – Pocpa
Day 1: Matacancha (Cuartelwain Camp) – Mitucocha
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 12.2km
- Time: 4–6 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 590m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Matacancha
- Map: Wikiloc
After a sleepy 5-hour drive from Huaraz to the Cordillera Huayhuash, the week-long mountain adventure begins at around 9.30am. Starting from Matacancha, north of Llamac, it’s a slow and steady uphill to Cacanapunta Pass, the first of many jaw-dropping mountain passes you’ll be scaling over the next 8 days.
For Dan and I, the landscape was very reminiscent of our time hiking in Scotland. Here, you’ll find rugged peaks, rolling green hillsides and a granite-like boulder field that we thoroughly enjoyed hiking through. It’s devastatingly beautiful and even the usually dreaded switchbacks are forgiven, instantly. From this side of the pass, the snow-capped peaks haven’t even hit yet. There’s still even better to come.
The top of Cacanapunta provides stellar views. To be expected of course. But, eyeballing the winding trail down into the valley below gets the legs twitching to explore more. After turning back to assess where the hike began one last time, continuing down along the trail feels like stepping over a threshold into a magical, new world. And one you know is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.
As the trail nears camp one, you’ll pass through the small village of Janca. It consists of a few small buildings. Here, you’ll be greeted by a friendy local, who will prompt you for payment for passing through the community and using the campsite. See below for the costs of trekking Huayhuash.
From here, it’s just another five minutes to the campsite at Mitucocha. You’ll find a fresh flowing stream running through the centre, as well as two toilet blocks.
From camp, it’s possible to walk an out and back to nearby Mitacocha Lake. It’s just around a one hour return trek and is well worth adding to the day’s hiking itinerary if you have time. The views of the Cordillera Huayhuash from the edge of the lake are incredible. Sitting in this remote environment, likely to yourself, you’ll be in no doubt as to the grandeur of this multi-day hike. The peaks of Rondoy (5,870m), Ninashanca (5,605m) and Jirishanca (6,125m) can all be viewed across the lake. Indeed, it’s the perfect place to camp alongside.
With a flat trail to Laguna Mitucocha, Dan and I were able to leave our rucksacks at camp and hike much more lightly to the lake. If you’ve read some of our other guides, you’ll know Dan and I love to speed hike. However, speed hiking at high altitudes is not recommended. Certainly, slow and steady is the way to go. However, with no heavy loads, we were able to thrash out this out and back at a much quicker pace, and I suppose was as good as speed hiking would get whilst trekking Huayhuash.
Day 2: Mitucocha – Carhuac Pass – Carhuacocha
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 10.25km
- Time: 4–5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 380m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Mitucocha
- Map: Wikiloc
Dan and I awoke to an ample dusting of frost on the ground. Somehow, despite having an inkling as to how chilly it gets overnight, it was still a surprise and our first taste of how cold trekking Huayhuash can get. Rest assured though, as soon as daylight hits and the sun pops up, the copious layers you’ll have bundled on in the morning, will soon be getting tossed into your rucksack. In fact, the weather in Huayhuash can be quite wonderful.
For Dan and I, day two would be the easiest day of trekking the Huayhuash Circuit in Peru, and the crux for us making some last-minute amendments. You’ll see later on.
Anyway, heading out of camp, the trail follows through the Carhuac Pass towards Carhuacocha Lake. The hike is fairly easy with minimal elevation. Well, for hiking through the mountains at high altitudes anyway. We actually arrived at the lake by mid-morning, and so decided to take our time walking the final few hundred metres to the campsite, which sits at the opposite end of the lake.
The day two trekking Huayhuash itinerary essentially gives you an afternoon of rest and some minor exploration of the area around Carhuacocha. Dan and I read a little and headed off to find some higher vantage points of the lake. Ultimately though, for us personally, we would have preferred to still be hiking. Not that we wanted to rush through the experience. Not at all. It’s just that we love to hike, and aren’t so good at sitting still I suppose. To that end, Dan and I surmised that we could have combined days one and two together. Just something to consider if you’re anything like us. It’s very doable.
Again, the views of the Cordillera Huayhuash mountains in Peru are sublime. Laguna Carhuacocha campsite is easily one of the most picturesque you’ll stay at along the Huayhuash hike. And, given all the campsites are pretty special, it says a lot to be able to pick one or two out.
Day 3: Carhuacocha – Suila Pass – Huayhuash
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 13.95km
- Time: 6–8 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 750m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Carhuacocha
- Map: Wikiloc
Day three is where the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek really kicks up a notch. It was the day when we were both rendered speechless by the beauty around us and the extraordinary hiking we were taking on.
From camp, the trail initially hugs the left-hand side of Carhuacocha Lake. As it nears the far end, the trail veers to the left, beginning to climb. Soon enough, you’ll arrive at the first of the day’s miradors. Views of Laguna Gangrajanca are enjoyed after ascending a short, dusty track, just to the right of the main trail. Its bright turquoise waters are reminiscent of Laguna Paron and even the low cloud greeting us that morning couldn’t ruin the view.
This section of trail actually belongs to the Alpine Circuit (more on that below), rather than the Huayhuash trail. It’s become an increasingly popular alternative to the Carnicero Pass for this section of the circuit, due to the stellar views you’ll see along the way. If you trek Huayhuash with a tour, you’ll note that the donkeys take the Carnicero Pass route, rather than the Alpine Circuit, since the Siula Pass is unsuitable for them. It’s also generally considered a good-weather-only route, should you hike independently in adverse conditions.
From Laguna Gangrajanca, the Huayhuash Trek continues through the valley, climbing steeply along a narrow path to one of the most well-known lookouts of the Cordillera Huayhuash – Mirador Tres Lagunas.
Mirador Tres Lagunas
Reaching the mirador is a defining moment of this hike. It reaffirms just why you’re here and just how special this hike is. It’s not world-class for nothing. Meaning ‘three lakes’, that’s exactly what you’ll be seeing here. Laguna Gangrajanca, Laguna Siulacocha and Laguna Quesillacocha are three, perfectly positioned turquoise lakes. Their varying blue hues make them even better.
Enclosing them are the gargantuan forms of Siula Grande (6,344m), Jurau (5,727m), Carnicero (5,960m) and Yerupaja . The latter being the highest in the Cordillera Huayhuash, standing an impressive 6,634m high and is actually the second highest peak in Peru. It’s a view you won’t be shaking from your mind for quite some time. If ever a tough uphill climb was worth it, this would be it. Still, little did we know even better things were to come over the coming days.
From the Mirador Tres Lagunas, the work to Siula Pass continues. It’s around another hour’s walk to reach this highest point of day three. Yes, it’s tiring, but just like the rest of trekking Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru, it’s so so worth it.
Siula Pass sits at 4,800m above sea level and is easily one of our favourite views along the entire Huayhuash Circuit. The towering mountains feel within touching distance. Distinctly, Siula Grande, which was made famous by Joe Simpson and his incredible story of survival, retold in his book ‘Touching The Void‘.
From here, it’s a simple, yet at times, steep downhill towards camp three at Huayhuash. En route, you’ll cross a flood plain of spongy, cushion grass. It’s a case of hopping between boggy sections as you navigate the way, past Laguna Carnivero, to camp.
Day 4: Huayhuash – Trapecio Pass – San Antonio Pass – Huanacpatay
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 16.6km
- Time: 8–10 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,285m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Huayhuash
- Map: Wikiloc
After the delights of day three, you’ll be raring to go for day four, make no mistake about it. This is the section of trekking the Huayhuash Circuit that tends to divide hikers up. Basically, most hikers will keep to the official Huayhuash Circuit, and head to Viconga and the hot springs. As incredible as they look, Dan and I had visited a few hot springs in Peru and were keen to see an element of the Huayhuash Trek that is, perhaps, a little less travelled. And so it was, that on day four, we continued along the Alpine Circuit and set out to scale the Trapecio Pass.
We were glad not to miss this outrageous landscape. Not even for a wash in the hot springs, which as you can appreciate, by day four sounds rather appealing. Greeting you at 5,050m above sea level is another planet. Within the rugged orange, rock landscape is little pockets of turquoise ponds. It’s an incredibly weird and quite remarkable sight to behold. In addition, there’s nowhere else that looks quite like this on the entire Huayhuash Circuit.
The zig-zag hike down reveals more of this martian world. It’s fun and intriguing. But, before long you’ll be heading back into familiar grassier pastures and arriving at Huanacpatay Valley. Here, you’ll find Campamento Elefante, where you’ll spend night four of the Huayhuash Trek.
San Antonio Pass
Arriving at camp four, and after enjoying a lengthy break with lunch, Dan and I headed off to scale the famed San Antonio Pass as an out and back. It’s possible to hike over and down the other side of San Antonio Pass, and camp somewhere around Cutatambo and Laguna Juraucocha at the base. It’s also possible to take the Santa Rosa Pass instead of San Antonio, which by all accounts is slightly easier. However, with our itinerary, we opted for the out and back.
If following the same itinerary as us, your legs may well be feeling a little heavy on the climb to San Antonio Pass. Two mountain passes in one day are no easy feat. But, essentially, it’s simply a short but steep ascent. It’ll take around 1–1.5 hours to summit. The trail is slippery over the lose alpine scree towards the final summit, so hiking poles are your best friend, if they’re not already.
Approaching the summit of the pass is a feeling I’ll struggle to put into words. The zig-zagging trail leads to a small saddle between two mountains. The closer you approach, the more you start to see little white peaks pop up of the surrounding mountains in the Cordillera Huayhuash. Believe me, it’s more than the push you need to spur your last few steps to the top.
San Antonio Views
Prepare for your breath to be taken away. Not just literally, because you’re 5,020m above sea level, but completely figuratively too. I’ve never witnessed a view quite like this, and I dare say, will struggle to find anything that tops this moment. The Cordillera Huayhuash stretches all around. The white peaks of the Huayhuash giants are mixed with greys, reds and oranges of the lower mountain sections. These in turn flow into Sarapococha, Santa Rosa and Jurau, three perfect little pools of brilliant turquoise. Dan and I contemplated the enormity and wholehearted satisfaction of being the only two people on the planet looking down on this view at that moment. Because, incredibly, we were the only people there.
We stayed for a good hour, I’m sure you will too, exploring a little of the surroundings, carefully, before heading back to camp as the light began to fail.
Day 5: Huanacpatay – Huanacpatay Valley – Huayllapa
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 14.15km
- Time: 4–5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 16m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Huanacpatay (Campamento Elefante)
- Map: Wikiloc
The hike from Campamento Elefante at Huanacpatay to the small village of Huayllapa is a breezy downhill. After the magnitude of day four, perhaps it’s no bad thing to have a very ‘normal’ trekking day in the Cordillera Huayhuash. I doubt anything could have measured up so soon anyway.
The trail follows downstream through lush and beautiful valley, past farmland and waterfalls. It’s a quaint hike and actually provides a nice mix-up from the previous days of mountain passes. Almost a pallet cleanser.
Nearing Huayllapa, and at the end of Huanacpatay Valley, is a stunning waterfall. It cascades magnificently over the mountain edge. The hike down the side of it is extremely steep, but adventurous. From here, it’s just a short distance to Huayllapa.
At Huayllapa, Dan and I opted to upgrade to lodgings for the night. For S/10 ($2.50USD) we had a very comfortable yet basic room with a shared bathroom at Hospedaje Sol De Yerupaja. It was actually perfect to break up the cold and uncomfortable tent sleeping. Also, for S/5 ($1.30USD) per person, you can take a hot shower too! And, if you’ve been missing wifi, you can also pay S/5 ($1.30USD) to be connected for the night.
Day 6 & 7: Huayllapa – Tapush Pass – Yaucha Pass – Jahuacocha
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 21.40km
- Time: 9–10 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,670m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Huayllapa
- Map: Wikiloc
As mentioned previously, with the ease of day two, and wondering whether we could have combined days one and two together, Dan and I revised how we wanted to hike the rest of the Huayhuash Circuit. With that, we decided to combine days 6 and 7. To do the same, means leaving Huayllapa nice and early, usually around sunrise, to ascend Tapush Pass.
Given the elevation loss of reaching Huayllapa the previous day, you’re in for a lot of elevation gain heading back up into the mountains. It’s tough and relentless.
The Tapush Pass, at 4,862m, is possibly the least breathtaking pass of the Huayhuash Circuit. But look, I’m just nitpicking now. The whole Huayhuash Trek is ridiculously beautiful. Over the other side of Tapush Pass though, is a rather spectacular lagoon. It’s not the turquoise hues of late, but it’s still incredible. The surrounding landscape is unbelievably colourful and again, it’s like encountering a whole new side to the Cordillera Huayhuash. Which I guess, you are.
As you descend, you’ll pass by two campsites. Gashpapampa and Guspha. We stopped at the latter for a quick snack before scaling the second of the day’s passes – Paso Yaucha.
If hiking days six and seven as two separate days, we likely would have camped at Gashpapampa. It’s a huge expanse with drop toilets, which you’ll locate over a little ridge to the right-hand side as you descend the trail from Tapush Pass. We found this campsite to lack the same appeal as the others so far. But, it’s perfectly situated to split the days’ hiking.
The penultimate mountain pass of the Huayhuash Trek is Yaucha. We stopped for lunch here on day six, and I think it’ll be some time before I’m eating a meal of warm rice and noodles at 4,800m above sea level again.
The views from Yaucha Pass are something else. The dramatic snowy peaks are somehow elbowed into playing second fiddle to a colourful mountain display of yellows, oranges, reds and browns. It reminded us a little of Arapa Pass during the Ausangate Trek.
From Yaucha Pass, you can either take the conventional route downhill, following the stream, towards the next camp at Jahuacocha. Alternatively, you can continue left, along a ridgeline trail, passing many a beautiful mirador. I implore you to take this route. Even with how tired you might be feeling, the trail here is mostly flat, and so all the hard work is already done for the day in that regard.
At the end of this trail is the final major mirador of the Huayhuash Circuit. It looks down over Laguna Jahuacocha and Laguna Solteracocha, which are nestled within a narrow valley. They’re surrounded by peaks like Rondoy, which you’ll remember seeing from the other side on day one. The view is out of this world. It’s a quintessential Huayhuash Trek shot.
We sat for hours, marvelling at how extraordinary nature is, and just what we’d accomplished over the preceding days. What an experience.
Tearing yourself away, eventually, it’s a rather arduous steep descent of some 3km to camp. Where, let me tell you, you’ll sleep very well. Jahuacocha Lake is one of the most popular campsites, and most beautiful, so expect to see a number of fellow hikers here.
Day 8: Jahuacocha – Pocpa
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 9.25km
- Time: 3–4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 480m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Jahuacocha
- Map: Wikiloc
On day eight of trekking Huayhuash in Peru (day seven for us), it’s time to leave the hiking playground behind and return to civilisation. The final hike of the Huayhuash Circuit is short, but includes a farewell ascent from the Cordillera Huayhuash. We hiked to Pocpa, north of Llamac, by late morning. Here, our transport was waiting to whisk us back to Huaraz.
If hiking independently, you’ll just take transport from Pocpa to Llamac, and then take the bus from Llamac back to Huaraz. Alternatively, you can hike straight to Llamac, rather than Pocpa. More on transportation below.
Hiking doesn’t come much better than this. The sheer magnitude of your surroundings is difficult to comprehend. Indeed, for Dan and I, it’s only since returning from Huayhuash that we’ve been able to take stock of how incredible the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru truly is. Of course, there are many spectacular mountain trails in the world, but not all require the stamina of living life, for number of days, at such high altitude and often extreme weather. To that end, trekking the Huayhuash Circuit feels like a true accomplishment at the same time. And, ultimately, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. One I’m sure, like us, you’ll be glad you don’t miss out on.
Cordillera Huayhuash Trek Options
It’s little wonder there are new options springing up to suit and satisfy every hiker embarking on their quest to experience the Huayhuash Circuit. Whether you’re short on time, don’t like camping much, or simply want to stay as long as possible to see everything, there’s literally a Huayhuash Trek route to suit everyone.
We’ll take a look at a few. But, in essence, even if you decide how many days you’d like to spend trekking Huayhuash, there are still a number of different route options you can take for those days. And of course, you’re free to spend as long as you like there, supplies permitting.
Cordillera Huayhuash Short Trek
The Cordillera Huayhuash short trek, also known as Mini Huayhuash or ‘ichik’ (short, in Quechua) is the best way to sample what this incredibly beautiful place has to offer in a limited amount of time. Typically, you’ll find a 4 and a 5-day option.
Huayhuash Trek 4 Days
A typical Huayhuash 4-day trek begins and ends in Llamac, and takes in a couple of mountain passes at Rondoy and Zambunya. You’ll then have the opportunity to walk around Jahuacocha Lake and the nearby Rasac and Soletracocha lakes too. Alternatively, you might head up to Yaucha Mirador for some incredible views.
Huayhuash Trek 5 Days
The 5-day Huayhuash Trek is a circuit option gaining in popularity. Indeed, Dan and I loosely considered this option ourselves. There are variations on the 5-day trek, differing from company to company or personal choice.
Firstly, you can complete the classic 8-day route, but in fast-forward. You’ll skip out San Antonio Pass as well as some of the side hikes to lakes like Laguna Mitucocha. But, essentially, you see most other highlights. You’ll need to be fairly fit and well acclimatised for the long days of hiking on this speed route.
Alternatively, like the 4-day trek, you can choose to hike a small sample of the Cordillera Huayhuash and stick to a concentrated area. Generally, it’s around Laguna Jahuacocha, from where there is easy access in and out of Huayhuash via Llamac.
Huayhuash Classic Trek
The classic Huayhuash Trek is the typical 8–10 day circuit around the mountains. This can sometimes be increased beyond 10 days. The classic Huayhuash Circuit encompasses all the highlights of the mountains, in a very moderate timeframe, allowing the hiker to neither feel rushed nor be twiddling their thumbs.
There are sections you can include, or remove should you wish, with alternative routes found throughout. The only section where you need to make a choice is whether to visit the hot springs at Viconga, or to hike the Trapecio Pass. It’s not possible to do both, albeit without a lot of backtracking anyway. Otherwise, within the classic Huayhuash Circuit, it’s possible to see most of what this stunning range has to offer.
Huayhuash Alpine Circuit
As well as the incredible Huayhuash Circuit, there’s also the Alpine Circuit in the Cordillera Huayhuash. The route is much harder and direct through the mountains. The trail of the Alpine Circuit hugs closer to the peaks and involves hiking at a higher elevation, often trekking through snow. It also involves some climbing and glacier crossing. Still, as mentioned in our trail description, it’s possible to switch in and out of the Huayhuash and Alpine Circuits, which is exactly what we did. The Alpine Circuit typically takes between 8–10 days.
Dan and I discussed the Alpine Circuit a little whilst on the Huayhuash Trek. At the time, we decided trekking the Huayhuash Circuit was so incredible, that we wouldn’t need to consider ever returning to take on the Alpine Circuit. However, since leaving and reminiscing on our time in the Cordillera Huayhuash, I can’t help but find myself thinking about returning, and what it would be like to hike the entire Alpine Circuit.
I’ll let Dan know at some point.
Huaraz is the absolute hiking mecca of Peru. Given its proximity to the outrageously good trekking in the Cordillera Blanca Mountain Range, there is plenty of tour operators to choose from.
Dan and I love to hike independently, having the freedom to plan our own time and hike at a pace we’re happy with. However, there are many benefits to doing the Huayhuash Trek in Huaraz with a guided tour. These include:
- Minimal to no pre-trekking planning required
- All transport is organised (Huayhuash is quite far from Huaraz)
- You don’t have to carry all of your gear when hiking (thanks to the mules)
- Trail navigation, meals and pitching at campsites are all taken care of
- Security with hiking with a guide and in a group (although the trek is very safe)
- Guidance and safety equipment if things go wrong at high altitude
- Information provided about the area, culture, etc.
Trekking Huayhuash with a guide is, by far, the most convenient and stress-free option. Indeed, hiking with a guide in Peru can make life much easier. That’s why we also chose to do a guided tour when hiking Choquequirao and Ausangate. But, at the same time, Dan and I took on the Santa Cruz Trek without a guide.
For Dan and I, it’s always a fine balance between value for money and getting the best experience. Although I’m sure there are many tour operators ticking this box in Huaraz and online, one operator we really can recommend is Huayhuash Expeditions (AKA Krusty Travel).
Hiking with Huayhuash Expeditions is a seamless experience and one we’d happily do again. Based out of an office adjacent to Krusty Hostel, they’re a very competitively priced and popular Huayhuash Trek option.
Huayhuash Expeditions offer the guided 8-day Huayhuash Trek tour for $300USD/person. You’ll usually find tour sizes are between 6–14 people. This helps to keep the prices reasonable. They provide everything to be expected of a tour, such as a tent, food, water, mules and cook, as well as an emergency mule (hopefully not necessary) and safety equipment such as oxygen masks if required.
A private service with Huayhuash Expeditions costs $550USD/person with a Spanish-speaking guide. It’s $600–650USD/person to have an English-speaking guide. The community fees for entrance and camping in Huayhuash are not included. However, the total amount for fees (S/270 per person; $70USD) can be given directly to the guide at the start of the Huayhuash Trek, who will then take care of payment along the circuit. Our guide, Chiki, was fantastic and took care of everything.
Huayhuash Expeditions also offer safe storage of your backpacking/other travel gear whilst you’re away trekking Huayhuash, which is very convenient.
To book the Huayhuash Trek, simply contact Huayhuash Expeditions on Whatsapp (+ 051 958 935 664). Otherwise, drop into their office in Huaraz (Jr. Alberto Gridilla 354 – Huaraz – Peru) to find out more information. Also, feel free to check them out on Facebook and Instagram.
Huayhuash Trek Solo
Despite the Huayhuash Trek being remote and difficult, it does attract a fair number of solo or independent hikers in Peru. Dan and I saw a fair few whilst we were trekking Huayhuash. Although admittedly, the vast majority of hikers were with small tour groups. The Huayhuash trail is well-defined and easy to follow independently if you’ve done your due diligence beforehand.
To trek independently, it’s really important to have access to a GPS map, offline map and good camping and hiking equipment. If anything happens, you’re on your own, so preparation is key.
Good quality camping gear is essential. Nights are cold and 8+ days is a long time to carry bulky camping items and all your food. Especially, given there’s only Huayllapa where you can restock supplies. We saw most independent hikers with rehydrated food sachets and lightweight cookware. However, what you take and how much of it you take is entirely your choice. It’s you that has to carry it after all.
Of course, not everyone travels Peru or South America with their own camping equipment. Fear not, there are plenty of places in Huaraz to rent all the gear you need. Huayhuash Expeditions are one such company and so, if you didn’t want to book the full tour service with them, you could rent the gear needed to do it yourself. We rented camping gear from Expedition Huayhuash in order to hike Santa Cruz independently, and the gear was great.
There is also access to fresh water and toilets throughout the entire Huayhuash Circuit. Amazing. You need only pack your toilet roll and water purification tablets or bottles. Also, travel between Huaraz and the Cordillera Huayhuash (Llamac) is now much more straightforward, meaning access via public transport is a very viable option. You can make your own itinerary, at your own pace, and are free to hike as much or as little as you please each day. Remember, carrying heavy gear is hard work, so you’ll be looking at at least 10 days on the Huayhuash Circuit to really get the most out of it.
Hiring a Muleteer
It is possible to hire your own mules and muleteer. This means you get the freedom of hiking independently, without the hassle of lugging your own gear. With a quick google search, or asking tour agencies in Huaraz, you’ll stumble upon someone who offers this. In fact, if I was to go back and do the Huayhuash Trek all over again, I’d definitely look into this as an excellent option.
How to Get to Cordillera Huayhuash From Huaraz
If trekking Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru independently, it’s possible to take a direct bus from Huaraz all the way to Llamac. It’s very convenient. However, this bus journey is long and takes around 5 hours or so. You may find it easier to stay overnight in Llamac, and begin the Huayhuash trek the following day. Alternatively, if you manage to catch the first bus from Huaraz to Llamac, at around 5am, and are eager to get going (of course you are!), then you may find you have enough time to hike to Jahuacocha Lake or Matacancha and spend the first night there.
Please note: if there is no direct bus running to Llamac, you can take a bus to Chiquian, and change there for a bus to Llamac. Look for the Turismo Nazario bus terminal.
The most traditional starting point for the Huayhuash Trek in Peru is Matacancha (Cuartelwain). This involves a long walk along a dirt road from Llamac unless you can find transportation. Just a heads up.
Food Along the Huayhuash Trek
This is mountain hiking, so you’ll not find any tiendas (shops) along the way. It’s a case of bringing everything you need. The only exception is when you reach Huayllapa, a small village midway through the hike. Here, you’ll find some small shops, but the prices will be a little inflated.
Clean Water Along the Huayhuash Trek
Thankfully, it’s possible to find running water along most, if not all, of the Huayhuash Circuit, whichever version or route you choose to take. Just remember water purification tablets or a Lifestraw to treat it.
Huayhuash Trek Campsites and Sleeping Arrangements
These are the campsites we stayed at along the Huayhuash Trek in Peru.
- Mitucocha: some boggy ground but good access to water. Two toilet blocks with bucket flushing toilets. Large area to pitch.
- Carhuacocha: picturesque and right on the lake’s edge. Toilet block. Smaller site but split over two sides of the lake. Quite busy.
- Huayhuash: a large flat pitch with three toilet blocks. Stream running through for water.
- Campamento Elefante: a quiet site with one toilet block nestled on the hillside. Stream for water. At the base of San Antonio Pass.
- Huayllapa: the campsite is on a sports field. Fairly basic. It’s possible to upgrade to lodgings for the night.
- Gashpapampa: a large expanse to pitch on. Very quiet. Drop toilets in the single toilet block.
- Jauhacocha: popular and busy campsite. At least three toilet blocks and possibly the most picturesque of all the campsites.
Huayhuash Trek Cost
Unlike neighbouring Cordillera Blanca, there is no national park fee to hike in the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru. Essentially, you can spend as long as you like hiking here. With that being said, there are community fees for use of some campsites and passing through small communities along the way. As of mid-2022, the prices are as follows for the sites we passed through:
- Llamac: S/50 ($13USD)
- Pocpa: S/20 ($5USD)
- Mitucocha: S/40 ($10USD)
- Carhuacocha: S/40 ($10USD)
- Huayhuash: S/40 ($10USD)
- Huayllapa: S/50 ($13USD)
- Jahuacocha: S/30 ($8USD)
Total = S/270 ($70USD)
Altitude and the Huayhuash Trek
To reduce the risk of suffering altitude sickness, it’s super important to acclimatise for trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru. Altitude sickness (AKA Acute Mountain Sickness) is a common illness experienced by those who reach high altitudes that they’re not used to. The main symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, indigestion and loss of appetite. If you’ve avoided altitude sickness in the past, it doesn’t mean you’ll be immune the next time.
You’ve probably heard about different ways to avoid altitude sickness. But, the most important way to reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness is to simply avoid going up too high, too quickly! Generally speaking, you shouldn’t go higher than 500 metres a day, once you’re beyond 2,000 metres above sea level.
So, in practice, once you’ve arrived in Huaraz (3,050m above sea level), you should have at least two days’ rest before you start trekking. This should give your body time to adjust and acclimatise. In theory, by the third day, your body should be able to better tolerate approx. 3,550 metres. By this time, you should start with some hikes with a lower maximum elevation gain.
Acclimatization Hikes Around Huaraz Before the Huayhuash Trek
Dan and I made sure we completed a few hikes at lower altitudes in order to properly prepare for the Huayhuash Trek. These are our recommendations, in order of hiking:
Best Time to Do the Huayhuash Trek in Peru
Undoubtedly, the best time to hike the Cordillera Huayhuash is during the dry season in Peru. This runs from May to October. Dry season also coincides with Winter, so you can expect the Cordillera Huayhuash weather to include colder nights, sometimes around -10°C. That being said, there is considerably less rain and hiking during the day is generally pleasant and sunny.
The dry season also coincides with peak tourism, with June to August seeing the most hikers. Fear not though, the Cordillera Huayhuash is still quieter for trekking than the nearby Cordillera Blanca. Although, given how epic this hiking circuit is, I’m sure that won’t be for long.
Huayhuash Trek FAQs
How Hard is the Huayhuash Trek?
The Huayhuash Trek is generally rated as difficult. This is due to a few factors including the number of mountain passes, elevation gain each day and especially the altitude. The Huayhuash trek remains above 4,000m for the vast majority of the circuit. For this reason, it’s important to be properly acclimatised. Of course, hiking independently vs with a tour can affect difficulty too. Expect days to be slower and tougher if you decide to lug all your own gear. Also, it’s not recommended for inexperienced hikers to attempt trekking Huayhuash independently.
How Long is the Huayhuash Trek?
This really depends on the route you take and how long you want to spend in the mountains. Refer back to Cordillera Huayhuash Trek Options for more details. But, essentially, the trail is around 100km long, on average.
What is the Cordillera Huayhuash Elevation?
The highest part of the Huayhuash Trek in Peru is the Nevado Pumarinri at 5,465m. We did not cover this section on our particular route. The highest point of our Huayhuash Circuit was the Trapecio Pass at 5,050m.
Depending on the route you take, there is a total of seven passes above 4,800m and two passes above 5,000m.
Over seven days of trekking, Dan and I clocked up a total of 5,386m in accumulative elevation gain.
Where is Huayhuash?
The Cordillera Huayhuash Range sits south of the city of Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca. It falls within the Ancash, Lima and Huanuco regions of Peru, and forms a small part of the sublime Andes.
What Animals Are Found in Huayhuash?
Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash gives you the chance to see some incredible Peru wildlife. Especially as the trails are not overpopulated (just yet), nor are there many settlements. To that end, you might be lucky enough to see llamas and alpacas, as well as viscachas (kind of like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel) and the famous condor.
However, if you don’t get a chance to spy a condor, you should head to Colca Canyon for a more guaranteed peek.
Where to Stay in Huaraz
Of course, despite the long drive needed to reach the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru, you’ll likely be staying in Huaraz before and afterwards. We’ve handpicked the best budget, mid-range and luxury options.
- Budget – Krusty Hostel B&B: Dan and I really enjoyed our time here. Krusty Hostel B&B is one of the most highly-rated places to stay in Huaraz. The private rooms are nice and cosy. Also, the hostel features a large shared kitchen, which includes a free breakfast. Plus, the Wifi is very good.
- Mid-range – The Lazy Dog Inn: this country inn is located in Pitec, which isn’t too far from where the hike starts. By staying here, you could possibly skip the colectivo and walk to the trailhead from the lodge. Given its location outside of Huaraz city, this lodge provides stellar mountain views and a stunning natural ambience. Indeed, The Lazy Dog Inn comes highly rated.
- Luxury – Cordillera Hotel: this is likely the best hotel in Huaraz. Cordillera Hotel is an excellent place to stay. It has lovely rooms and modern facilities. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to stay in the area.
Travel Insurance For Hiking in Peru
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What to Pack For the Huayhuash Trek
Whether you’re hiking independently or with a tour, it’s not the simplest to work out what the heck to take on an 8-day trip in the Peruvian Andes. We’ve covered a few of the bases for you that hopefully provide a good starting point.
Osprey Skarab 30
The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.
Osprey Ultralight Raincover
A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.
BUFF Original Ecostretch
The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.
To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.
These are go-to items for camping along the Huayhuash Trek in Peru.
Other Trekking Gear
This is our list of other trekking gear for the Huayhuash hike you might consider, especially if hiking independently, includes:
- Water (2–3L per day)
- Quick-dry T-Shirts
- Waterproof trousers, or water-resistance trousers and packable waterproof over-trousers
- Warm clothes: down jacket, long-sleeve top, etc.
- Hat (cap)
- Quick-dry hiking socks
- Toothbrush/biodegradable toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Bug spray
- Ear plugs
- Trekking poles
- Any necessary medications
- Action Camera (GoPro Hero 9)
- Phone (alarm clock/watch/maps)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
Other Huaraz Hikes
Other than the Huayhaush Trek, there are many other brilliant hikes to do from Huaraz, within the equally impressive Cordillera Blanca. Dan and I stayed in Huaraz for one month and had the pleasure of doing many of the best treks in the area. If you have enough time, we recommend the following trails in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Santa Cruz Trek: a world-class multi-day trek that’s easy to do independently.
- Laguna 513: an incredible turquoise-coloured lake, but without the crowds of Laguna 69.
- Pastoruri Glacier: a popular, high-altitude day trip that visits a spectacular glacier.
- Laguna Churup: one of the easiest day hikes to do solo from Huaraz.
- Laguna Llaca: the most underrated day hike in the Cordillera Blanca to a cool duck-egg blue lake.
- Paron Lake: a short hike that explores the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Laguna Hualcacocha: one of the newest and unknown day hikes in Huaraz.
- Laguna Queshquecocha: a day hike that is even lesser known than Laguna Hualcacocha!
- Four Lagunas Trek: a challenging day hike in Huaraz that’s sure to be one of your favourites.
- Laguna Shallap: bored of blue lakes, this one’s green!
- Laguna Yanacocha and Uruscocha: a challenging day hike in Huaraz.
- Laguna 69: easily the most popular lake hike in Huaraz.
Taking the bus to Huaraz for all of this world-class trekking is very easy and straightforward, whether you book online or at the nearby bus terminal in the town you’re travelling from.
Busbud is one of the best online bus booking platforms. Wherever you’re travelling, you can easily compare bus tickets from different companies and book the best option for your trip. We highly recommend using Busbud to find the cheapest bus fares.
- Cordillera Huayhuash climbing: we were more than satisfied with trekking around Cordillera Huayhuash. But, if you’re a climber, there are some extra options. Pumarinri (5,465m) and Diablo Mudo (5,350m) are two peaks that can be added to your Huayhuash Circuit itinerary.
- Dogs: you’ll find most camp spots, especially the more popular ones, have dogs. Owned or stray, love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t avoid them. With a quick ‘tsk’ or a clap, you can generally get rid, and on the whole, they’re not too problematic. But, it’s always good to have your wits about you, especially if you’re getting up to use the facilities in the middle of the night.
- Safety: the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru is now considered generally a very safe place to trek, despite problems in the past. From our experience, Dan and I felt very safe the entire time. In fact, hiking in Peru has been some of the safest hiking we’ve done in all of Central and South America to date.
Have you hiked the Huayhuash Circuit in Peru with or without a guide? Drop some handy tips in the comments below for other readers to get the most out of this world-class multi-day trek in South America.