Peru’s magnificent wonder, Huascarán National Park, lies in the Cordillera Blanca. It’s hard to conceive while viewing these towering snow-capped peaks, but this mountain range is considered a tropical mountain range. Nestled deep in the mid-western area of Peru, the Cordillera Blanca is extremely remote. It’s perfect for those who enjoy non-touristic solitude. This magical place is truly a mountaineers paradise, best suited to those who love the outdoors. There is an adventure available at Huascarán National Park to satisfy just about every recreational interest.
From Lima, it requires a nauseating 8-hour bus ride. Be prepared for switchback mountain roads through extremely rural and desolate surroundings. You will journey in one day from sea level to roughly 10,000 ft. via Lima. The bus terminal drops you off downtown Huaraz, close to the city plaza. Huaraz tends to be a great launch point for the Cordillera Blanca. It’s a small, authentic Peruvian town where you can find inexpensive tour expeditions and affordable accommodations. We booked an Air B&B for $12/ per night. It was a charming upper flat that could sleep four people with two bathrooms, full kitchen, dining area and living room. At these prices, you can see why Huaraz is an affordable option, as this remote mountain village is not a typical tourist destination.
After a visit to the city of Huaraz and Huascarán National Park, they have shared travel advice and tips for trekking in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Acclimate first.
The breathtaking Cordillera Blanca hovers at 16,000 + ft. Therefore, altitude sickness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you are young or old, whether you are in okay shape or primo fitness level. Spend at least 4 days in Huaraz or 10,000 + elevation or higher before your journey. May we disclose that it is recommended to acclimate for up to two weeks, however, this advice is variable. Depending on where you live, you may need less time to acclimate than people who live at lower elevations.
- Take altitude sickness medication.
This medicine is NOT available OTC. It must be prescribed by a doctor, at least in the United States. You may take it up to 2 weeks prior to travel at high elevations. It shouldn’t be entirely used as a substitute for acclimation, but it does the trick.
An alternative is buying cocoa leaves locally in Peru. You can buy a ziplock bag for 1 Sol (30 cents) at any market in the rural mountainous regions of Peru. My travel companion and I bought an entire bag of cocoa leaves from some Peruvian women selling it outside of a roadside café. This homeopathic remedy has been used for thousands of years by the native Incas. The leaves help to transport red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the brain. Clearly, you can see the benefit when dealing with oxygen deprivation at the higher altitudes.
Steep two leaves in hot water to create a Cocoa Matte tea to fight altitude sickness. You can also put a few leaves in your cheek. Be sure to spit them out when they begin to disintegrate. Do not chew or swallow. Furthermore, please do not attempt to take them home with you through airport customs, as dehydrated (la cocoa) cocaine leaves will land you in a bit of trouble with the TSA.
In addition, stay away from caffeine and alcohol during acclimation. It’s probably fine to have a beer or two, but high consumption of alcohol is not recommended. Likewise, too much caffeine can intensify the effects of altitude sickness. A great alternative to coffee is a Cocoa Matte tea in the morning.
- Find a Group Tour (Excursion) / Combi Ride
Near the downtown plaza of Huaraz, there are many tour companies to choose from. Most of these companies don’t really offer “tours” in the sense you might think of a “guided tour.” In reality, it’s more of an organized ride with a group of people going to the same destination. Essentially, our guide simply made sure everyone was on the bus, informed us of any stops along the way and ensured that nobody missed the bus at time of departure.
This is your most economical way to travel to these remote hikes and mountain villages. A combi is basically an oversized cargo van or small tour bus that can hold 8 – 20 people. We paid $30 Soles/ per person for our round trip ride to Laguna 69. Likewise, we paid the same amount for a round trip combi ride to Pastoruri Glacier- all thru a travel company downtown Huaraz. Don’t be afraid to bargain with the excursion/ tour company. We walked away from two travel companies because we felt that we could get a better deal elsewhere. Thankfully, we saved quite a bit of money by “shopping” around. Another tip for a better deal- we bargained for two separate excursions with the same travel company, therefore, we got a combined discount on both.
- Take extra water.
The ride from Huaraz to Huascarán National Park is a minimum of 90 minutes depending on where you are going. This ride becomes even longer when the combi van decides to stop for an hour at a rural roadside café, whether you are interested or not. All in all, plan for the unexpected and take extra water along with you.
The high altitude and strenuous hiking will dehydrate you. Take at least 3 liters of water, don’t mess around with dehydration. My friend and I only took 4 liters for the both us, big mistake. You will need at least 1 ½ liters for the hike in and same for the hike out, especially for Laguna 69. Combine that with heat, high altitude and a three hour minimum round-trip ride from Huaraz. Plan on an all-day excursion, pack a lunch (if you don’t want to chance the roadside café food) and plenty of trail snacks to tide you over until dinner. We met our combi van at 5:30 am at the downtown plaza of Huaraz and did not return until after 6:00 pm that evening.
- Wear Layers / Bring appropriate attire.
Lastly, if you plan to journey to the Huascaran National Park, be sure to dress in layers. The mountains seem to create a microclimate. I started the day in a hooded sweatshirt with joggers and ended up in a tank top and shorts, sweating my bum off. Be sure to take a hat, sunglasses, SPF, along with comfortable hiking shoes. During the rainy season, bring a rain jacket or poncho. Another word to the wise, there really is no summer or winter per say, in Peru. Instead, they have a rainy season (summer) and dry season (winter).
Hopefully, these tips help for those looking to take advantage of the stunning Huascarán National Park and the breathtaking Cordillera Blanca. Please share your own travel tips in the comments, as maybe we forgot a few, or perhaps you have additional information to present. Happy trekking!
Check out our other articles for the Laguna 69 Trek & Pastoruri Glacier!
Micah Lyn is a Holistic Healthcare Practitioner HHP, Intuitive Healer and E-RYT 500 Certified Yoga Teacher registered with Yoga Alliance and KRI. She offers a variety of private yoga classes in Sedona AZ, yoga therapy and intuitive healing services at Pachamama Yoga ✨ Sedona Healing Center. Visit the YTT Programs & Workshops page to see upcoming Online & Hands-on Intensive Yoga Teacher Training, Virtual Online Yoga Workshops & Transformational Yoga Retreats featured worldwide.
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