From now on our trip was becoming more challenging because of the altitude. Although we were almost acclimatized, driving up the Peruvians Andes on bumpy roads is breathtaking but also tiring. We woke up at around 5:30 am to take a bus at 6:00 am and drive two hours to Huaraz. Then, from Huaraz we took a large bus full of tourists and drove three and a half hours to to the edge of Pastoruri Glacier. This place is 5240 m high (17191.6 feet), where until recently one could walk on the ice and explore naturally formed ice caverns beneath the glacier’s surface. Sadly the ice has been melting in the last few years and although it is worth a visit; it is not as spectacular as it once was. Personally, I think it is fairly challenging if you are not completely acclimatized.
The tours to Pastoruri usually includes a visit to see the Puya Raymondi plants and the Lagoon of Seven Colors. The gigantic and rare Puya de Raymondi plant is unique in this region. It reaches up to 12 m in height and has a lifespan of around forty years. Most people assume it is a type of cactus, but it is in fact the world’s largest bromeliad a member of the pineapple family. May is the best month to see them, when they are in full bloom and average 8000 flowers and six million seeds per plant.
…and this is the impressive Lagoon of Seven Colors also known as the Eye Water Lagoon of Pumapashimi. If you look closely for a long time you may see the water change color. This is due to solar radiation, inside the lagoon there is a mineral rock wall with water plants that make it change into different colors.
After we took a well-deserved break, we continued driving close to the edge of the Pastoruri Glacier not before taking our mate de coca – hot tea made of coca leaves – to beat the altitude and chew some coca leaves. It taste horrible but it helps fights Soroche (altitude sickness). From the place where the bus stopped, we had to walk for about 1 km to reach the snow line. If you feel really out of breath, you can hire a horse and rider most of the trail. Once you reach the snow, you are on your own. Pastoruri has become fairly commercialized within the past few years so stay away during the peak season (July and August) because the place gets overcrowded and if you are in need of a horse, it is highly unlikely you will get one.
I was lucky to meet a Peruvian friend who was travelling with her American boyfriend in the same bus as we were. It was very helpful to distract from our headaches and we worked as a team to get to the top. Of course we couldn’t get to our destination. We bought thick plastic bags to slide on the snow. It was a lot of fun despite the lack of oxygen.
It was time to come down. Fortunately, as we were descending, my headache cleared up. Another thing you can do if you don’t want to climb up is to walk toward the glacier edge and visit the ice caves. They are spectaculars! Sadly we couldn’t get into any of them for safety reasons due to melt water. A few years ago people became trapped in one of the caves. They are unpredictable and a rescue can take a day due to the remoteness of the location.
The snow started to fall and it was getting even colder. It was time to board the bus and drive back to Huaraz for a late lunch / earlier dinner. I recommend that you take some snacks and sweets but not a heavy duty lunch.
The Pastoruri Glacier is open once a year for adventure riders in order to celebrate the only Ski & Snowboard competition in Peru as part of the Andean Sports Festival – Festival del Andinismo. It takes place in June (check with the tourist office for exact dates each year because they vary a lot). However there are many points to take into consideration if you consider participation in this event: Soroche or altitude sickness (over 5,000 meters) and no sophisticated transportation system such as no chair lifts but there are horses. It is a tough one!