Come across a picture of a turquoise lake with snow-capped mountains in the background and you’ll most likely think the Canadian Rockies. But not too far from Lima, Peru’s capital city, lies the world’s most extensive ice-covered, tropical mountain range: The Cordillera Blanca.
Although it is quickly growing in fame and a fair share of tourist buses visit some of the main lakes, you’ll find plenty of space to explore on your own as the area has 722 individual glaciers and just as many lakes.
As you come into Huascaran National Park, which covers almost the entire area of the mountain range, you can either buy a day pass or a month pass. There’s a lot to see and do, so I definitely recommend the month pass.
From the city of Huaraz, we got an early start towards the closest access point to the park. After a winding road and lots of asking locals for directions, we made it to Laguna Llaca at the bottom of a glacier with the same name. We had the whole place to ourselves and it made a great stop to settle down and make ourselves some breakfast. The lake has a gray color that comes from the layer of sediment characteristic of the glacier it comes from. Although we didn’t plan for it, the area is famous for its trekking and ice climbing.
The next day we drove north towards the Yungay access point and stopped at Yanganuco Lake. It was a sunny day and the lake tone was impressively turquoise. The lake is big enough for a canoe ride around it, or you can walk the trail around its perimeter. Either way, no one will believe your photos aren’t filtered.
The dirt road follows the lake upstream and takes you to a campsite well equipped with washrooms, a dining hall for when it gets too cold outside and a very kind and helpful guard. We wanted to do the hike up to Laguna 69, so this was the last place we could leave the car. We spent the day setting up and walking around the area; as in the whole park, the views are breathtaking and you’ll easily spot interesting birds and other wildlife. After sunset the temperature drops quickly so we snuggled around the campfire.
The next day we started our hike after breakfast. It’s 3-4 hours to hike up and about 2 to hike down. The whole trail looks like a scene out of the Lord of the Rings (plus the turquoise-colored lakes!!). You climb right next to a waterfall and come across small lakes, valleys, and the ever-present glaciers. It’s not an easy hike; it’s an 800 m elevation gain and at 4,500 meters above sea level every meter ads up. The views, however, are rewarding from the moment you begin and the beauty of the lake itself gave me goosebumps.
In the morning you’ll see big groups hiking up, but if you’re camping (which I highly recommend!) my advice is, don’t start the hike too early and by the time you reach the lake most people will have left and you’ll likely get the place to yourself. Hike down as the sun sets and you won’t forget the feeling of that sunset.
There’s much much more to explore in Huascaran National Park, especially if you’re an avid outdoor adventurer. There are 4-10 day treks that you can organize before hand and I’m sure they’re all just as beautiful.
Next time you think glaciers, breathtaking lakes, and outdoor adventures think the Cordillera Blanca and you’re bound to leave in awe.