Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Adventure of a Lifetime

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

You’ve got two weeks in Peru. You want to visit Machu Picchu and see the most famous place in South America, but you also want to have a wild, life altering adventure deep in the Andes. It may not sound possible, but you can have all this while staying under budget on your two week trip. How?

By hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide.

Choquequirao is a stunning ancient Incan temple built about 100 years after Machu Picchu. Much like it’s more famous cousin, Choque sits on top of an Andean Ridge, overlooking a river thousands of feet below. But unlike Machu Picchu, Choque has hardly any tourists. Fewer than 20 people visit each day.

condor

Photo by Macie J

To put that in perspective for you, Machu Picchu gets 5,000 visitors a day. One more time for the people in the back: Machu Picchu gets 5,000 people per day. Choquequirao? 20.

Why the difference? Because the only way to reach Choquequirao is via a grueling two-day hike.

As if that wasn’t adventurous enough, for those in the know, those passionate, outdoor-loving, backpacking maniacs who want to immerse themselves in the Andean wilderness, an even greater adventure awaits you beyond the gates of Choquequirao: the 9-day trek from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu.

It’s an epic journey that follows an Incan trail over two high Andean passes, through verdant valleys, and up to a deserted mountaintop ruin overlooking Machu Picchu.

Imagining, beginning your week at one of the most remote religious sanctuaries in the world, traversing Andean mountains on the same pathway the ancients walked and ending your journey at the fabled Machu Picchu.

This is all possible. Hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide is challenging, it is stunning, and it is totally doable in less than two weeks.

hiking choquequirao to machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Itinerary

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca to Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao to Pichauhuyoc Ruins
Day 4: Pichauhuyoc to Pajonal
Day 5: Pajonal to Yanama
Day 6: Yanama to Colcabamba
Day 7: Colcabamba to La Playa
Day 8: La Playa to Aguas Calientes
Day 9: Machu Picchu

This is a long and extremely challenging journey. Before you go, make sure you are prepared for this trip both mentally and physically. Only take on this journey without a guide if you are an experienced trekker and confident navigating backcountry terrain. Though the path is clear throughout, there are still plenty of opportunities to get lost in the Andean highlands.

As with any hike in Peru, the most important consideration of all is altitude. Give yourself at least one day to acclimate in Cusco before beginning the trek. The path from Choque to Machu Picchu crosses extremely high elevations, the highest point at Yanama Pass (4500m/15,000ft). The air up there is thin and no matter how fit and knowledgeable you are, you will struggle. Acclimate!

This trek is no joke. But for those who are fit, smart, and capable, hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu offers a chance to see a part of Peru most people have never even heard of.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Trekking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: What to Expect

I’ve covered what to expect from days one and two when you hike to Choquequirao, so let’s continue to day three, and the morning of your Choque explorations.

After you’ve finished reveling in the tranquility of this ancient temple, head towards the highest part of the temple and off into the jungle. From Choquequirao, the trail winds up the side of the mountain, weaving through dense shadowy forests before descending sharply towards a river valley.

andean flowers choquequirao hike

Photo by Macie J

A little more than halfway down to the river valley floor, you’ll come to a set of ancient Incan terraces carved into the wide open mountainside. This is Pichuhuyoc. These terraces and the small temple in the center are the location of one of the last still-functioning Incan water systems in Peru. It also makes a great place to camp for the night.

Come the morning of day four, follow the trail all the way down to the river below. There was no bridge in June 2014, but the crossing was easy nonetheless. From there, the trail is slightly off to your left. Ahead of you is a long and steep climb up to the village of Maizal. Village is perhaps a generous term, it is a collection of four or five houses perched on a mountainside. Not a human soul to be seen when I visited, but I did have a great conversation with a cow standing next to the only source of water.

From Maizal, the trail continues up more gradually, working its way towards the Victoria Pass. Through the lush jungle, the trail clings to the steep mountainside. A glance over the edge of the trail will send your heart thumping up into your throat. When I hiked this in 2014, the path was very wet and treacherous. Quiet narrow, especially when I had to share it with donkeys coming the other way.

Along the way, you’ll pass abandoned Victoria Mines, a narrow chasm cut deep into the mountain. Shortly after the mines, the trail cuts sharply up the mountain in a series of stairs and switchbacks. Once you climb into the sparse, high Andean environment, it should be nearing the end of the day. Though there is no official campsite up here, camp on whatever wide, flat, empty space you can find.

path to victoria pass

Photo by Macie J

Here is your reminder to practice leave no trace! High elevation environments are extremely sensitive, do your best not to crush plants and other life underneath your camping equipment.

Come dawn of day five, continue up towards Victoria Pass. I cannot encourage you enough to get there as soon after sunrise as you can. Further, into the day, the clouds will gather and obstruct the views. But if you arrive early enough, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding glaciers and sharp Andean peaks.

From the pass, it’s a long but fairly gentle descent down to Yanama Village, where you can camp for the night.

Waking up in Yanama will be a bizarre contrast of modern and ancient. This small village is home to a road. In fact, it is home to the only road that accesses this remote corner of the Andes. You may hear trucks and cars heading in and out of town, a grating contrast to the serenity of your days on the trail.

yanama pass

Photos by Macie J

No need to share the road, however, the Incan Trail you’ve been following for days continues its meandering path up the center of the valley. It’s difficult to get lost at this point as there is only one way to go from here.

Up and up the valley floor you go, gaining altitude and increasing in grade as the day continues. The final push to Yanama Pass is a steep and relentless wall of scree. But make it to the top of the pass and you’ll find views of a glacier so close you could reach out and touch it.

But don’t. Glaciers are very dangerous.

After Yanama Pass, you have a long yet gentle walk all the way down to Colcabamba. Savor the silence because in Colcabamba you’ll meet up with the Salkantay trail and all dirt, grime, people, and noise that come with a heavily touristed trail. But on the plus side, you can talk to another human!

trekking to yanama

Photo by Macie J

Once in Colcabamba, you can say goodbye to free campsites. Camping here is limited to a few houses and licensed spots, and they will expect you to pay. The good news is you can get a home cooked meal for the first time in almost a week.

On day six, follow the Salkantay hikers and their guides as the trail winds its way down to La Playa, a small village perched next to a river. At this point, you’ve returned to relatively low altitudes and the heat will be intense. Best to drink lots of water and try to stay in the shade.

On the final day of the trek, you have the (boring) option to follow most of the Salkantay Trekkers down to Santa Teresa and from there hike along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Or, if you have the strength and want to see Machu Picchu in a way most tourists never will take a lesser known track up to Llactapata.

Llactapata is a forgotten and unimpressive ruin that sits on a ridge overlooking Machu Picchu. Its true beauty is the unparalleled opportunity it offers to look down on Machu Picchu from afar, just as the Inca once would have.

From La Playa, cross the river and continue to hike along the road. Be on the lookout for signs pointing towards an Incan Trail to Llactapata. They are hard to find but you will see it eventually. As of 2014, it was a faded red sign.

After this, the Incan Trail winds up the side of the mountain, not too steep but after a week of Andean hiking pretty much every incline feels steep. Your effort will be rewarded when you stumble out of the jungle onto a small clearing with the still standing walls of a modest temple structure.

Walk to the edge of the plaza and look out across the landscape. On the distant ridge, you’ll see a place where the jungle has been wiped away. Stones cling to the bare mountainside. This is Machu Picchu, and you are standing by yourself in the Andean Jungle looking out over it just as the Inca did long ago.

overlooking machu picchu from llactapata

Photo by Macie J

From Llactapata, the trail down to the valley floor is easy enough and then its just a slog along the train tracks until you reach Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.

For accommodations in Aguas, your options are paid camping or budget hospedajes. Take your time and find the right option for you. The cheapest hospedajes are going to be up the hill and far from the main plaza. If you’re not too picky, camping is probably the way to go. Before you go to sleep for the night, make sure to buy your entrance pass to Machu Picchu for tomorrow! Do not wait until the next morning. Apparently now they assign times of day for your visit, so check your ticket to see when you’re allowed to enter the temple.

machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

The next day, wake up early to make the walk up to Machu Picchu! Because you didn’t walk all this way just to take the bus, did you?

If you did, best to get in line for the bus at like 4am I hear. It’s pretty hard to catch a bus. The stairway up to Machu Picchu is tough but not impossible. I say hike it.

All that’s left is your exploration of Machu Picchu. Take all the time you need. This place is worth it.

After your temple visit, I recommend catching the train back to Cusco. It is by far the easiest way to travel back to civilization. If the train is outside your budget, you can follow the train tracks back towards Santa Teresa and from there catch a taxi or collectivo out to Santa Maria, and from there a bus to Cusco.

If you’re really hardcore, you can walk all the way back to the Sacred Valley by following the train tracks in the other direction. This is a 28km walk and takes the full day. Get started early. When you get to KM 82, you’ll find yourself in a small village and from there you can easily get a collectivo back to Ollantaytambo.


Like this post? Pin it!

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in PeruHike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in Peru

All photos on this post from Macie J.

Hiking Colca Canyon Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

The trek through Peru’s Colca Canyon will test your limits, push you to your breaking point, and reward you with some of the most stunning views to be had anywhere in the world. This is one of Peru’s most popular trekking destinations and the second deepest canyon in the world. Though it can be done as a two-day trek, I recommend taking 3 to 5 days to explore this unique and gorgeous location. For those who are on a budget, or who are just fiercely independent, let’s go over how to trek Colca Canyon without a guide.

I made a five-day trek through this beautiful Canyon back in December 2015, and to this day it is one of my most memorable trekking experiences. Something about the depth of the canyon, the colors of the desert landscape, and the unique combination of wilderness and Peruvian culture made this trek stick out in my mind. I did it without a guide and for under $200 and I’d love to share some of my insights with you.

Colca Canyon view from the top

View from the top.

All About Colca Canyon

Before we get started on the how, let’s get into the why. Colca Canyon is one of the most exceptional natural landscapes in Peru. And Peru is a country filled to the brim with jaw-dropping landscapes. But really, Colca Canyon sticks out among the rest.

Once billed as the deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon has since been forced to cede that crown to a nearby, but less well-known canyon. Still, second deepest canyon in the world just ain’t that bad, reaching a depth of 10,730ft (3,270m). As a comparison, the Grand Canyon in the United States is only 6,093ft deep.

Located about 8 hours from Arequipa, this Canyon sits below now dead volcanoes and is cut through by the Rio Colca. At the northern end of the Canyon sits the town of Chivay. Up here, the canyon is more of a fertile valley, characterized by small villages and ancient pre-Incan terracing.

As you travel south down the only road on the top of the canyon, you’ll pass by 56 different small villages. The river runs beside you through the valley until suddenly, just a few miles before the final town, it drops away and the canyon opens up below you. The last town perched on the edge of the canyon is Cabanaconde. This is the starting point for the trek.

Colca Canyon is home to a wide variety of unique flora and fauna, the most famous of which is the Andean Condor. This majestic bird can live 70 years and has a wingspan of up to 9 feet. In the Incan mythology, the flying Condor represents heaven.

The people who live in and around Colca Canyon come from two separate cultures: the Cabana culture are a Quechua speaking people, and the Collagua culture are an Aymara speaking people. They continue to live on the land to this day, practicing traditional culture and cultivating their pre-Incan terraces.

Plaza Central Cabanaconde

Central Plaza, Cabanaconde

How to Get to Colca Canyon

Your journey begins from Arequipa, a town that sits slightly inland from the ocean in the middle of a vast desert. You’ll want to get a bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. If you can’t find a time to Cabanaconde that works for you, you can get a bus to Chivay and transfer to a local bus that goes from Chivay to Cabanaconde.

From Arequipa, there are several bus companies that run to Cabanaconde. I took Turismo Milagros. Buses to Cabanaconde leave at a range of times, from about 1am until mid-morning. We took a 4am bus that got us to Cabanaconde in time for lunch.

Expect the entire bus journey to take upwards of 8 hours. This bus ride is long, reaches high elevations, and can get extremely cold. Bring a jacket! I didn’t have enough layers and I was freezing in the high elevations.

bus to Colca Canyon

The Itinerary: A 5 Day Trek in Colca Canyon Without a Guide

Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho – Tapay – Malata
Day 3: Malata – Fure – Llahuar
Day 4: Llahuar Hot Springs Day of Rest and Joy
Day 5: Llahuar – Cabanaconde

Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what to expect when you hike Colca Canyon without a guide.

Colca Canyon Views

View from the bus near Chivay

What to Pack for Colca Canyon

When I made this trek in 2015, I did it with a partner and we intended to hike completely unassisted. We had the advantage of being based out of the Cusco area where I was living for work at the time. I had brought all of my camping equipment with me when I moved to Peru, so we didn’t need to rent any gear.

For those who are traveling without tents and sleeping bags and stoves, there are guesthouses in certain towns in the valley. For more information about trekking Colca Canyon and staying in guesthouses, I recommended reading this blog post, or this one. You might also be able to rent tents and camping bags and such in Arequipa, but I’m not sure about that.

We carried all of our food into the canyon with us and were able to feed ourselves and cook our own meals until we got to Llahuar, which as you’ll read, by that point we were so starving and tired we were more than happy to pay 10 soles for a home-cooked meal.

For clothing, bring a couple layers. The canyon is in a desert and as such is primarily hot and dry but we did get a few drops rained down on us on the first day, and it got a little chilly at night. I appreciated having my fleece with me during the evenings.

Map of Colca Canyon Trek

Map of Colca Canyon. Yeah…

A note about maps: ideally you should always trek with a topographical, accurate map of the region where you’ll be hiking. To the best of my knowledge, one of those does not exist for this canyon. The best we could find was a cartoon map not drawn to scale. Hopefully, you have better luck.

Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho

Our bus from Arequipa dropped us off in the central plaza of Cabanaconde right around lunchtime. We grabbed a quick menu from a shop on the square then walked off to buy some cookies and head for the trailhead.

To get to the trailhead for San Juan de Chuccho, head back out of town up the paved road. After a little while, you’ll see a sort of church and a small soccer field with some bleachers on your left, the trailhead is behind that soccer field. Follow the footpath with hiking boot footprints in it.

colca canyon trail cabanaconde

It begins.

Pretty soon you should start to see some signs pointing you towards a Mirador, towards Tapay, and a kilometer indicator that reads 00. This is the beginning of the long, winding trail to the bottom of the canyon.

The trail begins by cutting along the side of the canyon, offering stunning views to the north and south, as well as a peek down to where you’ll end your day. After this easy beginning, the trail heads down and down and down. In places, it can be quite steep, with slippery loose rock underfoot.

All told, it took us about 3 hours to reach the bridge at the bottom of the canyon, but we may have been slowed down by our heavy packs and camping supplies.

When you reach the canyon floor, you’ll come to a bridge and find a representative who will check your boleto turistico. Cross the bridge and follow the path along the river until you reach San Juan de Chuccho.

bridge before san juan de chuccho colca canyon

Receiving words of wisdom from the keeper of the bridge.

For those hiking without camping gear, there are two guesthouses in San Juan de Chuccho, Roys house or Rivelina’s house. They are probably pretty similar. We camped in an open grassy area below Rivelina’s house and paid them 5 soles for the privilege. Since we brought our own food and camping stove, 5 soles was the total cost of our day.

Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Malata via Tapay

We woke early the next morning, ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal, and packed up our campsite. This would be our first full day of hiking in the canyon and we were pumped. As we headed out of San Juan de Chuccho, we struck up a conversation with a local who suggested we hike uphill to Tapay.

I’m sure they had a reason for suggesting this, but in retrospect, I cannot for the life of me remember what it could have been. Maybe the church? Or the views? Anyway, we decided to follow their advice, though it led to a day far more wild than what I had expected.

Colca Canyon without a guide

It was a hot day.

A small trail cuts off of the main road just outside of San Juan and heads uphill towards Tapay. I believe this may have been a local trail. There is a far more well defined and easier trail that heads to Tapay from the bridge from the day before, but we didn’t want to backtrack. Take the local trail, we thought. What could possibly go wrong?

We followed it up through some terraces and farmland, hiking as the sun rose above us and the day got hotter and hotter. We stopped at one point to dip our heads into some cool water flowing down from the mountains far above.

At some point in the terraces, our local trail failed us. It narrowed from a trail to a path, and a path to a “maybe that’s it over there…” and pretty soon we found ourselves climbing through terraces and working our way slowly uphill, trying to reassure each other that eventually, we’d come upon another road to Tapay.

Instead, we came upon a landslide.

Landslide below Tapay Colca Canyon

Yes, I hiked through that. No, it wasn’t a good idea.

Clearly quite recently, a large section of the earth that sat below Tapay had given up the game and come loose, descending into the canyon below in a rush of dust, stone, and heavy boulders. Most sensible people would see a landslide like this and decide to turn back, realizing that Tapay just wasn’t in the cards. We were not sensible people. We pushed on.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, do not do this. Landslides are incredibly dangerous, especially recent ones. You can never be certain that the rocks above you won’t come loose and come crashing down. Choosing to muddle our way up and across a fresh landslide was foolhardy and not worth the risk.

But that’s what we did. It took ages and was unbelievably hot, but we clambered through the freshly fallen silt, our feet sinking into the loose rock up to our knees until we finally worked our way up to the newly constructed road. From there it was a short and easy jaunt into Tapay.

Was Tapay worth a near-death experience? Absolutely not. It’s a small village with a cute church and nice views up and down the canyon. If you can take a regular and safe path to get there, go right ahead. If you decide to follow in my rambling and untrustworthy footsteps, then on your own head be it.

Finally in Tapay, we paused to take some photos and appreciate the view from the church plaza, ate a quick lunch, then descended down the far easier, and well-trafficked path that headed towards Cosñirhua. The little path took some tight switchbacks down then rejoined the road running along the side of the canyon. We followed this for the rest of the day, overlooking Cosñirua then finally stopping to camp for the night somewhere in the vicinity of Malata.

We camped in an unused terrace with the permission of the family living nearby. They were generous enough to let us sleep and cook in their fallow field for free. We bought some cookies and beer from their shop instead.

Colca Canyon without a Guide view from malata

Day 3: Malata to Llahuar via Fure

From Malata, we followed the main road up to a small rise, overlooking Sangalle, better known as the Oasis, down below us. Though the swimming pools and verdant green fields looked tempting, we were determined to experience the fringes of this deep canyon.

Turning our backs on the Oasis, we headed uphill towards Fure.

Fure is a small village tucked away rather far from the rest of the tourist trail. The draw of Fure is the waterfall that sits a further hour’s hike from the village itself. To get there from Malata, the trail was an undulating ribbon of rock cut through a dry and barren land.

We made it to Fure fairly late in the afternoon and although we began to hike down the trail towards the waterfall, we had to admit that we were pushing our luck. Our goal was to camp in Llahuar that evening, but it was certainly going to be at least 3 more hours of hiking until we got there.

Our plan was to hike to Llahuar today and spend tomorrow resting in the hot springs below the village. After the three incredibly intense days of hiking in the canyon, we both felt we deserved a bit of a break and a bit of a soak.

As we sat on some rocks next to the trail, we pondered our two options. Continue towards the waterfall and camp tonight somewhere near Fure, hiking to Llahuar tomorrow and forgoing our rest day, or forgo the waterfall now in favor of hot springs tomorrow?

Hiking from Fure to Llahuar in Colca Canyon

We chose the hot springs.

Abandoning the waterfall, we headed back through Fure. Though I hear that it has guesthouses and shops during the high traffic tourist season, in December of 2015 this village was a ghost town. The shops were closed, there was no sign of a guesthouse. If you arrived here without a guide and without campaign gear in mid to late December, you might find yourself without a place to sleep that night.

Slowly we made our way back down the hillside to Llahuar. It was a long and relentless hike, through farmland, down steep mountainsides, and along irrigation canals. My feet were sore and my legs were rubber by the time we saw Llahuar nestled among the cliffs down below us.

Llahuar Guesthouse

Llahuar Guesthouse

Llahuar itself is a great little village, with a hostel perched above the river and hot springs down below. We met the owner of the hostel, paid a small sum to camp on the grass near the hot springs, then headed up to her restaurant to have our first home cooked meal in two days. The fare was simple, but at the time I felt I had never eaten anything so extravagantly delicious.

meal in llahuar peruvian food papas y arroz con huevo

The best meal of my life.

I slept like a baby that night, eager in anticipation for my day of soaking in hot springs.

Day 4: Resting in Llahuar

Because of the madness of our previous three days of hiking, we made the executive decision to spend an entire day relaxing in the hot springs below Llahuar. It was the best decision we could possibly have made. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We bought some beers from the hostel and hung out in the steaming hot waters all day, soaking our sore muscles and preparing ourselves for our massive ascent up the canyon wall on the following day. When the water got too hot, we jumped into the icy rushing river below, then slipped back into the warm, sulfurous waters of the hot springs.

Llahuar Guesthouse colca canyon

Llahuar Guesthouse Views

It was heaven.

If you’re hiking Colca Canyon without a guide and have the extra time, I highly recommend taking a rest day in Llahuar. It is totally worth the 5 or 10 soles you’ll pay to camp and eat there.

Day 5: Llahuar to Cabanaconde

Resisting the urge to hitch a ride on the back of the pickup truck that was making the ride from Llahuar to Cabanaconde that morning, we packed up our bags, said goodbye to our elysian hot springs, and began the long and arduous climb up to Cabanaconde.

Up and up and up, that’s all you can expect from this day of hiking. The day gets hotter as the sun rises and you ascend the sheer, rocky, barren walls of the second deepest canyon in the world.

But have no fear, eventually, you’ll get to the top. And then you have to walk a further hour to get back to Cabanaconde.

I exaggerate, but it certainly felt that way after our five-hour climb out of the canyon.

Once back to Cabanaconde, we had a pretty difficult time finding a bus to take us back to Chivay, but I think that’s because it was in that weird time between Christmas and New Years when no one wants to work or do anything. After an hour or two of begging every truck that drove past, we hitch a ride sitting in the back of an open pickup truck.

From Chivay, it was pretty simple to hop onto the next bus for Arequipa. You can’t miss it. There will be at least five men shouting “Arequipa Arequipa Arequiiiiippaaaaaa” in your face the moment you walk in the door of the bus station.

The Takeaway: Colca Canyon is a Hikers Paradise

As with many of the hiking destinations in Peru, Colca Canyon is a treat and a half. Sheer rock walls, verdant green farmland, challenging trails and hospitable locals all make for a wonderful multi-day trek. Combine that with the fact that it’s totally doable without a guide and without real camping gear and you’ve got yourself a winner. Hiking Colca Canyon without a guide is fun, rewarding, and easy. Just do it.


Like this post? Pin it!

How to Hike Colca Canyon without a Guide - What to do in Peru

How to Hike Colca Canyon without a Guide - What to do in Peru

Hiking Peru’s Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is one of the most beautiful long distance hikes in the world. Slightly more stunning than its more famous cousin, the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo rivals even the pristine peaks of Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit in grandeur and scale.

This roughly 87-mile trek encircles the majestic Alpamayo Mountain, sometimes called “the worlds most beautiful mountain” within the Huascaran National Park. With massive gains in elevation, a wealth of biodiversity, and jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas, the Alpamayo Circuit earns its right to be named one of the greatest treks in the world.

In October 2015, I set out to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide. Though this is a long and intimidating trek, it is possible to do without the help of a Peruvian guide or porters, as long as you’re fit, knowledgeable about wilderness survival, and adventurous.

Alpamayo Circuit Trek Views Mesapampa Pass

View from Mesapampa Pass

For full disclosure, I took on this trek with my then boyfriend and our donkey. It was part of a longer 3-month backpacking trek across Peru, for which we purchased a donkey in nearby Huaylas. But don’t worry, you don’t need to buy your own donkey to take on the Alpamayo Circuit solo.

For those of you who are headed to the Huaraz region of Peru looking for adventure, the Alpamayo Circuit is the granddaddy of them all. If you’re thinking of trying this Andean adventure, here is everything you need to know to plan and trek the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide.

Donkey in Peru Cordillera Blanca

Beautiful Chana

Table of Contents

Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek
What to Pack
What to Budget
Getting to Hualcayan
The Itinerary: A Day by Day Guide for the Alpamayo Circuit
Day 1: Hualcayan to Wishcash
Day 2: Wishcash to Ruina Pampa
Day 3: Ruina Pampa to Cruze Alpamayo
Day 4: Alpamayo Base Camp Day Hike
Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo to Laguna Safiuna
Day 6: Laguna Safiuna to Jancapampa
Day 7: Jancapampa to Quebrada Tuctubamba
Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba to Quebrada Huaripampa
Day 9: Quebrada Huaripampa to Tuallipampa
Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa
Conclusion

Ruina Pampa Cordillera Blanca

Goofing in Ruina Pampa

Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek can be completed in as few as 8 days, though I recommend setting aside more time than that. However, if you have a limited amount of time, bring enough supplies to last at least 8 days. My trek lasted 12 days, but that included some slow hiking and getting lost. This guide is a 10-day itinerary, allowing for a few days spent exploring lesser-known high Andean landscapes.

Any trek in the Cordillera Blanca begins from Huaraz, a town in the Ancash Region and the center of all trekking in Peru. There are several bus companies that will take you from Lima to Huaraz in about 8 hours. Z Buss is one of the cheapest but other, better-known bus companies also make the route.

Before your trek, spend a few days in Huaraz to acclimatize to the altitude. You’ll be spending almost the entire Alpamayo Trek above 4000m (13,000ft). If you try to do this trek without getting acclimatized first, you will almost certainly get sick.

If you spend a few days in Huaraz and you’re still worried about altitude sickness, you can easily pick up some altitude sickness pills, called sorochi pills, at any pharmacy or “botica” in town.

Huaraz is also the spot to rent any gear you’ll need, buy supplies, and find trekking buddies. Most outdoor shops in town sell maps of the Cordillera Huayhuash with the Alpamayo Trek included. There are various qualities at various prices ranging from about 40 soles to 100 soles.

For food shopping in Huaraz, there are a few small grocery stores in town. These are generally well stocked but overpriced. The best place to get supplies for your hike is in the Mercado Central. There, shops sell all kinds of nuts and seeds in bulk at half the price of the supermarket. You can also find cookies, biscuits, instant noodles, hot cocoa mix, and everything else you could possibly need for an 8 to 12-day trek.

camping in Peru alpamayo trek

It gets cold

Planning for the Alpamayo Trek Without A Guide: What to Pack

Sleeping – Waterproof 3 season tent, sleeping bag 16F, sleeping mat
Clothing – Layers! Silk pant liners, hiking pants, waterproof pants, warm pants for sleeping, t-shirt liner, hiking t-shirt, fleece jacket, waterproof shell, gloves, hats, socks and sock liners (at least 2 pairs), hiking boots, camp shoes
First Aid – minimum first aid kit including iodine, bandages, scissors, tweezers, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, sorochi (altitude sickness) pills
Kitchen – stove, gas, pot for eating, knife
Food – enough for 8 to 12 days, keep in mind that water boils lower at elevation so rice and pasta won’t cook so well. Things like oatmeal and instant noodles work best.
Other – Map, water filter or method for cleaning water (I used a Steripen), length of cord, other misc camping needs

Many camping supplies can be rented in Huaraz, and gas canisters that work with MSR stoves like the Pocket Rocket can be purchased. You’ll also want to pick up your Huascaran National Park pass in Huaraz. I didn’t and they still made me buy it on my way out of the Santa Cruz trek. There are checkpoints. You need to buy the pass.

Backpacking Budget for Peru’s Alpamayo Trek

Because you’ll be taking on this trek unsupported, you may actually be surprised by how cheaply you can do it. A Peru backpacking budget can be quite small, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time in the mountains.

Costs associated with this trek include renting any supplies in Huaraz, purchasing your food, your transport to and from the trek, and the Huascaran National Park Pass. The numbers below are just an estimate and depend on your own planning and experience. They reflect my reality when I made the trek in October 2015.

Transport: Collectivo to and from Caraz, 12 soles, taxis to and from Hualcayan and Cashapampa, 70 soles total, cheaper may be available for the adventurous Spanish speaker.
Gear Rental: gas canisters 10-25 soles, sleeping bag $2-$10 per day, tent $5 to $15 per day.
Food: Estimate 100 soles for 10 days
Map: 40 to 100 soles depending on quality
Huascaran National Park Pass: 65 soles for 21 days.

These prices are more of an estimate than a definitive number, but if you’re looking to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide, expect to spend somewhere in the region of 352 soles plus the cost of any gear you need to rent. That’s just over $100 for a 12 day trek. Not too shabby. Obviously, if you have to rent tents or sleeping bags it’ll get more expensive.

Donkey Grazing in Hualcayan Peru

Chana grazing in Hualcayan

Getting To Hualcayan

The Alpamayo Circuit begins at a small village called Hualcayan. To get there, get a collectivo to Caraz. They leave from the main road in town and the cost of a one way trip is 6 soles. From Caraz, ask around till you find the taxi station, then ask for cars going to Hualcayan. There may also be collectivos, so if you’re trying to keep this low budget, I suggest asking around town before getting into an expensive taxi.

There is a campsite in town where you can spend the night, the locals will ask for a small fee to camp there but this village is the last time you’ll be asked to pay a fee before camping.

When I was there in October 2015, there was no checkpoint for the Huascaran National Park pass in Hualcayan.

The Itinerary: A Day by Day Trail Breakdown of the Alpamayo Circuit

hiking in peru alpamayo trek

Day 1 Hiking up to Wishcash Camp

Day 1: Hualcayan (2900m/9514ft) to Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft)

Day one begins with a steep ascent then becomes a more gradual climb. You’ll find yourself winding up the mountainside through low scrubs and grasses. At one particularly exciting point, the trail cuts across a massive scar left over from a long-ago landslide. It’s not a particularly frightening crossing, the trail is large and stable, but it bare and exposed with plenty of stunning views of the valley below.

Towards the end of the day, you’ll find yourself cresting some rounded hills. The campsite, Wishcash, is located on the top of one of these. There is a small stream there for drinking water but little shelter from the wind.

It’s not a particularly tough day of trekking, but you’ve climbed up above 4300m/14,107ft and you’ll need to acclimate, so it’s probably a good idea to stop here before attempting the passes above you.

Once you’ve set up camp, there is plenty of exploring to be done around the campground. If you hike just a bit uphill, you can look down the cliffs at a beautiful lake. It’s probably possible to hike down to the lake, about 300m down, but I didn’t find the trail.

If you’re feeling strong and acclimated, you could potentially continue hiking up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, another 500m/1600ft up from Wishcash and just below the first pass of the trek. Listen to your body and if you start to feel dizziness, headaches, or nausea, turn back to Wishcash.

Peru adventure travel

Horse in the village next to Ruina Pampa

Day 2: Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft) to Ruina Pampa (4000m/13,123ft)

This is an incredibly grueling day crossing two high altitude passes with steep descents and ascents in between. When I hiked it, I divided the day into two separate days. On the first day, I was feeling a bit put out by the altitude, so we just hiked up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, sitting just below the first pass. It was a very short hike and we spent the late morning and entire afternoon messing about around the lake taking pictures and letting our donkey rest. I loved it, but if you’re carrying all your own supplies and trying to make the circuit in a set time, it’s probably not the best plan.

Otherwise, it’s onward to cross Osoruri Pass at 4860m/15,944ft, then follow the trail as it drops steeply into the valley below, only to climb back up a demanding set of switchbacks to Vientona Pass at 4770m/15,650ft.

We stopped here for a quick lunch, then continued toward towards our destination for the day: Ruina Pampa. From Vientona Pass the trail zig zags relentlessly down the mountainside. Once you reach the valley floor, you’ve more or less made it. There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.

There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.

To get to the official campsite, follow the trail up the valley for maybe another kilometer and you’ll find the campsite sign.

Ruina Pampa Camp Alpamayo Circuit Trek

Ruina Pampa Campsite

Day 3: Ruina Papa (4000m/13,123ft) to Cruze Alpamayo Camp (4150m/13,615ft)

After the rigors of your two passes yesterday, you’re rewarded with a fairly easy day of hiking up the Ruina Pampa valley. The trail itself is stunning, it hugs the wall of the valley, giving you a view of the river below as it winds down from the glaciers in the distance. You’ll meander through ancient ruins and corrals, the last remains of an ancient civilization.

After not too long, you’ll find yourself in a wide open valley surrounded on three sides by massive mountain walls. This is Cruze Alpamayo Camp, so look for the official campsite or just find a dry spot to set up your tent.

Peruvian Andes Adventures Cordillera Blanca

On the way to Cruze Alpamayo

A word of caution: Beware Andean Valleys! They look like beautiful places to frolic but in fact, they are watery quagmires just waiting to eat you alive. Approach with caution.

You’ll probably arrive at Cruze Alpamayo Camp by lunchtime. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the path that hugs the mountainside towards Laguna Jancarurish. It’s a stunning crystal blue lake sitting beneath a massive glacier. The hike to get there is a bit dicey and you might lose the trail, but don’t worry, the lake is just behind the large wall of rocks.

Alpamayo Base Camp

Alpamayo Base Camp

Day 4: Hike up to Alpamayo Base Camp and Lakes

Most tours skip this section, but if you’re lucky enough to be hiking without a guide and making your own itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to include this mini day trip up to the Alpamayo Base Camp. It was perhaps the most beautiful day of hiking I had in all of Peru.

Set out from camp and follow the same trail towards Laguna Jancarurish. Instead of heading to the lake, follow the switchbacks up the mountainside in front of you. At the top, you’ll find another high valley opening up in front of you with snowcapped peaks rising up all around. This is the Alpamayo Base Camp valley.

There is a trail up to a high Alpamayo Base Camp above 5000m/16,400ft. We missed it when coming up from Cruze Alpamayo, so I’ve not made that ascent. Instead, we visited some lakes beneath the glaciers.

To find the glacial lake beneath Alpamayo, hike across the valley towards the distant peaks and you’ll find another lake similar to Jancarurish. There isn’t really a trail to get there and it’ll take some intrepid trailblazing to get across the valley, but the lake is beautiful and you really feel that you are standing among the mountains.

Bring layers. It’s damn cold.

Head back down to camp at Cruze Alpamayo that night and prepare yourself for the toughest climb of the trek the next morning.

Cordillera Blanca Trekking

Cruze Alpamayo Views

Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo (4150m/13,615ft) to Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft)

Today is the day you cross the intense, grueling, and breathtakingly rewarding Cara Cara pass. The day begins with your journey to find the trail. Cara Cara pass is across the valley and above you, but at least when I was there in October 2015, I struggled to find the trail. No matter, make your own way up the mountainside heading in the right direction. This is where it helps to have a map.

Eventually, you’ll find the trail again, I promise. Just keep using the map and heading up.

The trail begins in a straight line up the mountainside as it passes two lakes. It’s probably one of the toughest single pieces of trail in the whole circuit. Eventually, you’ll work your way out of the grass and come to a final small lake, more of a puddle really, and the rest of the climb is all loose rocks and scree.

The trail zigzags steeply up the final ascent as the winds begin to swirl around you. The last few steps are so sheer you may worry you’re going to slip back down the mountainside.

Give yourself a treat and don’t look behind you until you’ve reached the top of the pass. The view from Cara Cara is one of the single greatest things I’ve ever seen. Just pure Andean glory.

Cara Cara Pass Alpamayo Circuit Peru

View from Cara Cara Pass

Once you’ve had your fill of the view, it’s time to move onwards and hike down into the valley below. Thankfully, the trail is less steep and far less windy on this side. After initial switchbacks, you’ll follow a relatively smooth trail along the valley wall and up to cross the second pass of the day, Mesapampa Pass at 4500m/14,760ft. This is a significantly easier ascent.

Another breathtaking view awaits you here, then it’s onward and downward to the valley below and the waiting Safiuna Lake camp at 4200m/13,780ft.

Gara Gara Pass Alpamayo Circuit

View from Cara Cara looking towards Mesapampa

Day 6: Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft) to Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft)

I got pretty lost on this section and never made it to Jancapampa. The trail was very difficult to follow. That plus a few other reasons, and we bailed out for a different option. But before I frighten you, let’s discuss what I did and what you ought to do instead.

From Laguna Safiuna, continue hiking down into the valley then follow the trail along the wall of the valley over towards the bridge. In October 2015, they were in the process of building a massive new bridge but I imagine it’s finished by now. Cross over the river and head up towards Huilca, a small village. Really, it’s two or three houses surrounded by livestock, including alpacas, sheep, goats, and even some horses.

From there, the trail is meant to continue up to Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa.

I did not do this. The trail up towards Yanacon path is incredibly difficult to find and possibly nonexistent from the valley floor. Instead, since I couldn’t find the trail, I asked one of the local village boys to help me out. He seemed unsure about where the path to Yanacon was but kept pointing to another, much more obvious trail, that went up the valley on the other side. He told me it would take me out to Pomabamba, the closest main town. and my ultimate

Our original plan was to hike to Jancapampa and leave the donkey grazing there with a villager while we popped out to Pomabamba to pick up supplies. So, if this young guy told us there was an easier path to Pomabamba, fine. We opted to skip Yanacon path and follow the alternative trail. This took us out to a village, the name of which I cannot remember.

It took us a further two days to make the trek out to that village. This was due in part to length, but mostly we were held up by the most delightful Peruvian family. We met them just over the next pass, sitting by a lake eating chocho and checking up on their cattle. Instead of hiking, we spent most of the afternoon hanging out with them and walking around in the valleys looking for injured cows.

After two days, we made it out to this small village, found a family willing to guard our donkey for two days for a fair price, and hopped in a collectivo out to Pomabomba. After two days in the big city, we got a collectivo back to the village and from there it was just a day’s walk over the hill to Jancapampa.

But if you’re not intending to restock in Pomabamba, I suggest having more fortitude, and a better map than I had, and heading up towards Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa. My best advice is just to commit to hiking up in the right direction and eventually, you’ll find the trail and the pass.

Jancapampa is a small village where you can purchase cookies and instant noodles, so if you’re running short on supplies, this is where you’ll want to restock.

Peru treks

Day 7: Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft) to Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800m/12,470ft)

From Jancapampa, the path heads uphill, crossing through farmland and pastures. You’ll cross the Tupatupa pass at 4400m/14,435ft and head down into a valley below. The trail winds through this valley heading uphill. I chose to follow it for most of the day right up until the base of the next pass. There are plenty of open grassy areas for camping and the trail follows a river, so water is readily available as well.

Alpamayo Circuit Trek

Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800/12,470m) to Quebrada Huaripampa (4150m/13,615m)

Another grueling climb. I decided to wake up early, around 4am, to try to beat the sun and catch the sunrise from the top. I didn’t quite make it, but close, and it was well worth it!

The trail begins with tight switchbacks through Andean flowers and rocky scree. The top is all jagged rocks and makes for some great exploring. You’ll catch some views of the trail up to Punta Union across the valley, with a few glimpses of snowcapped peaks beyond. Once across, the trail down the other side is a well-maintained switchback that passes through both open rocky land and some groves of the endangered Queñuales trees.

Enjoy this last ascent in your Alpamayo Solitude because after this, the trail joins up with the immensely popular Santa Cruz trek, so you’ll be sharing the trail with donkey trains, tour groups, and plenty more trekkers. Makes for more social campsites but there is something to be said for the solitude of the Alpamayo Circuit.

Anyway, you can choose to camp that night in Huaripampa, it’s a wide open valley that unlike most Andean valleys is actually dry and great for camping. Or you could choose to go up and over Punta Union on the same day. If it’s the dry season I say go for it, but if you’re hiking in the Peru’s rainy season, as I was, better to wait until the next day. Afternoons in the rainy season mean clouds and limited visibility.

Punta Union Santa Cruz Trek Peru

View towards Punta Union Pass and Santa Cruz

Day 9: Huaripampa to Tuallipampa (4250m/13,945ft)

The trail heads up out of Huaripampa, passes three high Andean lakes along the way, and then zigzags all the way up to Punta Union, the breathtaking main pass of the Santa Cruz trek, with views of snow-capped peaks and crystal blue lakes far below you.

Unfortunately for me, I hiked this in October during the beginning of the rainy season and my view was mostly of fog. Oh well.

From Punta Union, it’s a long but easy slog down to Tuallipampa, a wide open grassy campsite sitting beneath sheer rock walls.

Megan and Donkey Alpamayo Circuit Peru

Just me and my donkey Chana

Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa

This is the end. If you have enough supplies, you can take an extra day, climb up to the other Alpamayo Base Camp on this side, and camp at the Llama corral campsite further down. I did not choose to do this, only because after so many days of hiking, my legs were pretty tired and I was ready to eat some pizza.

The trail out of the Santa Cruz trek is gradual and very easy. You’ll wind down through the valley, passing by the extremely picturesque Laguna Jatuncocha, before finally finding yourself in the relative civilization of Cashapampa.

There is a checkpoint at the end of the trail where you’ll need to show your Cordillera Blanca pass. Then walk down into town and find yourself a taxi. Some of them wait at the trailhead, others can be found in the town’s main square.

You can get a taxi from Cashapampa to Caraz the price is negotiable. I recommend spending a day or two in Caraz, it’s a lovely town and a good jumping off point for a few other treks. But if you’re in a hurry, you can catch a collectivo back to Huaraz for 6 soles.

Laguna Jatuncocha Santa Cruz Trek

Laguna Jatuncocha

Conclusion: Final Thoughts on the Alpamayo Circuit Trek

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is truly one of the most splendid hiking experiences in all of Peru. During the course of the 8 to 12 days, you’ll cross over several massive passes, hike through a huge variety of environments, and get up close and personal with snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Though far less popular than the nearby Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo Circuit is the perfect hike for intrepid explorers who want to experience the ultimate Peruvian Andean adventure.


Like this post? Pin it!

Trek My Favorite Hike in Peru the Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide; the Ultimate Peruvian Andes AdventureTrek My Favorite Hike in Peru the Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide; the Ultimate Peruvian Andes Adventure

The Complete Guide to the Sacred Valley of the Inca in Peru

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

No trip to Peru is complete without a visit to the verdant Sacred Valley of the Incas. Located in between Cusco and Machu Picchu, most tourists only spend a day or two here before heading off to take on the Inca Trail. But take it from someone who lived there for a year, you may want to reorganize your trip to make more room for this tucked away paradise.

The Sacred Valley of the Inca is unlike anywhere else on earth. In a single day of exploration, visitors can take in sweeping vistas of snow capped peaks while enjoying an organic locally grown feast. With just a few days, the adventurous tourist can hike to waterfalls, visit ancient Incan ruins, and learn about a vibrant indigenous culture that still carries on today despite many hardships and obstacles.

There is so much to love about Peru’s Sacred Valley. It is one of my favorite places in the world and I’m delighted to share with you my complete guide to visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Chicon Glacier Hike

Understanding Life in the Valley

As with any visit to a foreign land, you cannot expect to fully understand the depth and complexity of life there in just a few weeks or months. But there are a few things you can learn that will help you understand the culture of life in the valley.

This valley was once very near to the center of Incan society. And those Incan ancestors left behind more than just ruins.

Much of the population are Quechua people, an indigenous group descended from the Incans. These people speak the Quechua language and some don’t speak Spanish. Though most are Catholics today, their ties to their ancient culture are still evident.

Pachamama, a mother earth figure, features heavily in local folklore. Hikes and other journeys often begin with a ritual offering of 3 coca leaves to Pachamama.

Many who live there still talk of the ancient Incan understanding of the three-part world: hana pacha, the upper world, signified by a Condor; Kay Pacha, the middle world, signified by a panther; and Uku Pacha, the lower world, signified by a serpent.

Today, the Sacred Valley is an agricultural area. The high Andean villages make up some of the last pastoral communities in the world.

Sacred Valley

Overall, Peru is still considered a developing country and had a poverty rate of 25.8% in 2011, according to the UN. Clean water is difficult to come by and illiteracy is still commonplace.

Yet poverty isn’t the story in Peru. The modern culture in the Sacred Valley is vibrant, unique, and bursting with pride. In general, the Peruvians (I met) who live there are welcoming, accepting of tourists, and willing to educate outsiders about their culture and way of life.

Before you go, make sure you purchase a 10-day Boleto Turístico in Cusco. This pass will give you access to most (but not all) of the major tourist attractions in the Sacred Valley.

The Three Main Towns

There are many small villages running through the Sacred Valley. These vary in size and each one has its own flavor and secrets. That being said, here are the five main towns that every visit to the Sacred Valley should include:

Pisac

Pisac is the second most famous town in the valley and home to the largest population of foreigners in the valley. The town is dominated by a massive set of Incan ruins climbing up the mountain above town.

There are two ways to visit these ruins. For the adventurous, the ruins can be reached by hiking up a long Incan staircase, just head uphill from the market until you find the gateway. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take a taxi up the mountain behind town and walk across to the ruins from there.

Entrance to the ruin is included in the Boleto Turistico.

After you finish exploring the ruins, spend some time walking around the market in the main square. This is one of the most touristic markets in all of the Sacred Valley. It’s a great opportunity to see what kind of handicrafts and trinkets are on offer, but there are less expensive markets selling most of the same products. If you see something truly special, get it! Otherwise, wait till you get to Urubamba.

Ollantaytambo Free Ruins

Pisac also has a whole host of opportunities for yoga workshops, retreats, vegan food, and plant medicine retreats. Many restaurants in town offer Ayahuasca diet menus, and there are shamans all over town offering their services. Just – do your research before booking! Some of these are great experiences, while others can turn into nightmares.

For workshops and yoga retreats, I can personally recommend Nidra Wasi. I took a yogic cooking workshop there in 2014 that was worth every penny.

Ollantaytambo

The gem in the crown of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo is the most beautiful and iconic town on this list. Called the “Living Incan City” this town is unlike any other in the world. Built by the Inca over 500 years ago, today the town lives on, with Quechua people still living in the structures built by their Incan ancestors.

Rio Urubamba

What to do in Ollantaytambo

The main highlight of Ollantaytambo is the majestic ruin rising up above the town. You’ll catch your first glimpse of it from the main square. Just walk down the hill to reach the entrance. The entrance fee is covered by the boleto turistico.

These ruins, called Temple Hill colloquially, are unfinished, having been abandoned before completion over 600 years ago. Still, there are many structures and monoliths that are astounding to witness in person. The Temple of the Sun, located at the top of a long stair climb, features some of the remarkable stonework that makes the Inca famous. The many gardens, fountains, and foundations that run along the bottom of the mountainside will have you dreaming of what life was like before the Spanish arrived. This temple deserves at least a whole morning just for exploration.

If you have extra energy and time in Ollantay, smaller, less majestic ruins cling to the opposite side of the valley. Entrance to these ruins is free, if you can find it. Walk down the last alleyway in town and then look for a small path leading up the hill. These ruins were the storage houses for potatoes, grains and other foodstuffs.

Where to Eat in Ollantaytambo

Once you’ve finished exploring Ollantaytambo’s impressive ruins, it’s time for a snack. My personal favorite place to eat in Ollantay is Heart’s Cafe. This social enterprise cafe uses its proceeds to provide healthy meals and support to women and children living in high Andean communities. They have some of the most delicious food in Ollantay with vegan and vegetarian options.

Urubamba

Urubamba is situated right smack in the center of the Sacred Valley. This town is often overlooked by tourists because it lacks the quaint charm and stunning ruins of Pisac or Ollantaytambo. But in truth, you cannot fully understand life in the Sacred Valley without a visit to Urubamba.

A visit to Urubamba provides the opportunity to look behind the tourist performance and see what life is really like for the local Quechua people and Peruvian transplants that populate the Sacred Valley.

Urubamba is a hidden gem of the Sacred Valley, especially for those who love good food. The market at Urubamba is a gathering place for local farmers from all across the valley and up in the mountains. There are a few days a week when it explodes into a hive of activity. I’ll talk more about that in the event section of this article.

Urubamba Streets

Streets of Urubamba

Where to Eat in Urubamba

There are many restaurants in Urubamba worth checking out. The top choices serve the increasingly popular Novo Andino cuisine, while other cafe’s tend to focus on organic vegetarian meals.

El Huacatay serves up Novo Andino classics like Trucha (trout) or Alpaca meat. The restaurant is cash only and reservations are recommended in the high season. 30-40 soles per plate.

Paca Paca sits a bit uphill from town but is well worth the walk or moto ride. The restaurant offers a funky artistic vibe with wood oven pizzas and a good wine selection. Pastas are also recommended. 30 – 40 soles per plate

Kaia is my last and highest restaurant recommendation. It isn’t the most expensive or sought after restaurant in town but it is the most charming. They offer organic food prepared with love. Kaia also often has music performances or other artistic events. I recommend the chai tea with almond milk! 15-25 soles/plate

What to Do in Urubamba

Other than a visit to the market, what else does Urubamba have to offer?

The Plaza de Armas has a lovely traditional church with a view of the mountains behind. Get some ice cream from one of the heladerias or carts situated on the square.

Visit Urubamba’s modest ruins, the Palacio de Hyuana Capac – a humble remains of a once proud fortress. May only be interesting to true archaeology nerds like myself. From there, you can check out Urubamba’s Cemetery to get a sense of how Peru honor their dead, or walk down a true Inca trail as it winds out of town.

Urubamba is also quietly becoming an artistic hub of the valley. To find more information about this, the best places in town to visit are Kaia Cafe or El Arte Sano. Both have artistic performances, events, and workshops every month.

Lastly, Urubamba is a great town to use as a jumping off point for some epic hikes. I’ll talk about the best one, hiking up to Chicón, further down in the hiking section of this article. On top of that, a walk through the dirt roads that lead uphill out of town will often lead to small pathways winding up into the foothills of the Andes. You never know what you might find.

There is a short hike that goes up to the cross above town, providing a great outlook over Urubamba towards Cusco. To get there, head uphill on the main road, Yanaconas Chicón, until you see a zig zagging path going uphill on your left. Follow that trail all the way up to the cross. The top is a great spot for a picnic.

Urubamba Hike to the Cross

View from the Cross above Urubamba

Chinchero

Though not technically in the Sacred Valley, Chinchero is usually included in most Sacred Valley tours and it’s a town worth visiting for it’s impressive ruins, local market, and gorgeous countryside.

Chinchero is the highest town on this list, sitting even higher than Cusco at 3,700m (12,100ft), so make sure to spend some time in either the Sacred Valley or Cusco before heading to explore Chinchero. The headaches and nausea that accompany altitude sickness don’t make for a great day of exploration.

The highlight of a visit to Chinchero is the set of ancient Incan ruins and Spanish missionary church that dominate the town. At the ruins, you’ll find well maintained terraces and a few large boulders with Incan engravings and carvings.

But the true state of the ruins stands as testament to the tumultuous history that created modern Peru. Above the ruins, where once the main temple of the Incan ruin soon, it has been replaced with a Spanish cathedral, built by the conquering Spaniards to subdue the local people. It’s lovely to look inside, but the juxtaposition of Incan and Spanish will make you stop and think about colonialism both past and present.

Chincero also boasts a fairly popular market selling tourist goods as well as local wares. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days for the market, but it will probably be somewhat open most days of the week.

If you are particularly lucky, you’ll stumbled into Chinchero on a festival day. These days, the main square comes alive in a frenzy of colorful activity. If you find yourself in a Chinchero festival, remember to be respectful first and foremost. Ask before photographing women, stand at the back, and be respectful of local traditions. You’re witnessing a genuine part of the Quechua indigenous culture that is alive and well.

view from Maras village

The Streets of Maras

Maras/Moray

A visit to Maras, Moray, and the Salineras Salt Mines are a must if spending time in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The sites can be visited by a combination of hiking, biking, and taxis. I suggest beginning with a walk to the salt mines, which I outline below in the hikes section, then head up to Maras, where you can easily find a taxi to drive you out to Moray.

More commonly, people hire taxis from either Cusco or the Valley to take them on a full tour of the salt mines and Moray. Moray entrance fee is included on the Boleto Turístico. Salineras is not included, but it’s only $3 extra.

The salt mines are a work of terracing that dates back to the Incan empire. Built much like the green terraces found elsewhere, these are used to harvest salt. The flats are flooded and then the water slowly evaporates, leaving behind pure salt.

The Peruvians who work on the salt flats are part of a co-op system that dates back to Incan times. Everyone shares in the work and benefit from the harvests. Anyone can have access to the salt flats – as long as they are willing to pull their own weight.

Moray is the site of the famous circular Incan terraces. These were used, perhaps, to experiment with different crops. In truth, however, archaeologists cannot say for certain why the Incan build a circular pit of terraces here and not elsewhere. Whatever they were built for, they are a beautiful and mysterious spot to spend an afternoon.

Best Hikes in the Sacred Valley

Most tourists visit the Sacred Valley for it’s villages and markets, but there is more to be explored in this sun-drenched land. Indeed, the Sacred Valley is perhaps one of the most accessible and unexplored hiking locations in all of Peru. If you’re comfortable in Alpine environments and a very serious outdoors enthusiast, you can choose any valley and start hiking upwards to see what happens. As always, be respectful of any indigenous people you meet, ask permission before camping, and use caution.

If choosing a random trail and seeing where it goes seems a little too high risk for you, here are a selection of my favorite single-day and multi-day hikes in the Sacred Valley of the Inca.

Lares Trek

Though less popular than it’s more famous siblings; the Inca Trail and Salkantay trek, this two or three day Trek a stunning alternative to those heavily trafficked trails. The Lares Trek has three variations . Each begins at a different village in the valley, runs up and over the Andes, and finishes up at the Lares Hot Springs. Each route has it’s own benefit and, having personally hiked two of them, I believe that all three routes are equal in beauty.

sacred valley views peru

Sacred Valley Views

Option 1: Beginning from Huarán

This hike begins from a small village just outside of Huarán, following a well trodden footpath up into the high Andes. After several hours of hiking, you’ll come across the rural Quechua village of Cancha Cancha.

The people of Cancha Cancha are used to seeing tourists passing through but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want you walking around in their church or school. Be respectful and ask village elders for permission before wandering willy-nilly through their village taking photos. Not many villagers speak Spanish but simple sign language usually does the trick.

Continuing on from the village, you’ll soon reach a large, black Andean lake, the perfect spot for your first campsite. Day two you’ll hike up and over the ridge then down to the main road. Follow the main road until you reach Lares.

Option 2: Beginning from Urubamba

You’ll hike up out of town towards Pumahuanca, an absolutely stunning ecological area. You’ll be following a river and the path is actually a road for much of the beginning. Eventually it becomes a footpath that will lead you up and over the Andes.

On the way you’ll pass through a rural village, pastoral farmland, an ancient Incan ruin, and have breathtaking views back towards Cusco. Once you cross the pass, it’s a long walk down a dirt road until you reach the Lares Hot Springs.

Option 3: Beginning from Yanahuara

This is the only route I haven’t personally tried. The route from Yanahuara leads up to a large lake sitting at about 4000m. Camp beside this lake then continue up and over the pass and down to Lares and the much needed hot springs.

Inca Trail from Chinchero

Yes, it’s an Inca Trail hike, but it’s not THE Incan Trail. Here in the Sacred Valley, there is one long continuous hike that anyone can do, for free, on an authentic section of the Inca Trail.

It runs from Chinchero down to a small village called Urquillos. The trail can technically be hiked in either direction, but I recommend beginning in Chinchero and hiking down to Urquillos, unless you’re a true sucker for punishment.

Get a taxi or combi van up to Chinchero then head to the ruins. Walk down through the terraces to the very bottom and head off towards the forest and mountainside. You should find the start of a pathway leading down. After less than 5 minutes of walking, you’ll see a sign indicating that this is an authentic Incan Trail.

The trail leads down a steep mountainside to the village of Urquillos, close to the Aranwa Sacred Valley Resort. Pop in there to ask for help getting a taxi, or simply stand on the main road and wave your hand until a passing bus or car picks you up.

sacred valley above urubamba

On the way up to Yanacocha

Laguna Yanacocha Hike

One of the most beautiful day hikes in the valley, the hike to Yanacocha is incredibly popular with locals but little known to tourists. It may be a good idea to find a local guide to show you the way, as this trail can be difficult to find. Your hotel in the valley should be able to help you find a knowledgeable guide.

The trail begins from Huayoccari, first winding through eucalyptus forests, then slowly ascending the mountains above.

The trail will open up onto high Andean farmland, then alternate through forests, slow scrub, and more pastures. If you’re lucky you may see some wildlife but it’ll mostly just be cattle.

When you come to a large flat rock, you know you’re almost there. This is a great spot to have a rest and take some photos.

The last part of the trail is steeper as you approach the lake. The big reveal comes as you scrabble up the last climb to find a most incredible sight: a large, crystalline black lake sits beneath towering cliffs.

Apparently there is another lake higher up and a trail to access it, but I never tried it. Hiking up to Yanacochoa at 4700m was enough for me.

Remember to bring water and snacks (at least!) or better yet a full lunch to eat at the lake.

naupa iglesia sacred cave hike near Ollantaytambo

Roadside map on the way to the Naupa Iglesia

Naupa Iglesia Hike

Really more of a short morning stroll than an full hike, the Naupa Iglesia is a mystical hidden gems in the Sacred Valley. Frequented by locals and expats, you’ll be unlikely to encounter another tourist at this secretive Incan site.

The Naupa Iglesia is found in a cave sitting atop some old terraces. Inside the cave is a stunning carved altar, partially destroyed by the Spanish, and a mysterious stone door carved into the wall of the cave. In front of the cave are several structures containing the human remains.

To reach this site, take a taxi or combi to “el puente Pachar” or the Pachar Bridge. You should see a large sign for a Circuito Turistico when you disembark from the car. From there, head on up the road that leads through the village and up the valley. Stay on the road and look to your right hand side. When you see some crumbling terraces, follow the path up them and you’ll find the cave at the top.

If you have a guide, there is a beautiful hike that goes from there up to a majestic waterfall and onwards. That is a full day excursion and not to be undertaken without a guide.

Hiking Chicon Glacier Hike Peru

Trying to get to Chicón

Chicón Glacier Hike (Chi’qun)

Chicón, alternatively spelled Chi’qun to respected the Quechua, is the massive glacier and mountain peak above Urubamba. It’s peak is visible as you drive from Cusco to the valley, visible from the main square, and featured prominently in this music video from Calle 13, one of my favorite songs.

The peak of the mountain is 5,530m (18,000+ft) and the glacier sits just a few hundred meters below that. Needless to say, it is a very rigorous and demanding hike. Though technically possible to achieve in just one day, you’re better off bringing camping gear and giving yourself two days to attempt this trek.

To get there, find a taxi to drive you up the Chicón valley to the end of the road. There are also combis that leave from the main road very early in the morning if you can find them.

From the gate, you walk up the road until you come to the flat, cleared area. Perhaps it’s a mine, but I’m not certain. After that, follow the switchbacking trail as it leads up and up and up. It’s a rigorous ascent and this trail is unforgiving.

Full disclosure: I got altitude sickness up there and did not make it all the way to the Chicón glacier. If you attempt this hike and make it to the lake below the glacier and to the glacier itself, write me a comment and let me know how it goes! I’m dying to go back for another attempt.

Salineras to Maras

Less of a hike and more of a day trip on foot, it is totally possible to walk from Urubamba to the Salineras flat mines and up to Maras. I really enjoyed this walk and I recommend it to other travelers who love seeing the world on foot.

From Urubamba, you’ll want to cross the main road and find the lower road that runs parallel, one block closer to the river. Follow this for a few miles until you see a sign for the rainbow bridge and Salineras. Cross the bridge. On the other side you should find an official who will take your 10 soles or $3 for the price of entrance. Hang onto the ticket he gives you.

Follow the road along the river then upwards into the valley. You can’t see the salt mines yet but you are almost there. Hike the winding path up the hill and you’ll soon find yourself in amongst the salt mines.

When you enter the mines from the bottom they are slowly revealed to you, bit by bit. It won’t be until later, once you reach the top and look back, that you’ll realize the full expanse of the salty wonderland you’ve been wandering through.

Salineras Incan Salt Mines

Salineras Salt Flats

After you’ve had your fill of the salt mines, there is a trail that cuts up the hillside all the way to Maras. Head through the parking lot and look for the trail cutting straight up the hill. It will be narrow at first but will eventually open up into a sort of narrow road. Look out for mountain bikers coming downhill!

This road winds up the enticing valley all the way to Maras. Once you arrive in Maras, you should be able to find taxis to take you out to Moray or back down to Urubamba, or even onward to Cusco.

Best Events

Spend a year in the Sacred Valley and you’ll soon notice that the rhythm of life in the Sacred Valley is marked by festivals. Each one had something unique and wonderful that sits locked in my memories. But few of them recur every year. Here are a few of my favorite yearly or monthly events happening in the Sacred Valley

Cervecería Saturdays

The Cervecería del Valle Sagrado is a craft brewery located just outside of Urubamba, in the small village of Pachar. They are open most weekdays from 2-7 and if you have a free afternoon I highly recommend dropping in for a flight or at least a pint of one of their delicious brews.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the valley at the end of the month, head out to the Cervecería for their monthly party. On the last Saturday of the month they stay open until 10pm and expats and Peruvians alike from all over the valley congregate to drink, chat, and be merry. It’s a great place to meet other engaged people while drinking delicious beer. Just make sure to arrange a ride home at the end or be prepared to spend ages trying to hail down taxis in the dark!

Sacred Valley Peru

Sacred Sushi Sundays

Another regular event in the valley, this one takes place in the hippie village of Pisac. Each Sunday all the expats and some Peruvians congregate at Sacred Sushi Sundays. Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Enjoy delicious vegan treats like sushi or organic curry, as well as some sweet treats, spring rolls, and other delicacies. All dishes are vegan and made lovingly by a collection of expats living full time in Pisac. You can find them each Sunday just up the hill from Apu Organics.

Market Day in Urubamba

This tri-weekly event easily became one of my favorite things about life in Urubamba. As I mentioned above, the Urubamba market is the one of the best places to see what everyday life is like for the Quechua people living in the valley. Especially on Market Days. Three days a week all the local farmers from across the valley and up in the mountains converge on Urubamba to sell their wares, drink chicha with their friends, and generally make merry.

Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday is a market day, with Wednesday and Friday being the largest. The day begins early. People start setting up as early as 4am and the party lasts all morning. By noon things are shutting down and it’s mostly finished by 2pm.

During the morning the streets are filled with locals in their finery: hand woven garments in every color of the rainbow. People sit around chatting with friends and drinking chicha: a local alcohol made from corn.

The market itself overflows it’s banks like a river in the rainy season. For at least four blocks in each direction, women and men lay out blankets and sell their produce and products at extremely discount prices. This is best during the rainy season when the farmers have the most to sell.

Food vendors walk the streets selling all manor of street food. Feel free to get adventurous, approach women sitting with pots and ask to eat. You’ll get a delicious meal for often 3 soles or less. Just be warned, you may also get food poisoning.

On especially vibrant market days, you may also get live bands or musicians wandering the streets, but this is usually only when it overlaps with my final event suggestion, religious festivals.

traditional peruvian festival costumes in pisac

Women in their festival finery

Religious Festivals

I debated whether or not to include this one in this guide. The religious and cultural festivals of the Sacred Valley were easily some of my favorite days spent living in Peru – but they are very much NOT for tourist consumption. These festivals, like the famous one dedicated to El Señor de Torrechayoc are religious events and authentic expressions of the unique blend of Quechua culture and Catholicism that exist in the Sacred Valley.

If you are lucky enough to be in the valley during a religious festival and you stumble onto their parades or parties, be respectful. Do not try to join the parade, do not take pictures without first asking permission. You are a visitor there, and this parade is not being put on for you. Count your blessings and enjoy this amazing expression of an indigenous culture that hasn’t yet been stamped out by the continuing oppression of colonialism.

I won’t share the dates of these festivals because I truly believe they are not tourist attractions. But if you are lucky enough to visit during one, I hope you get lost in the colors and the sounds of an Andean festival.

Lare Trek Sacred VAlley Peru

Best Food

To close out this complete guide to your trip to the Sacred Valley, I just want to briefly highlight some of my favorite foods. Some of these can be found across Peru, while others are unique to the Sacred Valley. All of them are delicious and worth a bite or two.

Papa Rellena

A Peruvian classic. A potato is baked, then mashed up and stuffed with vegetables, egg, meat, and some spices. The whole thing is then deep fried. Served with a spicy “picante” salsa.

Rocoto Rellena

Take a somewhat spicy rocoto pepper and remove all the insides. Then they stuff the pepper with veggies, potatoes, and cheese. This is then deep fried and served with picante, a spicy salsa. Usually women with carts will sell both papa rellena and rococo relleno.

Yucca Frita

A simple yet decadent treat. A piece of yucca (tapioca, cassava) is deep fried and served with a delicious salsa.

Pollo y Papas

The national dish of Peru. Chicken roasted to perfection over hot coals and served with a generous helping of french fries. In the valley you usually have the option to choose between pollo broaster (deep fried), pollo a la brasa (roasted over coals), or pollo a la parilla (grilled). My favorite is a la brasa, it’s the perfect mixture of juicy and flavorful for me. I recommend getting un octavo (1/8 of a chicken), unless you’re starving, in which case it’s time to go big and order a quarto (quarter chicken).

Your meal will always come with a small bowl of chicken soup, usually with a chicken foot included, and all you can eat from the salad bar.

Cancha

Basically just Peruvian popcorn. The kernels of choclo, the massive white Peruvian corn, are roasted in salt and eaten. One of the best things to munch on while hiking in the high altitudes. Soothes stomach pain and gives you instant energy.

Pastelita

A little cake made from corn flour. Find women with massive trays selling slices for 1 sol each. Best tasting from October to December, though I’m not sure why.

Soup Peruvian Food

Typical Peruvian Soup

Menú

A menú is a traditional way Peruvian restaurants serve meals, especially lunch. Basically, the cook will prepare three meals and that is what you get to choose from. Every meal includes a soup and a main. They will write their two or three choices on a board out front and you walk in and tell them what you want. Your food will arrive in minutes. Menús can be as cheap as 3 soles but 5 to 6 soles is more common.

Be brave but also be aware, Peruvians eat a lot of offal so if you aren’t comfortable with that, check the definition of the meal before ordering!

Piccarrones

Little deep fried donuts served often with powdered sugar. 100% worth the calories.

The Salineras Hike to the Incan Salt mines

Salineras

Tamales

The tamales in the Sacred Valley are often sweet, but you can get both sweet and salty, just ask the woman selling them ahead of time which one you’re getting. I absolutely love both.

Pachamanca

This last one is unique to the Sacred Valley and a truly unique gastronomic experience. Pachamanca is a traditional harvest time meal. To make it, a large pit is dug in the earth and filled with hot coals. The coals are then covered with stones, potatoes, vegetables, more stones. This is repeated until the pit is filled. It is then covered with some earth and grass and left until all the heat has died out.

Family and friends then gather around the pit and slow remove the rocks, eating the root vegetables as they come out of the earth. Roasted or grilled meat is usually also served. It’s a truly communal way to celebrate all the goodness that has been delivered by Pachamama.

There are several restaurants in the valley that will cook a Pachamanca. Arrange a large group and call ahead to reserve your feast. If you have the opportunity to enjoy this ritual meal while you’re in the valley, you won’t regret it.

Where to Stay in the Sacred Valley

Since I lived in the valley, I never actually spent any time in hotels. However, I did teach the staff for various hotels and also taught yoga in some hotels, so I can recommend a few. Most are for people with larger budgets for accommodations but I do have one recommendation for budget travelers. These are all to be found around Urubamba, with one except being in Pisac.

Hiking in the Sacred Valley Peru

View from a hike above the Sacred Valley

Willka T’ika

This is less of a hotel and more of a retreat center. If you’re looking for a place to rest and escape for a few days, you couldn’t find a better option. Their staff are all dedicated and caring, the meals are all healthful with vegan options, and they have chakra gardens especially cultivated for walking and seated meditation. They can also arrange yoga workshops or classes for you if requested. Price: Luxury

San Agustin Monasterio de la Recoleta

Located in an old monastery, this beautiful hotel is a stunning place to lay your head before or after a long trek to Machu Picchu. I taught a few group yoga classes here and was very impressed with the staff and the setting. Truly a gorgeous place to stay. Price: Luxury

Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado

Absolutely jaw dropping hotel in an even more spectacular setting. Located a short drive from Urubamba, this hotel sits right on the Urubamba river, beneath high cliffs with views of the mountains. The staff are all dedicated, the food is excellent, and the rooms are comfortable and spacious. If you’re looking for a luxury retreat in the valley, this is it. Price: Luxury

BUDGET OPTION: Llamapack Backpackers

For the budget backpacker looking to stay near Urubamba, Llamapack is the most common option. They offer cheap dorms and single rooms, located just up the road from the main town, very walkable. Bonus, they are connected to a social enterprise rescuing Llamas. Price: Shoestring

Ollantaytambo Ruins

Exploring Ollantaytambo

Adventure Option: Skylodge Adventure Suites

This one of a kind hotel went viral not too long ago and for good reason. Where else can you stay in luxury suites only accessible by rock climbing or zip lining? Located 400 meters in the air, these adventure suites are 3 glass pods constructed of aerospace grade aluminum and perspex, giving you a nearly 360 degree view of the surrounding valley. The suites are only accessible through either a grueling via ferrata climb or a combination of hiking and zip lining. Either way, you’re going to earn your dinner beneath the stars. Price: Luxury

Pisac Options: Nidra Wasi

Mentioned this one in my Pisac section but I’ll mention it again. This guesthouse offers a communal space for workshops with a family atmosphere. Stay for the night or a month and take part in the many learning opportunities offered here in this spiritual center. Price: Low – Middle


That’s it. To learn more than that, you’ll have to come here and explore the Valley’s secrets on your own.

Have you visited the Sacred Valley, or are you planning a trip? If you can think of anything I missed, let me know in the comments!


Like this post? Pin it!

The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes  The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes

The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes

Hiking the Huayhuash Circuit Solo: A 9 Day Complete Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

Of all the treks I took on during my 14 months living in Peru, I don’t know if any trek was as physically demanding and emotionally rewarding as my solo trek through the Cordillera Huayhuash.

The Cordillera Huayhuash is a remote mountain range just to the south of the Cordillera Blanca, in the Ancash Region of Peru. The nearest tourism city is Huaraz, though the Huayhuash is several hours drive from there.

Laguna Carnicero Campsite Cordillera Huayhuash

Campsite on Lg. Carnicero

The most common way to tackle the Huayhuash is by using one of the many tour agencies in Huaraz. You can easily book a 7 to 9 day trek around the range with great guides and everything included.

But for those of us who are stubborn, adventurous, and fiercely independent, there is only one way to trek the Huayhuash: solo.

If you’re wondering what to pack or how to prepare for a solo trek around the Huayhuash, I encourage you to check out my previous post about preparing for a solo trek in the Cordillera Huayhuash.

I trekked the Huayhuash back in October of 2015. At that time, I could find hardly any blog posts about tackling this mountain range solo. Most of the information that I did find told me not to do it, that the Huayhuash is too rugged, too dangerous, and should only be taken on with a guide.

I’m here to tell you that perhaps that isn’t, strictly speaking, true. Sure, if you’ve never done a long hike before, if you’re not familiar with the Andes Mountains, if you don’t know how to read a map – yeah, get a guide. But if you’re an experienced trekker who wants to take on a physical challenge through one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world – the Huayhuash is waiting for you.

Siula Pass Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

Taking a quick break on top of Siula Pass, day 4

Hiking the Huayhuash Solo – What to Expect

Before you go, make sure you get all your supplies, including enough food for 9 days. There is only one town on the entire hike, so if you run out of supplies, you’ll be in a bad spot. At the bare minimum, carry enough calories for 5 days, a way to clean your water, and enough clothes to keep warm in the freezing nights.

The Huayhuash Circuit takes you through extreme altitudes, with the highest pass rising above 5000m (16,400ft). However, you’ll almost always camp lower than your highest point of the day. Although this makes the trek extremely physically taxing, it also helps a lot with acclimation and avoiding altitude sickness.

Hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit Solo

Top of the pass, day 5

About traffic on the trail: there will be lots of it. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that if you get hurt you’ll die alone, with no one walking by for days. There are plenty of people out there. Even in the rainy season.

At the bare minimum, there are plenty of Peruvian villagers living up there. They are very mindful of the tourists passing through, for reasons I will get to in a moment. On top of that, there are plenty of tour groups. During my 9 day circuit in 2015 I met three separate tour groups, and two other smaller packs of independent trekkers. Out of 9 days, I only spent one night completely by myself.

So unless things have changed, and I very much doubt they have, you won’t be alone.

Last thing to expect: extortion. Make sure you bring at least 300 soles with you just to pay off the local villagers. At least once a day, you will be approached by locals asking you to pay the protection fee. You cannot avoid it. Maybe if you wake up every day before dawn, but even so, at the next village they may just ask you to pay twice. Best to factor in the $300 soles as part of your Huayhuash budget. It’s just a shitty reality of this trail. Save the little pieces of paper they give you.

Also, take a few days in Huaraz to acclimate. Go on some day hikes. Seriously, do it. Altitude sickness will ruin your trek.

And of course, get ready to see some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

Hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Solo

Standing Proud on top of the pass, day 6

 

9 Day Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit At-A-Glance

  • Day 1: Huaraz to Quartlehuain (4150m)
  • Day 2: Quartlehuain to Laguna Mitucocha (4230m)
  • Day 3: Laguna Mitucocha to Laguna Carhuacocha (4140m)
  • Day 4: Laguna Carhuacocha to Laguna Carnicero (4330m)
  • Day 5: Laguna Carnicero to Atuscancha (Hot Springs!)
  • Day 6: Hot Springs to Huanacpatay (4400m)
  • Day 7: Huanacpatay to Huatiac (4400m)
  • Day 8: Huatiac to Laguna Jahuacocha (4070m)
  • Day 9: Jahuacocha to Llamac

Day 1 – Huaraz to Quartlehuian (4150m)

The first day, I hitched a ride with a tour group that was leaving from my hostel. So, instead of taking the bus to Llamac and hiking from there, I got a free ride all the way up to Quartlehuain. If you can swing this, I highly recommend it.

At the campsite, I met another couple that was tackling the Huayhuash without a guide, and they said the walk up from Llamac was entirely following a road and not very pleasant.

Laguna Mitucocha Cordillera Huayhuash

Looking back towards my campsite and Lg. Mitucocha

Day 2 – Quartlehuain to Laguna Mitucocha (4230m)

The day begins with an immediate ascent up to the first pass. The path zig zags up the mountainside more or less relentlessly for 550m. You’ll get a nice view down the valley that you drove up the day before.

The final push up to the top of the pass is on switchbacks through some scree. The tour group I had driven with the day before blasted past me on the way up and I could see and hear them sitting at the top of the pass as I climbed.

They were all quite encouraging and cheered for me during my final steps. To be fair, they were all carrying small daypacks, whereas I had all of my supplies for my 9 day hike on my back. Was I jealous of their donkey train? Not really.

After you reach the pass at 4700m, the path takes on a gentler grade downhill. You find yourself walking into a wide open valley, with your first views of the snowcapped peaks of the Huayhuash mountain range peeking out at you.

After some time, you should come to a gateway where a local villager will wait to collect another 10 soles. From here, the tour groups will continue on to cross a second pass and head to their campsite at Carhuacocha. But not me.

One of the advantages of solo trekking is you can create your own itinerary. I wanted to check out this Laguna Mitucocha sitting right at the foot of some of the highest peaks in the Huayhuash.

The path to the lake hugged the edge of the valley, winding slightly uphill. Up over one last rise and I found myself at the lake.

My map indicated that there was an official campsite on this lake, but I couldn’t find any indication of it. Instead, I found an old corral of sorts and pitched my tent next to the stones, hoping to use them as a wall from the wind.

It was still early when I made camp, so I took a walk around the lake and spent plenty of time in quiet meditation of the massive glacier rising above me.

How to Trek the Cordillera Huayhuash Solo

View from the top of the pass, day 3

Day 3: Laguna Mitucocha to Laguna Carhuacocha (4140m)

Leaving the lake the next morning, I packed up early and headed off across the valley back towards the main trail.

A note about Andean Valleys: They are a death trap. Do not trust them. Ever. They may look like idyllic vast paradises, covered in soft green grass just begging for a frolic, but do not be deceived! That soft green grass is a damp, cold, mire just waiting to suck you in and destroy you in an instant. Stick to the high ground. Do not walk across the valleys.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest. Moving on.

The hike up to Punta Carhuac, the day’s pass at 4,650m, is relatively easy. On the way up, I met my second group of fellow non-tour hikers. Three Germans who seemed just as intrigued to meet me as I was to meet them. I met them just a bit below the pass, where they were stopping for a snack. We said a quick hello but I kept on, telling them perhaps I’d see them at the top.

Although the ascent to Punta Carhuac is quite easy, the view from the top is still beautiful. It was nearing midday at this point and rain clouds were gathering overhead, but I still took a moment to have a seat and meditate. As I was sitting there, the Germans came over the rise and joined me.

We ended up not only walking down together, but also making camp that night on the side of Laguna Carhuacocha. Their German guidebook suggested that there were, in fact, two trails around the lake. The main trail, which goes down around the lake to the southern end, and another, which followed the Northern side. We opted to camp on the northwestern side of the lake, orchestrating a funny if precarious crab walk down the steep cliffs to the flat land beside the lake.

It made for a beautiful campsite, but we would learn the next day the error in our decision.

Laguna Carnicero Huayhuash Mountain Range

View from the campsite on Lg. Carnicero

Day 4: Laguna Carhuacocha to Laguna Carnicero (4330)

This is the day that any aspiring Huayhuash trekker looks forward to. After three days of arduous trekking, you’ve arrived: Siula Pass and the incredible trail along the three luminescent lakes, with three massive peaks towering overhead. It’s an unforgettable sight.

But first: my German friends and I had to get back to the main path.

After a wonderful night spent by the lake, listening to the sound of small avalanches pouring down the far side of the valley, we woke early and packed up camp, eager for the scenic day and massive climb that awaited us.

Walking along the northeastern side of the lake, we met a local woman who tried to tell us that the trail was on the souther side. But fools that we were, we ignored her. The valley ahead of us looked so flat, it would be a simple thing to cross it.

Fools.

The valley was not only a swampy mire filled with grass that gave way like quicksand, it was also criss crossed with ice cold streams flowing from the nearby glaciers.

It was a long, cold slog across that field. At one particularly tricky stream we all took our boots off, walked across the ice cold water that came up to our knees, and then had to try to rub some life back into our toes.

Moral of the story… take the main trail along the southern side of the lake. Camp in the official campsite. Save yourself the frostbitten toes.

After that field disaster, we rejoined the main trail and hiked up into the mountains. This was the closest the trail had come to the majestic snowcapped peaks. Whereas on previous days the mountains had been distant abstractions, like looking at postcards from Switzerland, now they were immediate, imposing, and ever present. The sound of avalanches and cracking glaciers was a constant companion through the morning.

After some time, we made it above the third lake and were able to look back and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Still to this day one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Siula Pass Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

The famous lakes. It’s even more unbelievable in person.

Continuing on, after the three lakes, the real ascent of the day begins. It is a very steep climb up a mountain wall to reach Siula pass at 4800m. On the way up I began to experience some symptoms of altitude sickness. Thankfully, I had the Germans with me. They took some of my stuff out of my pack, distributed it amongst themselves, and cheered me on up to the pass.

By the time we finally made it up there, the storm clouds were growing, and what earlier had been a clear sky was now dark and stormy. Sitting atop a mountain pass is not where you want to be when a storm is brewing, so after a quick break and a snack, we booked it downhill to Laguna Carnicero, and our lakeside camp for the night.

Day 5: Laguna Carnicero to Atascancha Hot Springs

Today was a bittersweet day. I was so excited to get to the hot springs and spend an afternoon soaking my very sore muscles. But the Germans were headed up and over a different pass, skipping the hot springs for more adventurous trails. Our time together had come to an end, and I was very sorry to see my friends go.

The trail from Laguna Carnicero proceeds downhill into a valley, where a local waits to extract a further 10 or 20 soles. From there, my German friends headed up for a little known pass well above 5000 meters. I considered going with them, but since I had felt minor altitude sickness the day before, it seemed prudent to take the lower pass and head on down to the hot springs.

Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit without a Guide

With my German friends

From the valley floor, the trail meandered upwards at a very light grade all the way to the pass. The surrounding landscape was beautiful, if not quite as majestic as the day before. After a few false summits, I reached the pass at 4750m.

There, I caught up with two men, a guy from Mexico and his Peruvian guide. I was honestly shocked to have caught them, since they were walking with nothing and I was still carrying my massive pack. They were both super friendly and it turns out were also headed to the hot springs. I headed on down the hill ahead of them, eager for a soak.

Down and down and down the trail went. After what felt like hours,I came to the shore of a massive lake with some sort of construction on it. It was my first industrial structure I’d seen in days and I was a bit spooked by it.

Tip: This massive lake is Laguna Viconga. For the curious, there is apparently an old Sendero Luminoso training camp on the far side.

From the lake, things can get a little confusing. There are trails going in a few directions. Take the trail heading northwest, down the valley, in order to find the hot springs. You’ll head back up this direction the following morning.

Feeling pretty fatigued from my massive descent, I took a seat next to a small waterfall to make some pb&j crackers for my lunch. I finished up, laid down for a bit of mindfulness, and a few minutes later my new friends came along the trail.

The guide immediately started laughing. I wasn’t quite sure why but I picked up my pack to follow them along the trail and not 2 minutes later we arrived at the hot springs.

I had stopped for a break less than half a kilometer away from my destination for the day. Oh well.

Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Trail on the way to the pass on day 5

When we arrived at the campsite, I found it already populated with two tour groups: my new friends, and a group of Israelis. I paused, looking for a likely place to put my tent, when my new friends said “camp with us!”

And so I did.

Spent the afternoon in the hot springs, soaking my muscles and generally getting rave reviews from the Israelis who seemed to think I was out of my mind doing this trek on my own.

Made my dinner and fell asleep feeling more relaxed than I had in days. Little did I know, the days of solitary trekking I imagined for my future were never to materialize.

Day 6: Viconga Hot Springs to Huanacpatay (4400m)

On this day, I had planned to cross not one but two passes, heading up towards Laguna Jurau. I knew it would be an incredibly grueling day, but it would get me up close and personal with more of the peaks and glaciers of the Huayhuash.

I still think it would make for a breathtaking day, and if you’re planning your own solo trek through the Huayhuash, do consider it.

But my plans changed not because of scenery, nor because of any problems with altitude or fatigue. Instead, it was because of some of the people I had met. Namely, my two friends from the day before.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Leaving the hot springs, the trail heads back up towards Laguna Viconga, then veers northeast and up to the pass.

Though I left camp ahead of everyone else, it wasn’t long before the tour group’s donkey trains were blowing past me. Their minder, a local Andean man, barely breaking a sweat as he marched up the path.

I was heading up towards the tallest pass of the entire trip at 5000m. The way up was a nice mixture of steep climbs and small plateaus.

The group of Israeli tourists were quite concerned for my wellbeing. They kept trying to give me sweets and snacks and asking how I was doing with my pack. In the end though, half of their group ended up getting pretty bad altitude sickness. Two of them had to ride donkeys over the pass. To be fair, they’d been drinking wine and smoking the night before.

Pro tip: Drinking wine and smoking joints won’t help you trek.

Reaching the pass definitely felt like an achievement. It was a wide open, bald pass covered in scree, surrounded by glaciers. Indeed, the glaciers felt so close I thought I could almost reach out and touch them. In fact I might have, if I hadn’t thought it was so dangerous.

Glaciers in Peru's Cordillera Huayhuash

Top of the pass, day 6

At this point in the day I was still considering attempting the second pass.

Then my new friends began to try to convince me otherwise. All three guys, the man from Mexico, another young guy from Canada, and their guide, all started telling me I should hike with them, camp with them, etc, etc.

In truth, they were funny guys. Friendly. And I enjoyed the company. I’d make a decision when I got to the fork, I told myself.

The hike down from that 5000m pass was steep switchbacks through scree. I’m not the best at walking downhill, even on solid ground. Add slippery rocks and I slow down to a snails crawl. My window for attempting the second pass was getting smaller.

By the time I reached the bottom I had made my decision, I’d skip the second pass and camp with my new friends. I’d have the advantage of mooching off their guide, and there were still 3 more days and 3 more chances to see these peaks and glaciers of the Huayhuash.

We reached their camp and I learned why, exactly, people pay for these tour companies to take them around. Their tents were already set up, as was the common area tent. I set up my tent then heard them inviting me into the common tent, where I was served hot taquitos with salsa.

It was heaven.

I’d been living off of ramen noodles and peanut butter crackers for days. I wolfed down everything they gave me, much to the amusement of the guys.

Huatiac Campsite Cordillera Huayhuash

Happy to see camp, end of day 7

Day 7 Huanacpatay to Huatiac (4400m)

This is the only day of the Huayhuash trek where the trail goes down below 4000m and then back up. It is also the only day of the trek where you’ll hike through a town and be able to re-stock up on provisions.

After a quick breakfast and coffee with my new friends (I still stubbornly cooked my own breakfast, even though they offered me some of theirs), we were off. The hike proceeded down a valley and then criss crossed down a steep wall to a river valley far below.

As we dropped in elevation the landscape became more welcoming. Signs of life began to appear. A few Peruvians leading donkeys or cattle walked by.

After some time, we came to Huayllapa, the only town on the circuit. The trail doesn’t go into the town, but you could easily take the left fork and head into the market.

From Huayllapa, the trail immediately begins a steep ascent, following a turbulent river. Large stones make a kind of giant staircase leading up, up, up.

I love trails like this, but even I thought this was a pretty steep climb.

All climbs end eventually though, and I was quite relieved to come over a rise and see the tour groups campsite laid out in front of me, their common area tent open, with the aroma of deep friend snacks wafting out the door.

I set up my tent and gratefully sat down.

It was still fairly early in the day, and the afternoon rains hadn’t come in yet, as they had on most other days. The guys started jokingly asking me if I knew how to do yoga.

“Yeah, in fact, I’m a trained yoga teacher.”

Their jaws dropped open in surprise. Apparently it had been a running joke with them that they could practice some yoga during their trek.

So, right then, in the middle of an Andean mountain valley, I lead an impromptu post hiking yoga class.

After yoga we retired to the tent for dinner. Though I tried to cook my own meal, my new friends wouldn’t hear of it, and I was treated to another gourmet three course meal in their tent.

Laguna Jahuacancha in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Looking back at our campsite on Lg. Jahuacocha

Day 8 Huatiac to Laguna Jahuacocha (4070)

A long day of trekking with two passes to cross before arriving at the final, majestic campsite on the Huayhuash circuit.

During breakfast that morning, a massive hailstorm blew in. Having already packed up my things, I huddled in the common tent with my tour group buddies while the mountain storm raged around us, threatening to tear the tent off of its spikes.

The tent held up, however, and after a half hour or so the storm relented and we were on our way.

The first pass of the day, Tapush, sits at 4800m. It’s a rocky, windswept pass and at the time I hiked it, covered in clouds.

From there the trail descends back down to 4500m. As I walked happily down the hill, a light snow starting falling, coating my outer layer of clothing.

Then back up and over Yaucha pass, 4800m. And from there, the trail winds down through a highland before dropping steeply into the valley of Laguna Jahuacocha. The view from the top of that final drop is something I will not soon forget.

The valley lays out in front of you, dewy and green and ethereal as only the Andes can be. A massive turquoise lake sits in the middle, and beyond the lake, three impossibly massive peaks rise up, towering above the valley below, nearly defying comprehension. The tallest of these is Yarupaja, 6630m and one of the tallest mountains the Huayhuash.

Our camp for the night was on the shore of that turquoise lake, with Yarupaja towering over us. The clouds and rains swept in during the afternoon, typical rainy season weather, but just knowing it was there, hearing the cracking of its glaciers and rumbling of its avalanches was enough.

Also, there is a small house next to this campsite and the woman there sells Cusqueña beer. We bought a few bottles and spent our last night together taking turns singing songs from our countries and telling stories. I honestly couldn’t believe my luck. I was their adopted vagabond and I loved it.

Hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

My adopted family

Day 9: Jahuacocha to Llamac

The final day was bittersweet, as all final days of a trek are. We headed down the valley and out to Llamac. I believe the trail crosses a pass at 4300m, but the guide took us around, following an irrigation canal, that avoided the pass altogether.

We made it back to Llamac quite quickly, picked up a van, of course my adopted family let me ride with them all the way back to Huaraz.

For those of you solo trekkers who are not lucky enough to be adopted by a tour group, there are busses leaving Llamac for Huaraz daily. If you miss the bus, there are a few Hospedajes in town where you can sleep for the night. Or you can hike back up the hill to find one last peaceful campsite.

Would you hike the Huayhuash solo? Have you already? Let me know about it in the comments!


Like this post? Pin it!

Trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash Solo, a 9 day guide to Peru's Huayhuash Circuit

Hiking the Huayhuash Solo: Logistics

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

So you want to follow in the footsteps of Joe Simpson from Touching The Void? Or you just want to see some of the most remote mountain wilderness outside of the Himalayas? You’re looking for the Huayhuash mountain range.

For 10 days during October, 2015, I hiked alone through the Huayhuash Mountain range. For those of you who are feeling a bit left out at the moment, let’s back up and go over some basic information to answer the question:

What exactly is the Huayhuash?

The Huayhuash Mountain range is an independent chain of mountains located in the Andes mountain range of Peru. The range contains some of the highest mountains in the world outside of Asia’s Himalayas. The highest mountains in the Huayhuash include Yerapuja, Peru’s second highest mountain, rising to 6617m (21,709ft!!), and Siula, the mountain you may know from Joe Smith’s book and subsequent movie “Touching The Void” which ascends a jaw dropping 6,344m (20,813ft). In short, these mountains are big, very big, some of the biggest mountains you’ll ever see.

Peru-SAM-Map

This map. So funny. The more you know.

The weather in Peru’s Andes is fairly regular. From May to September is the dry season. During these months you will almost never see rain, the skies will be mostly clear and you’ll get the best views. From October to April is the rainy season, with cloudy skies, rainy days and nights, and generally terrible conditions for outdoor adventure sports.

The dry season also means boat loads of tourists, yes even in the remote Huayhuash. It’s just not THAT remote. And during the wet, the views are worse, but you’ll have the place to yourself.

Rainy Season Hiking in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Conditions you can expect to deal with if you choose to hike during the rainy season.

So Megan, you said you were there in October?

Yes, I happened to do the Huayhuash in mid October. My trek through the Huayhuash was unplanned, through circumstances that don’t bear talking about, I ended up in the area of Huaraz with not much to do. Huayhuash it was.

If you hike during the wet season, know this: the mountains are reliably clear in the morning, with clouds arriving before lunch and rains arriving before dinner. Get up early.

Personally, I think the wet season was worth it. The place was close to empty and I had beautiful views 8/9 days.

So now we’re all oriented and we know where the Huayhuash is and why I wanted to go there, let’s get down to the business of logistics.

————

Most people take on the Huayhuash with an organized tour which can be easily booked online, or from the nearby major tourist hub of Huaraz. But unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a lot of info on hiking the Huayhuash solo.

My first word of caution is this: if you aren’t an experienced backpacker, and if you don’t have a lot of experience in extreme mountain environments like those found in the Peruvian Andes, go with a tour. The Huayhuash circuit is long, arduous, and at times, dangerous. If you feel nervous about taking her on alone, don’t. There’s no shame in having a guide.

If you ARE experienced and want the challenge, here is where I suggest you begin:

  1. Get to Huaraz.

This is a city in the Peruvian Andes from where you can organize your gear, purchase maps, find friends to hike with, and get a bus to the Huayhuash starting town of Llamac.

A bus ride from Lima to Huaraz is short and can be pretty cheap. There are the expensive “safer” options of Cruz Del Sur and Civa, but you can also take the cheaper Z buss and I’m willing to bet you will be fine.

  1. Organize your gear.

This is probably the toughest bit of hiking the Huayhuash solo. Most backpackers don’t go around carrying tents, sleeping bags, or stoves. Ask around at your hostel or at the various tour agencies as most of them will rent out gear.

Casa de Guias is a good place to start for research.

http://www.huaraz.com/casadeguias/

Gear List

  • REI 2 person, 3 season, lightweight dome tent
  • Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag (-9C/14F)
  • MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove
  • Pinnacle Soloist cooking pot and cup
  • MSR plastic collapsible spoon
  • 2L Camelpak
  • Steripen
  • Solomon hiking boots
  • 1 pair silk pants
  • 1 pair hot chilis fleece pants
  • 1 pair prana hiking pants
  • 1 pair rainproof pants
  • 1 rainproof shell
  • 2 fleece jackets
  • 1 underarmor shirt
  • 1 daytime lightweight hiking shirt
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 2 sock liners
  • Topographical Map (purchased in Huaraz)
  • Notebook and 2 pens
  • Smartphone (to take pictures)
  • Kindle
  • Pair of collapsible Leki hiking poles
  • Kelty Coyote 65L Backpack – NOT RECOMMENDED, but it was a hand-me-down and super old and heavy.

And there you have it, add in enough food for 10 days and that was my pack. It was heavy and cumbersome but I did it.

Topographic Map for the Cordillera Huayhuash

My map and planning notebook

  1. Buy a topographic map.

If you’re going to hike the Huayhuash alone, a map is pretty important. There are a few spots where you might get lost. Also consider buying a compass. It isn’t necessary but it can’t hurt. Modern hikers have GPS machines ppppphhhttttt.

Inside the Mercado Central in Huaraz, Peru

Shot inside Huaraz’s Mercado Central

  1. Plan your menu and buy your food.

This is probably the biggest challenge of doing a solo hike in Peru. You do not have access to those pre-made camping meals from REI that are so popular in the states these days. Get yourself to the Mercado central in Huaraz and familiarize yourself with what is available.

There are 3 medium sized grocery stores in Huaraz where you can buy supplies but everything there is overpriced. Asked around and find the Mercado Central and you’ll find a giant warehouse full of vendors selling everything you need. There is even one woman who has a dry goods store with all the food you find in the grocery stores at half the price.

Take the time to plan a menu before you go shopping. I have met so many hikers in Peru who simply didn’t bring enough calories with them because they didn’t plan a menu. Its an easy thing to fix.

  1. Make sure you have a way to clean your water.

The water in Peru is undrinkable. Even up in the mountains in the remote Huayhuash there is livestock everywhere, pooping in streams and making you sick. Get a filter, a steripen, or iodine pills. You can buy the iodine pills probably at any botica, or outdoors store in Huaraz.

  1. Sorochi Pills

If you are new to the Peruvian Andes, you will feel the effect of the altitude. If you are nervous about this, it makes sense to purchase some sorochi pills, available at every Botica in town. If you’re into the more holistic approach, consider eating a lot of garlic, onions, or drinking coca tea.

One positive of the Huayhuash trek is the terrain. You will ascend to a pass and descend every day, so you will always camp lower than your highest point.

  1. Buy your bus ticket to Llamac.

There is a bus company right on the main road which leaves at 5am, getting you to Llamac around 11am. Tickets are fairly cheap, s/30 as of October, 2015. You should buy your ticket at least a day ahead of time.

  1. Make sure you have enough money!

Bring at least s/250 with you if you are planning to hike the whole Huayhuash. Every time you pass by a village, which is at least once a day, you will be asked to pay between s/10-s/45. They tell you that it is for “protection” but it is extortion and it is the worst part of hiking the Huayhuash.

The Peruvian government recently incorporated the Huayhuash as a protected area but not a national park. Before this change, the people who lived there were on their own. As such, there is no entrance fee, but every village charges a protection fee. Why?

Back in the 1980’s there was a known Sendero Luminoso training camp up there. You can apparently still find it, but I didn’t personally notice I was hiking by that lake until I was below it.

Two foreign trekkers were killed in 2002, and another four were shot in 2004, one of whom died from blood loss. These shootings were a result of people resisting robberies. Nowadays you aren’t at risk of being shot but you do need to pay the local strongmen close to $100 to hike through the mountain range.

Okay back to the cheerier subject. The Huayhuash is completely safe from violence today, and if you plan your trip well you will have an amazing experience.

Cordillera Huayhuash on a Solo Trek

Look out for my next post. I’m going to go through my 9-day itinerary, including suggestions of alternate routes and best hiking choices.

Happy Trails!

Like this post? Pin it!

Hiking Peru's Cordillera Huayhuash Solo - What to pack and how to plan

Street Food of the World: Chocho

Adventure Travel, Food, Peru, Uncategorized

Food: Chocho
Country: Peru
Region: Huaraz
Flavor: Savory
Spice level: 4/10

Meet one of my favorite street foods in the entire world: the Peruvian super food secret – Chocho!

sfood4

What is Chocho?

Chocho is probably the healthiest street food I’ve ever found. Basically, it is a salad made up mostly of the tarwi bean (we’ll get to that), mixed with tomato, onion, lime juice, cilantro, cancha (Peruvian popcorn), and maybe a spicy sauce and some MSG.  Peruvians still love MSG. Either someone forgot to tell them how hidious that stuff is for you or they just don’t care. Give me flavor or give me death.

sfood2

Mix all the ingredients up and you get a super simple, super tasty salad. The street vendors here come out to the markets early and sell it till it’s gone, usually by lunchtime.

Though I had seen the white bean, tarwi, while living near Cusco, the first time I ever tried this snack was not until I met a Peruvian family while hiking a little off the tourist trail in the Cordillera Blanca. One of the daughters gave me a big bag of the stuff and I could not stop eating it.

sfood3

Now, what makes this street food so special? Its main ingredien: tarwi. Tarwi, scientific name Lupinus Mutabilis, is a white bean that grows all across the high Andes. The plant itself is a beauty.

Here I am haplessly researching tarwi thinking “hmmm I wonder what the plant looks like?”

IMG_20151024_085254886

It looks like the beautiful purple flowers that I have seen on literally every hike I have been on in Peru, ever. They are ubiquitous throughout the Peruvian Andes. I thought tarwi was this mysery bean that came from some secret tarwi bunker, but I was wrong. It grows everywhere.

The plant itself is a hero. It grows well in soil with low acidity and helps replace nitrogen in the soil.

More importantly for our gastromic journey, the plant then produces these little white beans that are a health bonanza. They are 40% protein and 20% fat. That is richer in proteins than either quinoa or soy.

The bean is inedible raw due to its high alkaloid content. The alkaloids give it a bitter taste and are poisonous. Easily fixed, by soaking the little guys in water for a few days the alkaloids are completely leeched out.

sfood1

I used to see the local women doing this in the markets in Urubamba and I thought the idea of beans sitting in tepid water was a bit gross. Having done a bit of research, turns out it’s totally logical.

In Cusco, they mostly grind the tarwi into a paste and eat it like a stew. Nutritious, but I find the Huaraz region’s Chocho a much more delicious way to ingest the magical tarwi.

Today I bought a bag of Chocho (2 soles) and a bag of pre-shredded lettuce in the market (1 sole). Total cost of my (very filling) lunch today? 3 soles, or about $1.

sfood5
So if you find yourself wandering through a market in the Andes, seriously don’t miss out on this one, get yourself a big bag of Chocho and start snacking.
Like this post? Pin it!
Peru Travel Tip for Foodies: Don't miss out on Chocho, the best street food in Huaraz, Peru

Busco Un Burro: Buying a Donkey in El Perú

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

It turns out that buying a donkey in Peru is not the easiest thing to do. Which, if you have ever been to Peru, may surprise you. Donkeys are everywhere. More ubiquitous than the llama, almost as common as the cow, donkeys are used on every trek and they can be found in every field.

Understandably, after a year of living in close contact with Peruvian farmers and their donkeys, I came to the conclusion that buying one would be a simple task.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Buying a donkey took me 4 weeks from the day I started looking.

Okay, so why on earth was I trying to buy a donkey in the first place?

My then partner and I had this crazy idea to walk across Peru from the ocean to the Amazon. But we really didn’t fancy carrying all our supplies on our backs. So we decided to buy a donkey to help us out.

The mission started when we arrived in Chimbote in late August, 2015. Chimbote is a fairly large port city in Peru. We got a room in a small hospedaje, the cheapest version of a hotel in Peru, and went out to get a feel for the town.

 

A young girl, probably late teens/early 20s was working at a cell phone booth and we started talking with her. Eventually we mentioned that we were in town to purchase a donkey.

Her shock was plain to see.  Not in Chimbote, she told us, incredulous, but outside in the chakras (farm fields) in a town called Santa. But, she warned us, donkeys were very expensive, 2,500 soles, or about $700… WAY more than we wanted to pay.

Still, it was our first lead. So off we went next day to Santa, a smaller much more agricultural town outside of Chimbote. We soon found an agricultural products store and asked them, Busco un burro? Donde se vende? (I’m looking for a donkey, where are they sold?)

Our timid questioning was met with much belly slapping hilarity. Not in Santa! This is a town! Silly gringos, go out to the chakras!

Into a moto and out to the rural area we went. And that was how we found ourselves standing in a deserted collection of 5 mudbrick houses. No one around. Donkeys in all the open spaces. I could just see the tumble weed floating by in the distance.

What was there to do? We didn’t know, so we walked down the street until we found someone. Eventually we ran into a guy using an ox to plow his field so he could plant his quinoa. He said he might know a guy with a donkey and calls a friend. Pretty quickly we get the standard response ‘nooo, no hay’ (There aren’t any).

Why do we want one? He askes. And we explain that we are looking for a donkey to carry our stuff from the ocean, across the desert, up and over 2 mountain ranges, and out into the Amazon jungle.

He looks alarmed.

No, these donkeys, he tells us, are burros costeños (coastal donkeys). A walk like that would kill them. They aren’t made for carrying heavy things.

 

Well there was the crux of our mistake. We had been living high up in the mountains near Cusco, where all the donkeys were hearty mountain donkeys. We had completely forgotten to take into account the fact that coastal donkeys would be as ill equipped for high altitude life as we were.

We decide, with much trepidation, to complete stage one of our walk, across a desert and over one 4,800m (15,700ft) mountain pass, without donkey.

Probably the most painful decision of my entire life. I was committing myself to two weeks of walking through unforgiving terrain with up to 50 pounds on my back.

14 days later and we’d made it to the end of stage 1 and the bustling metropolis that is Huaylas, Peru.

Did I say bustling metropolis? No sorry, I meant completely dead mountain town.

Huaylas, which had been our mecca for 2 weeks, is a ghost town. The tiendas are empty. There is one hotel and we appear to be the only guests. The market has one lady in it who, at 2pm, doesn’t appear to be serving lunch.

Having placed all our hopes on this town as our best option to buy food and a donkey: we despair.

But over the next 4 days, this ghost town slowly comes to life around us and I begin to love it.

The one lady who works in the market is Maria and she becomes our biggest supporter in town. Every day she makes us breakfast and asks how the donkey search is going.

On day 2, Maria calls up her son, and he and his cousin take us up into the mountains to several villages, asking around for a donkey. We head up to tiny rural communities without cars and ask everyone we see if they have donkeys available. We are greeted by a chorus of ‘nooo, no hay’. But to give our guide, Ibo, credit, he never gives up and even commiserates with us: que hacemos? (What are we going to do?) I had this beautiful sense that we were his friends and he was going to help us until the very end.

On day 3, Maria takes us herself through town to ask some friends about donkeys. Even when we are away, she goes by herself to a different pueblo and actually finds someone willing to sell a donkey to us.

Not to mention Maria is incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming. Her help turned Huaylas from a ghost town to a living Peruvian community of which we are briefly a part.

On Day 2 in the morning, before Ibo can take us up to the mountain villages, we take a walk through Huaylas and up to the next town, passing through all the farm fields in between. We speak with everyone who crosses our path. People ask us where we are staying so they can find us if they do find a donkey. A man offers to sell us his, but he wants 800 soles, still way more than we are willing to pay.

Day 3 of the Huaylas search was the day of success. After Maria took us to meet her friends without success, we went back and asked the man who owned our hotel if he knew anyone. He turned out to be yet another incredibly helpful and friendly character from Huaylas.

And so we are off again, following señor through the town to the house of a woman who may own a donkey. Well, she doesn’t know of anyone, we get another ‘noooo, no hay’ and are about to give up, when a tiny campesiña woman walks by and our host calls out to her. Asking, does she know anyone who wants to sell a donkey?

For the first time, we don’t hear ‘nooo, no hay’ Instead, as if in a dream, I hear her say, my mother wanted to sell hers, let me call her.

Her mother is an 88 year old Peruvian woman who is as small as child, but tough as nails and sweet as sugar. She says yes, she has a donkey, a female, who is made to carry things through the mountains, and she would like 250 soles for her.

Perfect.

Off we go with Felicity, not the 88 year old mother, but the daughter. She takes us down ‘just 15 minutes’ to the chakra where the donkey lives.

11222164_953907604730988_1721181325776676843_o

Chana looking gorgeous on the day we met her

And the donkey is perfect. She is sweet, mild tempered, with healthy teeth, healthy feet, a good weight, and a clean, healthy coat of hair. I couldn’t be happier.

We work out the details with Felicity and head back up towards town. I expect it to be the end of it, but no. Felicity takes us into her home and makes us a delicious lunch from scratch. Canchita (peruvian toasted corn), a pea soup, and a vegetarian dish of veggies and potatoes over rice. During all of this she tells us about her life, raising a daughter by herself, making sure her daughter stayed in school. Her problems with monkey and her life struggles. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in Peru.

And after lunch? She has us help her herd her sheep down to the fields below town.

And that is how you buy a donkey in Peru.

Riding The Bus In Peru

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

I enter the terminal to the sound of men calling out the various destinations. “Cusco! Cusco! Chincero!” “Ollantaytambo!” Occasionally I am noticed and one calls out the name of some nearby tourist destination for the gringa. “Maras! Moray!”

But today I am not traveling for pleasure. Today I am heading to a different place, on a bus that las turistas rarely take. And why would they? There is no obvious reason to go to Yanahuara.

I step onto the bus and take a seat on the front bench, facing the rest of the passengers. We are waiting for the bus to fill up near to bursting. The driver will not leave before then.

The bus is in fact a van, converted into a combi of sorts, with four or five rows of seats bolted to the floor, and a bench along the front, facing the rest.

Here I sit.

Slowly the bus fills with characters from agrarian Peruvian life. At first glance they are all quite similar, in speech, in appearance, in attitude.

But look more closely.

Here is a stout old campesiña woman, carrying my weight worth of vegetables on her back in a brightly colored tapestry. And behind her a younger woman in traditional dress, a similar brightly colored tapestry on her back, but within it? A baby.

Next, a couple step on who, by appearances, could be from the United States. Modern clothes and modern cell phones, the only thing giving them away is the way they speak Spanish.

An elderly man enters, draped in a brightly colored traditional poncho and hat, and close behind a young boy similarly dressed.

And last, a group of school kids, middle school aged, talking loudly and teasing one another. To listen to their conversation they could be from anywhere. From Tokyo or Seoul or nowhere, USA.

The bus is full at last and we pull out of the terminal. Slowly we inch out of town and up into the farmland. Every once and awhile a “baja sol y luna” sounds and a few passengers step off. Later the bus pulls over and a few more step on.
There are no designated bus stops. The system has no order. And yet somehow it works perfectly.

The sounds on the bus rise and fall. Conversation switches from Spanish to Quechua and back again. Everyone seems to be at least some little bit bilingual.

Occasionally there is a furtive glance at the gringa. Children stare, openly curious. But mostly I am left alone, neither harassed nor treated like some special being. It is in a way comforting. To be left alone to observe. To people watch. To disappear into the tapestry.

Eventually my turn arrives and I say to the driver, “baja allyupampa”. I step off and pay my ochenta centimes for the ride and the bus drives off along the single paved road in the valley, leaving me in the dust.

 

And such is my experience riding a bus in Peru.

Life In Urubamba: The Beginning

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

Ok, It is now the start of my second week living and working in Urubamba, Peru. My brain is a little tired from using Spanish, even though I am able to use English at home. Every day, all around me is Spanish. This is good, this is great. I can feel myself learning every day. But it is an exercise in patience. I want to learn faster, to see myself improve faster. I want to be fluent now. But with patience, and hard work, I will gain close to fluency. I hope.

Many of the people here, even the tourists, they speak Spanish. Though at least two of my fellow teachers are at a low Spanish level, much like I am. That helps, because I am human and I do compare myself to others. When I am only around fluent Spanish speakers I feel that I have so far to go. But really, I am able to communicate… most of the time. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to express an idea and not having the words to do it. Imagine human life before the development of language. There is a chicken and the egg debate for you.

My ability to speak Spanish also impacts my teaching. Right now I teach 3 classes, and will be adding a private this week. My first class is hotel English. This is fairly simple because the employees at the 5 star hotel that I am working with already have a high level of English, so what we work on together is more like troubleshooting. For example we explore how best to give a sales pitch for their membership program, and how to reply to guest complaints. Things like that.

Next I teach a class por los niños que tiene 5-7 años. So far my attendance has been spotty so I have only had one kid at a time. This makes it quite enjoyable because normally I’m not so fond of working with little kids. I prefer preteens and teenagers. I’m strange. I know. Anyway, the kids and I have mostly been working on numbers and colors and shapes. We do a lot of coloring, and then I read one of the Dr. Seuss books that I brought with me from my parent’s house in the States. I mostly use Spanish to communicate to the kids, but I am trying to include more and more English as the weeks go on.

Then there is my adult class, Basic 2. This is by far the most challenging and the most rewarding. I really need to use Spanish to make sure they understand what I am asking them to do, but in reality I try to use only English in the classroom. This makes it very challenging for them, I can see this, but in the end it will earn the best results.

The style of teaching is completely different from what I learned in Korea. The atmosphere in my classroom and my style of classroom management is the same, but the material is different. So, what I love about teaching, that stays, and what I disliked, has changed. Now I am teaching more grammar. Yesterday we worked on Can/Can’t. The students really enjoyed learning that unlike in Spanish (yo puedo, tu puedes, él puede, nos podemos, ellos pueden) in English it is actually simpler, I can, you can, she can… etc. Always can! Then by contrast we went over Do/Does. He does. Megan does. Everyone else do hehe.

Anyway I really enjoy it. I love seeing the moment in the student’s face when something clicks and they hurriedly scribble down a note to themselves. Also, now in the second week the students are getting to be more comfortable with me and as a result are asking more questions. My absolute favorite part of teaching is when students get engaged enough to start asking tough questions.

What else can I tell you about my life in Urubamba? There is so much to tell!

Overall, I feel happier and healthier and more centered here than I have since.. well… childhood really. I know that sounds extreme but I’ve been thinking about it and it’s true. For the first time since I hit 13 years old and noticed I was a female human and not some fairy creature from Narnia, I am happy with my body and not critically examining every inch of myself. I eat what I want, and eat healthy. Am I losing or gaining weight? I don’t know and I don’t care. It is liberating.

My meditation and yoga practice has become effortless. I wake up with the sun most mornings between 5-6:30. I know that is a big window but there it is. I practice meditation for 20 minutes and then go through an asana practice. A few mornings I have felt no desire for asanas and I did not punish myself for this. For example this morning I have woken up with a touch of a parasite and I know that my body needs rest. I also knew I wanted to focus on writing, and so instead of meditation and asana, I am writing this. And it feels right. I feel no guilt.

Hippies will say that the Sacred Valley of the Inca (where Urubamba is located) is one of the energy centers of the earth. A chakra, if you will. If you don’t believe in that sort of thing then maybe you wouldn’t feel it. Or maybe you would. I feel so in tune with myself, and as a result, so in tune with everyone around me. I try to remain skeptical about things that cannot be observed but there is something about this place…

And I’m not the only one that feels it. I have accidentally stumbled into a hippie enclave, and I love it. All of the expats here are of the earthy-crunchy-burning man variety. Last weekend I went to a little festival during the day where people were exhibiting their own projects, I bought a handmade crystal wrap, some Maras salt mixed with Andean herbs, and cerveza artesano. The best part? There actually is a mixture of locals and expats in this crowd! So it doesn’t feel completely like neocolonialism (just a little bit…) And everyone speaks Spanish. Or at least tries to. So different from Korea…

10626386_10203566250777061_5254798332309354873_o

Looking bewildered on the day I moved to Urubamba

How about some of my adventures since getting to Urubamba:

First off, I am living with Elise, the young woman who founded El Arte Sano, the NGO that I work for. She lives in a really charming house in the countryside outside of town. The house is four rooms and a kitchen, and all of them open onto a courtyard that would be more accurately described as a whimsically overgrown garden. There is a vine with habañeros, or some kind of spicy pepper, strawberries growing out from under the stones beneath your feet, mint everywhere, and even an apple tree. It is quite wonderful and I am truly grateful to be staying in her spare room. Though at the same time I am excited to get my own place and begin the nesting process.

The first weekend here I was invited to go on a hike with Elise and three other teachers from the school: Jessica and Shane, both from the US, and Henri, a Spanish teacher from Cajamarca. Also on the hike was Ho, a guy from Urubamba who runs mountain bike tours, and a woman from Lima whom Elise had met at a workshop in Cusco the day before.

Anyway, we took a combi van 20 minutes away from Uru, towards Ollyantay and stopped next to the Cervezeria. We began walking on some paths that ran along corn and potato fields. Before beginning the meat of our hike, Ho stopped, took out 3 coca leaves and offered them to Mamapacha, or the Incan mother earth, as a prayer for a good day.

Sidenote: coca leaves, from which cocaine is derived, are common as dirt here. You can literally buy them from every stall in the market. It isn’t taboo in the least.

Ok back to the hike. Our first stop was an Inca ruin in the mountainside. At first glance it was just traditional terracing, with none of the monumental stone architecture that the Inca are so famous for. But we climbed to the top of the terraces and there found a cave. This cave was undoubtedly a sacred space. A large alter had been carved into the rock facing the valley while a false door was carved into the side of the cave, facing into the mountain. I felt as if I were standing in an ethereal portal at the top of the world. The serenity of the space compelled all of us to have a meditative moment of silence. It was a beautiful welcome to the Sacred Valley.

From there we headed up, and up, and up, and up into the mountains towards a waterfall. Ho, our guide for the day, kept insisting that we were almost there, for nearly 2 hours. That said, I really did enjoy it. The hike took us along more farm fields, through a few indigenous mountain villages, and then up into the craggy mountains. I love the mountains so much, and the Andes are truly spectacular. They compare favorably even with the Himalayas. And the variety of the ecosystems is something to behold. Over the course of 4 hours walking we crossed a river and farm fields, through arid near desert low bush covered mountains, and up into a densely forested deep green chasm between two huge craggy peaks. Increíble.

12186242_723109901167271_1145773575361727533_o

At long last we made it to the waterfall, a 30 meter tall crescendo. Sorry America, I do metric now.

Speaking of which, Urubamba exists at an elevation just below 3,000 m (above 9,000 feet). I’ve been here a week and a half now and I feel as if I have adjusted to life at this elevation. Unless I try to do difficult aerobic exercise. Like walking up hills.

Okay one more adventure. THIS Saturday that just passed was Urubamba day, or Urubamba’s 175 anniversary. The party in the central square went on all night. There was a huge stage set up with Peruvian bands playing and I danced and danced and danced. One old man taught me some traditional peruvian dance and he twirled me around on the dance floor for ages. The cerveza was flowing generously and dare I say… dangerously?

The Peruvian style of drinking should be approached con cuidado. Someone buys one grande cerveza and one cup. Both are passed around and everyone in the circle fills the cup and drinks before passing it on. So you think you are only drinking a little. Well lots of a little is a lot. So let’s just say it was a good night, and leave it at that, hmm?

And then I discovered that my wallet (with my debit card) and phone (which was also my camera) had fallen out of a massive tear in the side of my $1 purse I had bought in Thailand last year.

Oh well, I still have another way to access money and my person is fine so all is good. These are just material things.

Overall I am happy and healthy and looking at an option for an apartment in a few hours!

If you love mountains, architecture, archaeology, the intersection of ancient and modern cultures, spiritualism, South American Andean culture, or well.. if you love exploring, I can’t encourage you enough to make Peru a priority. I know I am in the honeymoon phase but seriously, WHAT a honeymoon. I am so in love with this place.

Okay. Until next time,

 

Ciao!