This is Part 2 of my circuit trek around Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash. Catch up on the first post here: The Second Best Trek in the World*
Planning a trek in Peru is difficult for those located abroad if you don’t use an agency. Hopefully this post will help those who want to complete the Huayhuash Circuit independently. I found most of my information on the ground in Huaraz, the major departure point for trips into the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash. My primary source was Franck, the very helpful manager of the Andes Camp Lodge.
Maps and Guidebooks
I used the Alpenvereinskarten Cordillera Huayuash (Peru) 1:50,000 map, which is available in Lima at the South America Explorers club in Miraflores and in Huaraz at the Casa del Guillas. The Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes guide book was also a particularly useful source of information.
For some additional details on navigating around the Circuit, see the comment below from Douglas who hiked it in September 2014.
We caught the 5AM El Rapido bus from Huaraz to Chiquian. The station in Huaraz is located downtown at the corner of Internacional Oeste and 28th de Julio. The two and a half hour trip cost 10 soles. In Chiquian, we transferred to the Nazario collectivo for the 15 soles, four-hour ride to Popca. The collectivo passes through Llamac on its way to Popca so it is possible to begin the trek there if you prefer.
After the trek, we again took the Nazario collectivo for the return to Huaraz from Llamac. In this case, our 20 soles ticket for the 11AM bus (the only outgoing transportation of the day) covered the entire trip back to Huaraz, although we transferred to a larger bus in Chiquian.
Trekking in the Andes is a unique experience. Because the Andes are located in the tropics, high altitude temperatures during the day can be incredibly hot, even into the 80’s. If you’re a massive gringo like me, bring some serious sunscreen and light layers to keep yourself covered. On the passes, winds pick up and the temperatures cool significantly. Similarly, once the sun is below the mountains, temperatures plummet and it gets cold quickly. We regularly experienced sub-freezing temperatures and had thick layers of frost on our tents most mornings. This was especially so for nights spent above 4,000 meters.
Gear and Provisions
If you want very high quality gear, bring your own. If you’re ok with gear that’s good enough, you can rent it in Huaraz. Andes Camping, located in Parc Ginebra just off of the Plaza de Armas, had the best combination of low prices and quality gear that I found.
You can get nearly anything you need for the trek in Huaraz. The best options are either the Mercado Central (great for granola, nuts, fresh and dried fruits) or one of several grocery stores in town (Novoplaza, Ortiz). In addition to the snacks, popular choices among our group were pasta, pasta sauce, cous cous, salami, parmesan cheese, peanut butter, and bread. Huallapa, which we reached on Day 6, is the only resupply point on the Circuit. Provisions available at the bodega in town are sufficient, if limited (pasta, pasta sauce, tuna, crackers, cookies, some fresh fruits and vegetables).
The Circuit is not located in a national park. Instead of a park entry fee, each community that the trail passes through charges trekkers their own semi-official fee. The fee is ostensibly for conservation or protection, but it basically operates as an entry fee. We were told to expect anywhere from 175-250 soles for the total cost of the fees and ended up paying a total of 195 soles to seven different communities. The fees in each community ranged from 20-40 soles. Be sure to keep your billeto (ticket) handy once you’ve paid because it will be checked often. You’ll also need to bring small bills because change may not be available.
Guide books describing the hike frequently reference security issues for trekkers. We encountered nothing of the kind. Everyone we met was helpful and considerate. We didn’t experience or hear of anything that suggested any problems on the trail or at the trailheads. It’s not a comprehensive survey, but, as usual, the security concerns seem overblown.
Here’s the itinerary and trail description for our 9-day circuit:
Day 1: From the trailhead in Popca, the trail travels east along a mining road that follows the Rio Llamac. We camped at Quartelhuain (4,170m), where the night was very cold with lots frost in the morning.
Day 2: The day began with an immediate 600m climb up Cacananapunta pass (4,680m) that begins just past the campsite. Cresting the pass, the trail heads west toward Jancahunyi, then turns south to Janca until it crosses the Rio Janca. Heading through Tuclupampa, the trail offers great views of Nevados Jirishanca, Mituraju, Rondoy, and Ninashanca. A few kilometers later the trail begins to climb the second major pass of the day, Carhuac or Yanapunta (4,630m). After the pass, the trail continues south through Quebrada Yanayana to the Incahuain campsite alongside Laguna Carhuacocha (4,138m)
Day 3: The main trail continues south while an alternate trail winds westward around the lake and heads past the three lakes of Gangrajanca (4,245m), Suila (4,290m), and Quesillococha (4,332m). This alternate route is well worth the additional mileage and provides great views of the lakes and periodic avalanches falling from the glaciated peaks along the lakes’ western edge. Past the lakes, the trail rises to the pass of Suila Punta (4,830m). Looking back, you can see Nevados Suila Grande, Jurau B, and Jurau A rising from the lakes below. The rest of the day is an easy jaunt downhill through the pampa (swamp) toward camp at Huayhuash (4,350m).
Day 4: The trail heads uphill through the pampa above Huayhuash, past Laguna Mitacocha (4485m), and over Portachuelo de Huayhuash (4780m). After dropping from the pass, the trail continues along Laguna Viconga (4453m) and then through another, much smaller pass of several hundred meters. On the other side, with a dam immediately to the left, the trail winds down into the valley and heads southwest over the pampa to the campsite at the Agua Termal (4365m).
Day 5: Backtracking a short distance, the trail heads back a short way to begin heading northwest toward Punta Cuyoc (4,950m), which has some of the best views of the entire circuit of the major peaks to the north. Over the pass, the trail heads down to the camp in the valley (4,462m) below Nevado Cuyoc.
Day 6: We added a side trip without packs up to Mt. San Antonio Pass (5,020m) on the morning of the 6th day. We’d heard this hike takes two hours up and an hour down, but we completed the trip in 1:15min up, and 25min down. After packing up, we headed west through Quebrada Huanacpatay and descend all day until we reached the town of Huallapa (3,490m). The descent included a 250m, 8-level waterfall and, several kilometers before town, one of the steepest sections trails I’ve ever hiked. Huallapa has a campsite and several bodegas for resupplies.
Day 7: This is one of the more difficult stretches. Nearly all day the trail gradually, and at times not so gradually, ascended from Huallapa (3,490m) through Quebrada Huatiaq to the pass at Tapush Punta (4,820m). A short descent from the pass past Laguna Susucocha (4,740m) drops you into camp in Quebrada Gashpampa at around 4,550m.
Day 8: The trail heads east to climb another morning pass at Llaucha Punta (4,850m), then veers north and heads down to camp at the beautiful Laguna Jahuacocha (4,050m). This is probably the most beautiful spot on the entire trail.
Day 9: The trail rises gradually over about 8 kilometers to crest at Macrash Punta (4,272m) and then plummets into the valley of the Rio Llamac to arrive in Llamac, just west of the starting point in Pocpa.
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Thanks, a very informative write up.
This is FANTASTIC!! We plan to do this hike independently in the coming week and this post has been so helpful. Thanks!
Thanks, Maria. I’m glad it’s helpful. I hope you have a great hike. After your hike, please let me know if there is anything you would have liked to know. I’d like to make this as complete a resource as possible.
Hi! Just did the Huayhuash circuit with Maria. We JUST caught the tail end of the season (end of sept), as I’m told it started snowing heavy right after we left. A few things we found: 1) it was said that robberies were much more common before the ‘community pay’ system went into place. Since then, it’s been said that the only real risky stretch is the pass between Huayhuash and viconga. However, we only encountered friendly locals, and our trip went without incident. 2) the official map seems somewhat outdated. First, some campsites weren’t marked on the map (ie. huanacpatay) and others that the map advertised we found were prohibited (ie. lake mitococha, where camping is closer to the next day’s trailhead, and certainly no closer to the lake). As a general rule, wherever there is a small bathroom setup, that’s what counts as a campsite. 3) the main trekking trail on the map is simply outdated in some parts, most notably on the way to huallapa (where there is a shorter, more direct path that’s mostly on the south side of the river, instead of switch backing east down a steep descent), and on the way from jaguacocha to llamac, where the main trekking trail is highly unadvisable (steep, tiring, lots of turns), and instead the better trail is along the river, with a shortcut over a pass. Other than that, the trip was very enjoyable. (Also, some supplies are now available for purchase at agua termal, although it’s much better to buy supplies in huallapa)
Thanks for all the info, Douglas. It sounds like you had a great trip. I had the same experience with the locals – only friendly people all the way along. I think the guide books are overly cautious and the reality is much less risky than they make out. From everyone I talked to, the experience we both had in that respect is much more typical.
Great write up thank you for the incredibly informative “pre-trip” resources.
A couple of questions: Did you do this hike solo (as in no guide), was it hard to find people to do it with you? What kind of shelter system did you use, what temperature sleeping bag would be sufficient? How did you treat water while on the trek? Would going out of hiking season (ie November) be ill-advised?
Any other important info you’d like to share with someone who’s hoping to do a solo circuit trek would be much appreciated.
Thanks for your comment. Sorry for the late response, I was on a hike the Drakensbergs in South Africa. Looks like you were planning to go in November but here are some answers to your questions in case you got delayed.
I did the hike with three others, but they were fairly inexperienced and I effectively acted as a guide even though I never been in the Cordillera Huayhuash before. I met two of the three at the hostel I stayed at in Huaraz and met the third on the way to the trailhead. I used a two-man tent with a 20 degree (F). Unfortunately, I can’t speak to off-season hiking that area. I was there in May and it was below freezing several nights.
For a solo trek, make sure your navigation skills are there and have a couple extra days of food in case you run into hit some bad weather. You should also have a personal locator beacon in case you run into trouble. I use the Spot Gen3 – https://findmespot.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=29.
Hi Kevin, thanks for the post – very handy as I try to plan doing the Huayhuash independently this June.
Just a couple of questions:
– I’ve read in numerous spots that a sleeping bag rated to 0 degree fahrenheit is recommended. Seems like overkill (maybe from people who’ve never considered wearing layers to bed). Were you wearing everything to be warm enough in your 20 degree bag? Did you have a very warm insulated pad?
– The campsites look pretty exposed. Was there much wind? I have two tents I could take. One is heavier and less spacious but very solid. The other is a Tarptent Stratospire 2 (https://www.tarptent.com/stratospire2.html), which is lighter and very spacious but not as solid. I’d like to take that for the weight savings and for the extra space on long cold nights.
– What sort of food was available at Huayllapa? We’re planning on bringing most of our meals from home (dehydrated) but if there are okay supplies there it could be handy to reduce weight at the beginning.
Thanks so much!
Drew – That’s great! You’ll love the hike. As for your questions:
1. My 20 degree bag was fine. I layered up in the bag and was fairly comfortable. My pad was a Klymit Intertia X Frame. It’s lightweight and doesn’t have the best R-value, but it was enough. I don’t think 0 degree bag is necessary.
2. That’s a tough call on the tent. The sites were generally exposed and I did have strong winds several nights. I’ve never used a Tarptent. Most people seem to like them but I don’t know how well they stand up to wind. Sorry I can’t be more helpful there.
3. The store we stopped at in Huayllapa was a hole in the wall. It had very basic dried goods (rice, pasta, sauce, chips) and some rough-looking produce (onions, potatoes, tomatoes). If you’re not picky, you can definitely resupply there and shave some weight at the beginning.
Enjoy your trip!
Thanks for the reply Kevin. We’ll have R4.4 sleeping pads, so hopefully our bags, with a few layers of clothing, will be up to the task.
I haven’t had the Tarptent that long and have only used it in benign weather. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to expose it to some wind in the next couple of months and see how I feel about it.
We’re actually now considering a change of plans, where instead of doing one long hike (like 9-10 days for Huayhuash) we instead could do two shorter ones. The first of these would be Ausangate, near Cusco, and maybe the second would be a shortened version of Alpamayo, finishing at Pomabamba.
Just wondering, if you had to choose between Huayhuash and Alpamayo which would you pick? Sounds like Huayhuash is perhaps more spectacular but very busy with large, noisy groups from a certain country. I’ve had my heart set on Huayhuash for a while so it’s hard to consider ditching it but maybe Alpamayo is better anyway?
The other benefit would be less weight to carry for two shorter hikes, and hikes in two different areas would have quite different landscapes.
That’s a tough call but I’d go with the Huayhuash. I didn’t see nearly enough traffic there to put me off recommending it. The Santa Cruz section of Alpamayo was far busier, although the rest was empty.
I’ve heard amazing things about Ausangate. Can’t argue with adding that one to the schedule.
Hi there, thanks for this info! just a quick question about sourcing water, did you use a filtration/ purifier on this trek? was aquiring h20 an issue ever?
Glad you liked it, Meri! Water was plentiful and was never difficult to find. You can probably drink the water in places, but there are a number of domesticated animals around the trail and I tend to be conservative about that. I used a Sawyer mini water filter with a pair of 64oz bags throughout. I hope that helps!
Hello and thanks for the good comments,
I plan to do just the whole thing within a few days, security is not a problem ??
Security should not be a problem. I didn’t have any negative experiences on the trail or hear of any recent hikers having trouble.
Looks like an amazing trek and very informative 🙂
1. How well marked was the trail itself once you had left Lllmac, is it obvious or is good map reading/navigation essential?
2. Where were the main water sources along the trail?
3. What did you do to acclimatize to the trail itself prior to arrival?
1. The trail was generally easy to follow but there were a few sections that were spotty. I recommend bringing a good map and knowing how to read it. If you’re weak on map reading and navigation, you should also consider bringing a GPS-enabled phone with a map app. There are a lot of options these days; I use TopoMaps+.
2. I don’t have specific information on water sources. Water was plentiful when I was there in June. I used a filter throughout the trip.
3. I spent 3 days in Huaraz before I started the Circuit and did progressively longer acclimatization hikes each day.
I hope that helps. Enjoy your trip!