The Cajamarca Route
The third route to Huaraz, from Cajamarca, is the most rugged and time-consuming but rewards with extraordinarily wild mountain scenery. This route requires perseverance, several days, and a certain amount of faith because most of the people you talk to will say the route is not even possible.
Locals know how to get to the next town, but rarely beyond, so the journey becomes a connect-the-dots exercise. If you are driving your own vehicle, expect to have to make repairs afterwards, as we did, and to use your spare tire. By all means, bring plenty of food and water.
From Cajamarca, head first to the pleasant country town of Llacanora along the highway that begins at Baños de Inca. The route climbs through beautiful altiplano and passes through the towns of Namora, Matara, and San Marcos before crossing the Río Cisneros near La Grama.
The first major city along this route is Cajabamba, a small town with a few simple hospedajes. If at all possible, pass through Cajabamba and head toward the better services of Huamachuco, which has good hostels and important Inca ruins outside of town.
The smooth, rolling dirt road between Cajabamba and Huamachuco offers stunning vistas of green fields and rolling mountains and is an excellent mountain bike route. On the way, you will pass Laguna Sausayocha, a high-altitude lake famous for its trout, and the hot springs of Yanasara, a two-hour detour along a dead-end road.
Several bus companies in Cajamarca, spread along Grau, go to Cajabamba. But only one, Emp. Transportes Anita (Grau 1170), has bus service to Cajabamba and beyond to Huamachuco. The bus leaves Cajamarca every day and arrives five hours later at Cajambamba, from where another four-hour bus can be taken to Huamachuco.
From Huamachuco, most buses head down for the smooth, six-hour trip to Trujillo, passing near the pleasant town of Santiago de Chuco, birthplace of Peruvian poet César Vallejo. This makes for a wonderful, and not too jarring, route between Cajamarca and Trujillo. For those headed to Huaraz, however, the tougher and more remote terrain, with the least public transport, lies ahead.
Huaraz travelers should ask directions for the Carretera Florida, which branches off from the road to Trujillo a few kilometers southwest of town shortly before a bridge. There are occasional combis leaving Huamachuco along this route for the village of Cachicadán and, from there, onward to Mollepata. This road quickly becomes a rocky road suitable only for four-wheel drive or trashed combis until you reach Mina Simón.
This fast-growing gold mine, along with the nearby Mina Comarsa, is owned by Wilmer Paredes Sánchez, originally from the nearby hamlet of Mollepata. This mine, like Newmont’s Yanacocha mine and those operated by Barrick Corporation in the Cordillera Huayhuash, extracts gold by filtering a cyanide solution through piled-up dirt terraces. The mine has built a well-groomed, high-altitude shortcut to Mina Comarsa and, beyond, to Mollepata.
Mining truck drivers seem happy to pick up walkers along this route, which branches off to the left at a cemetery several kilometers past Mina Simón. Otherwise, combis continue right, along a lower route that passes through a more populated route that includes Cachicadán, which has hostels and hot baths, Mollebamba, and the larger town of Mollepata. Plan on anywhere from 7–9 hours between Huamachuco and Mollepata, depending on which route you take.
Mollepata has only one rather dirty hostel being built on the Plaza de Armas, which is undergoing a major construction campaign funded by Mr. Paredes Sánchez. (He is also the patron of the town’s annual San José Festival, which runs July 14–23 and features bullfights, cockfights, and all the beer, aguardiente, and beef you can consume.)
From Mollepata, the road winds down an impossibly steep river valley before climbing, in a series of endless hairpin turns, on the other side to Conchucos and the pleasant town of Pallasca, two hours past Mollepata and a good option for a second night’s lodging if you can get here before dark. Combis along the rough road to Pallasca are infrequent, but mining trucks rumble by every hour.
This charming town, with narrow cobblestone streets and a colonial church, has a home on the main square that rents rooms to visitors (US$3 per night). Buses leave from Conchucos and Pallasca every Monday night to Chimbote, descending the four-hour route to Chuquicara in the Santa Valley. Huaraz-bound travelers can wait here for a bus to take them through the spectacular Cañon de Pato to Huaraz (six hours).
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition