World → South America → Central Andes
One of the best hiking regions in the world is the
CENTRAL ANDES Top 10
You might also assume the trekking season is Nov-Apr as it is in Patagonia. It is. But the best weather for the high peaks out of Huaraz, Peru is the drier “Andean summer”: May-Sept.
AT A GLANCE
The “central Andes” as defined by Lonely Planet are in 3 countries: Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
- most famous are the Peruvian treks — but Bolivia has the potential, one day, to be just as popular
- most famous of all is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu — though it’s too regulated, too crowded for us
- of the major treks, very popular is Santa Cruz. Nearby Alpamayo is longer, tougher and even better.
- If you are looking for an extreme experience, you can’t do better than the Huayhuash Circuit.
- Our favourite hike in the region, however, is remote Ausangate. Do it. 🙂
- volcano climbs in Ecuador are amongst the world’s best
- towering peaks, perfect alpine lakes, mystical cloud forest. There is much to do and see.
- Inca ruins are a huge attraction
- independent, self-sufficient hikers love Peru, if they speak conversational Spanish
- but it’s easy to sign on with experienced, English speaking, trekking guides if you prefer.
- Peru is very “touristy”. Bolivia, just the opposite. Political instability keeps many away.
WHY WE LIKE THIS REGION
- sparsely inhabited. Almost as wild as North America if you get to the right places.
- it’s somewhat inexpensive to travel here
- very inexpensive to hire a guide and pack animals
- the Andes are the second highest mountains in the world, yet hiking is relatively undeveloped. You can have the mountains to yourself
- we enjoy the indigenous Quechua peoples and their Andean culture
- intensely glaciated, intensely beautiful — in the Andes you are almost always “above the treeline”
- hotsprings, volcanoes
- unique wildlife including condors, llamas, etc.
- remote, forbidding mountains are a great challenge
- few biting insects at higher elevations
- few dangerous animals of any kind
- conversational Spanish almost essential
- prices are often not “fixed”, you must negotiate
- small bribes & fees are asked of hikers on some trails
- altitude sickness is a big risk on many of the best treks
- acclimatization in Cuzco 3326m (10,912ft), La Paz 3810m (12,500ft), or Quito 2800 M (9200ft) means you need time. A lot of time.
- evacuation is difficult in many places
- no rescue service is available. You are on your own.
- No Park officers. No campsites. No toilets. That’s the reality in most of the Central Andes.
- risk of robbery has been greatly exaggerated. Still, we personally bypassed the Illampu Circuit in Bolivia because of reports of systematic robbery.
- in the high mountains you can get snow any month
- expect high winds and cold
- tent camping mostly, few mountain huts or shelters
- if you are flying, you will likely come via Quito, Lima or La Paz.
- Lima is most often the least expensive destination. Via Lima, many hikers fly directly to Cusco, Arequipa or … take the bus to Huaraz as there’s no major airport
- the more time you have for your trip, the better, in this part of the world. Logistics are time consuming.
- sooner or later, someone is going to offer you Guinea Pig to eat, the Andean staple. Be ready.