Cañon del Pato, Peru – A travel highlight

It gets stonier, drier, and hotter. Villagers are very poor here, they don’t even have money for adobe houses; they just use fibre mats – climate tolerates. Slowly the road follows Rio Santa upriver in the direction of the Andes; ground gets more inhospitable and barren until vegetation completely disappears. The river can’t be used for irrigation since it’s completely polluted due to mining. Check road conditions at the latest at the police checkpoint in Chuquicara. 70 asphalt kilometres after leaving the Pan Am a rough gravel road starts for the next 77 km. It is used by buses and heavy lorries of the mines, so width, condition, height of the tunnels, and load-bearing capacity of the adventurous bridges are accordingly, but in rainy season things can change quickly. Some clearance and resistance to bumpy trails might help RV drivers.
The canyon narrows, which is shared by road and river. Hot wind picks up. Pitch-dark tunnels were beaten by hand into the rock to make space for the road. The mountains amongst them glow in beautiful brown, red, and yellow shades. Vegetation only comes back at 1,000 m of elevation; it’s getting cooler and more humid. The river valley knocks over to the south between two Andean chains: the western Cordillera Negra and the eastern Cordillera Blanca. We are going to Huascarán National Park, Peru’s most spectacular mountain area with highest peaks in enormous density, model mountaineer area and well-visited tourists’ destination.
The road follows Cañon del Pato where both cordilleras approach to 15 m with walls towering 1,000 m high. Since there was nearly no space left for the road, 35 tunnels were carved into the mountains. The one-lane tunnels are pretty exciting since it’s not possible to see potential oncoming traffic when entering. Hooting is the maxim. Unfortunately the interruptions between the tunnels are very short, so there are not too many views into the gorge. There are only few turn-outs, and they don’t really allow stopping.
The sector Lagunas Llanganuco of Huarascán National Park is reached from Yungay via a 17 km long rough but wide trail. It’s possible to camp in the parking lot in front of the entrance gate, but better ask the park guard (S 09°06’22.2’’ W 77°41’01.3’’).

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