Half-Peruvian and a Journey Latin America tour leader for over 20 years, Adrian Gallop is a keen trekker who has scaled the heights of the Andes across South America. Here he tells us why Peru's trekking continues to draw him back.
There are many great trekking destinations in the world - the Himalayas, the Rockies, the Atlas mountains, but there is definitely something that makes Peru stand out.
Try as I might, I still can’t quite identify that decisive factor. At first I thought it had to be that unrivalled combination of Andean mountains, Atacama desert and Amazon rainforest. Or maybe it’s the rich indigenous culture (past and present) with those magnificent Inca ruins and colourful markets. Or could it be the wildlife - the llamas, alpacas and condors?
Whatever the reason, if you’re keen to find it out for yourself there are two main trekking areas in Peru where you should start: Cusco in the South, and Huaraz in the North.
Cusco lies on the eastern side of the Andes, where the mountains descend towards the Amazon rainforest. Treks in this region often pass through cloud forest, where colourful orchids decorate the vegetation, attracting hummingbirds and noisy flocks of parrots. Snowy peaks rise above tropical valleys, with trekking routes climbing over high passes on the edge of the snow line.
As Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, the area is dotted with the ruins of ancient temples and palaces, all of which are found in spectacular locations. These provide an excellent focus for treks, with routes often following old Inca trails that wind their way between these sites. There is no better cure for tired limbs than watching a beautiful sunset in the Andes from a 500 year-old Inca temple.
In contrast to the more temperate south, trekking in northern Peru provides a pure and breathtaking high mountain experience. The town of Huaraz lies in the fertile Santa river valley, surrounded on all sides by Peru’s highest mountains (more than twenty peaks over 5000 metres) including Huascarán, at 6768m Peru’s highest peak, and Alpamayo, once voted the most beautiful mountain in the world.
On one side of Huaraz is the Cordillera Blanca (the "White Mountains") and facing it, the Cordillera Negra (the "Black Mountains"). Just over the horizon sits a third mountain range called the Cordillera Huayhuash, the setting for Joe Simpson’s best-selling mountaineering book 'Touching the Void'. Recently declared a protected natural area, the region boasts the largest concentration of glaciers and turquoise glacial lakes in the world’s tropical zone. The two most popular treks in the region are the 4-day Santa Cruz trek, which can done by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, and the 8-day Huayhuash Circuit, a more remote and challenging high-altitude trek.
Most trekking in Peru is done at high altitudes, with acclimatisation therefore essential before you set off. Once on the trail, pacing yourself is the key, and with most of your equipment fortunately carried by mules (or by porters on the Inca Trail), you will only need to carry your daypack. The optimum trekking season runs from May to October, and although sunny and warm by day it can be freezing at night. Make sure you pack for every possible weather and temperature variation.
Whatever it is that makes trekking in Peru more than just the sum of its parts, up in the wonderful Andes beyond the reach of civilization, there’s certainly enough interest and beauty to keep you coming back time and time again.
Our favourite treks in Peru: