Cordillera Huayhuash – Epic South American Circuit Trek (Travel Guide) - Mountain IQ

Cordillera Huayhuash – Epic South American Circuit Trek (Travel Guide)

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The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit is known to be one of the most challenging and most beautiful treks in South America

This guide will help you plan your trek of the circuit, whether you’re going independently or with an experienced guide and trekking operator.

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Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit Overview

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The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit is a 68 mile/ 110km trek through a remote region of the Peruvian Andes. Elevations on this trail reach upwards of 16,600 feet/ 5,060m.

The region was made famous by the tragic mountaineering Touching the Void  book and film. It was a survival story of a climber who fell into a crevasse after his partner was forced to cut the rope, then had to save himself. Don’t worry though. There is no mountaineering involved on the trail.

The appeal of the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit is in the scenery. This region is brimming with turquoise alpine lakes, craggy snow-covered peaks, open green fields, misshapen multi-colored mountainsides, and fire-hued sunsets.

It takes anywhere from 7-14 days to complete the circuit, with 10 days being the average pace. There is only one village where you can resupply along the way. Otherwise, it’s entirely a wilderness experience. Be fully equipped with all the gear you need to sleep, cook, and stay warm and dry in the mountains.

The Cordillera Huayhuash region is not nearly as popular of a destination as it’s Cordillera Blanca counterpart. While you will likely see a few other groups every day, it is certainly not a busy destination.

If doing this trek independently, you will arrive via public transportation to Pocpa. From there it takes a few hours to walk to the start of the trail. Alternatively, you could arrange transport with a trekking agency.

It is better to bring backpacking food from home for the trek, as the options at the grocery store are limited. If you’re on an extended trip and not beginning from home, perhaps you could do your food shopping in Lima.

There are no permits required for the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit. However, there are nine different communities charging fees for land use. The total price for all the fees adds up to about 205 soles ($62).

Cordillera Huayhuash - Quick Facts

  • The distance of this trek is 68 miles/ 110km and takes 7-14 days to complete. Most people hike in a clockwise route. 
  • The maximum altitude on the circuit is 16,600 feet/ 5,060m. There is a total of 18,700 feet/ 5,700m of vertical uphill walking.
  • Difficulty is strenuous. It’s a high-altitude, wilderness hike with drastic elevation changes. 
  • Best months to hike are May- September.
  • Guides are not mandatory, but are recommended for inexperienced trekkers.
  • No permits required. There are campsite and land use fees that amount to a total of 205 soles/ $62.

Video Overview

Recommended Guidebook

Gear Checklist

For a full packing list see our Resources List.

Please note

It’s important that hikers who go without the assistance of a guide and mules are aware of what they’re getting into. This is a high-altitude trek through a remote region of the Andes with no road access. Should something go wrong, it would not be easy for help to arrive. 

Hikers must be fully equipped with enough food to last until the village of Huayllapa. The threat of acute mountain sickness is real, and hikers should have an understanding of symptoms and treatment.

Furthermore, there are no trail signs and sometimes the path is not obvious. Trekkers should have a basic understanding of navigation and carry a map, compass, and GPS or SmartPhone with the regional maps downloaded for offline use.

Typical Itinerary

Huaraz: 2-3 Nights

Day 1: Quartelhuain

Day 2: Mitucocha Camp

Day 3: Carhuacocha

Day 4: Huayhuash

Day 5: Viconga

Day 6: Cuyoc Camp

Day 7: Huatiaq

Day 8: Incahuain

Day 9: Llamac

Cordillera Huayhuash - FAQs

Best Time To Hike

May to September are the best times to hike the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit.

The weather is cold, but dry. Expect frost on your tent every morning, and have layers accessible during the day.

The other months of the year are the wet season, and the passes will likely be difficult to cross because of snow.

Logistics

There are no permits for this trek, but bring enough money for the land use fees. They amount to 205 soles/ $62.

Take the local buses to get to the trailhead. Arrange your ticket the day before at the El Rapido bus station in Huaraz.

The bus to Chiquian leaves at 5am, and from there you will catch a different bus to Pocpa. On the last day of your hike, catch the 11:30am bus out of Llamac.

Either bring food for the trek from home or buy it in Lima, as Huaraz does not have many good options for backpacking food.

Difficulty

The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit is an extremely difficult trek, especially if you are planning to self-navigate and carry your own gear.

While the distances may seem small, keep in mind that it is at a high altitude with drastic elevation changes.

Furthermore, there is no easy way to get out should you experience symptoms of acute mountain sickness.

Therefore, it is crucial that you take several days to acclimatize in Huaraz and do a day hike before beginning the circuit. 

Travel Insurance

If you plan to hikeCordillera Huayhuash Circuit, make sure that you are adequately insured for up to 4,000m. We recommend World Nomads. Use the calculator below to get a quick quote.

Other Questions

Do I need to know Spanish?

Is it safe to hike the circuit alone?

Where do I find water along the way?

Is acute mountain sickness a risk?

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About the Author Megan Maxwell

Megan is a long-distance hiker, blogger, author, and outdoor professional. She has travelled all over the world in search of mountains and unique trails. She found her love of hiking on the Appalachian Trail back in 2012 and since then has hiked in the Himalayas, the Andes, and a few countries in Europe. On her blog, Mountains with Megan she provides information on hiking and backpacking all over the world.

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