Background

The snow-capped Cordillera Blanca runs north to south for almost 200 km. Alongside it to the west lies its alter ego, the bare and dry
Cordillera Negra
, which rises to 4600 m. The valley of the
Río Santa
, known as the
Callejón de Huaylas
, separates the two ranges. The Santa rises in
Laguna Conococha
, at the south end of the two mountain chains and flows due north between them, before turning west to enter the spectacular
Cañón del Pato
and making its way to the Pacific.

To the east of the Cordillera Blanca lies another set of valleys, the
Callejón de Conchucos
, containing the archaeological treasures of
Chavín de Huantar
. Callejones de Huaylas and Conchucos are both well-populated areas with lovely little villages of narrow cobblestone streets and houses with odd-angled roofs. Their inhabitants grow potatoes and barley at the higher altitudes and maize, alfalfa, fruits and flowers lower down. These valleys also provide road access to the region's wonders. Many excellent trekking routes and approaches to climbers' base camps cross from one
callejón
to the other, over the high passes of the Cordillera Blanca. Communities are close to each other in the Callejón de Huaylas, so there is little sense of isolation until you are right up in the mountains, or in the more remote areas beyond this valley.

Huaraz
, undoubtedly at the heart of things, has become very tourist-oriented, catering for the adventure sports market with all the requisite services and facilities. Only an hour northwest,
Caraz
has the same mix of engineers (for the hydroelectric scheme) and tourism, but on a much smaller scale. However, the waters coming off the mountains make this a fertile area and it is agriculture, above all, that dictates the pace of life.

Further south lie the cordilleras Huayhuash and Raura, offering more spectacular climbing and hiking in a less-visited area.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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