There is no doubt about it: Peru is one of the greatest hiking destinations in South America. Blessed with the beautiful Andes mountains, dense green jungles and a rugged coastline – choosing the best hikes in Peru is no easy task but in this hiking guide I will give it a go. So pack your bags, strap on your boots, grab your walking poles and let’s hit the trails!
I’m Tania by the way – a Peruvian girl who believes life is better outdoors. I haven’t always been exploring mountains though. In fact, I was born and raised in Lima and have spent most of my years in the city. My parents are from arguably the two most spectacular lands in Peru: Cusco and Ancash. Ever since I first got to know the Ancash region, I have returned more and more frequently to explore the landscapes of the Cordillera Blanca.
I can remember the first major hike I did in Peru like it was yesterday. It was to a place called Rupac, a pre-Incan citadel known as the “Machu Picchu of Lima”. This hike was such a big adventure for me and I recall meeting many fascinating people along the way. I arrived for sunset – it was breathtaking! The whole sky was painted red, which is why they call it the “City of Fire”.
A recent hike which took my breath away was Laguna Paron. Seeing the sunrise there was a privilege – the snowy pyramid in the background with the turquoise lagoon capped it off! Then I walked to Laguna Artesoncocha to be able to appreciate each summit more intensely. I really connected with nature over those two days. I guess all you can say is that we are very lucky in Peru to be blessed with so many epic hiking spots.
11 Best Hikes in Peru
Here is my list of the 11 best hikes in Peru. In Ancash, I would recommend Cordillera Huayhuash, Santa Cruz, Laguna 513, Laguna 69 and Laguna Uruscocha. Other hikes that made the list are Choquequirao, Salkantay, Vinicunca, Laguna Humantay, Ausangate and Gocta Waterfall. All of these routes have amazing landscapes! Read below for more detailed info.
1. Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit Trek
Cordillera Huayhuash is home to three massive summits all over 6,000 meters. This area offers hikers views of snowy mountain peaks, pristine glacial lakes and even the chance to experience Andean culture along the way. But trekking here is no walk in the park. With a distance of 120-130km and elevation gain of up to 5,500 meters – this hike will test you mentally, physically and spiritually. The full trek is suited for experienced hikers.
If you don’t feel confident in completing the circuit, you can opt for various sections of the trail or take shortcuts to reduce the length by a couple of days. And that’s the thing about Cordillera Huayhuash: it takes days to complete. The rewards though are massive. Along with the mountain views, you will encounter many different bird species, condors, vicunas and vizcachas, and some natural hot springs about halfway through.
Most people who go hiking in the Cordillera Huayhuash book an expedition with a local trekking agency, normally companies based in Huaraz. These trips include things like transport, guides and cooks. This year I will be hiking in the Cordillera Huayhuash for eight days and will be showcasing this hike on my Instagram: @taniaventures. So be sure to follow along to see my first hand experience of what it takes to conquer this sublime trek!
2. Santa Cruz Trek
The Santa Cruz Trek is a four day adventure in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca. Taking you through 50 kilometers of snow-capped peaks, this is another challenging hike but much easier than the Cordillera Huayhuash. The highest elevation is at Punta Union (4,700 meters) – so there is less risk of altitude sickness if you are accustomed to that height. As with many Peruvian hikes, you will be stopping off at turquoise lakes along the way.
There are two starting points. You can either begin at Vaqueria (3,700 meters) or Cashapampa (2,900 meters). Starting at Vaqueria means less elevation gain, while starting at Cashapampa means a difficult climb up a trail on your first day. Again, this is a trek best experienced with a trekking company or guide who can arrange everything for you.
3. Laguna 513 Trek
Laguna 513 is relatively unknown but I’m sure it won’t stay that way for long as the aqua colored glacial lakes there are stunning! The lagoon is situated at 4,400 meters above sea level and the depth of the lake is 40 meters. It has one of the most intense turquoise colors you will ever see! The hike is rated as moderate, so it’s not the most difficult climb in Peru.
The trail to Laguna 513 takes you along a river and makeshift bridges. The first lagoon you will see is called Raju Paquinan Lagoon, then the chance to take a side route to Cocha Lagoon, before arriving at your final destination: Laguna 513. Other highlights of this trek include waterfalls, canyon walls and a glacier. Be sure to pack out what you pack in like always.
4. Laguna 69 Day Hike
Laguna 69 is one of the best hikes in Peru, situated at the base of Pisco Peak. It’s one of the most “Instagrammable” spots in the country. However, it’s not just a place for a photo-op. Getting through the high altitude will be a big challenge, despite it only being a day hike. If you are looking for a company to book with then I can recommend Andean Peaks. They will help you experience the lagoon in the best way possible.
5. Laguna Uruscocha Hike
Laguna Uruscocha is one of my favorite hikes. The lagoon is situated at the base of the Urus (mountains), taking you through green landscapes between 3,100 and 4,300 meters above sea level. When I hiked there with my friends, Edson and Royer, we couldn’t see any signs and took the wrong path! Later on we met a muleteer who helped us get back on track.
The highlight of this trek came on the way back down from the lagoon – we witnessed a beautiful sunset at the foot of a lagoon where we could see the reflection of Huascaran Mountain (the highest mountain point in Peru). We were so surprised by this experience and stayed admiring the sunset until nightfall. These are hiking moments that one never forgets.
6. Choquequirao Ruins Trek
A spectacular and grueling two-day trek that takes you to a place known as the “mini Machu Picchu”. For this reason, it makes for a great alternative to the popular Machu Picchu and Inca Trail treks. The Choquequirao archeological site is incredible and can be accessed on a trekking tour from Cusco. The steepness of this hike makes it a challenge, especially if you are carrying lots of gear, but the reward at the top makes it all worth it!
7. Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
The Salkantay Trek is a well-known trail that can be experienced on a four or five day itinerary. Along the way you will hike to the glistening Humantay Lake, get to see the impressive Salkantay Mountain and immerse yourself in cloud forest landscapes. The final stretch takes you along a railway to Aguas Calientes, before making it to the grand finale: Machu Picchu. In my opinion, this is the best way to experience Machu Picchu.
8. Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) Hike
Vinicunca is the Quechua name for what is known in tourist circles as Rainbow Mountain or the Mountain of Seven Colors. You might have seen a few pictures of this mountain on Instagram and thought to yourself: “are those colors even real” or “surely that was photoshopped”? But you can be assured that yes in fact those colors are real! There are plenty of ways to visit this mountain but the best experiences are the one or two day treks.
The colors of Vinicunca were formed from minerals which developed over millions of years. Tectonic plate movements and wind erosion combined with these minerals to produce the rainbow of colors that you see today. The height of the mountain is another impressive fact, as it stands at 5,200 meters above sea level – meaning the longer two day hike is quite difficult. But again, there is no reward without hard work in the mountains of Peru.
9. Laguna Humantay Trek
Laguna Humantay, otherwise known as Lake Humantay, is the emerald jewel of the Andes. The vivid green and blue, set against the backdrop of snowy peaks, is a photographer’s dream! Water from the melting glaciers surrounding the Salkantay and Humantay mountains run down to the lagoon and mix with minerals to create the sparkling emerald green color.
Casual hikers can join a day or overnight hike to Laguna Humantay, while adventurous hikers can set off on a four day trip. The four day trek starts in Mollepata and ends in Aguas Calientes, heading through the Salkantay Pass and uncovering endless mountain scenery over four days. Doing some research online before you go or talking to trekking companies in Cusco is the best way to plan ahead for this adventure.
10. Ausangate Circuit Trek
Ausangate is one of the best hikes in Peru for two reasons: the mountains and alpacas! This 70 kilometer trek circles the Ausangate Massif and takes about five full days to complete. During the third day, you will get the chance to reach the highest pass of the trek called the Palomani Pass. It’s here where you can find groups of alpacas. There is nothing more Peruvian than alpacas in the mountains – it’s a sight to behold!
11. Gocta Waterfall Hike
If you are looking for the best falls in Peru then make sure you include this place on your itinerary. Gocta is 771 meters – making it one of the world’s highest waterfalls. You can access the falls, both upper and lower, by hitting the trails from a town called Chachapoyas in northern Peru. Interestingly, the falls were only put into the mainstream recently in 2002 by a German expedition leader named Stefan Ziemendorff who discovered them.
Tips for Taking on the Best Hikes in Peru
There are two seasons that must be considered when taking on the best hikes in Peru. The rainy season lasts from November to April and the dry season from May to October. The dry season is the best time to hit the trails. Personally, I think the best time to go is in April and May because there is very little chance of rain and the fields are still green! You can come to Peru at any time though, as long as you are prepared.
If your goal is to really connect with nature in the mountains of Peru then I would recommend taking on some of the multi-day hikes mentioned above where you can go camping. Indeed, there are several places where you can camp directly at the foot of lagoons. Waking up at sunrise to greet the lagoons is an incredible experience that you will never forget.
When staying in the towns, I suggest hostels or backpackers so you can meet other travelers and hikers. Many people come to Peru for the same reason: hiking! And it’s always nice to make a few new friends and hiking buddies on your travels. No matter what type of hiker you are – be it casual, adventurous or extreme – the mountains of Peru will surely impress you!