The Huayhuash Circuit Trek is often touted as the best alpine trail in the world outside of the Himalayas. Trekking in the Huayhuash is less frequented than the hikes in Peru’s more famous Cordillera Blanca, but is one of the most spectacular trails in central Peru. The typical circuit takes 10 days to complete but there are shorter and longer variations. Given the remoteness, the altitude, and length of the trek, most people undertake it as a guided tour. This is highly recommended unless you are experienced at hiking at altitude and have good navigation skills.

Road to Llamac with the Cordillera Huayhuash in the distance
Road to Llamac with the Cordillera Huayhuash in the distance
Contemplating the scenery on the way to Mitucocha Lake campsite
Contemplating the scenery on the way to Mitucocha Lake campsite

THE BASICS

Closest Major City: Huaraz, Peru.
Start: Llamac. If you are hiking independently, make sure you purchase all your food supplies in Huaraz or another large town. There is very limited choice in Llamac.
Accommodations: Camping.
Costs: The cost of this trek depends on how you plan to undertake it. If you are hiking independently and carrying all your own gear, you can do this trip for around USD$100 for transportation and camping fees, plus whatever you bring for meals. If you are going on a guided tour (where most of your belongings are carried for you by pack-animal), and they provide meals and other amenities, prices start range from USD $1,000 to $5,000 (depending on the number of people, dates and level of luxury).
Length: 10 days. Extensions are possible.
When to Go: June – August. This is the dry season in the Peruvian Andes.

If you have done a lot of long-distance hiking and are looking for a new challenge (hiking at altitude), the Huayhuash Circuit Trek will certainly deliver.

Following the valley from Laguna Carhuacocha
Following the valley from Laguna Carhuacocha
Laguna Carhuacocha campsite
Laguna Carhuacocha campsite

HEALTH WHEN TREKKING IN THE HUAYHUASH

There are two main health concerns associated with the Huayhuash Circuit Trek – stomach bugs and altitude sickness.

To avoid the first of these is very simple. Make sure you filter or boil all of the water you drink or use for cooking. If you are on a guided tour, the guide/cook will ensure that food is prepared appropriately.

The second is trickier to deal with as everybody responds to differently to altitude and it is impossible to know how you will do until you reach higher elevations.

Viewpoint over 3 lakes on the way to Siula Pass
Viewpoint over 3 lakes on the way to Siula Pass
Pack animals climbing to Portachuelo pass
Pack animals climbing to Portachuelo pass

To give yourself the best chance:

  • Spend at least 3 or more days acclimatizing in Huaraz (3,000m) before starting the trek. On each day head out on day hikes in the area (hike up high, ideally reaching up to ~4,500m on day 3). DO NOT SKIP THIS BIT!
  • Walk slowly and try not to moderate your breathing. Most guides will set a very slow pace – to the point where it can initially feel a little frustrating. However, this is to counter the effects of reduced oxygen and ensure you are able to sustain the trek over 10 days. If you are hiking independently, take a leaf out of their book and don’t rush!
  • Make sure you keep well hydrated
  • Consider factoring in extra rest days, especially if hiking independently
  • Talk to your doctor about altitude medication before heading to Peru
  • If you do not feel well on the trek, DO NOT IGNORE IT! Speak with your guide immediately or, if you are hiking independently, make sure you are aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and take appropriate measures.

One final thing to consider is that although it can be quite warm during the day while hiking (t-shirt and shorts weather), temperatures plummet when the sun goes down and it can be very cold at night. Make sure you have multiple layers of clothing to keep yourself warm!

HUAYHUASH CIRCUIT ROUTE

Huanacpatay campground The pointy tent is the cook tent
Huanacpatay campground The pointy tent is the cook tent
View from Santa Rosa Pass
View from Santa Rosa Pass

The hike officially begins at Llamac, but if you can get a lift to the campsite at Quartelhuain you will save yourself an initial hike along a dirt road. From there, the trail starts its undulating journey around the Cordillera Huayhuash. Each campsite is at around 4,200m and every day you will climb over a pass of more than 4,600m.

The scenery is high pampa, gorgeous colourful lakes, glaciers, and 6,000m+ mountains so close you feel you can reach out and touch them. Every pass and every corner reveal a new vista that equally or more spectacular than the last, and the sense of achievement at the end of 10 days of high-altitude hiking is euphoric.

Huayhuash Circuit Trek

Day 1: Transfer from Huaraz to Llamac. Hike to Quartelhuain. 4h transfer. 4-6hr hike.

Day 2: Quartelhuain – Mitucocha. 5-7hr

Day 3: MitucochaCarhuacocha. 5-7hr

Day 4: Carhuacocha – Huayhuash. 6-7hr

Day 5: Huayhuash – Viconga. 6-8hr

Day 6: Viconga – Huanacpatay. 5-7hr

Day 7: Huanacpatay – Huayllapa. 7-9hr 

Day 8: Huayllapa – Cashpapampa. 6-8hr

Day 9: Cashpapampa – Laguna Jahuacocha. 6-8hr

Day 10: Laguna Jahuacocha – Llamac. Transfer to Huaraz. 4-6hr hike. 4hr transfer.

Beautiful lake near Punta Tapush pass
Beautiful lake near Punta Tapush pass
Trail from Paso Yaucha to viewpoint over the 3 lakes
Trail from Paso Yaucha to viewpoint over the 3 lakes

Route options:

  • Day 5: Bring your swimming costume so you can enjoy the wonderful hot springs at Viconga
  • Day 7: Take the Santa Rosa pass rather than the San Antonio Pass. It will bring you out at Laguna Juraucocha. If time permits, spend an extra day exploring the lake and its surrounds.
  • Day 9: There is the option of summitting Diablo Mudo (the Deaf Devil) from Cashpapampa (alpine experience and gear required). If you are not up for the 3am start, rather than descend directly from Paso Yaucha – head to the left to the viewpoint over the 3 lakes. One of the most spectacular views of the trek!
  • Day 10: If time permits, spend an extra day exploring the area around Laguna Jahuacocha.

ACCOMMODATION ON THE HUAYHUASH CIRCUIT

Huayhuash Staying warm and journaling inside the cook tent
Huayhuash Staying warm and journaling inside the cook tent

There are no huts along the Huayhuash trail, so you must be prepared to camp. Guided tours will usually supply tents as part of the package price and these will be carried for you by the pack-animals. Guided tours also often include a “cook tent” where the group congregates to socialise and eat meals together. This is great if weather is bad, as you aren’t confined to your tent.

Important note: make sure you bring a warm sleeping bag/pad because at 4,200m the nights can be very, very cold.

There is one option for sleeping in a very basic hostel – in Huayllapa. This is also the only place you can have a luke-warm shower, so make sure you take advantage of the hot springs at Viconga as a welcome change from washing in cold rivers.

View from Paso Yaucha
View from Paso Yaucha
Viewpoint over the lakes near Paso Yaucha
Viewpoint over the lakes near Paso Yaucha

FOOD

Heading down from Punta Carhuac
Heading down from Punta Carhuac
On the trail to Punta Cuyoc
On the trail to Punta Cuyoc

Aside from a few snacks at Huayllapa, there is nowhere along the trail to purchase food or other supplies. Independent hikers should bring everything with them (including a stove and gas), and think very carefully about what to pack. Remember you are carrying 10 days (at least) of food at high altitude!

Guided tours usually provide an impressive spread of food throughout the day so you will definitely not go hungry! Meals are generally prepared from scratch by the guide (or a separate cook for larger groups) and are truly luxurious given the remote nature of the hike. Although hikers need to carry their lunch and snacks for each day in a day-pack, the majority of the food is carried by the pack animals.

 

Written by: Lisa Germany – you can read Lisa’s trip report on her Huayhuash Circuit Trek here.