I’ve been going to Patagonia for the past couple of years, as after my first visit a few years back, I thought I had found Heaven on earth and that it simply could not be matched in terms of food, culture, and trekking. But boy, did Peru and the Cordillera Huayhuash give it a run for its money - even with a few travel misfortunes along the way. There is no doubt about it: this part of the world is truly impeccable, still relatively untouched, and in my opinion is a much better alternative to the heavily trafficked Machu Picchu when it comes to Peru adventures (even locals couldn’t understand why I wasn’t going to Cusco and Salkantay).
KLM flies directly from Amsterdam to Lima, which made my trip from Holland *relatively* effortless compared to other South America trips of the past. For example, once you ‘arrive’ in Patagonia, you usually still have a secondary flight and a long drive ahead of you until you arrive at your destination. Lima was a quick 40 minute flight from Huaraz if you opted to take a plane (via LCPeru), or an 8-hour bus ride on a supposedly very nice luxury bus (with hot meals, TV’s, etc.). But be careful: the Lima/Huaraz flights only run once every 48 hours (very early in the morning), and are frequently canceled due to weather. So book at your own risk. (My return flight to Lima was canceled, which left me scrambling, so I speak from experience!)
14 hours of travel later, the journey begins…
At a little over 10,000 feet, Huaraz is an excellent place to fortify yourself for a high altitude trek. It’s an unexpected town which sits right outside of Huascaran National Park and in the Cordillera Blanca region, and has been called by some as the Chamonix of the Andes (a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea…) It’s the main tourism hub in the Ancash region and it shows: there’s so much happening in this town… certainly enough to keep you intrigued while you wait out a few acclimization days before setting off into the mountains. There are unique and relatively authentic (read: non-touristy) markets, restaurants, shops, and an all around intriguing scene. And not to despair: there are quite a few cozy hang out spots where you genuinely won’t mind setting up with a good book / free Wifi for hours at a time as you acclimate.
*Fun etymology fact:
The name of the city ‘Huaraz’ comes from the Quechua word "Waraq", which translates to "sunrise". Prehispanic people who lived here prayed to a God called the "Waraq coyllur,” or “star of sunrise" or Venus planet, because it is the star that can be seen better from the city at sunrise.
WHERE TO STAY:
Churup Guest House: It’s an adorable hotel/hostel, with plenty of rooms (i.e. if you need a room on an unexpected day as I did, they are generally flexible). The guest house also offers a laundry service at a small additional extra charge - huge perk after you’ve been in the mountains for a couple weeks and are smelling less fresh than a daisy. Plus, they’re great about letting you leave spare bags/equipment while out trekking.
Most rooms have their own shower (unless you opt for the dormitory-style room), and the common room has a fully-equipped kitchen, a lounge with a fireplace, a TV lounge with cable/a DVD player, and an on-site computer and book exchange. We made new friends here, enjoyed local fruits and cuisine at breakfast, and sat up on the rooftop patio looking directly out at Huascaran with freshly ground coffee every morning. What more can you ask for?
Campo Base: it’s a restaurant in the lobby of a hostel/bed and breakfast, but every time I walked past and saw the BREAKFAST BURRITOS sign, I knew it was a place I wanted to be.
Trivio: Solid breakfast spot (try the veggie omelette) with free Wifi. Bonus: they serve the Sierra Andina (local Huaraz brews), so it’s a good spot to try a few or purchase some to take back to your hotel (there’s a cooler with some for purchase by the exit)
Cafe Andino: this place came highly recommended by a friend and did not disappoint; very cozy, super tourist-friendly. There are fireplaces to lounge by, an abundance of tables and a fun little add-on is a bookshelf with adventure books for trade/purchase; a Huaraz favorite spot
Chili Heaven: in my opinion, the best post-trek eats… burritos and beers the size of your head, free WiFi…need I say more?
13 Buhos: an option that will make everybody happy… a wide variety of food, lots of local beer options…try the black ale; yum!
Mi Comedia: one word: PIZZA
Sierra Andina Brewery: it’s a good jaunt out of town but worth it; call ahead of time to check their hours as they aren’t open every day
Other Things to Note:
Montanas Magicas: well-stocked mountain equipment shop in town for anything you may have forgotten or realized you needed
Markets: one of the best parts was just wandering the local markets: fruit, chickens, & meat were aplenty!
We used Alpamayo Peru as our guide/porter service and I cannot say enough about the services they provided. Truly first class the whole way, with excellent meals, accommodations, and great communication leading up to the trek. Eleutorio and Nestor are brothers who run the service with their father as a family operation, and they make you feel like a part of their family while on your journey! They are top notch. At one camp site, Nestor even went fishing in the pouring rain, and caught us some Huayhuash trout, serving it for dinner a mere two hours later. Likely the freshest fish I have ever eaten; what a treat!
Here’s the trekking journey we followed (we ended up cutting our trip a bit short due to a number of reasons - illness in the group, weather, bad climbing conditions, so I don’t have photos of the end of the trip, but will include the full itinerary directly from Alpamayo Peru which we intended to follow for reference). A note: many people choose to simply trek, and don’t think about the possibility of climbing; if you have mountaineering experience, I would *highly recommend* including a Diablo Mudo climb at the tail end of the trek!
A note: June/July to October tends to be peak season. As a personal fan of (slightly) shoulder seasons to beat the crowds, I opted to start our trek on October 13th, knowing that it might mean some sketchy weather conditions. And they were indeed. Some days were beautiful, & every single day had it’s moments. But we also got rained/misted/snowed on quite a bit. If you aren’t up for that, I would not wait until October to trek. But if you are, it can be an incredible time as the fog and snow make for some amazing photography and you get to really see Cordillera Huayhuash in all of it’s greatness.
*This itinerary is as provided to us by Alpamayo Peru, so forgive the future tense
Day One: Huaraz _ Llamac _ Cuartelhuain at (4150m)
The first day of the expedition starts. Early in the morning we depart from Huaraz (3300m) and drive in prívate transport to the start of the trek in Llamac. This is where we will meet the rest of the expedition team, the donkey driver and his donkeys and horses who will carry our equipment for the next two weeks. We will have lunch while the donkeys are packed with our trekking bags. After lunch we will start the first amazing part of the Huayhuash circuit following the Quero River to Cuartelhuain (4150m) where we will stay camp the night. travel with car 4 to 5 hours
Day Two: Cuartelhuain _ Mitucocha at (4300mt)
Today we will hike the Cacananpunta Pass (4700m). This remarkable pass lies at the Andean Continental Divide that marks the watershed from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon. Rivers on the west of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean whilst those to the east flow into the vast Amazon basin. We will have impressive views from the pass over mountains such as Ninashanca (5607m) and Rondoy (5870m). A steep descend brings us into the broad Quebrada Caliente which we follow to our campsite at the blue glacial lake Mitucoche (4300m). This is a spectacular campsite with an inspiring view on the snow-capped peak of Jirishanca (6094m). Walking time is 5-6 hours
Day Three: Mitucocha _ Carhuac Pass (4650mt) _ Laguna Carhuacocha at (4150mt)
Today we follow the Quebrada Caliente until we begin our climb up to the second pass, the Carhuac Pass (4650m). Our hard work is rewarded with fine views on the mountain peaks of Yerupaja (6634m) and Siula Grande (6344m). The Siula Grande is renowned for the mountaineering story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates told in the book and film ‘Touching the Void’. Descending the pass into a grassy valley allow for more views on high peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash, each more spectacular than the other. We make camp at the turquoisegreen coloured Lake Carhuacocha (4150m) with mountains Yerupaja and Jirishanca prominent at the background. This lake offers great photo opportunities when still conditions transform the lake into a mirrorsharply reflecting the snow-capped mountains. Walking time is 6-7 hours.
Day Four: Laguna Carhuacocha _ Pass Carnisero (4800m) _ Huayhuash at (4750mt)
We leave Lake Carhuacocha early in the morning to start a rough climb up to the poorly defined Carnicero Pass (4600m). The pass will reveal the beautiful lakes of Atocshaic and Carnicero in between the impressive mountains of Trapecio (5653m) and Carnicero (5960m). The Carnicero Mountain is called in English ‘the Butcher’ due to the many fatal attempts to climb the summit. An impressive landscape change occurs after the pass where green alpine pastures become a dry terrain of black rocks and grey lakes. We continue our walk to the small village of Huayhuash (4750m) home to herders of Alpaca and Vicunia and set up our camp for the night. Walking time is 6-7 hours
Day Five: Huayhuash _ Pass Portachuelo (4750mt) _ Laguna Viconga at (4395mt)
We leave the Huayhuash village in the early morning and hike over the Portachuelo de Huayhuash Pass (4750m). This pass offers great views on the remote peaks such as Puscanturpa, Cuyoc and Millpo of the Cordillera Raura located to the southeast of the Cordillera Huayhuash. We will set up our camp and let our bodies soak in the well deserved natural hot pools at Lake Viconga (4395m). Walking time is 5-6 hours.
Day Six: Laguna Viconga _ Cuyoc Pass (5000m) _ Guanacpatay at (4300mt)
We leave Lake Viconga and ascent to the Cuyoc Pass (5000m). This is the highest point of the 13 day full circuit for those who opted out to climb the summit of Diablo Mudo. From the pass we will have a spectacular panorama view on the Huayhuash peaks in the north and the Raura peaks in the south. Further a stunning view of the glacier of Puscanturpa (5650m) completes this awe-aspiring experience. We continue our hike by descending from the pass towards Quebrada Huanactapay and set up camp in Rinconada (4300m). Walking time is 5-6 hours.
Day Seven: Guanacpatay _ Huatiac at (4350m)
Today will be easy hiking through the valley downwards until reaching the village of Huayllap (3700m). We continue the trek climbing gradually up a narrow valley to reach the pastures of Huatiac (4350m). We will set up camp here for the night. Walking time is 4-5 hours
Day Eight: Huatiac _Tapush Pass (4750mt) _ Gashgapampa at (4500mt)
We leave Huatiac in the morning and continue our hike crossing the Tapush Pass (4800m). We set up camp at Gashgapampa (4500m) from where we will start early in the morning our climb to the mountain summit of Diablo Mudo (5350m). Walking time is 4-5 hours.
Day Nine: Gashgapampa _ Climb Diablo Mudo (5350mt) _ Laguna Jahuacocha
Extra: We will have a nocturnal rise early in the morning and start our climb to the summit of Diablo Mudo. At this hour of the day the snow is frozen and will allow us climbing the mountain with better grip. We will have amazing views when the sun rises and enjoy awe-inspiring summit views on the entire region.
Day Ten: Laguna Jahuacocha _ Pass Pampa llamac (4300mt) _ Descent back to Llamac
Today is the last day of the trek hiking from Jahuacocha to the village of Llamac. One more time we can enjoy the awe inspiring mountain range of the Cordillera Huayhuash where we have walked through for the past two weeks and which has been become a part of us. Walking time is 5-6 hours
Completely underrated culinary capital of the world. Definitely don’t sleep on the Peruvian flavors and their emergence as all signs are pointing towards a heavy Peruvian influence on future food/ag/culinary trends around the world.
Lima was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. I only spent time in the Miraflores / Barranco areas and was quite pleased to just stay in that area given my time constraints.
The thing that surprised me most was the street art scene! Having been to places like Valparaiso, Chile which is quite famous for its street art, I didn’t think it could be matched. But Lima was a pleasant surprise and I saw some really unique/intricate art around every corner in Miraflores.
Let’s start with the basics, then I’ll get into a few fun ideas for if you have some extra time.
Places to Stay:
Atemporal Hotel: one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had; an extremely boutique accommodation with individual attention. Breakfast is top-notch, local, and abundant. Save room for it. They also have bikes and a car available on site for rent if you want to go someplace that is not walkable. *Bonus perk: the hotel is right down the street from one of my favorite restaurants in Lima, the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana, which boasts one of the most incredible restaurant settings I’ve seen around the world, as each seat looks out over pre-Inca archaeological ruins - smack in the middle of a city! It simply can’t be beat.
Central Restaurant (as seen on Chef’s Table, must reserve way in advance!)
Places to Drink:
OK… now onto a few fun things, if your schedule allows (mind you, I did all of this in about 30 hours, which is what is so great about Lima - it’s easily accessible, walkable, and everything is pretty close if you’re willing/able to handle a high step count day or two!):
Those of you who have been following my blogs for awhile know how much I try to really indulge in the food scenes in each place I visit. As a former non-foodie, I think I’ve been converted. And I’m not talking “visit every 5 star restaurant the city has to offer”; I’m talking: try ALL of the local things, and really experience what it means to BE in a place.
I suppose the fact I was reading Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate all throughout this trip just further reinforced how important it is to partake in food culture and appreciate where the food is coming from. Like you would want to taste Iberico pork in Spain from the local dehesa, I wanted to experience what Peruvian food tasted like as well - at the source. In Barber’s words, “the greatest lesson came with the realization that good food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it. When you pursue great flavor, you also pursue great ecology.” And I’ve come to realize that one can best appreciate these interrelationships and the food that results from them in their place of origin.
I knew that Anthony Bourdain spoke highly of Lima as a favored culinary destination, so I used my Foursquare app (recommended, though be mindful it is sometimes terribly outdated) to map out a walking tour of the city with a few of his favorite places, and it was just a lovely way to walk in his shoes, and see exactly what he experienced. I watched his Parts Unknown: Peru show after the fact where he visited each of the places I did, which was a fun way to come full circle on the experience.
In the words of Bourdain, “We are, after all, citizens of the world - a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald's? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Senor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head. What's that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off? I want some.”
Here are the places he/I went:
If you have the time, I would also suggest trying to hunt down as many of the backstreet cevicherias in Lima that locals wish were kept a secret as possible!
As a final way to throw myself into local culture, I challenged myself to try as many Peruvian fruits as possible of the 20 Peruvian Fruits You Need to Try. I think I got to 13 (some of which were consumed in paleta form, which is definitely not cheating). My hotel, Atemporal Lima was a huge help in this as they checked off 3-4 of the fruits just at the breakfast buffet, which was highly appreciated! I also visited Mercado San Isidro which was slightly off piste but well worth the visit, as it was a large produce market boasting every local fruit I could imagine (and it was clear I wasn’t the only one with this idea, as I saw a number of big tour busses there and tourists walking around in groups, being led by a guide.)
Last but not least…
PACKING & PREPARATION TIPS!
We are all perfectly capable of Googling “how to prepare for a 10 day backpacking trip” and for those of us who have a few mountaineering expeditions under our belt, you generally know the drill.
So rather than list the obvious, I’m going to give you my NON-list PACKING/PREPARATION LIST, i.e. the things that I would not necessarily have thought about, but was glad I either had/did - or wish I had done, and hope to impart on you.
Money: get local currency (soles) from an ATM early and often on your trip; we found it challenging to get money from the ATM’s in Huaraz without paying exorbitant fees, and wished we had done some currency swapping earlier
Food/Gear: if you’re working with a guide/trekking org, check with them ahead of time to see what meals they will provide/what gear will be available for rent. I personally hauled way more trail snacks than I needed down to Peru, which added weight to my pack. I also could’ve used some of their equipment & saved myself the packing space (crampons, ice axe, helmet, etc.) Some people are partial to their own gear, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re short on space/weight.
Socks: you will never regret bringing a couple extras, especially for the wet days. Or a fun colorful pair - they make for excellent tent shot photos. Just do it!
Extras: the little things went such a long way on the trek… for me, it was my: Kindle, mini tent lamp (in addition to headlamp!), and solar charger which saved my butt on entertainment, lighting, and power for my camera/phone/electronics
Google Tools: download offline maps for Huaraz & Huayhuash, also download the offline version of Google Translate. You’ll thank me later. We would’ve run into a lot of trouble without offline translations on my phone, as in this part of the world, English-speaking folks are more of the exception than the rule.