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Huayhuash Trek, Peru: All You Need to Know


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Doing the Huayhuash Trek in the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru had been a dream of ours for over a decade. Although our expectations were high, the reality of our experience far exceeded them: eight high mountain pass crossings, surrounding peaks of 6,000+ meters (20,000+ feet), turquoise alpine lakes, stunning glacier-covered mountains, and a diversity of landscapes. Each day felt like a different experience, a new discovery. After answering endless questions about planning, organizing and preparing for a Huayhuash trek, it’s time to share it all in this Huayhuash Trekking Guide.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide
Trying to take it all in, the beauty of the Huayhuash Trek.

Many people have never heard of the Cordillera Huayhuash since the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu usually get all the tourist and adventure travel attention in Peru. However, this small sub-range of the Peruvian Andes packs a huge punch for its size. Although only 30km long it includes six peaks over 6,000 meters (20,000 ft.) and features spectacular panoramic views of scores of high snow-covered peaks from different perspectives.

It’s not a coincidence that the Cordillera Huayhuash, together with the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal and India, is often listed among the top in the “best places in the world to trek” lists. Yes, it's that stunningly beautiful.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide
Enjoying the view of the Cordillera Huayhuash from Cuyoc Pass (5,000m/16,404 ft).

Here's why the Huayhuash Trek is one of the best treks we've ever done and why we continually recommend it. Writing this Huayhuash Trekking Guide brings back excellent memories and makes us want to return to explore even more.

How to use this Huayhuash Trekking Guide: This article is intended to be comprehensive. It contains all the information we wish we'd found when we researched and planned our own Huayhuash Trek. It includes all you need to choose, organize, pack for and enjoy trekking in the mountains of the Cordillera Huayhuash. Plus, it outlines what to expect day by day on the Huayhuash Trek. If questions remain, leave a comment so that others may benefit from the answer and information.

Choosing a Huayhuash Trek

Huayhuash treks fall roughly into two categories: short (4-7 days) and long (8-14 days). If you have the time, we recommend choosing a route that is 10-12 days. This length of circuit can provide a complete Huayhuash experience and deliver more views and stunning landscapes than you thought possible in one trek.

Full Huayhuash Trek (8-14 days)

Longer treks will take you over more mountain passes in a full circuit so you can appreciate some of the high peaks from multiple angles. Each day includes at least one, and sometimes two, mountain passes ranging from 4,000+ meters/ 13,000+ feet up to 5,050m/16,570 feet. It is recommended to do three acclimatization hikes in and around Huaraz before embarking on one of these treks (see below for details).

Huayhuash Trek Guide, Day 4
Clouds clear in the early morning of day 4 of our Huayhuash Trek.

We chose a 10-day Huayhuash trek and were very happy with the route, pace, difficulty and overall experience. We met other trekkers who had done an 8-day trek, but we found their route cut out some of our favorite vistas.

Short Huayhuash Treks (4-7 days)

Also known as Mini Huayhuash Treks, these shorter routes intend to provide trekkers a sort of “best of” sample of the Cordillera Huayhuash in a shorter period of time. These routes tend to focus around Lake Jahuacocha or Lake Carhuacocha and cross over several 4,000+ meter / 13,000+ feet mountain passes. Although not as challenging as the full Huayhuash Trek, these treks still require prior acclimatization in and around Huaraz.

Note: If you don’t think that you have the time, physical endurance or strength to do one of the Huayhuash Treks, consider one of the Santa Cruz treks in the nearby Cordillera Blanca. As we understand, these treks still include stunning scenery but are shorter and less physically demanding.

Environmental Note: No matter which trek you choose, please remember that the Cordillera Huayhuash is a fragile, high desert environment. Much of the land is also owned by local communities. It's important that as visitors we respect the land and local people as we do our best to reduce our negative impact. Only use designated campsites set up by the community, pack out all of your trash with you, and be mindful of water and other resources.

What to Expect on a 10-day Huayhuash Trek: Day by Day

Our Route: Matacancha – Mitucocha – Carhuacocha Lake – Huayhuash – Viconga – Huanacpatay Valley – Huayllapa Village – Gashpapampa Valley – Jahuacocha Lake – Llamac Village
Total Hiking Distance: 70.4 miles / 113 km
Number of Days: 9 nights/10 days, including a van transfer to the trailhead from Huaraz on Day 1 and return to Huaraz on Day 10.
Maximum Altitude: 5,050 (16,570 feet)
Season: May – early September (dry season)
Difficulty: Medium-Difficult

Note: The itinerary outlined below is the one that we took. Although the route is the same, some of our campsites and overnights may differ slightly from some of the standard 10-day Huayhuash Trek itineraries. Together with our guide, we decided to adjust the itinerary so that we would climb up to San Antonio Pass on the morning of Day 7 vs. the afternoon of Day 6. This meant that we spread out the campsites after that a bit differently and did not have two nights at Lake Jahuacocha — a deliberate itinerary adjustment which was preferable to all of us.

We calculated distances and times using the Endomondo app. While fairly accurate, there may be some small differences than if we'd used a more sophisticated GPS device.

Day 1: Drive from Huaraz to Matacancha (4,150 meters / 13,615 feet)

This is a driving day (7 hours) from Huaraz to get you to the trailhead so that you ready to start hiking the next day. You go through some beautiful scenery, including some overlooks with views of the Cordillera Huayhuash and a drive over the Cuncush Pass (4,750 meters/15,580 feet). Once at the trailhead, you’ll have time to unload all the gear, learn how to set up your tent, enjoy views of Mount Rondoy (5,870 meters / 19260 feet) and eat a hearty dinner before turning in early for the night.

Day 2: Matacancha – Cacanan Pass – Mitucocha

Hiking Distance: 5.66 miles / 9.1 km
Number of hours hiking: 5 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,700 m (15,420 feet)

This day begins with a steep zigzag ascent to Cacanan Pass (4,700 m/15,420 ft) which marks the continental divide (all rivers east of it flow towards the Amazon and all on the west flow towards the Pacific Ocean). Enjoy a snack and rest at the top before descending into a green valley where you may find a few vicuñas (related to llamas) grazing high in the hills or vizcachas (animals which look like a rabbit crossed with a squirrel) dashing around.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, Day 2 Campsite
Campsite with a view, Day 2 of the Huayhuash Trek.

You’ll also have your first view of some of the snow-covered high peaks of Ninashanca (5,607 m), Jirashanca (6,094 m) and Jiraschanco Chico (5,445 m). The trail continues past the small village of Janca to the campsite near Lake Mitucocha at the foot of Mount Jirashanca.

Day 3: Mitucocha – Carhuac Pass – Carhuacocha Lake

Hiking Distance: 6.5 miles / 10.5 km
Number of hours hiking: 5.5 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,650 m (15,255 feet)

The walk up to Carhuac Pass (4,650 m) is rather gentle and takes around three hours. You’ll be rewarded at the top with the first view of Mount Yerupaja (6,634 m), Peru’s second highest peak and the highest of the Cordillera Huayhuash. On the way down towards Lake Carhuacocha you’ll pass some Incan ruins and another small village.

Huayhuash Trek Guide
Stone walls and ruins mark a small village en route to Lake Carhuacocha and the campsite.

The campsite is on the shore of the lake and features a stunning panoramic view of the snow-covered peaks of Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico (6,121 m), Siula Grande (6,344 m) Jirashanca and Jirashanca Chico (5,446 m).

Day 4: Carhuacocha Lake – Siula Pass – Huayhuash

Hiking Distance: 8.5 miles / 13.7 km
Number of hours hiking: 7 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,800 m (15,750 feet)

Wake up before sunrise, grab a cup of coca tea and climb to the top of the hill behind the campsite to watch the light transform the nearby snow-covered peaks as the sun rises. The reflection of the snow-covered peak in the lake is like a mirror, perfectly still and crisp. Mother Nature puts on a beautiful show as the colors change to pink and orange.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide
In awe of Mother Nature at dawn.

This is a beautiful morning walk that winds its way past the turquoise alpine lakes of Grangrajanca (4,245 m), Siula (4,290 m) and Quesillococha (4,332 m). As you rise in altitude to reach Siula Pass (4,800 m) more layers of mountains and lakes appear.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide
Tranquility and stillness of alpine lakes.

It’s a steep and rocky ascent to the pass, but you’re rewarded with views of Mount Carnicero (5,960 m), Jurau (5,600 m) and the eastern side of Siula Grande (6,344 m). Enjoy a picnic lunch here before descending to the campsite near Huayhuash.

Huayhuash Trek Guide, Peru
Admiring the view leading up to Siula Pass on Day 4.

Day 5: Huayhuash – Portachuelo Pass – Viconga (Hot Springs)

Hiking Distance: 7.3 miles / 11.75 km
Number of hours hiking: 5 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,750 m (15,585 feet)

The day begins with a relatively easy ascent to Portachuelo Pass (4,750 m). Enjoy a snack at the top with views of the snow-covered mountains of the Cordillera Raura. The descent is long and steady, passing through green valleys filled with wildflowers and perhaps a llama, alpaca or two. The Viconga campsite is at the foot of Mount Cuyoc (5,550 m). This campsite is the one place along the trek where you'll have an option to bathe.

Huayhuash Trek in Peru, Day 5
We encounter a few local shepherds on day 5 of the Huayhuash Trek.

Note: There are several hot spring pools near the campsite. We highly recommended you enjoy them thoroughly, both to bathe and to relax your muscles in the warm water. There is a small pool for washing with soap and then two other pools to soak in once you’re clean.

Day 6: Viconga – Cuyoc Pass – Pampa Cuyoc

Hiking Distance: 5 miles / 8 km
Number of hours hiking: 4 hours
Maximum Altitude: 5,000 m (16,404 feet)

This relatively short day includes Cuyoc Pass (5,000 m), the first of the trek’s two 5,000+ meter mountain passes. This is a relatively long switchback ascent through rocky, high desert terrain. The panoramic views from the top are spectacular and include a sort of “best of” the Cordillera Huayhuash, including Jurau, Sarapo (6,127 m), Siula, Yerupaja, Rasac (6,017 m), Tsacra (5,548 m) and Huacrish (5,622 m).

Huayhuash Trek, Cuyoc Pass Descent
Incredible panoramic views as we descend from Cuyoc Pass.

Descend to Pampa Cuyoc at the base of San Antonio Pass (5,050 m) for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. There are optional short hikes to nearby hills for anyone who still wants to stretch their legs.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, Day 6
More spectacular views on Day 6 of the Huayhuash Trek.

Note: Many itineraries include an optional climb up to San Antonio Pass on the same day with an overnight at Huanacpatay campsite. Together with our guide, our group opted to hike up to San Antonio in the morning when the skies were clearer and we had more energy.

Day 7: Huanacpatay Valley – San Antonio Pass – Huayllapa Village

Hiking Distance: 11.7 miles / 18.8 km
Number of hours hiking: 7 hours
Maximum Altitude: 5,050 m (16,570 feet)

Begin this day with a steep climb up the scree and rocks to San Antonio Pass (5,050 m), the highest pass of the trek. Take your time at the top to enjoy the best viewpoint of Mount Siula Grande (of “Touching the Void” fame) and nearby alpine lakes. You may also spot a few condors flying about, searching for prey.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, San Antonio Pass
Views of Siula Grande (of Touching the Void fame) from San Antonio Pass.

Descend the same way and continue on the trail through a series of green valleys and cultivated fields to Huayllapa village. After you set up camp in one of the school fields, enjoy a walk through the village Note: this is the only set of shops and services you will come across on the trek. Someone in our group had his hiking shoes repaired here as one of the soles had begun to fall off.

Day 8: Huayllapa Village – Tapush Pass – Gashpapampa Valley

Hiking Distance: 7.2 miles / 11.6 km
Number of hours hiking: 5 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,800 m (15,750 feet)

Leaving the village behind the trail takes you up to a high plateau that rises gradually up to Tapush Pass (4,800 m). You’ll have glacier-covered Mount Diablo Mudo in front of you for much of the way up to the pass. Views over Lake Susucocha (4,740 m) are revealed at the top. Enjoy the wildflowers, birds and views of the Cordillera Blanca in the distance as you descend into Gashpapampa Valley for the night. Once you reach camp, bundle up since this was a pretty cold night and morning for us.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, Day 8
Views of Lake Susucocha from Tapush Pass on Day 8.

Day 9: Gashpapampa Valey – Yaucha Pass – Cerro Huacrish – Jahuacocha Lake

Hiking Distance: 5.8 miles / 9.3 km
Number of hours hiking: 5 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,850 m (15,910 feet)

Each time you think that the views and the moment can’t get any better, they do. Take it slow and enjoy.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, Day 9
A beautiful start to Day 9, with views of both Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash.

The day begins with a slow and steady scree-covered ascent which takes you up to Yaucha Pass (4,850 m), the final high mountain pass of the trek. As you come over the pass you have an incredible panoramic view of Cordillera Huayhuash’s highest peaks, decked out in glaciers and snow-covered. Talk about dramatic. Keep your eyes out for condors here as well.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, Day 9
Reward at the end of day 9: stunning views of Lake Jahuacocha and glacier-covered peaks.

Continue on to Cerro Huacrish with another beautiful view to both the giant peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash on the right and Cordillera Blanca and Huallanca on the left. Just sit and take it all in. Finally, as you descend towards Lake Jahuacocha you’ll reach another ridge that overlooks the turquoise lakes below surrounded by mountains. There is one last very steep descent through pastures and grazing cows to get to the campsite near the shores of Lake Jahuacocha. Watch how the light and the reflection on the lake of the surrounding mountains changes throughout the day.

Huayhuash Trek Guide
Taking the optional hike (2 hours) to Solteracocha Lake at the end of day 9.

Since we had free time in the afternoon we did an optional hike out to Solteracocha Lake (3.6 miles / 5.8 km) that took two hours. Climb up to the rim above the lake and just enjoy the deep turquoise color of the alpine lake and the surrounding snow-covered peaks.

Day 10: Jahuacocha Lake – Pampa Llamac Pass – Llamac Village – Huaraz

Hiking Distance: 8.85 miles / 14.25 km
Number of hours hiking: 4.5 hours
Number of hours driving: 5 hours
Maximum Altitude: 4,300 m (14,110 feet)

This is the last day of hiking and although it isn’t as dramatic as the day before, it's still pleasant and features a relatively easy walk out to Llamac Village. You’ll be able to catch one last view of the Cordillera Huayhuash peaks from Pampa Llaman Pass (4,300 m) before descending through villages and high desert to the village. The vehicle will be waiting there to take you back to Huaraz.

Best time to do the Huayhuash Trek

The trekking season in the Cordillera Huayhuash and Cordillera Blanca begins mid-to-late May and runs until September. This is the dry season and also considered “Andean summer.” The high tourist season is July and August. During this time you'll have clearer weather, but the lack of rain means that the mountains will dry and brown throughout the season.

We did our trek mid to late May; we felt it perfect timing. We had a bit of rain at the very beginning of our trek, but the mornings were clear and the rains only usually began in the afternoon after we'd already set up camp. After a few days, the rains stopped altogether and we had perfect weather.

Because it was still early in the trekking season, trails and campsites were not crowded. Mountains remained green and lush since the rainy season had just ended.

If you can time it, try your Huayhuash trek during the shoulder season from mid-May to early June.

Huayhuash Trekking Guide, When to Go
Clear skies and green hills during our mid to late May Huayhuash trek.

The low and rainy season is from October to April with the highest rain in January – March. Many high passes are still snowed in from December to March, so that that might make it impossible for trekkers and the donkeys to be able to pass. There is also the risk of landslides during this time which might wash out the trails and hillsides. There have robberies of independent trekkers during this time as are alone with no other people around, so it's not recommended to trek independently in the off season.

Because of all this we recommend timing your trek between May and September or early October.

Huayhuash Trek Difficulty and Conditions

The following information is based on our own personal experiences on a 10-day fully-supported Huayhuash trek. Support included a trekking guide, cook, donkey wranglers, and a team of donkeys to carry our gear, camping equipment, food and trash.

We added information for independent trekkers where available.

Huayhuash Trek Difficulty Rating

We’d categorize the 10-day Huayhuash Trek we did as medium-high difficulty, leaning more on the high side of the range, because of its daily high mountain pass crossings (4,000+ meter/13,000+ feet), sleeping at high altitude and distance.

Don't let the elevation frighten you away. Our trekking group included people from their late 20s to a 74-year-old (who had both knees replaced within the last three years). We all had prior experience hiking and doing multi-day treks, but none of us were hard core mountain climbers. We'd all simply done our acclimatization treks in and around Huaraz — that's what makes the difference.

Huayhuash Trek Group
Our Huayhuash trek group: a diversity of nationalities, backgrounds and ages.

While this implies that special training is not required for the Huayhuash trek, you ought to be relatively active and in good physical shape before taking it on. You should be either be accustomed to or prepared for multi-day treks with steep, slow uphill climbs at high altitude.

Not a Technical Trail

The Huayhuash trek we did was not technical. To do it, we didn't need special equipment (e.g., climbing ropes, crampons, or other mountain climbling fittings). We do recommend using walking or trekking poles, however. They provide stability and balance and take some of the pressure off your knees and joints, especially on the steep descents.

Huayhuash Trek Guide, High Alpine Peaks
High alpine, the standard Huayhuash Trek.

Huayhuash trekking trails in the mountains are well-maintained and for the most part are relatively easy to follow. There are a couple of streams or rivers to cross, and depending upon the time of year you may need to take your shoes off or consider using river sandals. That’s all part of the fun.

Dealing with Altitude on the Huayhuash Trek

You will reach some high altitudes during the Huayhuash trek. The highest point on our trek was 5,050 meters / 16,570 feet at San Antionio Pass. Each day, we crossed mountain passes ranging from 4,000 – 5,000 meters / 13,000 – 16,500 feet. And, we were often sleeping around 4,000 meters / 13,000 feet. Understanding how your body responds to altitude and how to best manage your response to it is important for your enjoyment of this trek.

Huayhuash Trek, dealing with altitude
Huayhuash trek. Taking it slow and steady helps to manage energy at altitude.

At altitude, our advice is to take it slow and steady on the uphill. Our guide, Edgar, was a hiking zen master at this – he would start our group out slow in the morning, especially if we had a steep ascent, so that our bodies could wake up and adjust. If you think you’re going ridiculously slow, then it probably means you are at the right pace. Trekking is like meditation The slower you move, the more likely you are to enjoy what's around you. And the more successful you will be.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru - stunning mountain views
We timed our breaks for the best mountain views.

It’s better to proceed deliberately and slowly with fewer breaks than to move quickly and wear yourself out so that you need to recuperate with frequent and longer stops. At high altitude this is even more important in order to avoid getting sick and to maintain your energy levels.

In addition, drink LOTS of water as your body needs more liquids at altitude. I would usually drink a liter of water at breakfast before we even began walking, just to have a bit of “hydration reserve.” It’s recommended to drink at least two to three liters a day at high altitudes like this.

Note: If you really suffer from altitude sickness you can also consider taking Diamox. We have avoided taking it by using natural methods (e.g., water, walking slowly, etc.), but we do know people who have benefited from taking it in small doses. Be sure to talk with your doctor first about its side effects, including the additional water you must drink when taking it.

Rain and weather on the Huayhuash trek

We'd been warned about rain because the timing of our trek coincided with the end of the rainy season (mid-May). We arrived prepared with waterproof ponchos, jackets, and pants. Mornings were usually clearest and at the beginning of our trek, it rained during a couple of afternoons. But we didn’t find the the weather a hindrance to our enjoyment. Only once on the trail were we forced to pile on all the serious rain gear. All other times, the rain arrived only after we'd set up camp, which included a waterproof dining tent.

Carry a waterproof cover for your day pack. Protect any valuable electronic gear like smartphones or cameras in a dry bag or multiple Ziploc plastic bags. All our gear was carried by donkeys, and all the bags were wrapped in multiple layers of plastic tarp to protect them from rain. In addition, we packed our clothes, sleeping bags and other important items in an additional layer of plastic bags.

If you are trekking independently and carrying all your gear with you, you must carry a good waterproof cover for your backpack and use Ziploc or other waterproof bags to keep everything dry inside in the case of heavy rain.

Note: If you monitor weather forecasts and apps, we recommend you consider taking them with a grain of salt. For us, forecasts for the Huayhuash (Ancash) mountain area predicted alpine weather armageddon right up until the moment we began our trek. Reality turned out to be quite different (see the photos). For those of you who book a Huayhuash trek and are freaked out by weather reports — just as we had been — and you find yourself tempted to cancel, seriously reconsider. If you book with a trekking company, as we did, check in with them for a bit of a local weather report reality check.

Food Along the Huayhuash Trek

If you do a fully-supported trek as we did, there's absolutely no chance for you to go hungry on the Huayhuash trek. Our group had its own cook and he created some incredible meals for us using a simple camping kitchen and limited ingredients.

Food along the Huayhuash Trek tour
A beautiful Peruvian causa for lunch along our Huayhuash trek.

On most days we were served three full meals, with lunch and dinner usually each consisting of 3 courses (e.g., soup or salad, main dish and dessert). On days where the schedule and route was a little tighter, we were given sandwiches as a picnic lunch.

Each morning we we were given bags of treats (e.g., chocolate, quinoa bars, biscuits, fruit, etc.) to ensure we never got hungry on the trail between meals. We always had a mid-afternoon tea and snack break at the campsite. There were always treats and surprises each day.

If you are vegetarian or have food restrictions (e.g., gluten, dairy, etc.), alert your trekking company and guide in advance so they can prepare accordingly.

Independent trekkers will need to carry and cook their own food, of course. There are a few big grocery stores in Huaraz that can supply you with basic ingredients, but if you have a specific type of camping food or brand that you prefer then you should probably bring that from home. Please clean up after yourself! We saw too many empty discarded cans of tuna and other food containers along the trail. That's just rude and disrespectful.

Clean Water Along the Huayhuash Trek

We were provided ample amounts of clean water (i.e., boiled for a certain period of time to kill germs) each morning by our cook and the support team. This is what we drank throughout the day as we walked. Our goal was to drink a minimum of two to three liters of water each day.

Of course, there are lots of mountain streams where you can gather water to drink throughout the trek. We carried water purification drops with us in case we needed to use water from a stream or other source. We never had to use them because clean water had already been prepared for us.

Huayhuash Trek Campsites and Sleeping Arrangements

You’ll be camping and sleeping in tents throughout the Huayhuash trek. There are no real homestays or other sleeping options, except in Huayllapa where there are some family guest houses. We slept in two-person tents (provided by the trekking agency). Although these tents were not huge, we had enough space to sleep and position our belongings on the edges of the tent.

By the time we arrived at the campsite each day, our tents were usually already set up for us by the support team. We were very thankful for this little bit of luxury after a long day of hiking.

Huayhuash Trek - Tents, Camping and Community Campsites
Our dining tent and sleeping tents set up at a community campsite. Not a bad view.

Local communities manage the campsites along the different Huayhuash trekking routes. This community-based system is relatively new. It used to be that trekkers could pretty much pitch their camp anywhere, and for free. Understandably, local people got a bit tired of people using their lands, and often not cleaning up after themselves. Communities weren't seeing any financial benefit from tourism development in the region. A system was then set up to compensate the local communities for use of their lands and also to help share some money and benefit from tourism and trekking growth.

Campsites are still pretty basic and located in remote areas, so don’t expect services or shops. In general, you’ll find a place to pitch tents and an outhouse (or two) on the edge usually consisting of a drop toilet or a toilet bowl without water. With the exception of the hot springs near Lake Viconga on Day 5, there is no running water at the campsites. Expect to trek without showers. (Note: if you are on a fully-supported trek like the one we took, you will likely be provided a bowl of hot water in the morning for washing.)

Each community collects a fee from each person (usually $3-$8/person) who stays at a campsite and uses its facilities. You’ll often find an individual or family visiting early in the morning to collect the money. You’ll receive a receipt for your payment.

We heard stories of some trekkers trying to arrive late or pack up early to avoid paying these community camping fees. Just don’t. It’s disrespectful and it creates problems between trekkers and local people, making it difficult for future visitors wishing to enjoy the area.

Organizing a Huayhuash Trek: Your Options

A Huayhuash trek can be done either independently (e.g., without a guide) or through a trekking agency (e.g., fully supported with a guide, cook, assistants, donkeys to carry gear, etc.). Decision factors include your trekking experience and physical shape, skill at reading trekking maps, budget, weather, and preference. Let's examine these.

Doing the Huayhuash Trek Independently

Although you won’t see trail markers along the route you can usually pick up trails pretty easily based on their use by trekkers, donkey trains and local shepherds. This means that if you have a lot of experience doing multi-day treks, reading trail maps, using a GPS and hiking at high altitude then you should be able to safely do the Huayhuash trek independently.

Some advantages of trekking Huayhuash independently including being able to create and adjust your own route and setting your own pace. The cost will be much lower as you are not paying for a support team, guide, etc. However, you should still stay at community campsites and pay the required fees so as to respect local people and local community regulations.

However, there are some other considerations. Trekking independently means that you’re carrying all your own camping gear, food, clothing, and more. Since the only real village with shops is Huayllapa, you should expect to carry 7-8 days of food with you. All of this weight adds up and can get heavy, especially when you’re going over a 5,000+ meter / 16,500 foot mountain pass. We saw some trekkers struggle with their packs and the extra weight.

In addition, we also met some trekkers who were lost as they thought they were following one circuit, but ended up on another. Our guide would usually help to steer them in the right direction or offer a short cut to help them get back on track. While this may not sound like a big deal on the surface, it can be quite stressful when you only have a limited amount of food with you and the weather around you is changing as the day wears on.

For more on trekking Huayhuash independently check out this guide.

Huayhuash Trek tour with a guide and support team

Given the length, distance and high altitudes of the Huayhuash trek, we knew we wanted to do it supported – with a guide, cook, support team, donkeys to carry our gear. Our goal was to enjoy the walk, including the stunning mountain landscapes and being immersed in nature without worrying about getting lost, carrying all our gear, or struggling to cook or set up our tent each night.

We were and are thrilled with our choice.

Having a local trekking guide provided us with the peace of mind that we were always on the right path. (Some of you may remember, we have a history of getting lost in mountains). Our local guide, Edgar, knew everything about the Cordillera Huayhuash from leading trekking and mountain climbing groups there for over 17 years – all the local legends of the peaks around us, wildlife, birds, flowers, natural medicines, and more. As he was Quechua he could also provide context and information about indigenous culture, growing up in the mountains, and changes he’d witnessed over his lifetime.

Huayhuash Trek tour, donkeys carrying gear
Thankful for donkeys to carry our camping and trekking gear.

While doing the Huayhuash trek independently may save you some money and allow you more flexibility in route and pace, our experience proved to us beyond a doubt that the benefits of doing a supported trek with a guide, cook, support team and donkeys far outweighs the costs.

Choosing a Huayhuash trekking agency

If you do as we did and work with a trekking agency for a supported Huayhuash trek, the next step is trying to figure out which trek to choose based on the route, level of comfort, budget, and schedule you're looking for.

Booking a Huayhuash Trek in Advance

Because we had a limited window of time to do our 10-day Huayhuash Trek we needed to book our trip in advance. When I began to search around and contact different trekking agencies in Huaraz I found that prices varied quite a bit and could be very expensive, especially if there wasn’t an existing group departure for the dates I wanted.

A bit discouraged, I continued to search, focusing on trekking companies which already had existing trek departure dates that fit our schedule. That’s when I found Quechuandes Travel and Adventure Agency recommended on some traveler and trekker forums and their open group departures calendar.

Jackpot!

They had a departure date for the 10-day Huayhuash trek we wanted to do during our limited time window. From the first communication with Marie, the co-owner, I was impressed by the transparency of information, pricing and details. I also appreciated that she was explicit that the price was the same whether we booked in advance or as a walk-in. And, we felt that price was fair to all parties — to us, to the company, and to the guides — from the beginning.

We paid a deposit (50%) to secure our spots for that departure date (Note: Transferwise offered the best rates for this international wire transfer so if you’re new to the service use this link to get a free $500 international transfer). The remainder we paid in cash when we met in person in Huaraz a few days prior to the trek departure.

Another thing that impressed me about Quechuandes were the materials they sent in advance. They focused on sustainable tourism — the environment and conservation, being respectful of local culture, understanding local socio-economic issues. You could tell that this information was not copied from the internet, but created after years of experience working with the local communities and in these mountains.

Regardless of which operator you choose to take you on the Huayhuash Trek, select one which works with local guides and support staff, pays fair wages, and operates in a responsible and respectful way towards the environment and local people.

Note: G Adventures, one of our partners, also offers a 7-day Huayhuash Trek from June to August that includes the transfer from Lima (13 days total, Lima – Huayhuash – Lima). We’ve done other treks with G Adventures before (e.g., Lost City Trek in Colombia and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania) and can recommend them for quality treks as well. Since we wanted to trek in May this was before the G Adventures tours began for the season.

Booking a Huayhuash Trek in Huaraz

If you have a flexible schedule, it’s also possible to book your Huayhuash trek directly in Huaraz, the city which serves as the base for all treks in Cordillera Huayhuash and Cordillera Blanca. There are heaps of trekking agencies around, many with signs outside indicating upcoming trek departures and availability.

You can walk around, meet with different trekking agencies, ask about price and services, and then make a decision. If the price sounds too good, it might be. Ask questions to be sure of what you’re getting for your money. We witnessed other groups on the trail whose food options appeared limited and whose tents and donkeys looked worse for wear.

It’s worth it to spend a bit more for the comfort of a trained guide and cook, and to know that the staff are receiving fair wages and the animals are well cared for.

As the Huayhuash Trek has become more popular these last years many departures are already filled up so you may not be able to get on the trek for the time period you'd like. So if you have any sort of limited schedule it's best to book in advance.

Costs of a Huayhuash Trek Tour

Current (2019) costs for for the 10-day Huayhuash Trek with Quechuandes (minimum of 5 people in the group) is $70/day or $700 for the full trek. The maximum group size was eight persons. Given the level of support and service we received we felt this was a very fair price, and it was much lower than many other similar trekking agencies.

The tour and price included:

  • private transport to the trailhead (Matacancha) and from the end (Llamac)
  • a certified mountain guide, cook, muleteer (donkey handler), and assistant
  • donkeys to carry gear (up to 8kg per trekker), food, cooking equipment, etc. + emergency horse
  • food, snacks and clean water
  • 2-person tent and sleeping mat. If you wanted a private tent, that was an additional fee

The tour price did not include sleeping bags or community campsite fees (approx. 200 soles/ $60 per person for ten days). I rented my Marmot down -10 C sleeping bag from Quechuandes for 20 soles/$6 per day ($60 total). Dan was able to borrow a sleeping bag from a friend in Berlin, but otherwise he would have rented one from them as well. It is essential you carry a proper alpine sleeping bag on this trek.

Renting Trekking and Camping Gear in Huaraz

You can arrive in Huaraz without any trekking or camping gear and be outfitted with all that you need pretty quickly either through renting or buying. Quechuandes, the trekking agency that we used, rents out a large selection of gear (that’s where I rented my -10 C down Marmot sleeping bag). Many other trekking agencies offer the same.

In addition, there are quite a few shops in town specializing in trekking gear where you can buy new or sometimes even used clothes or other items. A couple on our trek bought used fleece jackets and waterproof pants from Huaraz all of which served them well.

Leaving your luggage behind during the trek

Most accommodation and tour operators/trekking agencies will allow you to leave your big bags or luggage with them for the time that you're doing the Huayhuash trek. We left our big backpacks at the hotel in Huaraz we were staying at prior to the trek and then picked them up on our return. Although we haven't heard of any problems with luggage and theft, it's always best to securely lock your bags for their time in storage.

Acclimatization hikes around Huaraz before the Huayhuash Trek

Especially if you’re coming from sea level (e.g., Lima) or low altitudes, it's a wise (if not essential) idea to spend a couple of days acclimatizing in Huaraz (3,050 meters / 10,000 feet) and doing a few acclimatization day hikes. This means hiking to a higher altitude during the day and then sleeping at lower elevation at night (e.g., Huaraz).

Huayhuash Trek Guide, Acclimatization Hikes
Lake Rajucolta hike with Mount Huantsan (6,395 m / 20,980 ft) as the backdrop. A beautiful way to acclimatize.

For the Huayhuash Trek with its daily high mountain passes, at least three acclimatization hikes are recommended prior to setting off. Marie from Quechuandes essentially told us we had to do a minimum of three acclimatization hikes before starting the Huayhuash trek. This may sound a bit extreme, but we get it. She’s trying to ensure that trekkers identify any problems they may have in advance and be sure they are fully prepared so they can mitigate risks and enjoy the trek to the fullest.

In fact, we met a group of women on an 8-day Huayhuash trek who did not do any acclimatization treks. They were hurting the first couple of days and looked miserable. Don’t do that to yourself. Don't sabotage your trek for the sake of saving a couple of days. It's a poor decision. Altitude sickness is no joke. It’s not fun and it can become very dangerous. It’s better to take the time to acclimatize properly before departing on the long trek. Not to mention, the acclimatization hikes are all pretty fabulous and enjoyable in their own right.

Marie sent us this list of suggested acclimatization treks. After talking with her we chose the following acclimatization day hikes to help prepare us for the Huayhuash Trek.

Lake Wilcacocha Acclimatization Hike

Distance: 11.9 km / 7.4 miles
Walking time: 3.5 hours
Max elevation: 3,700 meters / 13,140 feet

This is a simple and easy hike near Huaraz. It's a good one to begin with. It features a steady incline for a couple of hours along a dirt road until you reach Lake Wilcacocha at the top. The lake itself is not particularly impressive, but there is a nice overlook so you can get a feel for the countryside around.

Huahuash Trek Guide, Acclimatization Hikes
Views along the Lake Wilcacocha acclimatization hike near Huaraz.

To get there, take the Route 10 or Route E collectivo (public bus) from near the Huaraz central market (corner of Raymondi and Hualcan streets). It costs around 2-3 soles ($0.60-$0.90) per person. Let the driver know that you want to get off near Laguna Wilcacocha. After getting off the bus, cross the small bridge and you’ll see a sign at the trailhead.

Lake Rajucolta Acclimatization Hike

Distance: 16.6 km / 10.3 miles
Walking time: 5 hours, 20 minutes
Max elevation: 4,270 meters / 14,010 feet

This is not one of the typical acclimatization hikes, but it came recommended by Marie. We really enjoyed it. It’s a nice walk that isn’t too difficult at the beginning, but increases in difficulty as you climb up to the lake. Mount Huantsan, the 3rd highest peak in the Cordillera Blanca (6,395 m / 20,980 ft), guides the way and serves as a stunning backdrop to Laguna Rajucolta.

Huayhuash Trek, Lake Rajucolta acclimatization hike near Huaraz, Peru
Laguna Rajucolta. We had the trails all to ourselves.

There were no other hikers on the trail the day we went. We and two other hikers going on the same Huayhuash trek as us had the whole place to ourselves, with the exception of a few shepherds and their flocks of animals. Highly recommended.

The Laguna Rajucolta hike requires private transport with a 4×4 vehicle to get there and back as the roads get rough after turning off the main road. The drive takes around 1.5-2 hours from Huaraz. We hired a driver through Quechuandes for around 220 soles ($66) for the entire car (4-5 persons). He dropped us off at the trailhead in the morning and then waited for us all day to return.

Laguna 69 Hike

Distance: 13.8 km / 8.6 miles
Walking time: 4 hours, 45 minutes
Max elevation: 4,600 meters / 15,090 feet

This is one of the more popular day hikes in the Huaraz region, and for good reason. Located in Huascaran National Park in the Cordillera Blanca, this hike climbs up to Laguna 69, a beautiful alpine lake with Mount Chacraraju (6,112 meters / 20,052 feet) as a backdrop. The views on the path up are also pretty stunning and spectacular. Be sure to allow and take time to look around and enjoy them. There are some challenging, steep ascents. But, that’s also what makes it an excellent acclimatization hike and preparation for the Huayhuash trek.

Huayhuash Trek, Laguna 69 Acclimatization Hike
Stunning mountain and waterfall views en route to Laguna 69.

The easiest way to organize the Laguna 69 hike is to buy a “tour” in Huaraz that essentially includes bus transportation with a guide. We bought ours from Quechuandes for 35 soles / $10.50 per person and had an early morning 5AM pickup at our hotel. You’ll stop for breakfast along the way. If you don’t have a packed lunch with you already, your breakfast stop is also an opportunity to buy lunch for the hike. The entrance fee for Huascaran National Park is 30 soles / $9 per person.

Laguna 69 Hike in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Turquoise waters of Laguna 69 with Mount Chacraraju as a backdrop.

Where to stay in Huaraz

There is certainly no shortage of places to stay in Huaraz. We stayed at El Jacal Classic before and after our trek. It is located a few blocks from the main square and downtown area, so it is both conveniently located and quiet. Request a room that is not at the top of the stairs as it can get a bit loud with people coming and going. Breakfast is served on the rooftop, which has a great view.

They are accustomed to trekkers, so it's no problem to leave your luggage there when you're off in the mountains.

What to pack for the Huayhuash Trek

Check out our full Ultimate Trekking Packing List with all the details on what to bring with you on a day or multi-day trek like the Huayhuash Trek (or anywhere else). However, we offer a customized Huayhuash Trek packing list to ensure you have what you need, yet don't overpack.

We suggest you ask your trekking agency and perform some independent research about the temperatures at night during the time of your trek. This will determine how many layers you'll need to carry and the weight your jacket(s). For example, temperatures dipped to -10 C / 14 F during a couple of the nights and early mornings on our trek so we were very thankful to have extra layers of long underwear, fleece and more.

As mentioned above, tents and sleeping pads were provided by Quechuandes.

Clothing

You really don’t need much in this department. Don’t worry about packing clean clothes for each day, as everyone is just wearing the same thing or repurposing the same clothes each day. Here’s what we suggest:

  • 1-2 pairs of trekking pants: We're both been using Clothing Arts Travel Pants (for men and for women) as our go-to trekking pants these last few years. They hold up well on multi-day treks in terms of hiding dirt, drying quickly, not getting stinky. We find the additional secure pockets useful on treks for keeping phones, money, tissues and other things handy.
  • 2-3 short-sleeved t-shirts: Preferably quick-dry or regular cotton (his and hers quick-dry t-shirts).
  • 1 long-sleeved travel/trekking shirt: This is useful not only as a layer of warmth in the chilly mornings when you first start hiking, but also as protection for your arms from the strong sun (his and hers).
  • Hiking shoes: We both recently shifted to wearing Oboz Sawtooth hiking boots. The insoles and support for your feet are really good, and the shoes are sturdy and can stand up to some tough terrain. In addition, Oboz plants a tree for every pair of shoes sold so you can feel good that your purchase is going towards reforestation and environmental projects. Men's Obuz Sawtooth Hiking Shoes: Buy at REI | Buy at Backcountry | Women's Obuz Sawtooth Hiking Shoes: Buy at REI | Buy at Backcountry
  • 1 set of evening clothes for dinner and sleep sleep: T-shirt, long pants (or pajama bottoms), socks. To ensure these remain dry, pack them in a plastic bag or other impermeable container inside your backpack.
  • Underwear: Usually one pair for every day of the hike. Here are recommended men's boxer shorts and women's underwear
  • Hiking socks: I love SmartWool hiking socks as my first pairs lasted me almost seven years of heavy usage. If you prefer a thinner sock check out their ultra-light line. I often wear a sock liner together with wool hiking socks.
  • Bathing suit: For the hot springs on day 5 of the hike.
  • Fleece jacket: For cool nights or sleeping (can double as a pillow, too).
  • Waterproof rain jacket: For this trek I upgraded to a NorthFace Climatech technology waterproof jacket and I love it. It not only provided protection against the rain and cold, but the jacket material is very breathable so it didn't feel like a sauna inside when I used it. Highly recommended.
  • Waterproof poncho: This long backpack poncho goes over you, your backpack and most of your legs so it really provides great protection from the rain.
  • Waterproof pants: Pick up a pair of light pull-on biking waterproof/water resistant pants. They fold up into a small bag so they barely take up any room or weight in your backpack, but keep you quite dry when the clouds open up.
  • Light down jackets: These can be stuffed into a tiny cinch bag and are so light that you can carry them with you in your day pack. We used these for warmth and comfort at night when temperatures drop. Dan loves his seamless ultra-light down jacket from Uniqlo.
  • Flip-flops or river shoes: These are useful for the evenings when you want to get your feet a break from hiking shoes or you need to run to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Women's River Shoes | Men's River Shoes

Other Trekking Gear

  • Sleeping Bag: This needs to be comfort rated to at least -10 C / 14 F. I rented my heavy duty down sleeping bag from the trekking agency, Quechuandes. If you are looking to buy a sleeping bag for your trek, one of the guys in our trekking group used this North Face 3-in-1 One Bag Sleeping Bag and found it warm enough and comfortable. Dan was looking at this Hyke & Byke Eolus 0 Degree sleeping bag before one of our friends lent him one to use. It was recommended and seemed like a good price.
  • Refillable water bottle: Bring with you 1-2 refillable water bottles and/or a water bladder so that you always have at least one liter of water on you at all times. You'll be able to refill your bottles with clean water in the morning before you leave for the day and when you get to camp in the afternoon. If you really want to play it safe consider carrying with you a SteriPEN or sterilization drops.
  • Trekking poles: We highly recommend using trekking poles for this trek, especially for the steep downhill sections. We'll usually share one walking stick set of two so each of us uses one stick. However, most people in our group used two poles each. This set of travel-friendly walking sticks fold up easily for luggage and assemble quickly when on the trail.
  • Waterproof backpack cover: You never know when a rainstorm will hit, so it’s essential to keep a rain cover for your backpack close at hand. We also put electronics and other items in plastic or zip-loc bags inside the backpack as a extra protection for them.
  • Quick-dry travel towel: To dry off after showers, and also after a swim. Hang it on the outside of your backpack in the morning so it dries quickly in the sun and air as you move.
  • Silk sleep sack: To provide an extra layer of protection and warmth between you and the sleeping bag.
  • Headlamp: None of the campsites have electricity so a headlamp is essential for finding your way to the toilet and to sort through your stuff at night in your tent.
  • Silicone earplugs: A precaution in the case your camp has a snorer.

Toiletries and Health Kit

You'll have access to hot springs to bathe on day 5, but for the rest of your trek you'll receive a small bucket of hot water either first thing in the morning or in the evening to wash your face and other basics.

  • Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss: The basics.
  • Sunscreen: The higher the SPF, the better. You're at high altitudes for most of this trek where it's much easier to become burned. Keep applying sunscreen.
  • Sunglasses: At high altitudes the sun is super strong so go for sunglasses that will protect your eyes vs. be fashionable.
  • Hand sanitizer: To be on the safe side, especially for lunch and snacks on the trail.
  • Pack of tissues: You will be provided with a roll of toilet paper, but it’s always a good idea to carry a pack of tissues in case of messes, spills or emergencies.
  • Duct tape: Very effective for hot spots and blisters on your feet. Also consider picking up some Compeed, which is magic when you already have blisters.
  • Medical Kit (for emergencies): Band-Aids, anti-bacterial gel (for cuts), rehydration powders, ciprofloxacin/azithromycin (or another medication against stomach bacteria), Tylenol (anti-headache/aches), Immodium (or some sort of “stopper” if you get diarrhea), tea tree oil (great to apply to mosquito bites) Note: all these are easily and inexpensively purchased at local pharmacies, including in Huaraz from where you depart for the trek.

Electricity and Charging Batteries

None of the campsites have electricity. Prepare yourself for not having access to electricity during the trek. Some tips to handle this and further your battery power.

  • Put your smartphone on airplane mode. There is no connectivity along the trek anyhow, so don't waste your phone’s battery power trying to find a network.
  • We brought a solar powered power bank and used it to charge our smartphones, when necessary.
  • Consider buying a phone case that doubles as an extra battery. Here’s an example for our iPhone X battery case. It provides another 1-1.5 charges.
  • Take an extra camera battery or two.
  • Don’t spent time reviewing your images on your phone or camera, as this will drain your battery power quickly.

Conclusion: Huayhuash Trek, A Trek of a Lifetime

Yep. For us, there's no way to oversell our experience on the Huayhuash Trek. During the trek, we felt the kind of deep decompression we feel whenever we head into the mountains on a long walk. The sense of accomplishment — individually and shared with a group of fun people — is profound. The memories, as we write this piece and flip through one stunning, astounding image after another, are still fresh.

All that's left now is for you to give it a try. Any questions, ask them in the comments. And if you decide to do it, let us know how you get on.

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

6 thoughts on “Huayhuash Trek, Peru: All You Need to Know”

  1. Very helpful. I’m planning a trip to Peru in late April–mid May 2020, and want to hit Cordillera Blanca. I’m an Alaskan, thus somewhat used to high mountains, but these altitudes are a bit higher! All of your advice is good.

    Reply
    • Yes, the altitudes in the Cordillera Blanca are pretty high! But, if you acclimatize properly in advance and go slowly, you should be fine. Have a great trip!

      Reply
  2. We are doing a supported trip in early July. Our goal is to arrive to Huaraz on a Saturday evening. Leave for Huayhuash on Tuesday. We are aware we have to drive first for about 4-5 hrs from Huaraz to access the trail head. We are planning on spending those 2 full days acclimating. We live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Our elevation is 6500 ft. We are in good physical condition, I just want to know if 2 days of acclimating will be enough? What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Great to hear that you’re planning to do the Huayhuash Trek later this year. It’s impossible for me to know exactly about whether 2 days of acclimatizing will be enough, but given that you already live at some altitude and are used to doing physical/outdoor things I think you’ll probably be OK. I would talk with the trekking agency you’re using for their acclimatization hike recommendations, but I would try and do the Laguna 69 hike on your 2nd day of acclimatization as this will push your body and help prepare you for the altitudes to come on the Huayhuash trek. Perhaps do the Lake Rajucolta hike (or similar) on the first, which would be a bit more of a challenge than the Lake Wilcacocha hike. Remember to take it very slow and drink LOTS of water.

      Have a great trek!!

      Reply
  3. Fantastic recommendation. Did the trip include the cost of food? Who designs the menu?

    Thank you very very much. Very inspiring and I am psyched to go with my brother and our two 15 yr old sons in June 2020

    Reply
    • Our supported Huayhuash trek highlighted here with Quechuandes did have all food included as part of the price. This included not only breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also a bag of snacks (e.g., nuts, quinoa bars, etc.) to carry each day. Food was excellent and done by the designated cook on the trek – a mixture of Peruvian (e.g., causa) and European/American standards (e.g., pasta, mixed vegetables, etc.). If you have any food allergies (e.g., gluten-free) or restrictions (e.g., vegetarian/vegan) let the trekking agency know in advance so that they can adjust their shopping and menus accordingly.

      Have a great trek this summer with your sons and brother!! It’s challenging, but so rewarding and beautiful.

      Reply

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