The Beauty of Huascarán National Park

Most of the Cordillera Blanca falls under the protective auspices of the Huascarán National Park, and as such, the habitat has been left relatively unspoiled. Among the more exotic wildlife that hikers can hope to spot are the viscacha (Andean rabbit-like creatures), vicuña, grey deer, pumas, foxes, the rare spectacled bear and several species of hummingbirds.

This is the first place I bring my relatives and friends when I visit Callejón de Huaylas. They all are fascinated with the spectacular views of the icecap mountains, the ravines and especially with the Llanganuco Lakes. Although my husband is a bit short in expressing his emotions, he was stunned by the colorful water of the lakes. Unfortunately, all the times that I came here I never thought that one day I would write a travel blog; so I kept all my hard copy photos in my old travel album in Peru. I never bothered to scan them up until now but Peter and I did managed to take some shots when we were there in 2002.

If there is a place on earth where Adam and Eve would rejoice then it would be in this untouchable natural paradise

Picture taken from the website SumaqPerú

Llanganuco Lakes. One of the best stop in Huascarán National Park. Picture taken from the website SumaqPerú.

The magnificient Llanganukos Lakes, whose waters change color according to the time of year and the sun’s daily movements, are amongst the most accessible of the Cordillera Blanca’s three hundred or so glacial lakes. They are at 3850 m above sea level and it takes around ninety minutes to reach by bus or truck, on a road that crawls up beside a canyon that is the result of years of Huascarán’s meltwater. Your best choice is to hire a taxi (mini bus) that takes you all the way from Yungay, Caráz or Huaráz to the entrance of the lakes. You have to agree with the taxi driver in advanced about the price. A return trip plus the amount of time he will wait for you at the entrance of the Lakes. The mini buses are white and they are in good condition. Please don’t go for a pick up truck just to get a cheaper deal because they are not safe. I remember when I was a kid we used to take those ones with a family and my father was standing at the end of the pick up holding on to a metal bar. I was so freaked out about those dangerous trips!

The trip is not really hard and you get a terrific view across the valley and can clearly make out the path of the 1970 devastation. The last part of the drive, starkly beautiful but no fun for vertigo sufferers (this is where you can get altitude sickness known as soroche) so take it easy!. You will see slices through rocky crevices and snakes around breathtaking precipices surrounded by small wind-bent trees and orchids.

On the way to Llanganuco Lakes

On the way to Llanganuco Lakes

Llanganuco Valley

Llanganuco Valley

Huascaran Glacier

Huascaran Glacier

Well before reaching the lakes, at Km 19 you pass through the entrance to the Huascarán National Park (daily 6am – 6pm; $ 3.56 for day visitors), located over 600m below the level of the lake; from here it is another 30 minutes or so by bus.

And here is the first lake after the park entrance Chinan Cocha, named after a legendary princess.

Chinan Cocha Lake

Chinan Cocha Lake

Chinan Cocha Lake

Chinan Cocha Lake

You can rent rowing boats here by the car park, they were not available when we came but I remember riding a horse by the lake when I came with my parents in 1994. Last time I came with Peter in 2002 there were no horses anymore.

Same place in 1994

Same place in 1994

And if you are hungry, we were, you can have a unique picnic. Try Cachanga o Torta Frita. The local woman cooks them in her fire stone oven. They come in different sizes. Delicious crispy rich torta but unfortunately not very healthy.

Cooking cachanga

Cooking cachanga

Perfectly cooked Cachanga.  Picture taken from web site mitiempo.pe

Perfectly cooked Cachanga. Picture taken from web site mitiempo.pe

The road continues around Chinan Cocha’s left bank and for a couple of kilometers on to second lake, Orcon Cocha, named after a prince who fell in love with Chinan. The water of this lake is perfectly turquoise and it is a real paradise. I highly recommend a couple of hours trekking around this area. It is so calm and a real delight for your eyes as well as for your imagination.

Orcon Cocha Lake. Picture taken from Wikipedia

Orcon Cocha Lake. Picture taken from Wikipedia

The pictures below were taken in 2000 when I came here with some friends from work. We did a couple of hour trekking around this area. Then a storm got us and we had to come back to the bus.

Orcon Cocha. The trees have a peculiar volcanic color.

Orcon Cocha.

The queñual (polylepis) trees that surround the lakes are amazing. It is like they are made of different thin layers; their orange bark contrasting beautifully against the bright turquoise color of the lake.

On top of a queñual tree.

On top of a queñual tree. Taken by Peter in 2002.

Most people who visit the lakes for one day finish their trip here because the road ends and a loop trail begins for hikers. This trail takes you to an amazing lake called Lake 69. It is located at 4600m/15,092ft. and lies at the flank of The Pisco and Chacraraju Mountain. This is considered by most hikers as one of the most impressive scenic day hikes in the entire Cordillera Blanca. I did this trekking with some German friends who came for my friend’s wedding. After we visited the two lakes I mentioned earlier they wanted to see more so we went for a medium to hard trekking to Lake 69. It is about three hours walk. The first hour is quite pleasant because it is almost flat and you get spectacular views of Huascarán (the highest mountain in Perú); after that it gets tricky because you may feel the effects of the altitude. Sadly this was the case of one of my friends, we had horrible headaches and started getting dizzy; couldn’t carry on at all so we just reached Lake 68 which is not as impressive as Lake 69 but still is a great spot for few pictures and some contact with Andean Nature.

Lake 69; nearly 4600m/15,092ft high.

Lake 68; nearly 4600m/15,092ft high.

The weather didn’t help either and our driver was waiting for us. But if you ever decide to visit these beautiful lakes then be prepared and plan well ahead. Expect a 11 hour trip to visit the Llanganuco lakes and Lake 69. Bring some food with you, plenty of water and some altitude medication (the best one is coca leaves). It will be one of the best experiences you’ve ever had.

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