Visit Choquequirao Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

What would it be like to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds? How incredible would it be to wander around the temple at your own pace, soaking in the silence and leaving no stone uninvestigated? While you’ll probably never get a private visit to that storied temple, there is another temple in Peru, similar is size and design, yet visited by less than 20 people a day. What is this elusive mystery? The secretive and secluded Choquequirao Temple.

For those intrepid travelers with a taste for adventure, Choquequirao offers a rare opportunity to take in Incan architecture and splendor without the crowds. A guided tour can cost hundreds of dollars, but if you are willing to take the plunge, hiking to Choquequirao without a guide can cost less than $200 and offer up the adventure of a lifetime.

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Photo by Danielle Pereira

All About Choquequirao

Pronounced “CHOCK-ey-keer-ow” this little known Incan temple is similar in style and structure to Machu Picchu. It was constructed in the 15th or 16th century, making it slightly younger than Machu Picchu. Choquequirao was also one of the last strongholds of the Incan warrior Manco Inca Yupanqui during his final resistance against the Spanish.

The site has been “rediscovered” multiple times throughout the centuries, most notably by Hiram Bingham in 1909. Excavations on Choquequirao only began in 1970 and are still ongoing today.

The temple sits at 3000m (9,800ft) above the Apurimac River, on the very top of a mountain ridge. The only way to get to Choquequirao is by trekking for four days across hot, dry, and steep terrain.

There is also an extension of this trek which can take you all the way to Machu Picchu, through some of Peru’s most legendary scenery, over the course of 9 days, which I will cover in an upcoming post.

A note on when to hike to Choquequirao: the dry season will make for the best conditions, between March and October. However, should you attempt it in the wet season, know that it is possible but the trail may become slippery and dangerous, and your views will probably be obscured by cloud.

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Hike to Choquequirao Without A Guide

Day 1: Cachora – Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca – Marampata/Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao – Chiquisca
Day 4: Chiquisca – Cachora

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Get to Cachora

If you’re going to hike to Choquequirao, first you’ve got to get to the starting point: Cachora. From Cusco, get any bus headed to Abancay, the earlier the better if you plan to start hiking on the same day. When I made the trip in June 2014, we were able to get a 5am bus, which got us to Cachora before lunch.

Ask the bus driver to stop at the Ramal de Cachora. At the Ramal, there will be several taxis waiting to drive you the 13km to Cachora. Should cost about 5 soles to share the taxi.

If you need to pick up last minute supplies like snacks or an extra packet of ramen noodles, Cachora is the place to do it. You can also allegedly hire a muleteer or even a guide, but I am not qualified to give you advice on that. You wanted to do this hike solo, right?

A note on timing: if you get an early bus from Cusco, you should be able to start hiking before or around noon. This gives you enough time to get to Chiquisca before dark. However, if you get a later bus and arrive at Cachora in the afternoon, you should probably wait a day before you start trekking. As I recall, there are a few affordable hospedajes in Cachora along with some upscale options.

Now let’s get to the good stuff: hiking to Choquequirao.

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca

The views on this hike begin immediately, as Cachora sits on the edge of a steep canyon, commanding panoramic views of the snowcapped peaks across the divide.

From Cachora, head downhill on the main road through town until you hit the farmlands. You should find a sign indicating the trail to Choquequirao. Take a left, cross a small stream, then take the path up to the road. Walk along the road until you come to the Mirador, an outcropping of land jutting into the canyon.

From the Mirador, it’s a long, steep set of switchbacks all the way down to Chiquisca at km19. If you got a late start, this is a good spot to camp. However, if you make it to Chiquisca early in the day, I recommend pushing on all the way to the river or even to Santa Rosa Baja.

Pro Tip: Day 2 is the most intensely grueling day of the entire trek, so the more ground you can cover on day 1, the easier day 2 will be.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of this itinerary, that you only make it to Chiquisca on Day 1. This campsite has streams for water, small shelters for cooking, and plenty of space to pitch a tent. Get a good night’s sleep because Day 2 is not a joke.

Apurimac River Valley

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 2: Chiquisca to Marampata/Choquequirao

The earlier you can start day 2, the better. The trail is a long, steep, and without shelter from the blazing sun. If you can get at least halfway up the mountain before the sun rises to its apex, you’ll be thankful.

From Chiquisca, the trail continues down the mountain to the river below. At the river, you’ll find a campsite and a suspension bridge. Take a moment of silence in honor of your strength, endurance, and capacity, because they are all about to be pushed to their limits.

From the canyon floor, the trail heads up steeply, in a series of switchbacks that go on forever. I made the mistake of thinking that I must have almost reached the top. Don’t worry. You haven’t. You’re in for a big climb and your legs are going to feel it.

You’ll pass Santa Rose Baja, and a few minutes beyond that, Santa Rosa Alta. There are stores here and a nice flat, grassy area. It’s a good spot to stop and enjoy a snack. Then, continue following the merciless trail as it leads you relentlessly upwards.

At long last and well beyond your breaking point, you’ll come to the top of a switchback and find the trail leveled out. A bench awaits you, granting a respite from standing and a view out over the canyon wall you descended the day before.

From there, it is only a short walk to the village of Marampata, where you can find shops selling snacks, beers, and even a campsite. However, if you have the energy, I recommend continuing onwards and camping at the site below Choquequirao. It’s quite a bit further, probably another hour of hiking, but well worth it to camp so close to the ruins.

On the walk to the campsite, you’ll get your first view of Choquequirao perched precariously on the edge of the mountain ridge.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 3: Choquequirao to Chiquisca

Today is the day! After the labors on the mountainside on day 2, you’ve more than earned the right to visit this secretive world wonder. Whether you’re camped at Choquequirao or Marampata, I recommend getting an early start to experience the majesty of this temple in the early morning light.

The trail cuts through thick jungle and muddy mountainside on its way to the sanctuary. A few steps out of the jungle and suddenly you find yourself on the main plaza, in the center of a temple equal in size and splendor to Machu Picchu.

The true joy of a visit to Choquequirao comes not from the structures themselves but from the serenity of the space. Take a seat beneath the single tree in the main plaza and appreciate the silence and the grandeur of this Incan Temple.

When you’ve basked long enough, stroll slowly through the structures, make your way down to the terraces, or climb up to the main temple plaza. From the top, you can look down and see all of Choquequirao spread out before you. Your mind will struggle to comprehend the idea of people constructing this massive complex nearly 600 years ago.

And yet, here it stands.

Allow a full morning for exploration and enjoyment of this wondrous landmark. Eventually, however, all good things must come to an end. If you’re taking on the massive nine-day hike to Machu Picchu, head uphill through the temple to find your Incan Trail.

For those who are only taking on the four-day trek, it’s time to tackle the long downhill and small uphill back to Chiquisca on the far side of the canyon.

Choquequirao view

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 4: Chiquisca to Cachora

The climb from Chiquisca up to the Mirador, so easy when it was a downhill, becomes somewhat more grueling on the way back up. Once you gain the Mirador, a well-earned beer awaits you at the small shop there.

Once revived by your adult beverage, only a short walk stands between you and Cachora, where you can easily find a room for the night or a taxi to drive you back up to the main road. In order to hitch a ride back to Cusco, you’ll have to do it the Peruvian way, when you see a car, van, or bus, hold out your hand flat and wave it up and down. Eventually, someone will stop and offer you a ride. If you’re nervous about it, negotiate a price up front.

Once back in Cusco, you are faced with a choice: do you tell other travelers about the majesty of Choquequirao, or keep the secret of this remarkable place close to your heart?


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Visit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the AndesVisit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the Andes

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.


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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!


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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!


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

Gunung Ranaka: Unrequited Love on a Volcano

Adventure Travel, Indonesia, Travel

Falling in love. It’s the fairytale ending to your travel story. You imagine yourself being swept off your feet in the middle of lush green rice fields. Falling in love with a beautiful stranger as the sun sets over a tropical white sand beach.

Or sometimes, love insists on butting into an otherwise perfectly civil adventure day. This is a story of what happens when you’re just trying to have a good time, and love keeps getting in the way.

Beginning in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

The story starts back in November 2013, on the very first night of my very first backpacking trip. I’m sitting in a hostel in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. I’ve just arrived one hour before and I have no idea where I am. I am the freshest of fresh-faced backpackers.

As I start chatting with the other guests at the hostel, I meet a dutch couple on their last night of their trip. Ignoring all my questions about Borneo, they are ecstatically talking about one place: Flores, Indonesia.

I’ve never heard of Flores before but in that one conversation it moves to the top of my travel bucket list. I don’t even really know where it is, or why I want to go there, but I know I’m going to Flores.

Meanwhile on Flores

Fast forward four months, and I’m finally in Indonesia. I am, in my own mind at least, a hardened backpacker at this point. I know what a tuk-tuk is, I’ve had food poisoning twice, and I’m not afraid of rocking up to new towns with no reservations. I got this.

Since I’m not a scuba diver, Indonesia meant one thing to me: volcanoes. I was in Indonesia for one month and I was going to climb as many damn volcanoes as I could. No matter how many stunning beaches and cute boys I had to ignore along the way.

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Komodo Dragon

Flores was no exception. I spent a few days in Labuan Bajo (LBJ), took the tour of Rinca and Komodo to see the Komodo dragons, and spent a day lazing around town drinking Bintang. But after a few days in the oceanside town I knew I was wasting time. There were volcanoes to climb.

Laying around the hostel one morning, I started chatting with the owner about my goal to climb volcanoes, and he told me to head over to his hometown, Ruteng.

“No tourists go there. They will be so excited to see you! You must go! It’s a great mountain, very tall!”

The volcano he mentioned, Ranaka, is, in fact, not very tall, but let’s not get picky. At the time, I was super excited. Nothing gets a backpacker juiced like hearing “no tourists go there.” It’s like our cocaine. We love that shit.

Quick sidenote before we really get into the meat of this story: I just want to say, in advance, that most of the humor in this story is at the expense of another person. And I feel kinda bad about that. As in, I realize I should treat all humans with dignity and respect. So I feel bad for writing this. But not bad enough not to post it.

Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Moving on.

The Journey to Ruteng

Next morning I was on a bus, headed off into the mists, determined to climb that volcano.

By the time I arrived in Ruteng in the mid-afternoon, it was already pouring rain. I checked into one of the only guesthouses in town and sort of mulled around a bit, waiting for the rain to pass. I planned to do the hike the next day. I knew the name of the volcano, Ranaka, and I knew it was a bit outside of town but I had no idea how to get to it. I figured I’d just, maybe, hitchhike? Who knows.

Finally the rains passed and I went out to get some dinner. As I walk along the streets, looking for a masakan padang (traditional Indonesia restaurant) a young guy comes up to me and starts having a chat. He asked me where I’m going and I say I’m looking for some dinner.

Travel Pro Tip: Never turn down a local who offers to help you find food. Unless they are creepy AF.

He takes me to a nearby spot, we get some food. This guy, I honestly can’t remember his name so let’s just call him Andy, he starts telling me about himself. He’s an English teacher and a journalist. Not originally from Flores but he lives here now to report on the corruption in the local government. I’m intrigued. He strikes me as a cool dude.

Andy then asks me what I want to do tomorrow. I tell him I’m going to climb Ranaka, but I’ve got no idea where it is, or how to get there.

“Well, why don’t I go with you?”

Free guide? I am thrilled. This dude seems non-threatening, non-creepy, and I apparently have no self-preservation instinct. I say yes. We agree to meet tomorrow morning at 7am.

7am rolls around, and Andrew shows up at my hotel wearing jeans and dress shoes. Not a great omen but I willfully ignore it. We find some guys on motorcycles to drive us out to the base of the mountain.

Climbing Gunung Ranaka

Once we get there, it becomes clear that the “trail” to the top of the mountain is actually a paved road. So I definitely did not need the guide. But having a knowledgeable local is always a good thing, right?

“So, how many times have you climbed this mountain?” I ask.

“Never. This is my first time. It’s my first time on a volcano!”

Fucking great.

Let’s be clear about the status of my hike at this point: I’ve got a useless guide, in dress shoes, who has never climbed the mountain before. Or any mountain, for that matter. But I’m optimistic. It could still be a good day.

The first part of the morning is great. We talk about random topics: travel, corruption, the differences between America and Indonesia. I ask a lot of questions about Indonesian culture and he patiently answers.

At some point we walk through a village and we inherit a cadre of children. They babble along, following us, and Andy tells me that “the kids are excited, they’ve never seen a white girl before, they’re all talking about you. They want to know if you are a girl, or a boy.”

Haha, very funny.

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Kids following me up the mountain

The kids follow us for a few kilometers, but at some point they disappear into the surrounding jungle to go cut down bamboo or harvest fruits. The Indonesian version of running errands for mom and dad.

We continue. The hike itself isn’t very long, 9km up to the top, 9km back down. It’s an out and back, not a loop, so there isn’t much chance of getting lost.

The Moment of Truth

Around kilometer 5 or 6, the conversation starts to get a bit strange.

“Is your country a Christian country?” Andy asks.

“Some people, not everyone.”

“Flores is a Christian Island.” Andy informs me, helpfully, before launching into his follow up question.

“Do people get divorced in your country?”

Me: “Yes, all the time.”

Andy: “Here people do not get divorced. Once we get married, we stay married.”

Me: “hmm, okay” I do not like the direction this conversation is taking.

Andy: “Can I tell you something?”

Me: No. “Yes…”

Andy: “I am in love with you. I think we should get married.”

Me: Nervous laughter.

I mean, seriously buddy? We’re halfway up a fucking mountain right now. We’ve gotta stick it out with each other for AT LEAST four more hours and this is your moment? Pretty fucking risky, if you ask me.

I try to give him a way out, because I’m a chivalrous young woman. I go for the laughing “no, you don’t mean that.” Blind to my attempts to dodge his marriage bullet, he persists,

“No, seriously, I love you. How does that make you feel?”

I give him one last chance to back the fuck up.

“You actually want to know what I think?”

“yes.”

And what comes next is, in my own humble opinion, one of my proudest moments in navigating the maddening world of unwanted male attention.

“I think I’m one of the first foreign white women you have spent time with. I think you find me beautiful because I look so different, so you’ve decided you are in love with me. But you are not in love with me. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am or how I act, so you cannot possibly be in love with me.”

Yep. Nailed it.

Andy, poor guy, actually let out a sad little, “No, I’m really in love with you.”

And I had to shut this shit down, “Well, I am not in love with you. I just want to hike up this volcano.”

Needless to say, the rest of the way was pretty fucking awkward. And to put some icing on this shitstorm of a cake, a few minutes after this conversation it started to rain. Just a sprinkling at first but it was a steady sprinkling that persisted for at least the next hour.

Turns out Andy is pretty out of shape and spent the next 4 or 5 kilometers trying to convince me to turn around. It was cold. It was wet. He wanted to eat lunch (it was 10am).

I just wanted to climb a volcano in peace.

I tried to tell him he could just head back down, I’d see him at the bottom. He was having none of it.

To give the guy credit, he stuck it out with me all the way to the top, even managed to keep something of a conversation going. There isn’t really a view from the top of Ranaka, and anyway at that point we were surrounded by clouds.

Instead of views, the top of the mountain is lined with shrines to various saints, and a weird utilitarian building. We cowered inside this weird building for a few minutes, eating our Gado Gado for lunch.

Even up at the top, the poor guy was still trying to put his arm around me and give me some loving. I just wanted to bask in the silence that only comes at the tops of mountains. I did agree to take a picture with him.

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Sitting on top of Gunung Ranaka

Turns out the best views from Gunung Ranaka were at kilometer 6 or 7, but we were already fogged in by the rain and discussing my unwillingness to get married at that point.

After 20 minutes of reluctant snuggling, we headed back down the mountain. The rain seemed to be clearing up and I was looking forward to a swift jog back down the paved road to the bottom.

JUST KIDDING! 10 minutes into the walk down, it started pouring rain. I mean sheets of water were coming down. My shoes were soaked, my whole body was soaked. Mother nature laughed hysterically at my tiny north face rain jacket.

You can imagine how much my boy Andy loved this. 

Only when we reached the bottom did I then realize we had no ride back into town. My local guide finally came through and he managed to hail a passing minivan. They let us hop in and gave us a ride back into town.

We parted ways in Ruteng, and I moved on to my next volcano the following day. We never spoke again. I may not have fallen in love with him, but at least I got a good story out of it.

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This is why Indonesias always asked me “Are you a girl or a boy?”

Oh well, that’s unrequited love for you.

Gunung Ranaka is good for a short day hike though, if you’re into climbing volcanos or following random pilgrimage trails. 5/10. Don’t really recommend unless you’re bored.

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Hiking Seoraksan National Park

Adventure Travel, Korea, Travel, Uncategorized

I had been hearing about hiking in Seoraksan National Park place since I got to Korea in July, 2013.  Of course, I wanted to make it out there before winter hit.

Seoraksan is the highest mountain in the Taebek mountain range, and the third highest mountain in all of South Korea. Located only 2 to 3 hours from Seoul without traffic, Seoraksan National Park is a really popular place to see autumn foliage in Korea, as I learned the hard way.

The most popular route through Seoraksan is to climb the tallest peak in the park, Daechongbong Peak, rising to 1,708m (5,603ft). However, this route takes 2 days, and since I hadn’t gotten organized to do this, I went with a big group of ex-pats and Koreans to hike the easier, one day route. We started hiking at about 10:30am and finishing around 5pm.

But we were not alone.

lots of koreans

I kid you not, I have never seen so many Koreans hiking at the same time. It was beyond ridiculous but made for a very amusing day.

Near the top we were all crammed onto a wooden platform. On a normal day this platform is probably a great place to take in the view. On this day, it was a great place to feel like livestock.

koreans on platform

Myself and a few other people from the group decided to take a “quick” (read: 30 minutes) detour to the top peak of this hike. The view from up there was truly incredible. But all the views all day were breathtaking.

koreans stopgo

Hiking down we encountered the most traffic. It was literally stop and go on these stairs on the way down. The traffic was caused by places in the trail that were slightly perilous and so only one person could walk through it at a time. Again, on a normal day this would not be a problem. But when most of the population of Korea is on the mountain, it caused some traffic.

foliage

But why, you may ask, was the entire population hiking Seoraksan National Park on this particular weekend?

This weekend was supposed to be the best for fall foliage in Seoraksan. And once we’d made it up and over the pass the foliage started to show itself and let me tell you, it was worth it.

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I was born and raised in New England and as such I am no stranger to Autumn. In fact, it is my favorite season. But I’ve spent the last 5 years living in Los Angeles in perpetual Summer. This weekend for me was almost like a rebirth experience. Being in among the fall leaves, smelling crisp autumn air and watching the colorful leaves blow in the wind was cathartic on so many levels. I spent a good hour walking by myself along the canyon taking pictures of leaves and feeling so spiritually connected with the Earth. It was beautiful.

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The end of the hike was an absolutely stunning walk along a stream at the bottom of a canyon. Gorgeous foliage. Gorgeous views. And thankfully no traffic.

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Afterwards we all went to a restaurant to drink beer and eat dinner.

Foods

A selection of “banchan” the traditional small plates that accompany every meal in Korea.

Then we piled back onto the bus to sit in traffic for 5 hours back to Seoul. I slept for 2 of them and spent the other 3 hours watching the Korean countryside go by. It was nighttime so the views weren’t that great but it was a nice chance to think.

So that is my update on my life here in Korea. Every weekend is different from the last. I am always excited, always experiencing new things. All in all, I think I’m overcoming the culture shock. I am less enamored with everything I see, but overall much happier. I feel like I am myself again, just myself living in Korea. This is going to be a great year, and at this point I’m starting to understand why people would stay for a second one…

me on mountain

Love you all!