Santa Cruz Trek, Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Best For: Travellers and trekkers who want an experience beyond the Inca Trail. Trekkers looking for high elevation without travelling to the Himalayas.
Distance: 30-plus miles
The Details: Peru's Cordillera Blanca offers the solitude of sky-piercing mountains with far less hassle and even less crowds than the trek-favoured routes in Asia. The mountains take precedence here. The Cordillera Blanca are one of the most concentrated collections of big peaks in the Western Hemisphere: 33 summits top 18,000 feet and 16 over 19,500 feet (including the 22,205-foot Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru) all artistically squeezed into a 13-mile-wide, 112-mile-long corridor.
Numerous epic treks delve into these subtropical, glaciated peaks, but the Santa Cruz serves up a little bit of everything in just four days. Do you like extreme altitudes? Because this is one of the easiest ways to experience it, since it crosses over the 15,580-foot Punta Union Pass. The path snakes itself over the dramatic backbone of the continent, but it’s not all beguiling wilderness. The hike begins in the lively city of Huaraz, unofficially referred to as the “hiking capital of Peru”. Here you can hire guides or simply meet up with like-minded adventurers looking to venture out on the Santa Cruz. Or if you're feeling lucky and adventurous you could try the more ambitious routes like the 11-day Huayhuash Circuit that crosses the 18,012-foot Punta Coyoc.
When to Go: April through September. The weather can be incredibly reliable here for such high mountains.
Shortcut: There are numerous day hikes out of Huaraz that get deep into the heights of the Cordillera Blanca. You can reach the stunning blue waters of 14,600-foot Laguna Churup via a 6.4-mile round-trip hike.
Insider Tip: In Huaraz, Cafe Andino is the place to grab a coffee and gather info on the route from fellow hikers and the adventure travel company La Cima Logistics, especially since recent landslides have covered parts of the Santa Cruz.
Flexibility and determination are the two main qualities that define this inspiring hike. And a great travel backpack should carry without compromising the features needed for travel convenience.
The Osprey Waypoint 65L Travel Pack is the backpack of choice for this excitement-packed adventure. It's sturdy and lightweight, slim, yet roomy and it has a detachable Day Pack for roaming around.