If you want to experience real Peru, see the culture and be amazed at this vast mountainous country, head north to Huaraz and trek the Huayhuash region
We travelled north from Lima to Huaraz. An 8 hour bus journey, comfortable, and well worth the views of the city of Lima and countryside. We stopped at a small service station halfway which catered well for Western taste.
In Huaraz we stayed at Hostel Alpes Huaraz (20$ per night), a clean comfortable hotel (3 main rooms) with internet/ washing facilities, a lovely roof top garden and they were nice enough to keep our stay at home bags whilst we completed our trek. Huaraz is a large town in Peruvian terms; the town centre is bustling with market traders with their livestock. There are a couple of nice restaurants, expensive to Peruvians so there were only a couple of well dressed locals in them.
We spent two days in Huaraz, completing an acclimatisation walk up to the cross. This is a four hour trek up a mountain overlooking Huaraz. We spent an hour at the top as the views are fantastic, and the sounds from Huaraz are worth sitting and listening to.
We then travelled to Llamac, a tiny village at the start of the Huayhuash Trek. The journey to Llamac is around 5 hours, and not for the faint-hearted. The roads wind down the mountainside, with 1000m drops and no barriers. Vehicles can pass, but only at certain points, and then there is only just enough space. The views are spectacular if you dare look. Your knuckles are white with hanging on to anything you can in the mini-bus, and there was a massive sigh of relief when we finally drove away from the mountainside.
Llamac is a small village which has become quite well-off over the last few years due to the Huayhuash Trek. The village is nestled in a small valley. Electricity was introduced about 4 years ago, although it only comes on for 3 hours a day. There is a little shop in someone's house where you can pay to use the satellite phone, and buy basics. The lads also found a bar, again in someone's house which was quite busy with villagers at the night...
We completed our second acclimatisation trek the next day at Llamac, climbing one of the surrounding mountains. It was hard going as Llamac is at 3250m. We were camping on the football pitch, but moved to the sidelines on the second day as the villagers were preparing for the local derby game against another village that had a four day walk to get to the game! Amazingly the lines were created by ash from fires that the villagers had been burning. They had dug earth ovens on the far side which would cook the food for the event.
Next day we started the Trek to Incahuain, an 11km trek over a height of 4272m. The beginning was a tough climb up the highest mountain surrounding Llamac. We sat at the top while a couple of condors flew around us. We dropped down to the most beautiful valley of the whole trek, near a military outpost that was one of the checkpoints where you need to pay trek fees, We walked through one quiet little village, which would be the last village for the next 6 days. I will never forget the night sky at Incahuain. Totally uninterrupted by artificial lighting, we were looking at the stars in their purest form. I couldn't believe how many there were. We lay in amazement looking at the night sky for around an hour.
We trekked next to Carhuacocha, a 12km trek over a height of 4740m. This was the hardest day of the trek. Again the first part of the day was a hard uphill trek, with a sigh of relief at the top and amazing views. We sat looking into the vast mountain range in awe, until someone pointed out that the last peak in the very far distance was where we were trekking to that day!!!! We trekked a couple of peaks, climbing close to the glaciers. We passed two remote farm houses, each with make shift goal-posts outside them. Several horsemen herding cattle passed us at one point. The last couple of kilometres were downhill thankfully, as it was only momentum that got me to the campsite. I woke to a wonderful picture-postcard view of the lake with mountains in the background, but added to this was a mist that created the most amazing scene.
Next day was a 14km trek over a height of 4690m. We passed another farm house where the cutest children came to greet us. This was an easier day, and much appreciated after the previous day. We camped by a clear stream this night, where the girls succumbed to washing their hair. A 13km trek followed where we were joined by two armed locals for about 4kms. I learned this area is renowned for groups being robbed as it is the area in Huayhuash that is furthest from any villages and jurisdiction. The high point today was 4615km, taking us past a couple of lakes. We camped at Huayhuash this evening.
Today was an 11km trek to a height of 4780m. A memorable day as we trekked past a reservoir, and over its surrounding mountain. Once on top of the mountain there was a view of a river meandering through a vast valley. We could hear a rush of water from below us, which when we trekked down to it was an awesome waterfall, throwing over its edge gallons of white edged water. There were a couple of locals at the water's edge who we found out were on their way to market, another 1.5 days away. We walked along the river for another km and were shocked to find two hot spa pools with a little wooden hut in the middle of the expanse of the valley floor. We were stripped off within minutes and dived in. It felt amazing; the water was bath temperature albeit the floor was a bit slimy. The chap in the wooden hut even sold beer, so we stayed there for about 2 hours and had our lunch. We felt amazing afterwards.
We carried on our trek along the side of the river until reaching our campsite, passing another farmhouse with Lama's, and more importantly the football posts outside. I was decidedly unsure of the campsite, as although the valley was vast, the whole of the valley floor squelched. I imagined us all floating away in the night. It actually ended up being the best night sleep that I had.
The last day of the trek was hard slog of 18km walking along the river until it started widening, and the flora became bountiful as we were reaching settlements. We had a steep climb towards the end of the valley as we needed to reach Cajatambo in the next valley. We ate on the mountain-top overlooking Cajatambo before making our 2 hour descent into the town. Cajatambo is basic, but amazingly had a cafe-bar with sky. There was a convenience store where you could pay to use the satellite phone (very cheap to phone UK). We stayed in a very basic B&B Hostel Tambomachay (around 10$ per night), everyone slept in their sleeping bag on the bed, and watched themselves in the shower as the circuit box was at the side of the showerhead?
There were two very basic restaurants, in the front of someone's house. Most of the village had only a few hours of electricity so it took a while for our food to arrive as the electric kept going off. When the food came we ate by candlelight as the electric went off for good then, which made it very authentic, especially as we were eating with the Lama's who were bleating in the corner of the room. The bus journey out of Cajatmbo was as hair-raising as the journey in, although I felt slightly better having survived the first journey. We also followed a lorry with 20 people sat on top of it.
This expedition was amazing; I felt that I had experienced real Peru. The facilities are basic although we camped at official campsites, the toilet facilities were either corrugated hut, or our own toilet tent. You really are cut off from the world; at no point did anyone get a mobile signal. The trekking was incredible, made even better by the local knowledge that our Guide Alberto and his team had. We did go to the Inca Trail after this, but everyone said this was by far the best part of the trip.