The trip to Pastoruri Glacier is a popular day outing from Huaraz. While the glacier is a very impressive sight, having the chance to come face-to-face with the amazing Puya raimondii plants made the day for me.
We were picked up from our hotel by the fanciest and cleanest van that I have come across during my travels in South America. The vinyl floors were still shining and I almost felt bad stepping into the van with my dusty walking boots. As we headed out of Huaraz we got a great view of the Cordillera Blanca. Wow! The trip south to the National Park took a few hours, and we broke up the journey with a quick coffee break along the way. Our guide for the day was extremely knowledgable and talked the whole way from Huaraz to the National Park. Topics included the native flora and fauna, the geological history of the region, and even a lesson on how to breathe at altitude (including the actions to demonstrate).
On the way to the glacier we made a few stops. We saw some gaseous water bubbling vigorously from the ground, an amazingly blue lake, and some very old rock art. But the highlight for me was definitely the chance to come face-to-face with the amazing Puya raimondii plants. I remember first seeing pictures of these incredible plants in my high-school biology classes when we were discussing different reproduction tactics. The Puya raimondii plant (also known as the Queen of the Andes), is the largest species of bromeliad (it´s related to the pineapple) and only grows in a few spots in Peru and Bolivia. At the base of the plant is a large rosette of spiky leaves which can grow to be 3m tall. I was silly enough to want to touch one plant – those spikes are sharp!! Ouchh!
The most impressive part of the plant is the flower spike that it produces – it can grow to be 10m tall. The Puya raimondii generally grows to be anywhere between 40 and 100 years old, and will only flower once in its lifetime – but when it does, it goes all out! The gigantic flower spike will be covered in small flowers, which attract the local humming birds and insects. One plant will produce anywhere between 8 and 12 million seeds. However, despite this great effort, the seeds need the perfect conditions for germination and many plants will not successfully reproduce. Once the plant has flowered, it will dry up and die. This plant is currently endangered, and changing climate conditions are having a negative effect on their ability to reproduce. We had been told that some plants were flowering in the region at the time of our visit, but unfortunately these all lay too far from the road to reach in the one day trip. Still, having the chance to stand beneath one of these monsters of biology (even if it was already dead and dried up) was incredible.
The Pastoruri glacier is one of the few glaciers that remain in the tropical regions of South America, and is retreating quickly. It has lost over 20% of its size in the last 30 years. From the car-park a short 20 minute walk took us to the edge of the glacier. For those that weren´t keen for this walk, a line of horses waited at the bottom of the hill to carry people to the top. At over 5000 metres above sea level, even the short walk can take your breath away if you aren´t already acclimatised.
The glacier itself was rather impressive, with a large wall of ice (“Winter is coming” was all I could think about) and a grand ice-covered lake in front of it. Visitors used to be able to walk on the glacier, but this is no longer allowed, and guards patrol the area and blast on their whistles whenever a tourist crosses the rope to get a closer photo.
As we wandered down the hill towards the glacier, I spotted an Israeli guy who had been brave enough to take a dip in Laguna 69 when we had been there a few days earlier. I jokingly asked, “Going for a swim today?” as I looked out to the ice-covered lake. He took one more chug of his beer and took off his shirt: “Sure am!”. He had quite an audience as he tip-toed into the icy water. He managed to get in up to his waist before it was all too much and he let out a loud scream and raced back to shore. His mate was kind enough to give him a warming rub down.
I enjoyed some choclo y queso (boiled corn and cheese) before jumping back into the van for the journey back to Huaraz.
This was a great day trip out of Huaraz, and I can highly recommend it. It would be a great acclimatization trip for those going on to do treks in the region.
Trip type: Day tour
Price: Expect to pay something around 30 – 50 soles for this day tour. It can be organised through any of the tour agencies in Huaraz.
Highlights: Glacier, incredible plants and mountain views.