A Follow the Leader Trip with Sergio Fitch-Watkins
Longtime MTS mountain guide Sergio Fitch-Watkins will be guiding this "Follow the Leader" trip. After 30-plus years of guiding for us in the Andes and worldwide, he’s still enchanted by the legendary Carabaya. Rising just north of Lake Titicaca and merging into the dramatic Cordillera Vilcanota, the Carabaya is an Andean dreamscape of golden pampas, turquoise lakes, and large herds of llamas and alpacas, all framed by a spectacular backdrop of knife-edged, 18,000-foot ice peaks.
While the Carabaya is incredibly scenic, it’s still far enough off the beaten path to be rarely frequented by mountaineers and trekkers. With Sergio, you’ll hike for 10 high-altitude days, crossing passes with panoramas of the Andean ice cap and a sea of glaciated peaks, meeting traditional Quechua herders, and appreciating that there are still such wild, wild places in the world.
“I like remote places and I love the Andes,” says Sergio. “And the Carabaya is about as wild and remote as it gets. There are huge valleys that run south to north through the cordillera, filled with herds of vicunas and locals who have never seen outsiders. Back in the ’80s, this was considered the best trip in the catalog. I think it still is!”
16 days, with 10 days of strenuous hiking at high elevation (max. 17,273 ft.)
- Enjoy high-altitude trekking in a wild Andean dreamscape with veteran MTS mountain guide Sergio Fitch-Watkins
- Visit remote island villages on sublime Lake Titicaca at 12,500'
- Explore the ruins of Sillustani and other Inca sites, we well as Andean villages of the altiplano
Duration: 16 days Start Location: Arequipa End Location: CuscoDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Lima - Arequipa
Arrive in Lima early in the morning. You will be met by a Mountain Travel Sobek representative and escorted to your connecting flight to Arequipa. Upon arrival in Arequipa, you will be met and enjoy a tour of the city, often considered the most beautiful in Peru because of its elegant colonial architecture and striking setting. It was badly damaged in the June 2001 earthquake, but the cathedral, which lost one of its two turrets, has been successfully rebuilt, as well as some of the older buildings made of white volcanic rock—sillar—which has given it the name of the “white city.” The main commercial center for the southern part of the country, Arequipa is dominated by the imposing peak called El Misti, a perfect, cone-shaped volcano topping 19,000 feet. Our tour includes a visit to the Santa Catalina Convent, a 400-year-old walled compound that was first opened to public view in 1970. Set in the middle of the city, it is a huge structure that once served as a town within itself, housing 450 nuns in total seclusion. Will continue to Colca Valley, we leave Arequipa with a view of the Chachani Volcano (6075 m) one of the 3 most important volcanoes in Arequipa. The road winds slowly through Yura, a small settlement where the quarries of volcanic rock are found. We reach a plateau and arrive at Pampa Cañahuas. From here you can appreciate the Misti Volcano from the north east. We continue our journey past a crossroads with view of Sabancaya Volcano, recently active, and the Ampato where famous ice-maiden, Juanita, was discovered a decade ago. We will appreciate some Andean birds and with are lucky, small herds of vicuña, a wild camelid, relatives of llamas and alpacas. We arrive to Patapampa Pass (4900 m), from where you can take some pictures of the Chila Range and from there we descend to Chivay and transfer to your hotel.
Day 2 : Colca - Cruz del Condor - Coporaque
Early in the morning visit Cruz del Condor (Condor Cross), an observation point from where we will view these impressive symbols of the Andes as well as a stunning panorama of Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world at 9,800 feet. This observation occurs early in the morning as the birds leave their overnight roosts, rising high into the sky on the strong thermal currents which blow up the canyon. After this spectacle we will visit the villages of Pinchollo, Maca, Achoma, and Yanque on the way back to our hotel. After lunch we will be transferred to Coporaque village, the starting point for a 2-hour hike traversing terraces and trails from pre Inca cultures, eventually reaching the archaeological site of Uyo Uyo. Return to our hotel in the late afternoon.
Day 3 : Colca, Sillustani - Puno, Lake Titicaca
Transfer by private vehicle to the city of Puno, set on the shores of Lake Titicaca. En route to Puno we will pass through the stone forest of Imata while following along the Aguada Blanca River Canyon and then stop at the Lagunillas where it is possible to see flamingos and the Andean caracara. We will stop to visit the ruins of Sillustani, set in a beautiful location on a barren, windswept peninsula jutting out into Lake Umayo, about 15 miles from Puno. Here we’ll see chullpas (pre-Columbian funeral towers) that date from the time of the Colla occupation of this region, around the 12th century. These towers were built by and for people of the Aymara-speaking Colla tribe. Sillustani’s stone architecture is complex and different in many ways from Inca stonework. We continue on to Puno, where we’ll check into our hotel, located on a peninsula in Lake Titicaca and linked to the mainland by a causeway. The entire Lake Titicaca region is inhabited by Quechua- and Aymaras-speaking Indians whose way of life has remained little changed over the centuries, as we’ll see when we visit this beautiful lake tomorrow. (7 hrs. drive, with stops).
Day 4 : Uros and Taquile Islands
After breakfast at the hotel, we make an early departure by boat from Puno to the island of Taquile, stopping en route to visit the floating islands of the Uros Indians, who are famous for their totora reed rafts. On Taquile, we’ll find a community of weavers and spinners who live in a Mediterranean-like setting on this highest navigable lake in the world (elevation is about 12,500 feet). As you land on the island, you’ll think you’re in old Greece: extensive terracing with fava beans, grains, potatoes; women with black veils covering their heads; and brilliant blue waters surrounding you as far as the eye can see. From the island you can also see the impressive Cordillera Real (a high snowcapped mountain range) on the Bolivian side. The island has become famous through guidebooks that hail its weavers as the best in Peru, and a traditional, finely woven wide waistband with calendar symbols is still used and sold. Boat ride back to Puno where we'll overnight at the same hotel.
Day 5 : Puno - Corani
Leaving Puno we take the detour to Azangaro and Macusani, on a well paved road which is part of the Interoceanic Highway joining the Brazilian Atlantic with Peru´s Pacific coast. Passing Macusani, a small dirt road brings us to Corani, a small community of farmers turned miners. The road winds it´s way north above the village to the shores of a small lake where we set up our first camp at 14,206 feet.
Day 6 : Corani - Cochayoc
The Cordillera Carabaya, a continuation of the Cordillera Vilcanota, belongs to one of the few still remote mountain ranges of the Andes. At about 31 miles long, and containing eight peaks of over 19,680 feet, the Carabaya is a wild landscape populated with thousands of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas. Rather than deep valleys, it is a land of rolling hills and wide valleys with high altitude pastures and swampy terrain that become high altitude wet lands, especially in the rainy season.
The trail heads slowly over the Apacheta Pass at 15,748 feet, passing blue glacial lakes along the way, and we then slowly descend through bizarre rock formations and up again to the Umangea Pass (15,715 ft). Below us we can already see our campsite at Cochayoc (14,730 ft.). (6-7 hours trek, Up: 2,034ft; Down: 1,640ft.)
Day 7 : Cochayoc - Quicho
After a short descent we reach a favorite pasture area of llama and alpaca herders, where we get a glimpse of their high altitude life. We continue ascending to the Jalpa Pass (14,527ft) with a beautiful view into the wide valley below as we reach the pass. Continue our descent past Rosaspata at 13,215 feet, close to our lunch spot. In the afternoon, an easy and short ascent will bring us to Llamaqkiku Pass (14,108ft), where we will start our slow, winding descent to our campsite at Quicho (12,467 feet), following a section of an Inca Trail. (5-6 hrs. hiking; 1,804 feet ascent; 3,838 feet descent)
Day 8 : Quicho - Aya
Today we have a short trek day. We start with a slow ascent towards Cachupata at 14,436 feet, following a path along a broad valley. From here another 1,148-foot ascent will bring us to the Escalera Pass at 15,583 feet, and a further twenty minute hike to our campsite at Aya at 14,370 feet in the afternoon. There is time to roam and hike around the campsite. (4-5 hrs. hiking; 3,117 feet ascent; 229 feet descent)
Day 9 : Aya - Comercocha
A long and strenuous day awaits us. Over the Aya-Aya Pass (15,748 feet) we arrive at the community of Ranrapampa. We cross the valley floor to our lunch spot. Afternoon through some terracing to the Colque Cruz Pass at 16,240 feet. The Pass is the border between the Puno and Cusco departments. From here there is a spectacular view of the Cordillera Vilcanota and Carabaya. Often windy at such a high attitude, we continue to our campsite at Comercocha (15,092 feet). (6-7 hiking; 2,493 feet ascent; 2,953 feet descent)
Day 10 : Comercocha - Acoyo
After yesterday's long day, this relatively shorter day affords a respite for the coming 6 days left on this trek. We still have great mountain views ahead of us as we hike along a valley to reach another side-valley, with views of the mountains, reaching the community of the Huaroconi (14,928 feet) and later our campsite at Acoyo. (4-5 hrs. hiking; 912 feet ascent; 830 feet descent)
Day 11 : Acoyo - Cero
We hike over the Chimboya Pass (16,450 feet) where we'll have a chance to see the Quelcaya Glacier, also known as the Peruvian ice cap. We get a view of the Cordillera Vilcanota and pass small lakes, reaching our camp-site at Cero (15,912 feet), set in a large pasture near the river of Mates. (4-5 hrs. hiking; 1,739 feet ascent; 1,444 feet descent)
Day 12 : Cero - Qasqaracocha
Our day starts with a steep ascent of about 493 feet to a high valley and the Cero Pass at 17,273 feet, with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Ausangate at 21,063 feet. We descend past small lakes with a great view of the Carabaya glaciers until we reach Qasqara Lake (also called Amayani Lake). The lake sits opposite the Colque Cruz Range, with Mt. Yayamari—first climbed in 1957—as its most prominent peak. If we are lucky we will witness a beautiful sunset with the lake and the snow-capped peaks in the background. Camp at 16,175 feet, our highest camp. (5-6 hrs. hiking; 2,083 feet ascent; 1,968 feet descent)
Day 13 : Qasqaracocha - Murmurani
Leaving our camp we begin our ascent to 16,535-foot Sibiria Pass, next to Mt. Yayamari. As we reach the pass we'll see Lake Sibinacocha below us. At 16,076 feet, Sibinacocha is one of the highest Lakes in Peru, and measures some 9 miles long and 1.25 miles wide. We'll camp at 16,076 feet at Mumurani or Cocha Uma (a lake whose name means "headwaters" in Qhechua), next to a stream that feeds into the lake. (5-6 hrs. hiking; 1,115 feet ascent; 1,355 feet descent)
Day 14 : Murmurani - Tiqllacocha
Today we trek over the highest Pass of Huayruro at 16,404 feet above the headwaters. We will find ourselves surrounded by snow-capped peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, and unique Andean flora—as well have a chance to see more vicuña (wild relatives of the camel). Impressive 19,000- to 20,000-foot peaks such as Jatunjampa, Pico Tres, Puca Punta, Colquecruz, and Acero form an amphitheater around us, as we see the trail descending to our campsite below at Tiqllacocha Lake (15,899 ft). (6-7 hrs. hiking; 2,559 feet ascent; 1,355 feet descent)
Day 15 : Tiqllacocha - Pachanta - Cusco
After about an hour of uphill hiking we will reach our last pass at Campa, and from here we get a new perspective of the landscape in front of us. Looking north towards the Cusco Valley we'll see a rolling landscape of extensive pasture land and potato plots—like a quilt blanket—interspersed with small houses and villages. As we leave the Colque Cruz glacier behind we descend past some small lakes until finally reaching the community of Pacchanta, and the road head where a vehicle will pick us up for the 3- to 4-hour drive to Cusco. (4-5 hrs. hiking; 1,476 feet ascent; 3,117 feet descent)
Day 16 : Lima - fly home
Transfer to the Cusco airport and fly to Lima. Upon arrival, you’ll be transferred to your Hotel, where day rooms will be held for your convenience. The remainder of the day is free to shop and explore on your own, or simply relax before your flight home.
DATES: Best time to go: July - August Departures: No group departures scheduled. Private departures are available on the dates of your choice, pending availablity. Call us for details.
2014 PRICES (per person)
$5,595 (7 to 15 members)
Colca LodgeColcaAt an altitude of 3250 metres above sea level and two-and-a-half hours travel from the city of Arequipa, Colca Lodge nestles on the banks of the River Colca. It is surrounded by hundreds of pre-Inca agricultural terraces, which have been declared a Peruvian cultural heritage, and is blessed with relaxing hot spring waters rich in lithium.This is a place with ancient energy, synchronized with nature and the starting point for exploring the valley and visiting the Colca Canyon, one of the world`s deepest ravines.
Libertador PunoLake Titicaca - Esteves Island
Located on a private island, the Esteves Island, Libertador Lake Titicaca offers unforgettable sunrises and sunsets from any point in the hotel. The lake is visible 360º views of the highest navigable lake int he world. From its private pier, travelers can navigate to islands lost in time where they can witness and participate from centuries-old traditions and crafts with their inhabitants.
The elegant (yet down to earth) and exciting El Mercado Hotel is a new 4-star property located three and a half blocks from the Plaza de Armas or Main Square, in the heart center of picturesque Cusco. Formerly part of the city’s old farmer’s market, El Mercado’s rooms and quaint atmosphere guarantee personal and friendly service, and will immediately immerse you in the cultural and historical traits of Cusco and Peru.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
A native of México, Sergio is Mountain Travel Sobek's senior climbing guide, with over 30 years of experience (his climbing resume is eight pages long—the short version, that is). Besides leading our climbing expeditions in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina’s Aconcagua, he also loves to lead some of our more challenging treks in Nepal and Peru. Having led more than 300 trips for Mountain Travel Sobek, Sergio has acquired a considerable, loyal following!