One of our adventurers marked another journey around the sun by hiking in the surreal landscapes of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. From hiking through a spectacular “tropical alpine” ecosystem and seeing soaring condors to enjoying a birthday cake at 10,500 feet, he had an unforgettable experience in the wilds of Peru.

hikers in the Cordillera Blanca

Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca was truly one of the most favorite outdoor adventures I have had. My 11-day trek through the world’s highest tropical mountain range offered spectacular scenery of snow-capped peaks towering over 18,000 feet, glaciers, waterfalls, turquoise lakes, Inca ruins, mountain meadows and valleys, farmlands, and even a chance to see the Andean condor.

camping tents with stars overhead in the Cordillera Blanca

We camped, which provided us with the unique opportunity to witness some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets and also to observe the constellations of the Western Hemisphere each night from the privacy of our camp. Having pack burros carry the majority of our camping gear allowed us to hike with just a daypack, making the trek much more enjoyable.

picnic in the Cordillera Blanca

Our staff was excellent, including our trip leader, Ryan Kost, and the camp manager, Lucio, who offered many valuable insights into the culture, history, civilization, flora, fauna, and of course, the mountains of Peru. Our chef, Abel, prepared a wide variety of delicious meals for us each day—even presenting them as if we were dining at a three-star Michelin restaurant!

birthday in Cordillera Blanca

The first night of our trek, we celebrated my 60th birthday in style during which the children of the community helped in decorating our dining tent with balloons, streamers, and party hats. We celebrated with Pisco sours, wine, and a wonderful dinner followed by birthday cake—all at 10,500 feet. That night, I had the opportunity to gaze up at the stars and constellations of the Western Hemisphere including the Southern Cross and Milky Way Galaxy from just outside my tent. It was a birthday I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Andean condor and glacier in Cordillera Blanca

The following day, we had our first sighting of an Andean condor soaring over the Cordillera Blanca mountains. The condor is considered the largest flying bird in the world, with a wingspan of over 10 feet. In fact, we were able to spot 4 condors that same day! Despite the dwindling numbers of this magnificent bird, which is facing near extinction, we were still able to spot a condor on almost every day of our trek in these high mountains.

laguna collicucha in Cordillera Blanca

After setting up camp along the shores of Laguna Cullicocha (15,184′), we hiked up to a panoramic vista at 15,420 feet that offered dazzling views of the three peaks of the Santa Cruz (20,536′).

potatoes in the Cordillera Blanca

While descending into the Quebrada de los Cedros valley, we were greeted by Dimas, a local potato farmer, who offered us a sampling of his freshly baked potatoes. I was amazed to learn that there are over 4,000 variety of potatoes grown in Peru. The following day, Dimas delivered several sacks of his potatoes to our campsite, which were used in a Pachamanka-style feast. The word Pachamanka is derived from the native Peruvian language meaning Pacha (earth) and Manka (pot or food). This Peruvian-style cuisine involves digging a hole in the ground and heating up stones for several hours. Afterwards, the potatoes, meat, and vegetables are placed inside an “igloo” of these hot rocks allowing the food to cook for several hours. This method of cooking resulted in a meal with a delicious set of flavors that will dazzle your taste buds.

mand and lake in Cordillera Blanca woman and lake in Cordillera Blanca

The highlight of our trek was reaching the Alto del Pucaraju Pass (15,256′), offering some of the most spectacular 360-degree views of the Cordillera Blanca, including the prominent, knife-edged peak of Taulliraju (19,127′). The trailhead in leaving the Quebrada Tingopampa valley and ascended a steep and narrow trail between the Tauliraju and Pucaraju ranges, passing a beautiful emerald-green glacial lake and fields of lupines. After exploring the ridge line of the pass and taking multiple photographs, we were treated to a wonderful lunch, dining on our portable “picnic table” and chairs.

man and mountain in Cordillera Blanca

This trekking adventure through the Cordillera Blanca greatly exceeded my expectations.
Wilderness Travel paid close attention to every detail of this trip, making it an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I only look forward to my next adventure with WT.

—Text by WT adventurer Scott Reuben. Photos by Ryan Kost and Scott Reuben, Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca.

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