Cordilleras Huayhuash and Raura

Lying south of the Cordillera Blanca, the Cordillera Huayhuash has been dubbed the 'Himalayas of America' and is perhaps the most spectacular in Peru for its massive ice faces that seem to rise sheer out of the contrasting green of the puna. Azure trout-filled lakes are interwoven with deep quebradas and high pastures around the hem of the range. You may see tropical parakeets in the bottom of the gorges and condors circling the peaks.

Although the area may well have been inhabited for thousands of years, the Huayhuash only became known to the outside world following a plane crash on the southeast face of Jirishanca in 1954. Since then, the number of visitors has grown steadily, with a hiatus during the era of insurgency in the 1980s. The mountain range's renown increased following Joe Simpson and Simon Yates' near-tragic climbing expedition in 1985, as recounted in Simpson's book and the subsequent hit film,
Touching the Void
. Although less touristy than some popular routes in the Cordillera Blanca, it nonetheless receives significant numbers of trekkers and climbers every year.

The area is rugged and traditional, with local villagers generally surviving as herdsmen, tending flocks of cattle, sheep and alpacas. Having said that, tourism, large-scale mining interests and the relentless advance of paved roads has significantly affected the area, its people and environment, not always for the better.

Getting there

Both the Huayhuash and Raura ranges can be approached from
Chiquián
in the north; from
Oyón
, with links to Cerro de Pasco to the southeast; from
Churín
in the south, or from
Cajatambo
to the southwest. Coming from Huaraz, the road is now paved beyond Chiquián as far as
Huansala
, on the road to Huallanca (Huánuco). Whereas only five years ago it was necessary to hike from Chiquián through semi-desert canyons for a couple of days before reaching the peaks, now you can drive directly to the base of the cordillera and the trailhead close to the settlements of
Matacancha
and
Rondoy
. In the south, surfaced roads from Cajatambo now push as far as the breathtaking
Punta Cuyoc
, situated between the Cordilleras Huayhuash and Raura.

Trekking

Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash is generally considered difficult and certainly requires stamina, with up to eight passes over 4600 m, depending on the route. Ten to 12 days are required for the complete loop, but the trails are good and most gradients are relatively gentle. Moreover, due to improving road access , many Huaraz-based tour agencies now offer shortened eight-day itineraries.

Safety and practicalities

The roads and increasing popularity have brought significant waste-disposal issues and problems with aggressive behaviour and armed robbery. Local communities now provide an armed escort service for all trekking groups in between Huayhuash and Viconga lake. Each community charges an obligatory fee for protection on its land before handing responsibility over to the next village. Make sure you hang on to
all
receipts/tickets and know exactly what you are paying for. Once you arrive at any campsite, licensed members of the corresponding community will show up with tickets. Once you pay for you and your pack animals this covers your camping fees, use of pastures, security and cleaning up of the trails and campsites.

Chiquián

Chiquián is a little town of narrow streets and overhanging eaves. An interesting feature is a public television mounted in a box on a pedestal that sits proudly in the Plaza de Armas, around which folks gather every evening. There is a Semana Turística during the first week of July and the local fiesta is celebrated on 30 August in honour of Santa Rosa.

Cajatambo

The southern approach to the Cordillera Huayhuash is a small, developing market town, with a beautiful 18th-century church and a lovely plaza. Note that the road out of Cajatambo is not for the fainthearted. For the first three to four hours it is no more than a bus-width, clinging to the cliff edge.

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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