Day Trip to Pastoruri Glacier: Retreating Ice in 5000 Meters
A popular one day trip to the retreating Pastoruri Glacier in the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz, Peru, will take you high to the mountains - the glacier lies 5000 meters above sea level. Visit this place before the glacier is gone!
It is only a matter of time how long will travelers be able to visit Pastoruri Glacier. One of the few glaciers left in tropical areas of South America is retreating quickly. So quickly, that technically it is not even glacier in the right sense of meaning anymore as Pastoruri is no longer building up ice in the winter and it is constantly losing its volume instead. Forecasts say that it will be possible to visit remains of what once to be a large glacier only for another decade or so - another reason why not to postpone your travels.
Pastoruri Glacier sits 5000 meters above sea level in Huascaran National Park. Because of the position within the park, be prepared to pay entrance fee S/30. There is a road leading to a parking lot near glacier from where you must hike approximately 40 minutes to the glacier and although driving in this altitude is easier than walking, there is still a big chance to be hit by altitude sickness. It is better to come prepared and well-acclimatized.
HOW TO GET TO PASTORURI GLACIER
Nowadays, there is no public transport to this part of Huascaran National Park, so your only option is to take a taxi or a tour, but traveling in a group with a travel agency is the most common (and also the cheapest) way how to visit Pastoruri Glacier.
There is an uncountable number of tour operators in Huaraz who operate one-day trips to Pastoruri Glacier. Hard to tell which one is better, but we think the service and also sites you will see along the way are same no matter which company you will choose. Prices vary, but you should pay around S/30 (the company charged us S/25 per person because it was last minute booking and it was two of us). Food and entrance fee to the national park is not included in the rate.
You will depart from the parking lot where most of the travel agencies are situated, or you will be picked up at your hotel. All tours start at 9 AM which we found a bit late when we consider the best chance to have nice weather in the mountains (especially in shoulder season when we traveled) is in the morning and also when we take into account that it would be a miracle if we would have started on time (our bus left the parking lot an hour late when one of us was already nervous and grumpy). Arrival back to Huaraz is around 6 PM. Our guide did not speak English at all, but we did not find it disturbing as the main reason for us to take the tour was lack of public transport - simply, we just needed a ride.
There are a few noteworthy stops along the way while there are two annoying (but compulsory) ones. The first useless stop is about 30 minutes drive from Huaraz in a restaurant, where you can buy coca tea for altitude sickness (S/2), you can have here your breakfast and also order your lunch/dinner because the bus stops here on the way back again. It is not obligatory to purchase anything though.
We found the second stop on the way back even more annoying because we were cold, only a half an hour from our hotel and we had to wait for a couple of people who decided to eat an overpriced traditional Peruvian food (understand tasteless chicken with rice). This is the downside of those organized tours, but despite this, we enjoyed our visit of Pastoruri Glacier very much. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on a bus though.
Before we reached the parking lot near Pastoruri Glacier, we made several stops to enjoy the diverse nature of the Huascaran National Park. Here's what we saw.
PUYA RAIMONDI PLANTS
Shortly after the checkpoint to the national park, we noticed large plants growing scattered on the slope of surrounding hills. The plant is called Puya Raimondi also nicknamed as queen of the Andes. The plant belongs to the Bromeliaceae family (and it is relative to pineapple), can be up to 15 meters high and can be found in the high Andes in Peru or Bolivia.
It is pretty impressive to stand next to those giant plants.
Just before the entrance to the national park lies Patococha lake which offers nice reflections and is also known for its birdlife, the lake is sometimes nicknamed as Duck Lake because of a large community of ducks who made this lake their home.
Pumapampa is a large plain with high mountains on the horizon, but the tour stops here because of a small colorful pond with bubbling mineral spring - this small lake is also nicknamed as 7 Color Lake. We did not find the pond that interesting, but the combination of the water, grasslands, and towering mountains behind were well-worth it. Here we found traveling with the group the most unpleasant as the tour guide was rushing us through the area (this place is also where the giant plants grow) despite the fact he was able to depart one hour late - sometimes logic in South American countries is frustrating.
Now finally the spot you've traveled all the way for. We stopped at the parking lot at 4800 meters above sea level and started our hike. You don't need to walk with others - there is only a certain time when you should be back in the car park.
The path to the glacier is well-maintained and easy to follow so you should not have any troubles to get to the glacier in 40 minutes (30 minutes should do for average fit hikers). The weather at this place can change rapidly - we had last rays of sunshine, thunderstorm (pretty scary in 5000 meters), rain, snow and clearing sky, that's all in less than an hour. Don't forget to take at least rain poncho and keep some dry clothes back on the bus to change later.
When you reach the glacier, there is one viewpoint, but we found a better spot on the bank of the glacier lake which was impressive enough. It is no longer permitted to walk on the glacier because of the massive melting, so stay only in designated areas.