Peru is one of the favourite destinations for hiking lovers in South America. If you love trekking and camping in the mountains, perhaps you would like to add Cuzco and Machu Picchu under your “Best places to hike in Peru” list. Many magazines and travel books will suggest these famous routes: Inca Trail, Salkantay and Ausangate in Cusco. From my own experience, all those 3 trails are very beautiful and give visitors the opportunity to see the places that once were the centre of the Inca Empire with its astonishing ruins and the Andean scenery.
However, in recent years, a city at the north of Peru has been attracting more hikers from around the globe. The beautiful town of Huaraz is considered the international mountaineering capital of Peru and South America, because its many trekking routes allow you to visit the world’s highest tropical mountain range, The Cordillera Blanca.
The trails are part of the Huascaran National Park and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its breathtaking landscape, with glaciers and turquoise lakes makes this part of Peru one of the best places for hiking. In fact, 2 of its trails are considered to be in the TOP 10 best hikes in the world.
There are many trails available that you can do, some treks require a high level of fitness and others are more straightforward. Here’s a list of my TOP favourite treks with everything you need to know about hiking in Huaraz, duration, level of difficulty and cost.
Before you do a long trek that includes walking in very high altitude, it is best to start hiking a short trail that helps you to acclimatise. The Llanganuco Lake is a full day trip and it is one of the most photographed Lagoons in Huaraz.
The Lake is comprised of two lagoons: The Chinancocha Lake or “female lagoon” is at the foot of the impressive Huascaran mountain (6768 m) the highest mountain in Peru. Here, you can rent boats to see the lake from a different perspective. Then, you will continue the hike to Orconcocha, “the male lake”, another beautiful blue lagoon surrounded by Andean flora. The beauty of this lake is not only the color of the water but also because the lake is surrounded by astonishing glaciated peaks: Huascaran, Huandoy, Pisco, Chopicalqui and Yanapaccha.
- Duration of this trip: 1 day (2 hours hiking).
- Highest Elevation point: 3850m (Llanganuco Lagoon).
- Difficulty: Easy (if you are acclimatised).
Another stunning trek ideal for acclimatisation. Trekking this lake is an adventure of a lifetime; Paron is the biggest lake of the Cordillera Blanca. The high concentration of dissolved lime gives Paron lake its turquoise color, the view is stunning!
It is surrounded by 15 snow peaks and 1km from Paron lake there is a view point where you can see one of the most famous mountain peaks: Artesonraju, the mountain depicted in the Paramount Picture Logo (American film Company). It is also possible to hike the north side of the lake, avoid the south side because it is dangerous.
- Duration of this trip: 1 day (~4 hours hiking).
- Highest Elevation point: 4,400m (Lake Paron view point).
- Difficulty: Easy-Medium (the hike up to the viewpoint can be tough if you are feeling the altitude).
Read More about this trek: Day hike to Parón lake, Caraz-Huaraz.
The Green Lake – Shallap
This lake is located a little deep into the Cordillera, which makes it perfect for travellers who would love to hike in a untouched landscape. This trail is not very well known; therefore you can have the whole place for yourself.
Although the hike is very long (it takes 3 and half hours to reach the lake and another 3 hours to go back), the walk itself is very easy, most of the way is on a flat path. The trek provides a view of two large mountains: Mount San Juan (5,843m) and Mount Huantsan (6.369m).
- Duration of this trip: 1 day (~6 hours walking).
- Highest Elevation point: 4,250 (Shallap Lagoon).
- Difficulty: Easy (if you are acclimatised).
Rajucolta Lake and Glacier
This is an amazing day hike, the hike gives you great views of the biodiversity of the flora and fauna of the Andes and when you reach the lake stunning views of the mountains. The stunning lake is situated at the foot of Mount Huantsan, the second highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca.
The colour of the glacier lake is breathtaking. You can extend the day trip by hiking up to the glacier, this will increase the difficulty significantly. But it is an unforgettable experience to be that close to the snow capped mountain.
- Duration of this trip: 1 day (6 hours walking to the lake and returning, 2 hours longer if visiting the glacier).
- Highest Elevation point: 4,250m (Lake Rajucolta).
- Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult.
One of the most popular hikes in La Cordillera, it is a full day hike with a beautiful lake and an incredible waterfall in the far end of the lake. The landscape is stunning, it is considered a moderate trek because of the altitude.
It takes about 3 hours to get to the lake and 2 hours to go return. However, the last section of the trail before reaching the lake has a demanding ascent. But the hike is rewarding with this amazing view of the turquoise water lake. If you would like to have a dip, you can but the water is cold!.
- Duration of this hike: 1 day.(~5 hours hiking)
- Highest Elevation point: 4,550m (Lake 69).
- Difficulty: Moderate (if acclimatised) – Hard (if you are not used to the altitude).
Ishinca Glacier & Peak
The Ishinca valley is an excellent location to climb one or more summit peaks: Ishinca (5,530m), Urus (5,420m) and Tocllaraju(6,032m). All of them are very accessible from the valley, there is a base-camp known as a Refugio where hikers and experienced climbers can stay the night to save energy for their climb the following morning(the refuge provides comfy beds, hot food and even hot showers)
To ascend to the summit of Ishinca you do not require much climbing experience but you need to feel comfortable to learn how to use crampons, ice-axe and ropes/harness. It is mandatory to have a guide for this peak (or any other ice peaks) unless you are a member of a climbing club. It is a great option for beginner climbers or any climbers who plan to go higher but want to acclimatise further first. The views from the top are amazing!
On this trek you can see snow, ice caves, crevices and astonishing lakes. At the top of Ishinca Mountain, you will get a 360 degree view of the stunning peaks of la Cordillera Blanca. This mountain range is considered by most professional climbers in the world to have the most spectacular and challenging high summits outside the Himalayas.
Most of its mountain peaks are available to experienced climbers only; But the Ishinca summit trek is accessible to climbers with less experience. The main requirement is that the person needs to be in good physical condition and had previous experience trekking in high altitude.
- Duration of this hike: 3 days
- Highest Elevation point: 5,530m (Ishinca Summit).
- Difficulty: Moderate- Difficult. It becomes difficult if you do not feel comfortable using crampons and ice axes and of course the altitude!
Read More about this trek: Ishinca Mountain Peak Expedition.
If you want to get very close to a glacier and you do not like to walk much, hiking to Pastoruri Glacier is for you. It takes less than 1 hour to reach the glacier. Pastoruri is famous because it is one of the highest glaciers accessible by car in the world.
It is a relatively easy hike but do not underestimate this trek, the walk is done at an altitude of ~5,000m. Unfortunately, the glacier is melting as a result of Global warning. It is estimated that ten years from now this glacier will disappear completely. If you want to test your physical conditions you can hike to the top of the glacier and it takes 9 hours return.
- Duration of this hike: 2 hours to visit the glacier. To hike to the top of the glacier it takes a full day (~9 hours).
- Highest Elevation point: 5,250m (Pastoruri glacier).
- Difficulty: Easy (if you are acclimatised).
This full day hike is relatively easy because it gradually takes you to a higher altitude. You can admire the beautiful Andean flora, fauna and amazing views. It is perfect to help you to acclimitise before a longer trek.
There is one short section of the trek that can get a little bit tricky, climbing the granite wall to get to the lake(see picture below). It is not that difficult now as ropes have been installed to help you scramble up the rocks. It is best to take your time and check where you are stepping and you will be fine..
- Duration of this hike: 1 day (~8 hours).
- Highest Elevation point: 4,450m (Churup Lake).
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate (if acclimatised).
Santa Cruz Trek
This 4 day Santa Cruz Trek is one of the most famous hikes in the world. This trek starts at Vaquería (3,700m). The trails take you through a couple of valleys of the Cordillera Blanca Mountain Range; you get to see rivers, flora and fauna as well as beautiful turquoise coloured lagoons along the trek.
The biggest challenge is the altitude; most of the walk is done on high altitude above 3,000m, Punta Union is the highest point of this trail. It is best to be well acclimatised before starting this trek. At night, you will get spoiled by the stars, the sky usually in this part of the country is very clear, so you get to see many stars and constellations.
- Duration of this hike: 4 days.
- Highest Elevation: 4,760m (Punta Union pass).
- Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult.
Read more about this trek: Hiking the Santa Cruz Trek, Cordillera Blanca.
If you have read all the way until this point, congratulations! I really appreciate that you have found this article very interesting. Before I finalise this post, I would like to share one special trek, a trek as stunning and challenging as the great The Himalayan trails. If you are an avid hiker who looks for unspoiled landscape and enjoys doing long treks, perhaps this circuit is for you.
This route takes you on a journey through a breathtaking landscape with spectacular snow capped mountains with blue, emerald and turquoise lagoons. It is considered to be one of the most spectacular treks in the world. I have to say, it was not easy, first the trek is very long, the circuits takes ~10 days and it goes on a loop around the Cordillera Huaywash. Second, most of the trek is above 4,000m and you have to cross many mountain passes over 5,000m.
This trek also brings you to the Cutatambo valley which is situated below the mountain “Siula Grande(6,344m)”, this peak became famous thanks to the award winning book and film “Touching the void”, recounting Joe Simpson’s nearly fatal climb of Siula Grande summit in 1985.
The full circuit is very remote, and I recommend doing it through a travel agency who can help you to find your handlers, mules and cooks to set up the campsites at night and make the trek a little easier. There are only a few treks in the world where you can enjoy pristine and dramatic landscape as this one.
- Duration of this hike: 10 days.
- Highest Elevation point: 5,000m (Yaucha pass).
- Difficulty: Challenging.
Important things to know:
- Even that I am an experienced hiker, I do not recommend trekking alone. Although some treks have the paths marked, weather in the mountains is unpredictable. If you want to travel solo, consider hiring a guide. Also, it is best to leave your itinerary of travel and send the contact number of the company you are doing your trek with to an emergency contact such as your parents or friends. In case of an emergency they will know how to contact you.
- Best time to Travel: The best time to do these treks is from April to October. The dry season will give you more consistent weather, sunny days and perhaps just a few drops of rain. It is best to avoid January and February, the peak of the rainy season. Always check the weather conditions before doing a trek. The weather in the mountains is unpredictable and storms can develop quickly no matter what month of the year you are visiting.
- Always carry enough water on the trail and stay hydrated. I recommend buying a water bottle with filter. The one that has saved me thousands of dollars and has helped me to avoid buying more of those plastic bottle of water is :Travel tap water filter.
What should you wear on your trek?
- Layers: To do a trek up to the mountain it is best dress as if you were an onion, with many layers. A base top, long sleeve on top, jumper, a down jacket and your waterproof jacket will be the ideal wear to dress. In the morning, usually in the dry season, the sun shines so strong that you are going to walk with a t-shirt on. At night, close to a glacier or when its wet and windy you will be glad of all those layers.
- Comfortable shoes: Ideally a good pair of hiking waterproof boots will protect your ankle, giving it support in uneven surfaces and protect your feet from rain and mud.
Do you want a detailed packing list? Check out our Complete Packing list for trekking by doing a click in here. The article was written for the Salkantay trek in Cusco but the same list could be used for any trek.
- I recommend buying travel insurance before you trek in Huaraz. It will protect you financially, it will save you large sums of money in medical expenses if an emergency occurs. I always use and recommend World Nomads (used by travellers worldwide) or True Travellers Insurance (For Europeans only).
- The daily trips are usually the MOST AFFORDABLE treks: 35-40 SOLES.
- For long treks (more than 2 days) expect to pay anywhere from ~$150 USD – $300. The price increases depending on the duration of the trek. However, the more people on your trek the less money you pay. There’s a wide range of companies offering this service but read their reviews on Tripadvisor.
- Besides the cost of your trek, all visitors coming to hike within Huascaran National Park have to pay a entrance fee to get into the park. There are 2 tickets available: 1 day ticket for 10 soles and a multi day ticket for 65 soles.