Leaving Arequipa on the overnight bus I arrived in Lima first thing in the morning and as luck would have it an hour after I arrived there was a bus leaving straight to Huaraz. This enabled me to shoot up to Huaraz within the day and accelerate my journey north. The journey from Lima is quite interesting going through some of the more arid areas of Peru before leaving the pan-american highway and heading inland towards the mountain ranges surrounding Huaraz. The final hour and half of this journey is some incredibly gorgeous scenery filled with mountains and glaciers, enough to whet your appetite for hiking the surrounding national park.
The next day I headed off to the ~3000 year old ruins of Chavin de Huantar, a long 4 hour bus ride from Huaraz owing to the quality of the roads and only really practical on an organized tour. The roads are incredibly bad here in the north of Peru and it takes 4 hours despite the site being only ~110km from Huaraz. The first stop along the way was a picturesque lake (Querococha Lagoon) with both mountains and glaciers in the background, one thing that this region has in absolute abundance. This also the site of a geographical fault that according to locals amazingly formed the shape of a map of Peru, to me this is an incredible stretch but you have to admire their imagination! A few photo happy minutes here and we continued on to the small tourist town of Chavin where we briefly stopped for lunch.
Immediately after lunch we visited the main worship site of the Chavin culture, nicely set at the merging of two rivers, that supposedly flowed right up to the steps. As a result the main steps were supposedly half white and half black to identify with this. The site consists of a sunken grand plaza complete with intricate drainage systems that stopped the plaza from flooding during the wet season and was also used to transport fluids to and from the main temple. The main plaza also has a sacrificial table complete with sections to collect various parts of the animal after sacrifice. This appears to be very similar to the sacrificial methods used by the Incas ~2500 years later.
The main temple is a double storied truncated pyramid style that remains intact despite the various earthquakes that have affected the area since it was built. The main temple also contains a sculpture of the lanzon, the statue of the supreme diety of the Chavin people. The figure is anthropomorphic and depicts the three main animals of worship, the serpent, the condor and the puma that were also worshipped by the Incas. Quite an interesting if not all that attractive object that is sadly quite difficult to photograph.
The site is also very numerically based if the local guides are to be believed with seven being the almighty magical number. There were seven “pools” to collect the blood on the sacrifice stone, the main temple is two floors of seven metres high and the main plaza is theoretically 49 metres square (a product of 7x7), not sure about this last one but why ruin a good story!
The site also includes a few of the stone carved heads that again represented the divine deity, a combination of the snake, puma and condor. The Chavin people believed that this was the form that they would take after consuming large amounts of hallucinogenics, an act that brought them closer to god.
Next it was off to start the Santa Cruz trek, the most famous and commonly walked trek surrounding Huaraz. This is the most famous trek for a reason as it takes in some of the most spectacular scenery around the cordillera blanca, so named for its abundance of glacier topped peaks. I found a couple of people at the hostel that were keen to do the trek as well by themselves so after a day of sorting out some equipment we set off for Caraz a town a little closer to the trailhead.
We then left first thing in the morning to Cashapampa a small little city that acts as little more than the trail head. From here we left from almost the main plaza off into the Hauscaran National Park, our home for the next three days. Typically this is done as a four day trek but with easy first and last days we decided that we would be able to get it done in the three days.
Immediately after leaving Cashapampa you walk through a fantastic valley with mountains and glaciers either side, however your view is dominated by the amazing glacier that you hike towards. The hike is relatively easy with a steady 1000m climb towards the glacier passing by a simple campsite where we had lunch. After lunch we continued on uphill towards the massive glacial lake that would be our campsite for the first night. Once we arrived we realized why we were camping here with a massive glacier dominated our view ahead and with waterfalls and glaciers on either side – almost paradise. Camping near the lake gave us the opportunity to go fishing in the lake to see if we could catch any of the local trout using our improvised fishing equipment. The improvised fishing equipment worked but sadly we didn’t see any trout let alone catch anything so dinner would be simple pasta, not great but certainly good enough. After dinner we headed to bed fairly early as the temperature dropped and we were all eager to get into our sleeping bags.
The second day we woke up to find our tent covered in a thin layer of ice, somewhat explaining why we were cold last night. After breakfast we set out from our slightly advanced location (about 3 hours further than people camp on the four day trek) towards punta union (at 4750m it would be our highest point of the trip). The second was once again a climb of ~900m with the toughest part being the final hour or so before punta union. The trail is mostly well marked apart from one part where you cross a field and pick up the path on the other side of the river. We failed to make this cross sticking to what we thought was the trail only to realise after an hour that we were horribly off the trail and on the wrong side of the river. A bit of mucking about and a tricky river crossing that saw me get a little bit wet had us back on the path and headed for the pass. We stopped just before the pass for lunch, which was a good thing as this was the last river that we saw for an hour after we crossed over the pass (some 3 hours later). This also allowed us to fuel up before we hit the steep switchbacks which were the hardest part of the trek.
The pass was right next to the incredible glacier that had dominated our view for past day and a half (I think I must have about 100 photos of the glacier!), all that stood in our way were the series of switchbacks. The glacier provided an awesome backdrop as we climbed the switchbacks and about an hour later with great relief and a cry of victory we reached the pass from here on in we thought it was all downhill. This afforded us a 15 or so minutes at the top to take our photos and take in the spectacular view in front of us but also behind us. Crossing the pass had opened up the view over the top of the dominant valley walls revealing even more glaciers, in fact it seemed we were surrounded by them – Cordillera Blanca indeed. A far cry from the desert surrounds or Murrin that’s for sure!
After we passed the point we had a steep enough walk down the other side overlooking a green valley that strangely (atleast given the last two days) had a lack of rivers and only two lakes off in the distance. After a few hours walking we came to the campsite (Paria) that we intended to camp at however upon arriving and seeing more tents than at the circus we decided to push on. About half an hour more and we found a nice flat grassy spot right next to the river and with the sun dropping fast we decided to camp the night there. We got the tent setup and managed to cook in the fading light before heading to bed pretty quickly as the temperature plummeted.
Once again we woke up to find ice on the tent explaining the cold temperature at night. We got away early in the morning and had a relaxing walk through a couple of small villages along the way. We then got to the final hour of our trek steep uphill to our final destination (Vaquiera). We were told that we needed to get there before midday as the only bus left at midday and finding transport in the afternoon would be difficult. This turned out to be completely false and as we arrived there at 11am to find out that the next bus would be at 1pm and then there were buses every hour after that!
The trek was absolutely amazing and the scenery was simply gorgeous almost the entire way. Its definitely easy enough to do by yourself and also easy enough to do in the three days that we had allowed ourselves.
Two hours in the tiny little town was heaps but it did give us a chance to cook some lunch and dry out our gear after the night we had. When the “bus” finally came it was little more than a combi but that was ok because we just wanted to be on our way. Our way then involved possibly the most beautiful and scary road that I have ever been on, coupled with a road that was in terrible condition. The road basically went up one side of the mountain and then back down the other by a series of switchbacks with nothing stopping you from going over the edge should brakes fail. This coupled with a road that turned the van into a jackhammer meant that after three hours in the bus on the road we were physically sore. We did however get to take some nice photos of the Llanganuco lake owing to an unscheduled mechanical stop. As great as it is to be out trekking its always nice to return back to a hot shower and a soft bed and we were all glad to arrive back in Huaraz, lose the equipment and have a good meal. The ride back also helped with our desire to be back there as well.
For my final day in Huaraz it was off to do a solo trek out to Lake 69 (no idea how they come up with these names) one of the many glacial lakes in the park and supposedly simply a gorgeous place to visit. This involved getting up at 6am to get a 6:30 combi out to a small town called Yungay, catching a collective taxi out to the trail head and then a 2.5 – 3 hour hike to the lake.
I managed to acquire a companion along the way which made things a little bit easier when we got Yungay as we were only two people short of a full collective, sadly 1.5 hours later we were still two people short and nobody else would be coming – meaning we would have to pay double. Still we continued on and arrived at the trail head a little late but confident that we would make up time on the trek. This was about where it started going wrong for my friend as she started feeling dizzy about 20 minutes in and decided to retreat to the lower lake. I soldiered on and with her waiting decided to hurry and managed to get out to the lake in an hour and a half which I was happy about, even passing some porters along the way!
The hike itself isn’t too hard just a nice steady uphill but softened by the view of a skyline dominated by stunning glaciers – I certainly haven’t got use to or past being completely surrounded by glaciers (white mountain range indeed). There are a few gentle switchbacks to be negotiated before you get up and over the pass with a small valley and a much smaller pass then confronting you. Climbing over the second path you are teased by having to round the peak before you get your first glimpse of the spectacular cobalt blue waters of the glacial lake and then gaze up to the mighty glaciers above. I could have spent all day up here some was the unique beauty and tranquility of the place but sadly after lunch and a few photos it was time to head back to Huaraz, where a night bus north to Trujillo awaits.
Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca is an incredible part of the world and it is really hard to venture into the national parquet and not find postcard pictures at almost every turn. The sheer number of glaciers and glacial lakes is almost incredible and I would seriously recommend anyone that comes to northern Peru, or Peru for that matter checks out this place.