Peru is a hiker's paradise, and one of the most famous places to hike is the Cordillera Blanca in the Andes Mountains. This mountain range is home to many high peaks, including Huascaran, the highest mountain in Peru, and attracts hikers from all over the world. I recently had the opportunity to go on a four-day trek through this incredible landscape and wanted to share my experience with you.
Day One: Our journey begins
Our journey began early in the morning when we were greeted by our guide Javier from Eco Ice, and met our group of five; one from Brazil, one from Peru, and three from the Netherlands. We stopped two hours into the journey for breakfast, and our first of many coca teas. Following breakfast, we stopped two more times, first to view the lagoon we had first seen en-route to Laguna 69, and again at the highest point of our trek at 4767m for views over the valley and the snow-capped peaks.
From here, it was another two hours of bumpy, twisty roads until we arrived in the village of Vaqueria, to load our donkeys with gear and start the first of our four-day hike.
Upon arrival, we quickly received the first of our daily snack packs intended to keep us energised for the miles ahead. The first day started off on a small trail from the town and back into the Huascaran National park.
Albeit being advised it would be mostly flat, it was definitely up and down with 600m’s of accent. We quickly learned the Peruvian definition of flat meant the ground was easy going, not the nature of the elevation. Within two hours, we had stopped for lunch, which was delicious, giving us confidence we would be eating well for the next few days. Our hike continued up a steep section, up into a valley and across sweeping fields into a green landscape as we arrived into the national park.
The last mile of our walk gave us views of our campsite for the night. In total, for the first day, we had walked 6.7 miles. Thankfully upon arriving at the campsite, we were greeted with hot water to wash ourselves, and almost instantly, it was tea time followed by dinner, before bedtime was called at 8 pm. The weather at night was chilly but thankfully, we had sleeping bags designed for -15 degrees. Yet this didn't stop us both wearing our thermals for bed as the weather dropped below zero degrees.
Day Two: Punta Union pass
The second day of our trek through the Cordillera Blanca in Peru was a challenge we were not entirely prepared for. The Punta Union pass loomed ahead of us, and we knew it was going to be a tough climb. We started the day with a steep uphill section that left us breathless, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.
After the initial climb, we were relieved to find a flatter portion, which we were told was our recovery section. We enjoyed the brief respite, taking in the stunning views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. The mist added a surreal beauty to the scenery, making it seem like we were walking through a magical realm straight out of a fairy tale.
But soon, it was time to tackle the final, steep section of the climb. With the altitude making it difficult to catch our breath, we had to take it slowly, one step at a time. We zig-zagged up higher and higher, the view becoming more and more incredible with every step. When we finally rounded the last corner and saw the sign for the Punta Union pass, it was a moment of pure joy.
The view from the pass was breathtaking, and we took our time celebrating our achievement and taking lots of photos. We had planned to have lunch at the top, but we had made it quicker than expected, so we started our descent instead.
The way down was just as challenging as the climb up, with lots of rocks to navigate. We were relieved when we finally got a break about 30 minutes later. After a quick lunch, we continued our descent for another two hours before finally reaching our campsite.
This was probably the prettiest campsite we had seen so far, nestled in the mountains with stunning views all around. However, it was also the coldest, with the tents covered in a thin film of ice. We were grateful for our thick sleeping bags, which kept us warm through the freezing night.
Looking back on day two, we realised that it was the most difficult, but also the most rewarding. The views from the Punta Union pass were unforgettable, and the sense of accomplishment we felt after making it to the top was indescribable. We were exhausted but happy to have made it through the day, ready for whatever challenges lay ahead on our trek through the Cordillera Blanca.
Day Three: Trekking to Lake Arhuaycocha and Paramount Mountain
Our third day on the trek was to be the longest yet, as we deviated from the usual route to make an excursion up 400m to a viewpoint for the Paramount mountain and to visit Lake Arhuaycocha at 4,450m. We were warned the night before that we might not be able to visit the lake if the weather was bad, so we were grateful to be woken at 6am with clear skies and the sun just peeking over the mountain peaks. We quickly packed our tents and enjoyed our usual cup of Coca tea before setting out for the day's adventure.
The morning was chilly due to the clear skies, but we soon warmed up as we began our ascent up the side of a mountain through long grasses and small bushes. After about 40 minutes of climbing, we reached a relatively flat grassy landscape where we saw a viscacha chilling on the rocks. This rabbit-like creature with a squirrel's tail was a rare sight for us, and we took a moment to appreciate its unique features. From this point, we were rewarded with stunning views of the Paramount mountain and surrounding glacial peaks.
After a short but steep rocky climb to the mirador, we were greeted with breathtaking views of Lake Arhuaycocha below and the glaciers above. The lake was a beautiful turquoise, glistening in the sun, with blocks of ice floating on the surface. The mountains above were even more spectacular, with grand white glaciers and a waterfall flowing into the lake below. We were fortunate to have the lake to ourselves due to its secluded location.
The return journey followed the same route, before turning off and descending into the valley below via a multitude of zig-zags. The landscape in this valley was barren and dusty, with the sun high in the sky giving the effect of a desert. We stopped for lunch and took a much-needed break before continuing on a relatively flat, dry, and dusty path, passing another smaller Laguna before finally reaching the campsite after 14 miles of walking.
After dinner, we enjoyed the stars before retreating to our sleeping bags by 8 pm, ready for another early start on our final day. The trek had been challenging, but the breathtaking views and unique wildlife encounters made it all worth it. We were excited to see what the final day would bring.
Day Four: The final descent towards Cashapampa
The Cordillera Blanca trek in Peru had been a true adventure, and day four was no exception. Our final day had only 4 hours of trekking, but it was a beautiful descent through a completely different landscape than the previous days.
We set off just after 7am, and the morning was chilly, but it didn't take long for us to warm up as we followed the valley towards the village of Cashapampa. As we descended, we were greeted with more greenery and the sound of the river rushing by.
The descent was steep, and the path was loose and rocky, but we took our time and stopped for multiple photo opportunities. It was hard to believe that just a few days ago, we were at the top of the Punta Union pass, looking out over the beautiful mountain scenery.
As we got closer to the village, we could see signs of civilisation, such as the dam across the river. Finally, we arrived in Cashapampa, tired but happy to have made it. We celebrated our accomplishment with a well-earned beer and a sit-down as a group.
Trekking the Cordillera Blanca is truly an unforgettable adventure that offers so much more than just stunning views and challenging hikes. It's an opportunity to connect with nature in a way that few experiences can match. The rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains, the crystal-clear lakes, and the majestic glaciers all come together to create a landscape that is truly awe-inspiring.
Aside from the stunning natural beauty, the trek is also a chance to challenge yourself physically and mentally. Climbing the Punta Union Pass, hiking to Lake Arhuaycocha and Paramount Mountain, and navigating through the canyon all require focus, determination, and perseverance. These challenges will push you to your limits and give you a sense of accomplishment that will stay with you long after the trek is over.
If you're looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, then trekking the Cordillera Blanca is an experience not to be missed. And if you want to find out more about how to plan your trip, get in touch with Eco Ice. Their team of experts can provide you with all the information you need to make your trek a success.
Alistair is a passionate traveler who has explored a diverse array of cultures and countries, having visited over 50 destinations across multiple continents.
Currently in: London, United Kingdom — @0_7734