If you’re an avid hiker and nature lover, odds are you have your sights on the famous Inca Trail in Peru and the W-trek in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile when thinking about trekking in South America. For a more off the beaten path but equally stunning experience, the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru’s western Andes is a must.
The mountains, which sit in the Huascarán National Park, make up the highest tropical range in the world and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 25 trails in the area, you should start thinking about your trip to Peru now!
The main starting point for many of the treks exploring the Cordillera Blanca range is the small city of Huaraz. The city of 127,000 people is about a 6-7 hour drive north of Lima. You can take a comfortable public bus directly from Lima to Huaraz or opt for a private transfer. The latter option is ideal as you’ll be able to combine your time high in the mountains with a stop at the ruins of Caral, the oldest city in the Americas. The journey from Lima to Huaraz via Caral is a one day trip. (We do feature a customizable tour from Huaraz to Cordillera Blanca).
Huaraz sits at a cool 10,000 feet above the sea, and your adventures in the mountains will surely take you even closer to the heavens. Allowing a few days to acclimate to the elevation is mandatory for anyone looking to do a multi-day trek or even the more strenuous day hikes. There are several excursions that depart from Huaraz that will help you acclimate to the high elevations you will experience during the trek. We recommend visiting the pre-Incan settlement of Chivan de Huantar and a light hike to Lake Wilcacocha to help your body adjust to the extreme altitudes you will be experiencing later in the week.
Like other popular destinations in Peru, the Cordillera Blanca range is no stranger to the rainy season from December to March. You won’t experience nonstop rain during these months but you should expect more rainfall than normal. If you’re looking for the best time to visit, we recommend April/May or September/October when the weather is dry and there are fewer travelers.
Multi-day hikes in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca
The 12 day/11 night Huayhuash Trek is the mother of all treks in the area. You’ll be hiking for more than 75 miles across the remote Peruvian highlands and will ascend to more than 16,400 ft on this full loop route. Due to the demanding nature of the hike, this is a path less traveled so if you are looking for peace and quiet and have the expertise to tackle this 12-day endeavor, this is the trek for you. You can also do sections of it, no need to do the full adventure.
The 4 day/3 night Santa Cruz trek is the most popular multi-day hike in the area and reaches a maximum altitude of 15,682 feet above sea level. You will see countless snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance including the impressive Taulliraju (19,127ft) and Huascarán Norte (22,199 ft), the highest peak in Peru. Along the route, you will pass traditional farming settlements, beautiful wildflowers, and milky blue glacial lakes such as Chinancocha and Orconcocha.
Day-hikes and excursions in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca:
Located only 6 miles outside of Huaraz, this is an ideal hike for travelers looking for an active day excursion while acclimating to the altitude. After driving for about 10 minutes, you will begin the steep 2-hour trek to reach the viewpoint over Lake Wilcacocha which sits at an altitude of 12,221 ft and offers stunning views of the Cordillera Blanca range in the distance.
Perhaps the most popular day hike in the area because of the lake’s cloudy blue-green waters reflecting the snow-white peaks in the distance, this hike should be saved for later in the week because it is no easy walk in the park. You’ll reach a maximum altitude of 14,764 ft and the last hour or so is particularly steep. It takes about 3 hours to reach the lake and 2 hours on the return.
If you’re pressed on time or simply don’t want to hike for four days on the Santa Cruz Route, there are also day hikes to reach the Llanganuco Lakes. You will hike until you reach the lakes which sit 13,120 ft above sea level and from there, you will have panoramic views of Chopicalqui (20,841 ft.), Huandoy (20,976 ft.), and the giant Huascaran (22,199 ft.). Along the way, you’ll also pass typical Andean towns like Yungay and Carhuaz.
Chavin de Huantar
If the adventure seeker in you brought you to Huaraz but your history buff counterpart is dying to see some more ruins, a day trip to the pre-Incan Chavin de Huantar is a must-see during your time in the mountains. The Chavin culture thrived from the 13th to 4th century BCE and stretched from the northern to southern coasts of modern-day Peru. Chavin de Huantar is believed to be a religious center for the entire Chavin culture. Inside the ruins, there is a network of tunnels and platforms leading to the 15-foot monolith of Lanzón, the central object of worship in the Chavin culture. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sits about 65 miles away from Huaraz making for a relaxing and fascinating day trip.
How to Get to the Cordillera Blanca Range?
From Day hikes to multi-day adventures we have you covered and will help you plan your trip to Peru. Explore all these great hikes and more in South America. You hike, explore, and relax. We’ll cover the logistics and take care of all the details!