Huascaran National Park
Huascaran National Park is an area of exceptional natural beauty because of its number of high snow-capped peaks, its glaciers and its high-altitude plateau.
The National Park is located in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes. It is the highest tropical mountain range in the world.
The park measures ca. 154x30 km. It includes El Huascaran, at 6786 meters the highest mountain in Peru. And 26 other peaks over 6000m in altitude. There are 30 glaciers and 120 glacial lakes.
The park has a wide range of vegetation, including the gigantic Puya raimondi. Spectacled bear, puma, deer, vicuna, hawk and condor are among its fauna.
There is some volcanic activity, the last earthquake was in 1970.
Map of Huascaran National ParkLoad map
Visit May 2011
Huascaran is a popular area for hikers. The regional centre of Huaraz is well geared to serve them, and it is a pleasant place to stay for a couple of days. I encountered many Swiss travelers here - mysteriously attracted to a landscape that is quite similar to that in their home country. Huascaran's forte clearly is the beauty of its snowcapped peaks.
For a non-walker, the easiest way to see the National Park is to take a tour from Huaraz to the Lagunas Llanganuco. These kind of tours are conducted daily. Like other organized day tours that I have taken in Peru, they try to take in too much in a too short time span. The guides only speak Spanish but are pretty knowledgeable.
The Huascaran peak was hidden behind clouds for the first part of our tour. There are supposedly great vistas from the towns in the valley below. One of these towns is Yungay, for ever connected to the mountain after an earthquake and a consequential avalanche destroyed the village in 1970. They now have turned the location of the former village into a impressive place of remembrance.
After several stops in the valley, we finally reached the first of the Lagunas Llanganuco. It's a pretty turquoise glacier lake. There are some short walks in the area that let you come close to the plant life here. The lake is partly surrounded by the typical Polylepis Forest. Animal life is much more scarce.
On our way back the clouds finally left, and we had good views of the Huascaran and the surrounding peaks.
There's another WHS closeby, Chavin. En route from Huaraz to Chavin you will pass a different part of Huascaran National Park. The views of the snowcapped mountains are not so great here, but it shows the high altitude plateau really well. And there's a great blue lake here too, Lago Querococha.
When reading about Huascaran before my travel, I learnt three important things:
1. Those mountains look incredibly beautiful.
2. They can be visited on multi-day treks or day hikes.
3. January and February are the rainy season.
Points 1 and 2 made me plan for six days in this mountain paradise as I am an outdoors enthusiast and an avid hiker. However, as I was there by the end of February and the beginning of March, point 3 made me choose for day hikes rather than treks. I don't really care about getting caught by the rain on day hikes, but spending four or five days on the Santa Cruz trek, doing camping and being constantly soaked didn't seem like an enjoyable experience. Like everyone else, I based myself in Huaraz and booked almost all tours with an operator in town. I booked everything from a single operator and bargained a bundle with him to get a better price. However, they share clients in between companies, so I ended up with a different one each day. The only activity I've done by myself was Laguna Churup on my last day.
I spent my first full day acclimatizing at the altitude. Every travel blog online keep urging you to do it, so I followed their advice and didn't have any syndrome of altitude sickness. I visited Huaraz, where the last day of the Carnival was going on, bought food and stuff for my week there and had an unfortunate visit to the local medical center. I used my second day to visit Chavin. This site is at low altitude and does not require physical effort. It was thus in line with my acclimatization strategy. The guide took us first to Laguna Querococha before heading to Chavin. This landscape is very beautiful but cannot be compared with what was going to follow. It was, however, a cool introduction.
I reached my highest altitude on my third day at Pastoruri Glacier at 5,200 meters above sea level. However, it was still an effortless activity, as the bus drop visitors at about two kilometres from the glacier on a paved path. The first stop on that day was at a carbonated water spring and then at a Puya raimondii population. Seeing this gigantic plant was a must do for as it is the largest species of bromeliad, measures up to 15 m in height and is endemic to the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Its reproductive cycle can last 100 years and leads to the production of between 8,000 and 12,000 flowers on a single gigantic inflorescence. It is considered endangered by the IUCN. This first highlight of Huascaran was quickly followed by a second: the Pastoruri Glacier itself. It's not the most beautiful landscape of the park, but it was nice to get so close to a high altitude glacier. It is probably the most easily accessible glacier among the very few remaining ones in the tropical regions of South America. However, this might not be true for long as, like mentioned by Watkinstravel, it is very frightening to see the speed at which it is melting.
My next tour started by a quick photo stop to shot the Huascaran Mountain from the side of the road and an unnecessary stop in the town of Carhuaz. The long journey then took my friend and me to la Laguna Parón. Even though this lake, the biggest in the national park, is highly picturesque, this tour was slightly disappointing. As the bus drops your right on the shore of the lake, it is not really gratifying and the road is very long only for this view. We walked to the mirador on the right of the lake to enjoy the breathtaking view and then took the short path on the northern shore. It was a fun day as I was with my friend and this lake is the most beautiful I've seen in the park, but it makes a very long day only to see a lake. Note that visiting this part of the park does not requires to buy the national park ticket, as it is locally managed. You will only be asked to pay five soles at the entrance.
My penultimate day was the best one and I'm actually very surprised that no reviewers mentioned this place yet as it appears to be the most popular one among backpackers and day hikers. I'm talking about Laguna 69 (Sesenta nueve), which requires to be picked up at about 5 am to reach the trail head on time. We stopped en route for breakfast and to see the Lagunas de Llanganuco. Indeed, you shouldn't book a tour for these lakes if you plan on doing Laguna 69 as they are included. You will only see them quickly though instead of spending the day there. The rules of the park stipulate that you must start your hike between 7 and 9 am and be back before 4 pm. The trail is 7 km long one way and takes you to 4,600 meters above sea level. Our guide allocates us 3 hours to hike up, 1 hour by the lake and 2 hours to hike down. The trail can be divided in six segments, respectively a long flat start in the valley, a steep ascend, another short flat part followed by a second ascend, a last long, flat segment and the final endless steep ascend. The first segment is very beautiful. The weather was perfect when I was there, with a clear blue sky. It therefore allowed a good view on glaciers and peaks all around. I was particularly in awe when I looked behind me and saw the Huascaran. The view was much more impressive than the previous day en route for Parón. The first valley is highly picturesque, as the path leads to waterfalls going down cliffs on each side. Grazing is allowed in this part of the park, and hikers are sharing the trail with many peaceful cows. Many high altitude bird species are also flying around. The second flat part includes a great point of view over the Huascaran and the valley you just walked through. The lake itself is beautiful, with his turquoise color and its surrounding glaciers and mountain peaks. However, it is underwhelming compared to the landscape on the rest of the trail. I walked back to the bus just in time to avoid the pouring rain.
On my last day, I hiked to la Laguna Churup. This lake is really close to Huaraz, can easily be done independently and is rather a half-day hike. Combis to Pitec, where the trail starts, leave the corner of Avenida Agustin Gamarra and Antonio Raymondi frequently to the lake. However, I understood that the 7 am one is dedicated to hikers and reaches the trail head. I shared it with two other tourists and many Peruvians going to the farms in between the town and the lake. The driver waited for me and the two other tourists at the parking lot until we went back at about 1 pm. Most hikers say that 69 is the most difficult day hike offered in Huacasran, but this one was much harder for me. It is much shorter than 69, but starts with a steep ascent and doesn't really give you a break until the lake. Moreover, chains have been fixed to rocks by the end of the trail to facilitate rock climbing and pass over the last cliff. Nevertheless, it makes reaching the lake highly gratifying. Its green color reflecting the surrounding mountains offer a unique scenery compared to lakes I previously visited.
Overall, this national park is amazingly beautiful and lives up to its promise. The diversity of landscape and plants is incredible. The fauna of the park is similarly rich, but is hard to see. This is not a safari destination. Laguna 69 was my favorite hike. If you are looking for an easier day-trip, I suggest Pastoruri and the Puya raimondii. Also, even though it was the end of the rainy season, I mostly encountered rain in the evening. The weather was actually better every day, to reach clear blue sky and warm temperatures at Churup.
The National Park ticket is mandatory for Pastoruri, 69 and Churup, but not for Paron which is locally managed. Multiday access can be bought if you spend many days around Huascaran. Logistically, I came and left on colectivos. Those shared taxis wait and leave as soon as they have four passengers. I arrived from Casma, which is close from Chankillo and Sechin. Six days later, I left for Barranca to visit Caral. My colectivo driver accepted to take me to Caral and then back to Barranca.
It is impressive to think of how many snow-capped peaks are clustered together in this park so close to the equator. Like everyone else we based ourselves in busy Huaraz for access to the national park. There are many options here to visit the park, from multi-day treks to single day hikes, tours or just staring at mountain peaks from your hotel balcony so should appeal to just about everyone that enjoys nature.
Pretty much every hotel and agency offers the same tours at more or less the same time for similar prices. Public transport and doing it on your own generally didn't seem possible or worth the hassle. We booked a few day trips from our hotel and ended up with a different tour company each day. Our first exposure to Huascaran was on our way to Chavin and there is no doubt that the views of the peaks are better from the north of Huaraz (the road to Chavin is to the south). Regardless of tour destination you quickly find yourself above 4000m and the tree line quite quickly which can be hard on some. We stuck to day tours that didn't involve a lot of walking.
One day we went to Pastoruri glacier, a rapidly melting glacier at 5000m. It was a little disturbing to see it dying right before our eyes while people joyfully posed for selfies. We were able to get up close to the very unique and bizarre looking Puya Raimondi plants on this tour.
Another day we went even farther, to see Laguna Paron. It is a popular trip because you can get a view of the mountain supposedly used for the Paramount logo (though from a different angle) and because the lake is a pretty glacial turquoise. I had to seriously question our sanity in going though. With construction on the road north of Huaraz bringing the travel time to 4.5 hours each way, I could see similar sights at home in a closer distance yet would never attempt it as a day trip.
I wonder about the logic of these tours when there are beautiful places closer to town. Our final venture into the park was our most enjoyable. We arranged private transport through our hotel to the trailhead for a hike to Laguna Tambillo (aka Rajucolta). It was about an hour drive and a shallow walk along a little river up a narrow valley for 10km to the lake at the bottom of one of the many glaciers in the park. Because there are no tours here we were the only ones on the trail other than many songbirds and cows. In the end for our group of three it worked out to be the same price for the day as the other tours (there was no entry fee for the park there).
I visited this beautiful national park in June 2012. LC Peru operates daily flights from Lima to Huaraz, the perfect location to explore the park and “nearby” Chavín. I wish I could write about a several days hike through the park, but we also took the lazy way in and visited Lagunas Llanganuco. We did not book a tour but went for public transport instead. From Huaraz we took a public bus to Yungay. Taxis are waiting at Yungay bus station to bring you to the lagunas and back. The lagunas provide stunning views of Peru’s highest mountain and an overall very beautiful scenery. We walked around the lake to do at least a bit of hiking. But I’m sure this area would deserve a much more serious hike.
Like most visitors, we also passed through a different part of the park when driving to Chavín. This high plateau looked like a random Swiss mountain area over the timberline. Still beautiful, but nowhere close the beauty of the Llangnuco region.
Peru may be known for its cultural World Heritage Sites, but the first site I chose to see upon arriving in country this past October was a natural site: Huascarán National Park. Within hours of landing in Lima, I was on a bus to the lovely small mountain town of Huaraz, and the next day I took the same type of tour as Els to the Lagunas Llanganucos. The mountain scenery was spectacular, and I had an early preview of the park's snow-covered peaks from the breakfast lounge on the top floor of my hotel. Up close on the tour, the mountains were just as impressive, and greener than I expected on the approach to the lakes. Only the lower lake was accessible for the tour, but we had one and a half hours to explore. I opted for a boat tour, then hiked on the walking trails around the lakeshore, in the shadow of Huascarán, the highest peak in Peru. I was hoping to see more Andean wildlife than I saw on my visit to Sangay National Park in Ecuador, but alas, my scorecard stood at: Animals not seen -- spectacled bears, pumas, vicuñas, condors; Animals seen -- ducks and two alpacas hiding amidst the trees. As for flora, even though I didn't see the Queen of the Andes bromeliad on the tour, I did appreciate the Polylepis forest around the lake. I also appreciated the particularly amenable weather, which was very welcome after my misty visit to Sangay. This was a beautiful site!
Logistics: Huascarán National Park can be visited via bus tours, or via private transportation; as Els mentioned, tours to Chavin from Huaraz will pass through another section of the park that is further south than the lakes.
Again, I am delighted to be the first to review this wonderful WHS.
Huascaran NP is a truly beautiful place. I doubt there is anywhere else on Earth where you can so easily access such enormous mountains. The hiking here is truly wonderful, and hugely varied. I have spent several days walking to glaciers, lakes and valleys. I cannot recommend this site highly enough.
I am lucky enough to be writing this at a charming place called 'The Lazy Dog Inn', which is on the border of the park. From here, some of the most beautiful and least visited parts of the park are easily visited. I highly recommend walks into 'Quebrada Llaca' and 'Quebrada Cojup' (excuse any spelling).
Entry fees are a very reasonable $2 per day or about $25 for a month pass.
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