Huaraz is a great base to explore Peru’s Andes mountain range with hikes in the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra areas.
Several hikes climb to near 5,000m and therefore rank as moderate to difficult. Huaraz itself sits at just over 3,000m.
If attempting the Santa Cruz trek, it’s advised to do at least one day hike before (two to three is better) to help you acclimatise. (For the Santa Cruz trek, click my last blog entry.)
* Lake Churup
* The Rock Forest – Hatan Machay (personal favourite) – also a climber’s choice pick.
LAKE 69 – DAY HIKE FROM HUARAZ
A heart-pumping hike which on a clear day affords astounding views of Mount Yanapaqcha, reflective lagoons, billowing grasses and a tumbling valley.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Altitude: 3,850m – 4,400m
Duration: 5-6 hr return
Travel time by public transport: 2.5 – 3 hours each way
The hike starts out quite flat as it meanders through a valley and gradually climbs upwards over a series of three zigzag paths.
If you’re walking on this as an acclimatisation hike shortness of breath and a thumping heart will probably hit you on the third zig zag. Take it easy, stop as often as you need to and drink at least 2.5 litres of water.
The path begins at a camping sign at Cruz de Pisco. Go down the path to the left of the sign and go over a small bridge over a fast flowing river. You’ll come across a red camping sign a bit further on – don’t take the path to the left which crosses the river, keep to the right of it.
About 20-30 min further on, cross a small tributary (the river Yanapaqcha will always remain on your left and you’ll cross three off-shoots during the hike up).
If the sun’s out the scenery will be stellar. The 5,460m snow-covered peak of Mount Yanapaqcha and the 6,122m Mount Chacraraju will dominate the trek. I had mainly cloudy weather with a very slight drizzle of rain but the advantage of this was the lack of heat beating down on us.
The glacial Mount Chacraraju looms above the milky blue lake.
How to get to the start of Lake 69 from Huaraz
Take a combi (a white mini van) from Av Gamarra in Huaraz to Yunguay for 6 soles. You’ll be dropped off at the bus terminal where you’ll be surrounded by vulture-like collectivo drivers (shared-taxis). Ask to be dropped off at Cruz de Pisco for the start of the hike (10 soles each if there are several of you).
You can arrange for the collectivo to pick you up later or chance your luck that’ll get a ride back – but this isn’t guaranteed.
LAKE CHURUP – DAY HIKE FROM HUARAZ
This hike weaves past rippling hills, peaks beneath a vesture of snow and wild flowers showing off their blazing colours.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Altitude: 3,850m – 4,600m
Distance: Pitec – Lake Churup – Pitec: 7km
Llupa – Lake Churup – Llupa: 11km
Duration: 4.5-5 hr from Pitec return; 6.5 hr from Llupa return
Travel time by public transport: Huaraz to Llupa – 45 min
Huaraz to Pitec – 1 hr
There are two options for this hike:
1) Start in the village of Llupa and walk to Pitec and from there to Lake Churup and back to Llupa.
2) Start in Pitec, walk to the lake and return to Pitec (you’ll need to arrange transport to pick you up) or walk on to Llupa.
I’d personally recommend walking to Llupa as it winds through vibrant wild flowers sloping uphill, adobe houses, past women in bright skirts and alongside fields with grazing donkeys.
If you’re going solo on this hike your only option is to go from Huaraz to Llupa on public transport. If you’re in a group you can hire the combi from Huaraz to Pitec (as we did – 80 soles for the vehicle, you can get 10 people in one) and then walk back to Llupa and jump in a local combi back to Huaraz (4-6 soles).
The path is pretty easy to follow from Llupa to Lake Churup and you’ll probably encounter several hikers. The initial view looks out over rolling hills and fields which give way to craggy peaks.
There’s one area of the walk which gave me problems: climbing up and down wire cables. They scale boulders and if you have climbing experience or are very agile you should be fine.
I’m super clumsy so I arranged to go with other people from the hostel, two who were Norwegian climbing guides. If you go solo you will probably be able to shimmy up the cables with other people if you feel you can’t do it alone, as long as you linger around and wait for other hikers going in the same direction.
This walk, except the cable section, was easier than Lake 69, but that may be because it was my second hike and I’d already suffered from an altitude-induced thumping headache the day before.
Getting to Llupa / Pitec from Huaraz
To Llupa: Jump in a combi from Av. Gamarra, Huaraz signed Llupa (4-6 soles) and start the uphill walk on a path to the right of where you’ll be dropped off. Don’t follow the road as it’s much longer and nowhere near as pretty or colourful.
To Pitec: Find a combi in Av. Gamarra, Huaraz signed Llupa and ask to hire the vehicle to Pitec (80 soles). You can arrange for the driver to meet you back in Pitec if you don’t want to walk to Llupa to catch the public combi back to Huaraz (double the fare for the return journey).
THE ROCK FOREST (Hatan Machay)
DAY HIKE OR MULTI-DAY HIKE FROM HUARAZ – accommodation available in a refugio run by Andean Kingdom
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Altitude: 4,000m starting point
Travelling time: 1.5hr
The area is as gob-smackingly stunning as it is unusual.
Imagine 20m rock pinnacles shooting from the ground then multiply this by an 8km circumference. Throw in a backdrop of Mount Huayhuash and the surrounding Cordillera Negra mountain range, sweeping valleys and on a clear day a possible view of the Pacific Ocean. Impressed? You should be.
Welcome to the Hatan Machay, AKA the ‘Rock Forest’. As the story goes the region was once an underwater volcano that erupted forming colossal outcrops. Whether this is actually the case or not, no one knows. According to the locals nobody has ever made a study of the area, despite there even being some indigenous rock carvings in the shallow caves which again, people say date back centuries.
Hikes around the area aren’t marked – it’s up to you to make your own. However, with plentiful hills, a rock forest to explore and valleys abound it’s not a difficult job. You can see for miles so it’d be quite difficult to get lost. There’s an aerial map available in the refugio of the rock forest circuit, not that it’s amazingly helpful.
I did a four-hour walk around the immediate rock forest which had me identifying stone creatures from dinosaurs to giant caterpillars. It’s humbling to be here – you feel completely insignificant in this giant’s playground.
You can also hike to a small hill near the refugio (30 min) to view the sunset over Mount Huayhuash. The colours – vivid orange mixed with fresh snow and swirling grey clouds – will leave your jaw agape.
There’s the option to sleep at the refugio which is fully equipped with cooking facilities, beds, sleeping bags, blankets and a roaring fire. I’d definitely recommend two or more days here.
On my second day I clambered up the 4,800m hill behind the refugio accompanied by the local dog. Four adjoining hills roll together giving you the chance to huff and puff as you work towards the top. The reward of this is the view: the rock forest suddenly becomes a tiny spectacle against the snow-dusted mountains and sprawling valley. In the distance I saw mist rolling in creating a fantasy scene with summits jutting out.
Of course, if you’re a climber then you’ll be in paradise here. I met beginners to climbing guides from Europe who said the place was world-class, especially rock bouldering.
Andean Kingdom in Huaraz is the agency which offers one day, multi-day climbs or courses which come highly recommended. If you have your own climbing gear you can go independently. (You have to pay a 5-sole fee to the indigenous people who own the land.)
Accommodation – refugio – 30 soles per night
Book at Andean Kingdom in Huaraz (Parque Ginebra 120, near Casa de Guias) but pay directly at the refugio. Take food, drinks (no shop for miles) and warm clothes.
Getting to the Rock Forest from Huaraz
Arrange transport with Andean Kingdom. For a five-person taxi it’ll cost 100 soles one way. If the agency sends you in a van the price will depend on how many people are going.
HOSTEL IN HUARAZ
Albergue Churup www.churup.com
Jr. Amadeo Figueroa 1257, La Soledad, Huaraz, Peru
Dorm: 28 soles, single: 69 soles
A super cozy hostel with the utmost friendliest and genuine staff. They provide information on all hikes in the area and have basic maps. There’s a log fire, sun terrace and TV room with a board to organise treks with fellow hikers, which make Churup hostel a great choice. It’s NOT a party hostel.
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