The Cordillera Blanca extends its icy chain of summits for 140 to 160km north of Huaraz. The highest range in the tropical world, the Cordillera consists of around 35 peaks poking their snowy heads over the 6000m mark, and until early this century, when the glaciers began to recede, this white crest could be seen from the Pacific. The Callejón de Huaylas is the valley that sits between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra mountain ranges. Under the western shadow of the Cordillera Blanca lie the northern valley Callejón towns, including Carhauz, Yungay and Caraz. Small and rustic, these towns generally boast attractive accommodation and busy little markets, and provide access to ten snow-free passes in the Cordillera Blanca; combining any two of these passes makes for a superb week’s trekking. Yungay and Caraz in particular are both popular bases for trekkers.
Of the many mountain lakes in the Cordillera Blanca, Lake Parón, above Caraz, is renowned as the most beautiful. Above Yungay, and against the sensational backdrop of Peru’s highest peak, Huascarán (6768m), are the equally magnificent Lagunas de Llanganuco, whose waters change colour according to the time of year and the sun’s daily movements, and are among the most accessible of the Cordillera Blanca’s three hundred or so glacial lakes.
The number of possible hikes into the Cordillera depends mostly on your own initiative and resourcefulness. There are several common routes, some of which are outlined below; anything more adventurous requires a local guide or a tour with one of the local operators. Maps of the area, published by the Instituto Geográfico Militar, are good enough to allow you to plot your own routes. The most popular hike is the Llanganuco-to-Santa Cruz Loop, which begins at Yungay and ends at Caraz.