The spectacular wilderness of the Parque Nacional Huascarán includes Peru’s tallest peak, Huascarán, and every bit of the Cordillera Blanca above 4,000 meters (except for Nevado Champará at the extreme northern end). The land drops away on all sides of this long but narrow range, creating an interesting island habitat for several endangered species.
Among the park’s 340,000 hectares (840,140 acres), there are Puya raimondii, the largest bromeliad in the world, and forests of endangered polylepis, the highest-altitude trees in the world. Andean condors can be seen here, as can populations of vicuñas, white-tailed deer, Andean dwarf deer, Andean lynx, foxes, pumas, and more than 100 species of birds.
The Cordillera Blanca, when seen from afar, looks like a huge wall of glaciated peaks rising from the Río Santa Valley. Nevertheless, the range dips low enough in places to allow trekking routes, and a few roads, to cross it. The road to Chavín de Huántar, one of Peru’s most enigmatic ancient ruins, tunnels through the lowest pass at 4,450 meters (14,596 feet). The valley on the far side of the range, the western end of the Callejón de Conchucos, is an isolated and remote area of small towns linked only by rough dirt roads.
Glaciers spread over much of the terrain, along with more than 300 lakes. Inside the Parque Nacional Huascarán, thousands of people continue their traditional ways of life. For the most part, the range’s inhabitants live below the poverty line, subsisting on maize, quinoa, and kiwicha grains, and a variety of potatoes and tubers. Their latest source of income is providing burros for the foreigners who pass through this world-class trekking and climbing paradise.
The roads that lead up and over the Cordillera Blanca provide good access for day hikes. To hike here, stay in any of the villages along the Callejón de Huaylas, including Huaraz, Carhuaz, and Caraz. Then contract a taxi or horse or hop aboard a combi—but make sure to plan for your return ride in the afternoon.
Many tour agencies in Huaraz offer cheap day excursions to Lagunas Llanganuco or Pastoruri Glacier for US$8–10 and can pick you up at any of the towns along the way. Another option is to hike in to one of the refuges and use them as launching pads for day hikes.
Getting to the Cordillera Blanca
Transport options for accessing different areas of the park range from public combis to private cars from Huaraz, Carhuaz, Yungay, and Caraz.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition