Peru: Huaraz/Parque Nacional Huarascan (June 13 to 20, 2015)

After almost 8 weeks in Bolivia (Cochabamba, Salar de Uyuni, Parque Nacional Madidi, and Lake Titicaca; see previous posts), it was time to cross the border into Peru. From Copacabana, Bolivia, I took an overnight bus to Cusco, Peru, where I stayed for two nights. Since I’d visited Cusco three years earlier, I spent my time relaxing, journaling, and talking to people at my hostel, only venturing out to get food at a nearby local restaurant or at the local market. At the hostel, I again ran into Mathieu (France) who I’d met in Bariloche (Argentina) then ran into in Copacabana. That’s what happens on the travelers circuit. While at the hostel, I also met Renata and Gabriela (Czech Republic) who were on their way to Huaraz, Peru to do the Santa Cruz trek. After talking to them, I recalled that this trek was featured in an article in Backpacker magazine that I’d been carrying around with me all over South America. I’d planned to move quickly through Peru in order to get to Ecuador, but after more research, I changed my plan and decided I had to do the Santa Cruz trek. So, after an overnight bus from Cusco to Lima, where I stayed for a night, and another overnight bus from Lima, I arrived in Huaraz, Peru.

Per Wikipedia, Huaraz (population 100,000+; elevation 10,013 feet) is the main point of entry for climbers and hikers wanting to tackle the glaciers and mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, located almost entirely in Parque Nacional Huascaran, a UNESCO nature world heritage site. The Cordillera Blanca range contains 722 individual glaciers and 33 major peaks over 18,040 feet high, including Peru’s highest mountain, Huascaran which is 22,205 feet high.

So how did I spend 8 days amongst glaciers and high mountain peaks? Trekking of course!

During the first three days in Huaraz, I reconnected with Renata and Gabriela, and befriended Peter and Dustin (Canada), who’d I’d met at the bus station in Lima. Together, we ate local Peruvian food and explored the local markets. As a warm up, Renata, Peter, Dustin, and I day hiked to Laguna Churup, a gorgeous glacial lake at 14,600 feet. Then after a day to rest and stock up on supplies, all five of us headed to Parque Nacional Huascaran, Peter and Dustin to do some climbing and Renata, Gabriela, and I to do a 5-day trek, four days on the Santa Cruz trail and one day hiking to Laguna 69, a gorgeous glacial lake.

We started the roughly 30-mile Santa Cruz trek in the village of Cashapampa (population 3,058; elevation 11,200+ feet) hiking through a narrow river valley. Eventually, the valley widened and we were surrounded by glaciated peaks. On day 3, we hiked up and over Punta Union Pass, our highest point at 15,580 feet. The scenery along the trek changed as we went, becoming more stunning with each mile. Then for the last several miles, the trek passes through small Andean villages, providing a glimpse into the rural, farming lifestyle. Besides being featured in Backpacker magazine, the Santa Cruz trek is listed among the top 20 epic trails in the world by National Geographic magazine (http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/trips/best-trails/worlds-best-grail-trails/#/cordillera-blanca-santa-cruz-trek_56333_600x450.jpg). And Laguna 69, which we hiked to on day 5, is named by National Geographic magazine as one of the best one-day treks in South America. And with good reason as it is a gorgeous turquoise lake surrounded by snowy mountain peaks at 15,090 feet. Stunning, all very stunning!

I am very thankful that I didn’t cruise through Peru without stopping as previously planned because trekking in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range and doing the Santa Cruz trek was an amazing and breathtaking experience (literally and figuratively), made even more amazing by the fun people with whom I shared the experience.

Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full photo album:  https://goo.gl/photos/NFpGrsNQz82nUM5E6

Enjoy!

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At Punta Union Pass, on the Santa Cruz Trek (15,580 feet).

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On the Santa Cruz trek.

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Laguna Churup day hike with Peter, Renata, and Dustin (14,600 feet)

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Laguna 69 with Gabriela and Renata (15,090 feet).

Travel notes: recommend Akilpo Hostel, Huaraz (nice staff, good wifi, good shared kitchen and rooftop patio); tap water in Peru is NOT potable (treatment needed).

Bolivia allows Americans to stay for 90 days, but you must extend the visa after 30 days or pay 20 bolivianos/day for each day past 30. I didn’t read the date on my entry stamp and overstayed my 30-day visa by 24 days. So, I had to pay 480 bolivianos (~$70) upon leaving Bolivia. Darn!

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Bolivia: Lake Titicaca, Copacabana/Isla del Sol (June 5 to 7, 2015)

After exploring Bolivia’s portion of the Amazon (see previous post), I took a 4-hour bus from La Paz to Copacabana to see Bolivia’s portion of Lake Titicaca. Per Wikipedia, Titicaca (or Titiqaqa in Quechuan) is a large, deep lake in the Andes mountains on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America with a surface area of 3,232 square miles. Located at 12,507 feet, and with a maximum depth of 922 feet, it is considered the highest, deepest navigable lake in the world.

So how did I spend three days on Lake Titicaca, exploring and trekking, of course.

I arrived to the small town of Copacabana (population 6,000+), on the shores of the lake, in the evening. After walking around the lively plaza for a bit, I unexpectedly ran into my friend, Mathieu (France) at my hostel. We’d met in Bariloche (Argentina) in early April. It was great to catch up with him and hear about the adventures on his motorbike journey through South America since we’d last hung out.

The next morning, I was treated to a celebration in the plaza, that based on the banners, appeared to be celebrating education. There were kids of all ages marching in the parade, as well as elegantly dressed cholitas, presumably representing the local Quechuan community. As with the parades I’d seen in other South American cities, it was colorful and lively. Later, I took a 2.5-hour ferry to Isla del Sol, the birthplace of the Incan sun god, located in the southern part of Lake Titicaca. It’s a rocky, hilly, scrubby island with lots of eucalyptus trees and no motor vehicles or paved roads. Per Wikipedia, the main economic activity of the approximately 800 families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism augmenting the subsistence economy. The boat dropped me off at the very tiny village of Ch’allapampa (population 435) where I enjoyed sunset views of the distant snow-covered mountains across the lake. While wondering around the village, I befriended a group of three girls (Canada and Germany) whom I joined for dinner at one of the few restaurants in this village of only 5 or so blocks.

Early the next morning, I started the approximately 5-mile trek across the island from Ch’allapampa south to the village of Yumani. The trek takes you past Incan ruins and farming villages, and over the high point of the island at 13,000+ feet. While the trek is at high elevation, it’s fairly easy since, other than getting up to the high point, there’s not much elevation gain/loss. Throughout the trek, you’re treated to views across the glittering, blue lake of snow-covered Andean peaks of the Cordilera Real. Gorgeous! During the hike, I met and hiked with Paula and Gabriel (Columbia and Uruguay) who live in New York. It was nice to enjoy the 3-hour hike with new friends. The hike finished in Yumani, a larger (population 2,500), more touristy village (aka a few more hostels, restaurants, and shops). At the dock, we caught the ferry back to Copacabana, enjoying the lovey blue waters of the lake and more views of the distant mountains along the way. It was a nice way to enjoy the famous Lake Titicaca.

Here are a few pictures. Click the link for the full photo album:  https://goo.gl/photos/WWte4rHP5WtWqsT77 

Enjoy!

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At Isla del Sol’s high point 13,000+feet.

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Views across Lake Titicaca of the mountains of the Cordilera Real.

Travel notes: recommend Hostal Sonia, Copacabana (cheap, hot shower, ok wifi) and Hostal Cultura, Ch’allapampa (nice private rooms, cheap); no ATMs or wifi in Ch’allapampa, bring small bills, difficult to get change; tap water in Bolivia is NOT potable (treatment needed).