One of the best hikes in the world
Site editor Rick McCharles lists the Huayhuash Circuit his personal #1 trek all time. 🙂
AT A GLANCE
- Huayhuash range in Peru
- the jumping off point is Huaraz, one of our top 10 hiking towns in the world
- about 130km (81mi) plus numerous sidetrips
- 8-11 days on the Circuit
- many passes over 4600m (15,092ft)
- Punta Coyoc pass 5490m (18,012ft)
- rugged, remote and dangerous
- until the group’s effective defeat in 1992 the Huayhuash range was used as a remote base by the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla insurgent organization
- 2 foreign trekkers are known to have been murdered in Cajatambo in August 2002, though this is thought to have been motivated by robbery
- 4 hikers who resisted armed robbery were shot in 2004, one dying of blood loss before rescue. Since this last incident, the local communities began to charge a “protection” fee for passing in the private properties. Since then, the area is considered generally safe.
We were on the trail in 2004 at the same time, a couple of days ahead of the group that was shot.
Why We Like This Hike
- PERU, all things considered, just might offer the best alpine trekking in the world
- the remote, forbidding Huayhuash range was made famous when Joe Simpson & Simon Yates climbed Siula Grande in 1985. The book & film Touching the Void were both hits.
- getting high at Punta Coyoc pass 5490m (18,012ft) !!
- see Yerupaja (6634m), the world’s second highest tropical mountain
- see Siula Grande (6356m), Joe Simpson’s mountain
- non-stop vistas — entire Circuit is above treeline
- intensely glaciated, intensely beautiful
- condors and other wild birds
- fantastic natural hot springs half way round the Circuit
- limited road access, few people
- Peru is inexpensive
- a trip with pack animals is good value
- optional climb of Pumarinri
- optional climb of Diablo Mudo (17,235ft)
- lifetime experience you will never forget
Huayhuash is dangerous. Hikers have died there. This is arguably the best hike in the world but is appropriate only for robust, experienced high altitude trekkers. If this page makes you nervous, check out nearby alternatives Santa Cruz and Alpamayo.
The greatest danger is altitude sickness. We hired horses instead of mules so we could evacuate by horse, if necessary. Smart trekkers do some acclimatization treks out of Huaraz before catching the bus to Huayhuash.
- speak conversational Spanish if you want to do the trek on your own
- Huayhuash is not a National Park
- almost completely unpoliced
- trash and human waste are a problem. Many get ill on the Circuit.
- hikers have been robbed here
- in 2004 (while we were there) hikers who resisted were shot by bandits, one dying of blood loss
- many passes over 4600m (15,092ft) will challenge you
- weather is not nearly as good as in the nearby Cordillera Blanca
- actually, the weather is terrible
- prepare for cold & wind. Hypothermia is a risk.
- best months are May to September, the “Andean summer”
- no toilets — you should hire a proper toilet tent and shovel
- toilet tents should be at least 50m from the nearest stream or lake
- dogs will steal food right out of your tent
- campsites are badly littered. Carry out your trash.
- many hikers get lost. Map, compass & guidebooks are essential.
- May – Sept is spawning season for trout. Do not fish nor buy fish from local herders. The once terrific trout fishing has been decimated.
- if you like Huayhuash, you will also like Alpamayo and Ausangate in Peru, both easier treks to organize
- travel Peru for as little as US$35 / day
- in 2004 hikers paid US$300 / person for a 12 day Huayhuash Circuit to and from Huaraz. In 2014 an Exodus guided Circuit could cost 10 times as much, $3000.
- in 2010 a Circuit organized by Peruvian Andes Adventures (Morales family out of Huaraz) could be as low as $1350 / person — if you have a large enough group.
- organizing locally will certainly be cheaper than with an overseas agency
- Huaraz has an excellent public market, groceries & gear shops for outfitting your trip
- increasingly locals are charging small fees for camping, animal grazing and transit. Ask for a paper “receipt” each time. In 2014 Cam paid 190 soles (US$66) over 6 payments en route, an “inefficient system” he thought.
- offer food & small gifts to the seasonal herders you meet
- purchase cheese, drinks and other items offered by locals
- do not purchase fish as the trout population has been decimated
We recommend the Circuit as described in Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes 2003. Compare that itinerary against others recommended by trekking guides.
- Llamac village trailhead. Start & finish.
- get there by bus from Huaraz
- as of 2014 most hikers were starting in Matacancha (now accessible by road) and finishing in Pallca or Llamac.
- minimum 130km (81mi) plus numerous sidetrips
- 8-11 days on the Circuit
Do NOT take the Joe Simpson route. 😐
The easiest and safest way to do Huayhuash is with an adventure travel company.
You can hike the Huayhuash Circuit independently — but we do not recommend it. You can get in serious trouble on your own. Local knowledge is essential. The seasonal herders there speak Spanish only as a second language.
The minimum support you should hire is an arriero (mule driver) & pack animals. Organize this in Huaraz. Or, if your Spanish is excellent, you could try organizing it at trailhead Llamac village.
- Peruvian Andes Adventures
- KE adventures
- PERU BERGSPORT
- Peaks and Places high end hiking & climbing tours
These companies have been stable while many other have come and gone. Leave a REPLY if you have personal endorsement of any others.
Chris Benway, an American, has lived in Huaraz for years. He is the best source of information on all things Huayhuash. He organizes international groups out of his coffee shop, Cafe Andino. Chris convinced us to rent a “cook tent” — a floorless shelter for getting out of the wind while cooking. It turned out to be the best thing we brought on the trip!
Tip 25% or so including left-over food & gear if you are happy with the service.
South American Explorers(South American Explorers was closed in 2017. We are not sure whether they will ever reopen.) Cusco or Lima is your first and best source of information
- Cafe Andino – Chris Benway in Huaraz
- Peruvian Mountain Guide Association
Best Trekking Guidebooks
Easily the best as of 2016 is Trailblazer’s Peru’s Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash: The Hiking & Biking Guide 2015 by Neil and Harriet Pike.
- Trekking in Peru: Trekking and Travelling in the Huaraz, Cusco and Arequipa Regions (Lonely Planet CUSTOM Guide) 2008 – Sara Benson
- Climbs and Treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru 2005 by Jeremy Frimer
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes 2003
Best Travel Guidebooks
- Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival – Joe Simpson
- Bradt Trekking in Peru: 50 of the Best Walks and Hikes 2014
- The Andes: Trekking + Climbing 2008 – Pitkethly & Harper
- 1:50000 scale Cordillera Huayhuash by Brad Johnson’s Peaks and Places Publishing (no longer available). You might be able to get a copy at Cafe Andino in Huaraz.
- Alpenvereinskarte 1:50,000 Cordillera Huayhuash 0/3c you will be able to get in Huaraz
Best Web Pages
Best Trip Reports
- The Huayhuash Circuit: South America’s Finest High-Altitude Trek 2010 – ramblin’ boy
- The Hiking Life – Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit 2014 (independently)
- Megan “Hashbrown” Maxwell –Huayhuash Circuit: Planning and Preparing 2016
- Hiking Cordillera Huayhuash without a Guide – My Alpine Lakes 2018
- Adventure Junkies – HUAYHUASH
- Two Belgians – Cordillera Huayhuash & Huayhuash Highlights 2013
- hhsilleck – Sixteen Days in the Cordillera Huayhuash
- Itinerant Londoner 2009 part 1 and part 2
- Mark Horrell 2002 annotated photos
- Joey Schusler cycling Huayhuash 2014
- Eu-Jin Goh 2007 trip report and photos
- Flickr interesting Huayhuash photos
- goneforawander Huayhuash photos 2006
- Jeff Zimmerman Huayhuash photos 2006
- Andrew Luyten Huayhuash photos 2003
- geniza Huayhuash Trek photos
Click PLAY or watch some 2013 Circuit highlights on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch an independent 2020 trek on YouTube. Great weather.
Here are photos and videos from a September 2011 guided tour. (May is the best month, so this is a little off season.)
Click PLAY or watch a 3D computer flyover of the route on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch it on Vimeo.
Click PLAY or watch it on Vimeo.