Peru has quite of a few mountain ranges, or Cordilleras, covering large part of the country. Most of them are little explored and not much is known about climbing in them. As usual for most everything in Peru, division on mountains into Cordilleras is not very structured is fixed. For the sake of this site, Peruvian Cordilleras have been divided into four main sections, each of them with several cordilleras.
By far the best known and most explored ranges are Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash in the northern part of the country, where city of Huaraz in the center of alpinism (or Andinism).
Other parts of the country are far less known for the climbing, despite there being high peaks rising to close or over 6000m all over the country. Of other areas South Eastern part of the country around ancient Inca territory Cusco has some wild mountain ranges, most important of them being Cordillera Vilcabamba and Cordillera Vilcanota. Highly spectacular routes have been climbed during the recent years in the Cordillera Central as well.
Southern (or Southwestern) part of the country is perhaps not too interesting for climbers despite there are several very high peaks (including many rising to over 6000m). The reason for this is that the peaks are volcanic and therefore nowhere near as steep and rugged as the peaks in more alpine Cordilleras. On the other hand, the very same reason could make the peaks very attractive to those who want to bag a high peaks and don't particularly care for technical challenges.
Parallel Cordilleras Occidental, Central and Oriental run in the northern Peru. Of those only Occidental is interesting for the climbers. It is however, one of the premiere places for alpine climbing in the word as Cordilleras Blanca and Huayuhuash located in northern Peru are home to some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. These are high mountains with steep granite peaks, rising above icy ridges and twisted glaciers. The snow and ice on the ridges is often beautifully sculpted, carrying large and complex cornices. Cordillera Blanca in the western (or coastal) part of Northern Peru and Cordillera Huayhuash offer the most popular climbs. Together there are about 20 major mountains above 6000m, many of them count among the most beautiful and the hardest in the Andes.
Most of the climbing is on the snow or ice, on steep faces and sharp ridges that often build extensive cornices. North faces tend to have good snow and ice, at least until noon while south face often have unconsolidated powder. South American snow sticks to steeper slopes than in European Alps. Ridges are often beautiful with impressive double cornices. However because of this, they are very difficult and unjustifiably dangerous. Rock quality is generally poor.
Climbing season lasts from May to Semptember with June and July typically considered best months for climbing. The area has typically heavy rains from December to March and a markedly dry season from May to October. During this period the weather cycle is very stable with several days of good weather followed by one or two of bad. Within this period, sunny days may have temperatures of 25°C. There will normally be overnight frost anywhere above around 4500m. Snow line is around 5000m. Considering the high altitude, temperatures are moderate. -20 or -25°C is probably about as cold as it gets at 6000m during the night. Due to lack of new snow avalanches are usually not a huge problem and there's not much use for the skis. Falling seracs and cornices on the other hand are.
Several companies organize climbs and treks in Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash, especially on more accessible Cordillera Blanca. Mules (burros) are commonly used to transport gear to the base camp. It is usually possible to arrange them and muleteers (arrieros) in starting villages. Porters are typically used only areas where burros can't go (quebrada Paron).
The Cordillera Blanca ("White Range") lies just 100km east of the Pacific Ocean. It is some 180 km long narrow chain of mountains running from north to south. It offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery to be found anywhere in the world. Tall jagged peaks of rock and ice dominate the eastern horizon from the small market town of Huaraz. The Cordillera Blanca contains more than 300 major summits, more than 31 of these rise over 6000 meters and further 30 are higher than 5700m. The highest peak, Huascarán offers fine climbing although it is one of the easiest 6000m peaks in the range. <<more>>.
Cordillera Huayhuash, located just 40 km south, resembles the mountains of Cordillera Blanca, although the peaks of Huayhuash are generally lower but technically more difficult. Cordillera Huayhuash is also less accessible. Depending on how you count the peaks, there are around half a dozen 6000m peaks, the highest being Yerupajá (6634m). Climber is usually difficult and serious due to the frequency of avalanches of snow and ice. Besides Yerupajá, Siula Grande (6344m) and Jirishanca (6094m) are the best known climbs. <<more>>.
Several separate ranges with peaks rising to between 5500 and 6000m with Ticlla (5897m) the highest. Some of the ranges are not located too far from Lima, so the access is not too complicated. On the other hand some of the southern massifs on the other hand are remote and very seldom visited.
None of the ranges are very well known among the climbers. Often all the ranges in Central Peru are are referred to as Cordillera Central, which is incorrect as the real Cordillera Central is much smaller area.
There are no single central city that would act as a hub like Huaraz does in the northern part of the country.
Cordillera Raura is located to the southeast of Cordillera Huayhuash and forms the southern end of western chain of Peruvian Cordilleras. The range runs runs from North to South direction, then twist around to form a horseshoe. The area is little visited and peaks are far less fearsome than on neighboring Cordillera Huayhuash. The main peaks are Santa Rosa (5706m), Yarupac (5685m) and Cerro Cule (5580m).
Access is easiest from Oyan (3630, buses from Lima), located to South of the range. Western climbs of SW side of the range is accessible from Quebrada Pucarangra leading from Oyan to laguna Viconca. Santa Rosa group by going from Oyan to Pucallpa and further to Mina Raura (4600m).
Part of Cordillera Oriental. Small and very little known area, which has reportedly enormous potential, especially on rock. Due to closeness to Amazon basin much more precipitation than in better known Cordilleras in northern Peru. Dominating peak of Huaguruncho (5723) is also the highest. It is probably the most climbed peak as well with the grand total four recorded ascents all by different routes (by 2010). Most other peaks have only been climbed once or never. Village of Huachan is often used to access the range. Main peaks are Huagurunchu (5723m) and Cerro Nuasacocha (Peak 29, 5199m).
Range actually consisting of two cordilleras: Cordillera La Viuda and Cordillera Cascacocha. The highest peak of the range is Rajuntay (5477m). Access from Lima via Matacana, Casapalca, La Oroya & Cerro de Pasco or Huancayo.
Also known as Cordillera Huarochiri. Located south of the mining town of La Oroya. The are has lots of minerals is correspondingly subject to heavy mining activity. Main peaks of the area are Pariacaca (5750m, sometimes incorrectly referred to as Azulcocha) and Tunshu (5730m).
Located not too far away from the city on Junin. Access to peaks via Huancayo.
Cordillera Yauyos is located Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos Cocha, due east of Lima and south of Cordillera Pariacaca, very close to it. Easiest access is from Miraflores (3600m). The highest peak of the range is Ticlla (5897m) with Llongote (5781m), Suiricocha (5495m) and Vicunita (5538m) being the other main peaks.
Suiricochas is a group of six main peaks rising from the glacier.
Cordillera Huaytapallana is located just NE of Huancayo (3273m) and quebrada Mantaro in central Peru. The range consists of three primary sectors: North-west or Marairazo sector (5 ice peaks, 4800m to 4943m, unexplored by mountaineers), western or Putcacocha sector (5 ice peaks, 4850m to 5059m. The German scientist Olaf Hartmann ascended peaks believed to be 5100m high in this area) and eastern or main sector (some 30 peaks, 4850m to the 5572m of Nevado Huaytapallana or Lasontay). Jallacate (5557m) is the highest peak.
The range has very little development regarding to climbing. There are no not even comprehensive maps, much less guides, burros and the like to be found locally. On the other hand, potential for first ascents is plentiful. The peaks can be accessed from col 4943 by on the road Hauncayo - Parichanca (29km from Huancayo), from where access to South (SE) side of Ajjacate is short.
Southern part of Peru has several Cordilleras as well. These Cordilleras are part of Cordillera Occidental. The highest peaks are volcanic peaks located not too far from the city of Arequipa. While there are several high peaks, including few 6000 giants, the volcanic nature of the peaks makes the mountains far less alpine in nature than is the case in the lot wilder Cordilleras in SE part of the country around Cuzco and Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash in northern Peru. Therefore these areas may be attractive to those interested in getting high (pun not intented) but less so for alpine climbers interested in technical routes.
Main convenient center for climbing in SW Peru is Arequipa. It can be reached from Lima by 1000km bus ride or 2h flight.
Climate is very dry throughout the year. Therefore peaks can be climber all year with no distinct climbing season. Arranging water may poise a problem below snow line.
The highest peaks of Southern Cordillera Occidental are found in tin Cordillera de Ampato. The range is located in Cordillera Occidentalm close the eastern edge of Cotahuasi canyon and the southern edge of Colca canyon, and not too far away from Arequipa (2350m). The peaks of the range are volcanic with Coropuna (6377m) being the highest.
Range that form the eastern edge of Cotahuasi canyon and the southern edge of Colca canyon consists of four different mountain groups (W-E):
Cordillera Volcánica rises to the north and East of City of Arequipa. The range consists of four groups from West to East: Chachani-group, Misti, Pichupichu-group and Ubinas-group. Highest peak is Chachani 6075m which together with the perfect cone of Misti is also the closest to the city. As it is easily accessible and non-technical very high peak, it is quite frequented.
Around and to the south of the city of Cuzco in southern Peru lie several small wild and little explored mountain ranges of Cordillera Oriental:
Best known of these ranges are Cordillera Vilcanota, Cordillera Villabamba and Cordillera Urubamba. The peaks are heavily glaciated and wild in nature, there are few easy routes. The ranges are typically difficult to access. Because of the difficulty of the access the area sees few climbers, even the most popular peaks Ausangate (6384m) and Salcantay (6264m) are nowhere near as frequented as the peaks of Cordillera Blanca and even to Cordillere Huayhuash. Ancient Inca capital Cuzco (3310m) is usually reached by plane from Lima (several flight daily). Another possibility would be to take a bus but it is very long (33h).
Climbing season lasts from May to August with June and July usually the best months. Proximity to Amazon makes the area more prone to wetter and less stable weather than the ranges in northern Peru. Usually 2-3 days of bad weather per week must be endured even during the season. Storms are possible even during the dry season and new snow is frequent, particularly during the afternoons. This makes finding good snow conditions a challenge. Often climbers must make do with deep powder. Freezing temperatures are encountered at the altitude of 4000m during the season while snow line lies at approximately 5000m. Western and southern slopes have more snow and ice while eastern and northern slopes are more rocky.
Cordillera Villabamba (or Vilcabamba) is located to (north-) west of Cuzco. It is the northernmost of main Cordilleras in Southeast Peru. The range is ancient Inca country where famous Machu Picchu is located. The highest peak of the area is Salcantay (6264m), located in the more accessible eastern part of the range. Its immediate neighbor Humantauy (5917m) is another important peak. Western parts consists of Pumasillo group which is far more remote. Peaks of Villapampa are generally technically difficult.
The range is separated from Cordillera Urubamba (NE) by Urubamba river.
Eastern part is fairly easily accessible due to closeness of Macchu Picchu (train from Cuzco).
The range has been strangely neglected by climbers despite the relative accessibility from Cusco. Yhe range lies in the heart of the ancient Inca terrain. Most important peak of the range is Veronica (5680m, several other cotations exist usually giving the altitude of 5911m or 5800+m).
The highest peak in Central and southern Peru is Ausangate (6384m), 4th highest peak in Peru and 17th in the Andes. It is located in Cordillera Villanota in central Peru. Besides Ausangate most prominent peaks include Mariposa (5808m), Callangate (6110m), Jatunhuma 6093m), Collque Cruz (6110m), Jatunriti (6106m) and Yayamari (6049m). The peaks form three clusters in west-east direction with non-glaciated terrain in between them, so that trekkers can delve into the range.
The area has become more popular trekking area during the recent years which has opened up the access. Access is from Cuzco via Urcon and Ocongate or Tinqui (3800m, 5h from Cuzco by car). Guides, arrieros and burros can be arranged in Tinqui. Treks cross the range from north to south between Ausangate and Callangate - Jatunhuma groups (Pachapata) and between Callangate - Jatunhuma and Colgacruz-Jatunriti groups from laguna Singrenacocha to laguna Sibinacocha. Most of the base camps can be reached using these paths in 1 or two days from Tinqui.
Probably most visited area by climbers in SE Peru. However, most visited here means that there might be one or very groups a year on most years. Which is to say that that most peaks have only been climbed once or twice ever and several have not been climbed at all. There are even blatantly obvious lines waiting for their first ascent.
Westernmost cluster with the highest peak of the range, Ausangate. The main peaks of the group are located more or less from west to east between Rapa pass (4700m) and Jampa Pass (5050m).
This is the busiest part of Cordillera Vilcanota. However, it is not really busy by any stretch of imagination as the 'crowds' can not be compared even to the crows in Cordillera Blanca which in turn is a far cry from the really crowded places. Besides Ausangate, also Mariposa is imposing peak. Significantly easier Jampa located very close to Jampa Pass is likely the most climbed objective in the region, possibly the entire Cordillera Vilcanota.
Trekking route circumvents the group in clockwise direction by following route Pacchanta (4250m) - Calachaca - laguna Comercocha (4580m or alternatively laguna Azulcocha depending on the route choice between Pacchanta and Pachaspata) - Pachaspata (4850m) - Jampa Pass (5066m) - Jampa (4659m) - Hazienda Pinaya - Ausangate BC (4800m) - Palomani Pass (5108m) - P4700 - laguna Pukacocha (4560m) - Rapa Pass (4700m) - Upis (4400m) - Tinqui. This trekking route forms a way to get to the mountains from Tinqui. Entire circuit trek seems to usually take something between 4-8 days. There are few alternative routes for some sections of the trek.
Central group with several high peaks, many of them rising to over 6000m. The cluster consists of Callangate and Jatunhuma groups in the northern part (north of col 5300 which is crossed by a trekking path from laguna Sibinacocha (4865m) in the east to Jampa (4650m) and laguna Ticllacocha (4800m) in the west. South of the col rises Comercocha (5480m). Still further south, separated from Comercocha by col 5200m (also crossed by trekking route) lies Condor Tuca (5500m). Most impressive part of the group is steep Gallangate group in the north with no easy routes. Also Jatunhuma is quite difficult to climb.
Easternmost chain running more or less North-South Direction. The peaks are very seldom climbed and not many trekkers delve into the group either. Particularly Colque Cruz group in the norther part is highly impressive bastion of steep ice and rock.
A NW-SW oriented group with many summits in the northeastern part of Cordillera Vilcanota. Three of the summits rise to more than 6000m high. Ridge is mainly heavily corniced and none of the climbs are easy. Especially SW face of the highest point (Colque Cruz I) has been attempted several times before it fell to Rufus Duits and Alistair Gurney in 2006.
Range located SW of Cordillera Carabaya. Peaks rising between 5000-5500m height with Yana Ccuhilla (5472m) and Cunurana (5420m) being the highest. Unlike many other cordilleras of SE Peru, peaks in Cordullkera de la Raya are typically easy. Access is not too complicated due to approximity of railway Cusco-Juliaca.
Remote and seldom visited range Southeastern Peru between Cordillera Vilcanota in NW and Apolobamba in SE. There are no peaks rising above 6000m but four highest exceed 5500: Allincapac (5780m), Allin japac (5700m), Chichicapac (5614m) and Aullin Japac (5600m). The area appear to have been rediscovered recently and several articles gave been pusblished about the ascent during 2000's. Still, not much is known about the previous climbs and the ones that are waiting to be made.