Peru is known for its epic vistas and world-class hiking, and also Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash circuit is becoming a well-known trek among outdoor enthusiasts. The Cordillera Huayhuash is less-visited and less touristic than the nearby Cordillera Blanca with its Santa Cruz trek and day tours to Laguna 69.
Once we heard about the Huayhuash circuit and saw some spectacular pictures of near-vertical summits, glaciers and turquoise lakes we instantly knew: We have to go there! And, it is even better than we could imagine. Hiking Cordillera Huayhuash has been an unforgettable experience
“The sheer beauty, vastness and geological diversity of the Cordillera Huayhuash are overwhelming. You just can’t help but feel the force of nature and be grateful to behold such a wonder.”
Map and GPX Huayhuash trek without a guide
The Huayhuash trek has one main trail circumnavigating the snow-capped cordillera Huayhuash mountains. However, there are various options to extend, shorten or alter the route. Our trek of in total 118 kilometers ended up lasting nine days, and the itinerary we chose was perfect! Find more background on our chosen itinerary below.
Distance and length Huayhuash trek
- 110 -130 km (depending on variations)
- highest point: 5050 m
- 7-10 days
Start & finish of the Huayhuash trek without a guide
- Most people start the hike in Matachanca and finish in Llamac. You can hike the Huayhuash in both directions, but it is recommended to hike the Huayhuash in a clockwise direction. The only resupply point on the trail is the village Huayllapa, which is more strategically located hiking the Huayhuash in a clockwise direction.
Difficulty Huayhuash trek without a guide
- Huayhuash trek is considered a difficult hike. The majority of the hike is above 4000 meters, with multiple passes over 4500 and 5000 meters. The altitude combined with over 100 km of distance and some steep sections makes it a challenging hike.
Recommendations for Huayhuash route
There are various options to extend, shorten or alter the route. Based on the experiences, we recommend deviating from the ‘main’ trail at the following places.
- Paso del trapecio: Hike over Paso del trapecio instead of following the trails to the thermal springs. We believe this is one of the most beautiful parts of the Huayhuash trek. The giant snow-capped mountains are so incredibly close, you can almost touch them! After crossing the pass, the landscape changes completely. Surrounded by impressive volcanic rock formations you will cross various turquoise lagoons.
- Paso Santa Rosa: Take the Santa Rosa pass instead of the San Antonio pass. From the campsite at Huanapatay, the Santa Rosa pass looks quite challenging, but it is easier than the San Antonio pass that has a very steep descent. Apparently the view on Siula Grande is slightly better from the San Antonio pass, but the route over the Santa Rosa pass brings you even closer to glaciers and turquoise lakes. We took the Santa Rosa pass and are happy that we did.
- Visit Siula Grande Basecamp: We took a detour to visit and camp at Siula Grande basecamp. If you want a good view of Siula Grande, this is the place. We camped at Siula Grande basecamp and could see pieces of ice falling off the glacier and we heard the ice cracking during the night.
Our itinerary Huayhuash trek without a guide
|1||Matacancha||Cancana Punta (4700m)||Laguna Mitucocha (4250m)|
|2||Mitucocha||alpino circuit to Laguna Alcaycocha (4780m)||Carhuacocha (4200m)|
|3||Carhuacocha||paso Siula (4810m)||Huayhuash (4340m)|
|4||Huayhuash||paso del trapecio (5020m)||Huanapatay (4500m)|
|5||Huanapatay||paso santa rosa (5050m)||Siula Grande Base Camp (4500m)|
|6||Siula Grande Base Camp||long descent||Huaylappa (3500m)|
|7||Huaylappa||long climb to altitude of 4650m||Gashpapampa (4500m)|
|8||Gashpapampa||Yauche pass (4800m)||Jahuacocha (4050m)|
|9||Jahuacocha||over Pampa Llamac (4300m)||Llamac (3200m)|
Getting there: transport to the Huayhuash trek
The Cordillera Huayhuash is around 150 kilometers south of Huaraz. Many independent hikers take a bus to Chiquián and change buses to go to Llamac. From Llamac it is a two hours hike along a mining road to begin the trek in Matacancha.
Tip: Ask various tour organizations in Huaraz to join for their transport. In the high seasons, organized groups leave every day from Huaraz to the Cordillera Huayhuash, and often have space left for independent trekkers. We eventually organized our transport at Andean Kingdom, in front of Casa de Guia.
For 50 soles per person, we were picked up at our hostel and dropped of at Matacancha. This option is much cheaper than organizing a private car (~400 soles) and it saves a lot of time and hassle to get to the bus station and switch buses.
To get back to Cusco, you can take a bus. A bus leaves every day at 11:00 AM from Llamac. But again in the high season, there are groups coming and going. We waited for 20 minutes in Llamac and got a private jeep ride back to Huaraz for 50 soles per person.
Tips for the Cordillera Huayhuash trek without a guide
Before leaving to Huayhuash
- Check trail conditions: Visit Casa de Guias in Huaraz before going on a hike in the Cordillera Huayhuash. They provide free information and tips on possible hikes in the region and have the latest information on trail conditions. Since we were planning to go off the official Huayhuash circuit and follow some alpine tracks, the guides could provide us all the information we needed on possible routes, recommendations, and difficulty of the trails.
- Get a paper map: The Huayhuash hiking trails are well indicated on online map navigation apps of OSMand, MapOut and maps.me. However, to get a good overview of the circuit and the location of the dedicated camping areas, paper maps of the Cordillera Huayhuash are available (45 soles) at Casa de Guias in Huaraz.
- Money: Try to get cash in small denominations of soles. ATMs, which are available in Huaraz, provide 100 soles notes, which are difficult to break when paying in the Cordillera Huayhuash The communities along the trail each charge 10-40 soles fees for entering and camping. Depending on the itinerary the costs can be up to 235 soles (status 2019). A full list of up to date fees is available on the Huayhuash website.
- Watch the documentary: “Touching the void, 2003“. Before we left for the Huayhuash trek we watched the gripping documentary ’Touching the void’. It is based on a true story about two climbers summiting mountain Siula grande and their survival. If you are planning to hike the Huayhuash, we can highly recommend watching this documentary.
- Acclimatize: Most of the route is above 4000 meters. To fully acclimatize it is good to stay a few days in Huaraz (at 3000m) and make a few days hikes to get used to high altitude. Popular day hikes in the region include Laguna 69 and Laguna Paron.
Gear considerations for Huayhuash
- Sleeping bags: Temperature dropped far below zero degrees. Our sleeping bags with extreme limits up to -9 °C were clearly not warm enough. Especially the nights camping at 4500 meters were cold
- Gear in Huaraz: There are several outdoor shops in Huaraz where you can buy or rent high quality outdoor gear if needed.
- Water: Consider to bring your water filter in the inner tent during the night, and pack electronics warm inside the tent because the cold drains the battery (we didn’t and our water filter broke)
Hiking Cordillera Huayhuash trek independently or supported?
There is an option to organize a donkey at the start of the Huayhuash trek (20 – 50 soles per day). The donkey joins the guided groups, while you can hike the Huayhuash trek on your own. In this way, you can still be remote and hike on your own pace with your own gear but you will have the benefit of a lighter backpack.
Upon arrival at the designated camping area, you collect your gear from the group. The only downside of this option is that you have to camp at the same places as the organized group. We were happy to have the freedom to make a detour to Siula Grande or adjust our plans if desired, this is not an option when you go supported.