Northern Peru: Cordillera Blanca, altitude adventures and the flattest car tire ever

People going to Peru usually focus on popular tourist destinations like Machu Picchu, Nasca or Cusco. The Cordillera Blanca, one of the most beautiful parts of the Andes, is well known mainly among mountain lovers and trekking enthusiasts.

Huascaran National Park is the highest tropical mountain range in the world, covering close to 340,000 hectares of diverse mountain landscapes. Here you can see some of the most breathtaking mountain sceneries in South America with 27 snowcapped peaks and Mount Huascaran – 6,768 meters above sea level. The peaks, valleys and glaciers are as beautiful as Torres del Paine or Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia, but the altitude is higher and the prices are lower.

It is a strange feeling when you start your morning with a coffee in the beautiful colonial main square of Lima looking at the ocean,

pass through a dry desert around lunchtime and after just a few hours reach 4,100 meters altitude. As usual, I was unprepared with short pants and short sleeves and the biting cold of the mountain pass surprised me.

Somewhere along the road, we spotted the most peppery scene ever. The fields along the road were covered with drying hot red peppers. Kilometres and kilometres, the ground was red and even the air smelled like spices.

Huaraz is a typical fast-growing Peruvian town with many semi-finished houses and busy market streets.   From our windows, we were happy to observe the daily life in a chicken coop, built on the second floor of the unfinished building next to ours. The hens and the rooster lived happily together with a few gunny pigs.


In Peru, we observed a very interesting genetic experiment. Looks like the chickens here are crossbred between condor and hen.

The houses in Peru are very often used as election campaign posters. We already know by heart all the candidates for president from the last few campaigns and most of the parliament members.

The good thing is that they get repainted every four years or so.

I have to mention it again, it is cold in Peru. We decided to start exploring the mountain with an easy one-day hike to Pastoruri Glacier and get used to altitude again. I am one of the lucky people that don’t suffer too much from altitude, but I cannot say the same for the cold. At 4,475 meters above the sea it was cold, snowing and windy. Simply terrible.


Therefore, all the pleasure of the scenery and the mountain was blown away. Still, I took some time to capture an amazing butterfly (the poor creature was very cold and I wanted to bring it down to warmth and safety)

and a newborn baby calf. I was considering bringing it with me too, but the Mom cow didn’t like it.

It looks like the altitude got both Ivans. On the way down, they started acting strange and had a sword fight with the leaves of Puya raimondii. It seems the altitude makes them competitive. A week ago, they raced at 5,000 meters at Sabancaya volcano and now started duelling with leaves.

What I could say? Boys…

Puya raimondii, often called the queen of the Andes, is an astonishing plant. It is the largest species of Bromeliad, reaching up to 15 meters high and has the tallest flower in the world. It grows between 3,000 and 4,000 meters above sea level, blossoms only once in its lifespan of 50 years, releases up to 6,000,000 million seeds and then dies.


We greatly enjoyed these solitary giants, walked around them, took pictures, and played with their leaves.

One of the most beautiful day hikes around Huaraz is Laguna 69. Don’t ask me about the name, I have no idea why. The hike to the beautiful sky-blue lake is amazing – not too easy and not too difficult, not too short and not too long. Just perfect.

Unfortunately, I could not say the same about the road to the starting point. This was one of the ugliest roads we have driven on. It was full of potholes and sharp stones of all sizes. Despite the way one of our tires looked at the end of the road, we didn’t hit a land mine. The road was so bad, that we just didn’t notice the flat tire for a while. As it’s seen on Ivan’s face, it couldn’t get any worse.


Looking for a new spare tire was one of a kind experience. There are many small tire repair shops everywhere in South America, called vulcanizadora, llanteria or gomeria, depending on the country. Huaraz is a relatively big city and there were at least 20 of them. I wrote on a piece of paper the tire size I needed (215/65 – 16) and went door to door. No one had the size I needed, but everyone tried to sell me something. I was offered all possible variations of 16” tires, no matter that they we different widths or heights. The first prize got a guy who offered me a light truck tire, obviously at least 15 centimetres bigger in diameter. When I put it next to the original tire to show him how ridiculous is this, he said – “Don’t worry. Just don’t inflate it too much and when you put it on the car it will get smaller”. That’s what I call a good salesman.


The road from Huaraz to Huamachuco is a very spectacular, narrow, one-lane road carved into the mountain.

Sometimes, it gets interesting when there is oncoming traffic. In the video below, I think the size also mattered.

As usual, instead of the highway, we took a small mountain road. The reward was beautiful sceneries, waterfalls, steep precipices, gorgeous mountains and almost no one else to share the road.

Peru is a huge country where you can find almost everything – ocean, cold desert, pristine jungle, stunning mountains, a lot of history in so different forms from Spanish colonial architecture to unreal Incas stones and carved and covered with gold churches.  You can find the luxury homes of Miraflores, the slums on the outskirts of Lima or the shacks of the shepherds in the altiplano.

But for me, the most beautiful are the villages in the mountains of Northern Peru.  Driving through them was like getting back in the time of my childhood in Bulgaria. They were full of life, small children, families sitting and talking in front of neat houses, and cute gardens full of flowers.

Here in the mountain villages, you can’t see the new-style buildings that make most Peruvian cities look ugly and unwelcoming.

We drove and stopped at every opportunity to take pictures, like this lovely pedestrian who crossed the road in front of us.

I am afraid we spoiled his lunch. He was so annoyed at us, that he dropped his prey.

In the end, we were late.

In general, we try not to drive at night. There are too many obstacles on the road, from crossing wildlife and livestock to stones and huge potholes.

In the closest village, Google showed two hotels and a hospedaje. We are not spoiled people, we can sleep in basic conditions. At least we thought so until we saw ‘Hospedaje Joe’. Joe himself led us to the room, which clearly has been used for livestock not so long ago. There were two mattresses on the floor covered with sheets, which have seen better days at the time when I was born and the last cleaning perhaps when little Ivan was a baby. The smell of dirty fabric and the animal residue was overwhelming. Ivan Jr and I looked at each other and said nothing, I just mentioned timidly that we can sleep somehow in the car. But Ivan Sr. uttered that he’d rather drive all night than spend a minute here and we went until midnight to the next city.

To this day ‘Hospedaje Joe’ is a synonym for a place where we should not spend the night.

Finally, at the end of May, we were down to a milder climate in Nuevo Tingo. The small, sleepy village still awaits its future touristic fame. It is a starting point to not so well known archeological site named ‘The Castle of Kuelap’.


Kuelap has been built by Chachapoyas culture high in the mountains. The style is very different from everything else we have seen. The buildings are circular and the city looks like part of a giant honeycomb. The place is still in reconstruction and once it’s completed, I am sure it will be as famous as Machu Picchu. Now we had the castle for ourselves, two stray dogs and a few locals.

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With its 711 meters drop, the Gocta Waterfall is the third highest in the world and our last stop in Peru.

The hike to the waterfall would have been beautiful if there was no rain, no horses with lazy tourists, splashing mud all over me, and…

I think after weeks of hiking, I had enough. I whimpered under my nose all the way to the waterfall (to Ivan great frustration) and started dreaming about the beaches of the Galapagos.

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