Introduction

Ground zero for outdoor-adventure worship in Peru, the Cordilleras are one of the preeminent hiking, trekking and backpacking spots in South America. Wherever you throw your gaze, perennially frozen white peaks razor their way through expansive mantles of lime-green valleys. In the recesses of these prodigious giants huddle scores of pristine jade lakes, ice caves and torrid springs. The Cordillera Blanca is one of the highest mountain ranges in the world outside the Himalayas, and its 18 ostentatious summits of more than 6000m will not let you forget it for a second.

Huaraz is the urban decompression chamber through which practically all hikers, trekkers and mountaineers pass and swap stories. Plans of daring ice climbs, mountain-biking exploits and rock-climbing expeditions are hatched over ice-cold beers in fireplace-warmed hostels and bars. Lurking quietly on the sidelines, and worth a day of quiet contemplation, are the enigmatic 3000-year-old ruins of Chavín de Huántar.

When to Go

May–Sep Cordillera’s dry season offers the best trekking conditions.

Oct–Dec A relaxed post-season atmosphere in Huaraz; more quality guides available.

Dec–Apr Wet and rainy, but appropriately geared trekkers enjoy the silence.

Highlights

  • Santa Cruz Trek Getting high with a little help from your friends at 4750m on one of the Andes' classic treks, up Punta Union.
  • Laguna Churup Climbing out of Huaraz on this gritty acclimatization hike to an icy cirque adorned with an azure mountain lake.
  • Chavín de Huántar Going way way back in time in the subterranean galleries of one of Peru's oldest ruins.
  • Cañón del Pato Hiring a bike and shooting downhill through 35 tunnels in a steep-sided canyon.
  • Huayhuash Circuit Disappearing for two weeks with only mules and mountains for company in this densely packed Andean wilderness.
  • Huaraz's bars Bragging about your trekking prowess over a well-earned craft beer in the Cordillera's nightlife nexus.
  • Hatun Machay Scrambling up boulders or climbing sheer rock faces in this veritable rock forest.