Perú's Cordillera Blanca

The visit to Perú’s most mountainous area. The tourist hotspot of Huaraz, Glaciar Pastoruri, Laguna Churup, the remote Callejón de Conchucos, and finally Laguna 69.

Cordillera Blance, Perú

Huaraz, 12th September

Yeah, we’re in Huaraz. 1 of Perú’s major tourist hotspots. The place where every visitor to the Cordillera Blanca stays.

A town with pretty extensive tourist infrastructure. Where you can get whatever you may need when sneaking thru the mountains. A lot of tour agencies bring you to all points you may imagine. A lot of sleeperies, eateries’n’watering holes.

And probably the proof that a town can really be incredibly ugly. But who cares. Nobody is interested in visiting the town of Huaraz for its beauty.

After a day to sort out everything – enough of Huaraz’s city life. At least for today. We’re on the way to visit Glaciar Pastoruri. A quite accessible glacier elevated at 5100m in the Parque Nacional Huascarán. Some 70km from Huaraz.

True, it’s not really an expedition to reach the place. A gravel road winds up to 4800m. 

Arriving at the parking lot we’re astonished at how few visitors are there. Just a car or 2.

We have to sneak to the glacier. Just about 2 or 3 km. But still pretty elevated at around 5000m. 

A really strange thing is the trail, they plastered the whole way up. You know the way they did it formerly in the US national parks to allow people to visit them in high heels.

Whatever, should you be out of energy, you may rent a horse. At least halfway up.

A little over 1/2h to reach the Laguna and the glacier.

You can easily walk near to the glacier. Before going there, it’s not the worst idea to quickly check that no ranger is observing you, or claim not to understand their signboards. But, don’t worry, everybody seems to be illiterate.

After an hour or so, we’re on our way back. Astonished by how many visitors sneaking up by now. Yeah, the tours have arrived. And with them many local tourists and even more backpackies. Well, organized tourism for people claiming to travel individually. 

Then we’re driving back. On the way, we stop to see all these huge Bromelias, Puya Raimondii. They call it the Queen of the Andes, even if it only grows in very few places in Perú and Bolivia.

Well, we’re even lucky enough to discover 1 in florescence. Something that only happens once in their 100-year-long life. And only for a few weeks. 

Back in Huaraz, it’s time for our well-deserved beer. As it’s a tourist hotspot, there’s as well a watering hotspot: Trivio. Draught beer. Sierra Andina. Excellent brew.

Just a word of warning: even don’t think about trying their food. It’s backpacky stuff at its worst. 

A new day, a new challenge. Laguna Churup. A lake at 4500m in the Cordillera Blanca.  The big advantage of this hike is that it’s situated just 1h outside Huaraz; the pain in the ass that a great part of the trail consists of endless stairs. And that we have to climb about 700m. Whatever let’s sneak up to the laguna.

Once you’ve climbed a few 1000 stairs a friendly ranger asks you to register and to shift 30S/ to his pocket. The money is probably to honor all these stairs the guys specially built for you. Even if they call it a national park fee. 

Then the trail climbs again. By now fortunately no more constant stairs. But still pretty steep and 1 part even with a chain to help you get up.

In the upper part, you can choose how to sneak on: the short trail with a lot of chains, or the slightly longer 1 without. We opt to hike the little longer 1.

After 3h the 1st glimpse of Laguna Churup. And a few minutes later we’re at the viewpoint overlooking it.

Then walking down to the water.

Then we’re on the way back. Opting for the shorter trail. The 1 with the chains. Seems to be more interesting.

Then the few 1000 stairs down until we reach Prado impatiently waiting for us at the parking.

Chacas, 13th September

We need a rest from the hikes in the Cordillera Blanca. Thus, we’re on the way to its eastern side.  The Callejón de Conchucos. A remote valley less visited. And 25 years ago, 1 of the last strongholds of the infamous Sendero Luminoso. To reach it we have to cross the cordillera. Thru the Tunel de Kauish at 4500m.

After the tunnel, down into the valley. We reach the village of Chavín de Huántar. Nearby the eponymous archeological site. A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Only, the site looks absolutely abandoned and visibly has been neglected for quite some time. Everything closed. Asking in the village we learn, that they still expect instructions from Lima to open again. Probably from the Ministry for Eternal Corona Measures and Suppression of Tourism Development.

Maybe 1 day somebody in Lima will remember this site and send a letter to Chavín de Huántar.

Whatever, we drive further north thru de Callejón de Conchucos. A trip thru the deep valley, some remote villages, not much more until we reach after some 40km the small, but extremely narrow’n’chaotic  town of Huari.

By now some 80km left to Chacas. On a reasonably good gravel road. We pass thru some very traditional villages. All houses built with banco and mostly covered with clay tiles.

Later the road ascents. To more than 4340m over the Abra Huanchucocha Pass to descend again towards Chacas.

Late afternoon we arrive in Chacas. Time to look for a sleepery. Quickly we find a reasonable place. Just Prado is too high to fit into their parking. What the hell. Of course, the guys have no idea where to find another secure place for Prado to have a rest. Finally, the police controlling poor sinners in the street searches for somebody having a place for Prado. We do the same asking locals hanging around. Doesn’t seem to be easy in this village. Some people think any car may be outside at night, while others are pretty sure some bad girls would be more than ready to give Prado a general cleaning during nighttime. After nearly 2h of intense search finally, our best friend the police find a guy renting out a place for next to nothing. Wowww. How easy it is, just enormously time consuming’n’boring.

Then we celebrate our success in a pizzeria. There are many of them in this village. As much of life seems to be dominated by immigrated Don Bosco priests from Italy, they also learned the Peruvies how to prepare the perfect pizza. Not surprising the eatery is situated at Jiron Bolognesi.

Yungai, 14th September

Next morning. sneaking thru the center of Chacas. Visibly these Don Bosquis largely influence the way of life. With nicely ornated balconies and the huge Italian-style church, Plaza de Armas doesn’t really fit into Peruvie’s reality. Nevertheless, for a change it’s ok.

Later we drive on. Back to the western side of the Cordillera Blanca. To the small town of Carhuaz.

A pretty spectacular road winding up between 2 glaciers to 4700m. To cross the cordillera thru the highest tunnel in South America: Tunel Punta Olympica.

Unfortunately, the weather remains cloudy with some rain.

Finally, we reach the tunnel. About 1km long. No lights and all markers on the side are so dirty they become useless.

On the other side time to admire the spectacular view with all these glaciers. Then, we have to drive all the way down again to reach Carhuaz. 

We reach the most famous part of the road: the 100 000 hairpins.

In Carhuaz we drive on. Towards Laguna Chinancocha. The trailhead for Laguna 69.

We find a sleepery just before entering the national park. Well, it’s not really a sleepery, it’s more an eatery for day tourists to the national park with a room or 2.

In the afternoon a short drive up to the trailhead and Laguna Chinancocha. Also, to check out the possibilities to park Prado at a safe place during our hike tomorrow.

A pretty rough road in the national park.

Huaraz, 16th September

Next morning. Getting up early. A look at the sky- weather should be ok. A short breakfast and at 7 am we’re at the entrance gate. Even the ranger didn’t expect anybody just on time when the gate opens. Thus, he welcomes us in a slightly bad mood. 

Quickly we drive to the trailhead, park Prado and start sneaking up to Laguna 69. Hoping to be as far ahead of all the guys in the numerous tourist buses as possible. We’re expecting 100s of backpackies – all on their individual adventure trip – arriving soon.

The 1st hour of the hike is pretty flat. Just at the bottom of a valley.

Shortly later, we reach the national park’s checkpoint. Deserted. Probably it’s not worth getting up until the hordes with the tours arrive.

Whatever. Later the 1st guy arriving with a tour bypasses us. A trail-runner. Much later, when we’re already on the 1st ascent some fast-sneakies. You know these guys convinced the 1st 5 persons arriving at Laguna 69 will get a free cup of hot chocolate.

Of course, the trail to Laguna 69 is not just flat. After an hour or so in the valley, we have to gain some 400m. Astonishingly, it’s a pretty comfortable’n’gentle trail going up. Not to be compared to Laguna Churup.

And we’re pretty happy. Despite the drizzle when we started, the weather clears up. And the mountains become increasingly visible.

A little further the final ascent. Some 300 – 400m up to reach the lake at 4500m. By now, a little steeper – just to make you feel the altitude.

After 3h of sneaking up, we’re there. At the laguna’s ultimate selfie spot. The very place to prove that you really made it – should you not be an expert in Photoshop mountings.

Fortunately, there have not too many people arrived, yet. True, we’re not among the 5 1st 1s who made it. The fast-sneakies got all the cups of hot chocolate. But still, it will be much worse an hour later or so.

Time to take some rest and marvel at the lake and the mountains.

An hour later the shores of Laguna 69 fill up quickly. Guess there are more than 200 visitors there. All searching for the ultimate selfie for Insta and co. Some in all different poses they’ve ever learned from Youtube, others just too exhausted to move.

Whatever, we’re on our way down. Another 2h to reach Prado.

Initially, we thought of looking for a sleepery just down in the valley. Preferably in Carhuaz. Unfortunately, nearly all have closed down. Or are miserable places on the outskirt without a safe place for Prado. The same in Caraz. This situation is surely a consequence of Perú’s extremely strict corona policy without any compensation for the victims. On the other hand, probably also caused by the increasing number of backpackies just relying on tours from 1 central tourist hotspot. So, they no longer stay in any of the surrounding villages in this area.

Finally, we drive back to Huaraz, some 80km away. True, we arrive quite late at night.

Well, that’s enough for now. Tomorrow we start driving to the South of Perú.

More about this in the next post. Promised.



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