The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is one of the most beautiful long distance hikes in the world. Slightly more stunning than its more famous cousin, the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo rivals even the pristine peaks of Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit in grandeur and scale.
This roughly 87-mile trek encircles the majestic Alpamayo Mountain, sometimes called “the worlds most beautiful mountain” within the Huascaran National Park. With massive gains in elevation, a wealth of biodiversity, and jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas, the Alpamayo Circuit earns its right to be named one of the greatest treks in the world.
In October 2015, I set out to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide. Though this is a long and intimidating trek, it is possible to do without the help of a Peruvian guide or porters, as long as you’re fit, knowledgeable about wilderness survival, and adventurous.
For full disclosure, I took on this trek with my then boyfriend and our donkey. It was part of a longer 3-month backpacking trek across Peru, for which we purchased a donkey in nearby Huaylas. But don’t worry, you don’t need to buy your own donkey to take on the Alpamayo Circuit solo.
For those of you who are headed to the Huaraz region of Peru looking for adventure, the Alpamayo Circuit is the granddaddy of them all. If you’re thinking of trying this Andean adventure, here is everything you need to know to plan and trek the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide.
Table of Contents
Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek
What to Pack
What to Budget
Getting to Hualcayan
The Itinerary: A Day by Day Guide for the Alpamayo Circuit
Day 1: Hualcayan to Wishcash
Day 2: Wishcash to Ruina Pampa
Day 3: Ruina Pampa to Cruze Alpamayo
Day 4: Alpamayo Base Camp Day Hike
Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo to Laguna Safiuna
Day 6: Laguna Safiuna to Jancapampa
Day 7: Jancapampa to Quebrada Tuctubamba
Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba to Quebrada Huaripampa
Day 9: Quebrada Huaripampa to Tuallipampa
Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa
Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek
The Alpamayo Circuit Trek can be completed in as few as 8 days, though I recommend setting aside more time than that. However, if you have a limited amount of time, bring enough supplies to last at least 8 days. My trek lasted 12 days, but that included some slow hiking and getting lost. This guide is a 10-day itinerary, allowing for a few days spent exploring lesser-known high Andean landscapes.
Any trek in the Cordillera Blanca begins from Huaraz, a town in the Ancash Region and the center of all trekking in Peru. There are several bus companies that will take you from Lima to Huaraz in about 8 hours. Z Buss is one of the cheapest but other, better-known bus companies also make the route.
Before your trek, spend a few days in Huaraz to acclimatize to the altitude. You’ll be spending almost the entire Alpamayo Trek above 4000m (13,000ft). If you try to do this trek without getting acclimatized first, you will almost certainly get sick.
If you spend a few days in Huaraz and you’re still worried about altitude sickness, you can easily pick up some altitude sickness pills, called sorochi pills, at any pharmacy or “botica” in town.
Huaraz is also the spot to rent any gear you’ll need, buy supplies, and find trekking buddies. Most outdoor shops in town sell maps of the Cordillera Huayhuash with the Alpamayo Trek included. There are various qualities at various prices ranging from about 40 soles to 100 soles.
For food shopping in Huaraz, there are a few small grocery stores in town. These are generally well stocked but overpriced. The best place to get supplies for your hike is in the Mercado Central. There, shops sell all kinds of nuts and seeds in bulk at half the price of the supermarket. You can also find cookies, biscuits, instant noodles, hot cocoa mix, and everything else you could possibly need for an 8 to 12-day trek.
Planning for the Alpamayo Trek Without A Guide: What to Pack
Sleeping – Waterproof 3 season tent, sleeping bag 16F, sleeping mat
Clothing – Layers! Silk pant liners, hiking pants, waterproof pants, warm pants for sleeping, t-shirt liner, hiking t-shirt, fleece jacket, waterproof shell, gloves, hats, socks and sock liners (at least 2 pairs), hiking boots, camp shoes
First Aid – minimum first aid kit including iodine, bandages, scissors, tweezers, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, sorochi (altitude sickness) pills
Kitchen – stove, gas, pot for eating, knife
Food – enough for 8 to 12 days, keep in mind that water boils lower at elevation so rice and pasta won’t cook so well. Things like oatmeal and instant noodles work best.
Other – Map, water filter or method for cleaning water (I used a Steripen), length of cord, other misc camping needs
Many camping supplies can be rented in Huaraz, and gas canisters that work with MSR stoves like the Pocket Rocket can be purchased. You’ll also want to pick up your Huascaran National Park pass in Huaraz. I didn’t and they still made me buy it on my way out of the Santa Cruz trek. There are checkpoints. You need to buy the pass.
Backpacking Budget for Peru’s Alpamayo Trek
Because you’ll be taking on this trek unsupported, you may actually be surprised by how cheaply you can do it. A Peru backpacking budget can be quite small, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time in the mountains.
Costs associated with this trek include renting any supplies in Huaraz, purchasing your food, your transport to and from the trek, and the Huascaran National Park Pass. The numbers below are just an estimate and depend on your own planning and experience. They reflect my reality when I made the trek in October 2015.
Transport: Collectivo to and from Caraz, 12 soles, taxis to and from Hualcayan and Cashapampa, 70 soles total, cheaper may be available for the adventurous Spanish speaker.
Gear Rental: gas canisters 10-25 soles, sleeping bag $2-$10 per day, tent $5 to $15 per day.
Food: Estimate 100 soles for 10 days
Map: 40 to 100 soles depending on quality
Huascaran National Park Pass: 65 soles for 21 days.
These prices are more of an estimate than a definitive number, but if you’re looking to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide, expect to spend somewhere in the region of 352 soles plus the cost of any gear you need to rent. That’s just over $100 for a 12 day trek. Not too shabby. Obviously, if you have to rent tents or sleeping bags it’ll get more expensive.
Getting To Hualcayan
The Alpamayo Circuit begins at a small village called Hualcayan. To get there, get a collectivo to Caraz. They leave from the main road in town and the cost of a one way trip is 6 soles. From Caraz, ask around till you find the taxi station, then ask for cars going to Hualcayan. There may also be collectivos, so if you’re trying to keep this low budget, I suggest asking around town before getting into an expensive taxi.
There is a campsite in town where you can spend the night, the locals will ask for a small fee to camp there but this village is the last time you’ll be asked to pay a fee before camping.
When I was there in October 2015, there was no checkpoint for the Huascaran National Park pass in Hualcayan.
The Itinerary: A Day by Day Trail Breakdown of the Alpamayo Circuit
Day 1: Hualcayan (2900m/9514ft) to Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft)
Day one begins with a steep ascent then becomes a more gradual climb. You’ll find yourself winding up the mountainside through low scrubs and grasses. At one particularly exciting point, the trail cuts across a massive scar left over from a long-ago landslide. It’s not a particularly frightening crossing, the trail is large and stable, but it bare and exposed with plenty of stunning views of the valley below.
Towards the end of the day, you’ll find yourself cresting some rounded hills. The campsite, Wishcash, is located on the top of one of these. There is a small stream there for drinking water but little shelter from the wind.
It’s not a particularly tough day of trekking, but you’ve climbed up above 4300m/14,107ft and you’ll need to acclimate, so it’s probably a good idea to stop here before attempting the passes above you.
Once you’ve set up camp, there is plenty of exploring to be done around the campground. If you hike just a bit uphill, you can look down the cliffs at a beautiful lake. It’s probably possible to hike down to the lake, about 300m down, but I didn’t find the trail.
If you’re feeling strong and acclimated, you could potentially continue hiking up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, another 500m/1600ft up from Wishcash and just below the first pass of the trek. Listen to your body and if you start to feel dizziness, headaches, or nausea, turn back to Wishcash.
Day 2: Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft) to Ruina Pampa (4000m/13,123ft)
This is an incredibly grueling day crossing two high altitude passes with steep descents and ascents in between. When I hiked it, I divided the day into two separate days. On the first day, I was feeling a bit put out by the altitude, so we just hiked up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, sitting just below the first pass. It was a very short hike and we spent the late morning and entire afternoon messing about around the lake taking pictures and letting our donkey rest. I loved it, but if you’re carrying all your own supplies and trying to make the circuit in a set time, it’s probably not the best plan.
Otherwise, it’s onward to cross Osoruri Pass at 4860m/15,944ft, then follow the trail as it drops steeply into the valley below, only to climb back up a demanding set of switchbacks to Vientona Pass at 4770m/15,650ft.
We stopped here for a quick lunch, then continued toward towards our destination for the day: Ruina Pampa. From Vientona Pass the trail zig zags relentlessly down the mountainside. Once you reach the valley floor, you’ve more or less made it. There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.
There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.
To get to the official campsite, follow the trail up the valley for maybe another kilometer and you’ll find the campsite sign.
Day 3: Ruina Papa (4000m/13,123ft) to Cruze Alpamayo Camp (4150m/13,615ft)
After the rigors of your two passes yesterday, you’re rewarded with a fairly easy day of hiking up the Ruina Pampa valley. The trail itself is stunning, it hugs the wall of the valley, giving you a view of the river below as it winds down from the glaciers in the distance. You’ll meander through ancient ruins and corrals, the last remains of an ancient civilization.
After not too long, you’ll find yourself in a wide open valley surrounded on three sides by massive mountain walls. This is Cruze Alpamayo Camp, so look for the official campsite or just find a dry spot to set up your tent.
A word of caution: Beware Andean Valleys! They look like beautiful places to frolic but in fact, they are watery quagmires just waiting to eat you alive. Approach with caution.
You’ll probably arrive at Cruze Alpamayo Camp by lunchtime. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the path that hugs the mountainside towards Laguna Jancarurish. It’s a stunning crystal blue lake sitting beneath a massive glacier. The hike to get there is a bit dicey and you might lose the trail, but don’t worry, the lake is just behind the large wall of rocks.
Day 4: Hike up to Alpamayo Base Camp and Lakes
Most tours skip this section, but if you’re lucky enough to be hiking without a guide and making your own itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to include this mini day trip up to the Alpamayo Base Camp. It was perhaps the most beautiful day of hiking I had in all of Peru.
Set out from camp and follow the same trail towards Laguna Jancarurish. Instead of heading to the lake, follow the switchbacks up the mountainside in front of you. At the top, you’ll find another high valley opening up in front of you with snowcapped peaks rising up all around. This is the Alpamayo Base Camp valley.
There is a trail up to a high Alpamayo Base Camp above 5000m/16,400ft. We missed it when coming up from Cruze Alpamayo, so I’ve not made that ascent. Instead, we visited some lakes beneath the glaciers.
To find the glacial lake beneath Alpamayo, hike across the valley towards the distant peaks and you’ll find another lake similar to Jancarurish. There isn’t really a trail to get there and it’ll take some intrepid trailblazing to get across the valley, but the lake is beautiful and you really feel that you are standing among the mountains.
Bring layers. It’s damn cold.
Head back down to camp at Cruze Alpamayo that night and prepare yourself for the toughest climb of the trek the next morning.
Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo (4150m/13,615ft) to Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft)
Today is the day you cross the intense, grueling, and breathtakingly rewarding Cara Cara pass. The day begins with your journey to find the trail. Cara Cara pass is across the valley and above you, but at least when I was there in October 2015, I struggled to find the trail. No matter, make your own way up the mountainside heading in the right direction. This is where it helps to have a map.
Eventually, you’ll find the trail again, I promise. Just keep using the map and heading up.
The trail begins in a straight line up the mountainside as it passes two lakes. It’s probably one of the toughest single pieces of trail in the whole circuit. Eventually, you’ll work your way out of the grass and come to a final small lake, more of a puddle really, and the rest of the climb is all loose rocks and scree.
The trail zigzags steeply up the final ascent as the winds begin to swirl around you. The last few steps are so sheer you may worry you’re going to slip back down the mountainside.
Give yourself a treat and don’t look behind you until you’ve reached the top of the pass. The view from Cara Cara is one of the single greatest things I’ve ever seen. Just pure Andean glory.
Once you’ve had your fill of the view, it’s time to move onwards and hike down into the valley below. Thankfully, the trail is less steep and far less windy on this side. After initial switchbacks, you’ll follow a relatively smooth trail along the valley wall and up to cross the second pass of the day, Mesapampa Pass at 4500m/14,760ft. This is a significantly easier ascent.
Another breathtaking view awaits you here, then it’s onward and downward to the valley below and the waiting Safiuna Lake camp at 4200m/13,780ft.
Day 6: Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft) to Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft)
I got pretty lost on this section and never made it to Jancapampa. The trail was very difficult to follow. That plus a few other reasons, and we bailed out for a different option. But before I frighten you, let’s discuss what I did and what you ought to do instead.
From Laguna Safiuna, continue hiking down into the valley then follow the trail along the wall of the valley over towards the bridge. In October 2015, they were in the process of building a massive new bridge but I imagine it’s finished by now. Cross over the river and head up towards Huilca, a small village. Really, it’s two or three houses surrounded by livestock, including alpacas, sheep, goats, and even some horses.
From there, the trail is meant to continue up to Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa.
I did not do this. The trail up towards Yanacon path is incredibly difficult to find and possibly nonexistent from the valley floor. Instead, since I couldn’t find the trail, I asked one of the local village boys to help me out. He seemed unsure about where the path to Yanacon was but kept pointing to another, much more obvious trail, that went up the valley on the other side. He told me it would take me out to Pomabamba, the closest main town. and my ultimate
Our original plan was to hike to Jancapampa and leave the donkey grazing there with a villager while we popped out to Pomabamba to pick up supplies. So, if this young guy told us there was an easier path to Pomabamba, fine. We opted to skip Yanacon path and follow the alternative trail. This took us out to a village, the name of which I cannot remember.
It took us a further two days to make the trek out to that village. This was due in part to length, but mostly we were held up by the most delightful Peruvian family. We met them just over the next pass, sitting by a lake eating chocho and checking up on their cattle. Instead of hiking, we spent most of the afternoon hanging out with them and walking around in the valleys looking for injured cows.
After two days, we made it out to this small village, found a family willing to guard our donkey for two days for a fair price, and hopped in a collectivo out to Pomabomba. After two days in the big city, we got a collectivo back to the village and from there it was just a day’s walk over the hill to Jancapampa.
But if you’re not intending to restock in Pomabamba, I suggest having more fortitude, and a better map than I had, and heading up towards Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa. My best advice is just to commit to hiking up in the right direction and eventually, you’ll find the trail and the pass.
Jancapampa is a small village where you can purchase cookies and instant noodles, so if you’re running short on supplies, this is where you’ll want to restock.
Day 7: Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft) to Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800m/12,470ft)
From Jancapampa, the path heads uphill, crossing through farmland and pastures. You’ll cross the Tupatupa pass at 4400m/14,435ft and head down into a valley below. The trail winds through this valley heading uphill. I chose to follow it for most of the day right up until the base of the next pass. There are plenty of open grassy areas for camping and the trail follows a river, so water is readily available as well.
Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800/12,470m) to Quebrada Huaripampa (4150m/13,615m)
Another grueling climb. I decided to wake up early, around 4am, to try to beat the sun and catch the sunrise from the top. I didn’t quite make it, but close, and it was well worth it!
The trail begins with tight switchbacks through Andean flowers and rocky scree. The top is all jagged rocks and makes for some great exploring. You’ll catch some views of the trail up to Punta Union across the valley, with a few glimpses of snowcapped peaks beyond. Once across, the trail down the other side is a well-maintained switchback that passes through both open rocky land and some groves of the endangered Queñuales trees.
Enjoy this last ascent in your Alpamayo Solitude because after this, the trail joins up with the immensely popular Santa Cruz trek, so you’ll be sharing the trail with donkey trains, tour groups, and plenty more trekkers. Makes for more social campsites but there is something to be said for the solitude of the Alpamayo Circuit.
Anyway, you can choose to camp that night in Huaripampa, it’s a wide open valley that unlike most Andean valleys is actually dry and great for camping. Or you could choose to go up and over Punta Union on the same day. If it’s the dry season I say go for it, but if you’re hiking in the Peru’s rainy season, as I was, better to wait until the next day. Afternoons in the rainy season mean clouds and limited visibility.
Day 9: Huaripampa to Tuallipampa (4250m/13,945ft)
The trail heads up out of Huaripampa, passes three high Andean lakes along the way, and then zigzags all the way up to Punta Union, the breathtaking main pass of the Santa Cruz trek, with views of snow-capped peaks and crystal blue lakes far below you.
Unfortunately for me, I hiked this in October during the beginning of the rainy season and my view was mostly of fog. Oh well.
From Punta Union, it’s a long but easy slog down to Tuallipampa, a wide open grassy campsite sitting beneath sheer rock walls.
Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa
This is the end. If you have enough supplies, you can take an extra day, climb up to the other Alpamayo Base Camp on this side, and camp at the Llama corral campsite further down. I did not choose to do this, only because after so many days of hiking, my legs were pretty tired and I was ready to eat some pizza.
The trail out of the Santa Cruz trek is gradual and very easy. You’ll wind down through the valley, passing by the extremely picturesque Laguna Jatuncocha, before finally finding yourself in the relative civilization of Cashapampa.
There is a checkpoint at the end of the trail where you’ll need to show your Cordillera Blanca pass. Then walk down into town and find yourself a taxi. Some of them wait at the trailhead, others can be found in the town’s main square.
You can get a taxi from Cashapampa to Caraz the price is negotiable. I recommend spending a day or two in Caraz, it’s a lovely town and a good jumping off point for a few other treks. But if you’re in a hurry, you can catch a collectivo back to Huaraz for 6 soles.
Conclusion: Final Thoughts on the Alpamayo Circuit Trek
The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is truly one of the most splendid hiking experiences in all of Peru. During the course of the 8 to 12 days, you’ll cross over several massive passes, hike through a huge variety of environments, and get up close and personal with snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Though far less popular than the nearby Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo Circuit is the perfect hike for intrepid explorers who want to experience the ultimate Peruvian Andean adventure.
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