Though the most popular image of Peru is that of Machu Picchu, rising from the cool, arid Andes to an air-catching 2430m (7970ft), this is an incredibly diverse nation. From the steamy Amazon rainforests of Iquitos, to deserted Pacific beaches rolling in pristine dunes toward the crashing waves. Few, however, think of Peru, a country that just grazes the equator, as a land of ice and snow.
Last month, the Council of Ministers announced that the great glacial wilderness of Huaytapallana would become a regional conservation area, officially protected along with the cloudforested slopes of Udima Wildlife Refuge, close to the archaeological hotspots of Cajamarca and Lambayeque; and the birding paradise of the Salitral-Huarmaca Dry Forest, in the northern tip of Peru.
High above Peru’s 122 protected area, Huaytapallana rises to 5558 meters (18,234 feet), a snow-and-granite Andean peak located about two hours from the town of Huancayo, the base for most Huaytapallana expeditions and capital of Junín. At first glance, this could be Patagonia, a glacier-frosted collection of peaks surrounded by icy turquois lakes and crystal clear rivers: Lasuntay Grande, Lasuntay Norte, Chuspi, Chulla, Ichu, Yanacancha ,Tello, and more. The Quechua names are ancient, but still fitting; you may see the red, yellow, and orange blossoms that grow along the snowline in Huaytapallana, “Place of Gathered Flowers.”
The eponymous glacier draped across these peaks is among the largest in the tropics, but has shrunk perhaps 50% since 1986.
Most people attribute the glacier’s sudden and rapid retreat to global warming, in which case there’s little that a modestly industrialized country like Peru can do to mitigate the loss. However, Huaytapallan’s new protected statues will at least strengthen efforts to stop mining operations in the pristine region, source of water for Huancayo (population 323,000) and the surrounding area.
For this—and of course its impressive beauty—the mountain is still revered as a the Junín’s protector, which locals still call “Papacha Huaytapallana, a reference to its once divine status.
Most foreigners who visit Nevado de Huaytapallana come for the high-altitude hiking, and there are several challenging trails threading the mountains. You can arrange guides and transportation in Huancayo, or go through one of several national operators offering the trip. Camping and mountaineering expeditions can also be arranged. There are several other attractions nearby.