While less well-known than the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu, northern Peru offers some fantastic, unspoiled hiking opportunities. Not surprisingly, the Cordilleras around Huaraz have a wide and impressive selection.
There is a moderate, three-day trek from the village of Olleros, over Yanashallash Pass (4,600m / 15,092 ft) to the spectacular ruins of Chavin de Huantar.
The Santa Cruz trek is the most sought-after multi-day trek in the Huascaran National Park. The highlight is the Punta Union pass (4,750 m / 15,585 ft), with one of the most spectacular and accessible views in the Andes. Nature lovers enjoy the opportunity to hike through groves of native highland quenual trees, and to see Andean birds around the lakes.
The trek is normally done in four days, although there are various extensions that can be done to include other highlights, such as Alpamayo Base Camp.
The route begins from Caraz with a bus ride to Cashapampa (2,900 m / 9,515 ft), after which the trek begins. This is a long, relatively gentle ascent, followed by a steep descent ending in Vaqueria (3,700 m / 12,140 ft) where transport returns to Huaraz. Because of its popularity, the trail is clear and relatively well-signed.
NB. The trek can be done in reverse with a demanding ascent and long descent.
On the Eastern side of the Cordillera Blanca one of the main highways of the Qhapaq Ñan - the enormous network of Inca roads - passed on its way from Cusco to Quito. The area is littered with Inca architecture, as these roadways were of great strategic and spiritual importance.
The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit is demanding, but rewards one with unparalleled mountain and lake scenery and the opportunity to walk at consistently high elevations. The entire circuit takes 11 days; add days for rest or exploration, or walk a half circuit on the spectacular eastern side.
The traditional gateway is charming Chiquian (3,400 m / 11,155 ft), but new, unpaved roads built by mining companies allow closer access to the mountains. These roads lack public transport, but outfitters use them to get into the area.
The four treks described above, are just a sample of the many in the Huaraz area. For more details on these, and further options, just get in touch.
With the Andes Mountains stretching the length of northern Peru, it is not surprising that plenty of other treks are possible. The combination of cloud forest and rich archeological remains makes the Chachapoyas region a hiking paradise ... and yet you are unlikely to see other trekkers along the way!
You can trek directly from the city of Chachapoyas on what is known as the Qhapaq Ñan (Andean Road System) trek, which takes traditional pre-Columbian paths to get to Kuelap on the third day. Chachapoya archeological sites such as Yalape, Machupirca, Cilic and Macro are included on the way, and accommodation is in basic guesthouses, in small villages.
There is a three-day hike to and from Laguna de los Condores (Lake of the Condors, 2,600 m / 8,530 ft). The first day is a tough ascent from Leymebamba, taking around 9 or 10 hours, and it is suggested to ride horses at least part of the way.
Once at the lake, you stay the night in simple accommodation, and the second day is spent visiting the tombs. You begin walking round the end of the lake, past the remains of an old Chachapoya settlement.
Once in the forest, you need to climb wooden ladders to reach the ledge where the tombs are located. The tombs are now empty after archaeologists recovered their contents in 1997, in order to place them in the excellent Leymebamba Museum. You can still see pictographs painted on the cliffs and appreciate the setting and the importance the deceased held for the ancient people.
The third day is spent returning to Leymebamba.
Leymebamba is also the starting point for numerous multi-day treks, such as to the Chachapoya funerary sites of La Petaca and Diablo Huasi. From here you can return, or continue trekking to the remote and magical remains of Vira Vira.
On the other side of the Utcubamba Valley from Chachapoyas, there is wonderful hiking to be had, taking in the sarcophagi at Karajia (2,702 m / 8,865 ft), as well as many less-explored ruins, on the way to Gran Vilaya, a complex of many archaeological remains and ruins (estimated at 5,000 buildings), built of limestone and spread over a wide area. Most treks include a day at Kuelap - hiking to the ruins, rather than taking transport - as a climax.
Peru North can arrange any of the above treks ... and more besides. Just let us know the route you'd like to take.