Ice-capped and imposing, Peru’s highest mountains part the skies as they rise up from the Andes. For centuries, the Incas and their descendants have worshiped these peaks and their apu mountain spirits. Today, adventurous travelers come to Peru to climb up, trek around, or simply admire the nation’s tallest mountains, their craggy summits rising up beyond 20,000 feet.
22,132 feet (6,746 m), Cordillera Blanca
Nevado Huascarán is located in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, within the Yungay province of the Ancash department of Peru. Huascarán Sur, the southernmost peak, rises up to 22,132 feet (6,746 m), making it the highest point in Peru. The summit of Huascarán Norte lies some 300 feet below its neighbor.
Huascarán Sur was first scaled in 1932 by the German-Austrian expedition of Bernard, Borchers, Hein, Hörlin, and Schneider. The area has since become a popular destination for climbers and trekkers. The mountain itself sits within Huascarán National Park, one of Peru's UNESCO World Heritage sites and home to animals such as cougars, jaguars and the Peruvian tapir.
Climbers typically reach the mountain via Huaraz (the capital of the Ancash department) before traveling to the village of Musho, located to the west of Huascarán.
21,709 feet (6,617 m), Cordillera Huayhuash
At 21,709 feet (6,617 m), Nevado Yerupajá is the second highest mountain in Peru. Like Huascarán, Yerupajá is located in the Ancash department of Peru but forms part of the Cordillera Huayhuash range rather than the Cordillera Blanca.
Mountaineers Jim Maxwell and Dave Harrah achieved the first successful ascent of Yerupajá in 1950. Due to the difficulty in climbing the mountain, successful ascents remain scarce. The mountain’s knife-edge summit ridge provides a challenge for even world-class mountaineers; the serrated appearance also gave the mountain its slightly foreboding local name: El Carnicero (“The Butcher”).
The small city of Huaraz is the standard gateway to Yerupajá, from where climbers head to the town of Chiquián before approaching the mountain.
21,079 feet (6,425 m), Cordillera Ampato
The sprawling Nevado Coropuna sits proudly in Southern Peru, about 90 miles northwest of Arequipa. Coropuna is the highest volcano -- and the third highest mountain -- in Peru. The tallest of its six summit cones reaches a height of 21,079 feet (6,425 m).
Coropuna was, and still is, a much-venerated mountain in Peru. For the Incas, it was home to one of the most sacred apus, or mountain spirits, in the realm. Temples and Inca trails are still visible around the base and along the slopes of the mountain, but glaciers have covered or destroyed many of Coropuna’s archeological treasures.
Hiram Bingham and his Yale expedition scaled Coropuna’s highest peak in 1911, becoming the first group to do so in modern times. It is highly probable, however, that the Incas reached the summit long before Bingham.
20,981 feet (6,395 m), Cordillera Blanca
Huandoy is located in the Cordillera Blanca, not far from Nevado Huascarán. The mountain has four distinct peaks, with each one rising up more than 19,685 feet (6,000 m). The tallest peak measures 20,981 feet (6,395 m), making it the second highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca alongside Huantsan.
Huandoy sits within Huascarán National Park. As with ascents of Nevado Huascarán, the typical approach to Huandoy begins in Huaraz, the capital of the Ancash department of Peru.
20,981 feet (6,395 m), Cordillera Blanca
Jutting up like an arrowhead from the Cordillera Blanca, Huantsan is a formidable peak that’s notoriously difficult and dangerous to climb. At 20,981 feet (6,395 m), it’s the second highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca, alongside Huandoy.
The approach to Huantsan is relatively easy; it’s located not far to the east of Huaraz, the climbing and trekking capital of the Ancash department. Climbing Huantsan, however, is for experienced mountaineers only.
20,945 feet (6,384 m), Cordillera Vilcanota
The imposing Nevado Ausangate is the second highest mountain in southern Peru (behind Coropuna), and the tallest peak in the Cordillera Vilcanota range. It is also the most dominant peak within the former heartlands of the Inca Empire. Located about 60 miles from the Inca capital of Cusco, the mountain was revered as one of the most important apus, or mountain gods, in Inca mythology.
Ausangate is still venerated by the local populace and plays a central role in the annual Señor de Qoyllur Ritti festival. It is also a major destination for climbers and trekkers, many of whom set off on the multi-day Ausangate Trek.
Most climbers approach the mountain first from Cusco, after which they head to the small villages of Tinqui or Chilca. The town of Pacchanta is a popular base camp for the Ausangate trek and for ascents of the mountain’s southern side.
20,817 feet (6345 m), Cordillera Blanca
Chopicalqui is one of the highest peaks in the Cordillera Blanca. Despite its height, the mountain is easier to climb than other peaks in the range, such as Huascarán, Huandoy, and Huantsan. According to Summit Post, Chopicalqui is sometimes dubbed the easiest 6,000 m peak in the range -- making it both a popular and sometimes crowded ascent.
As with many expeditions in the Ancash department of Peru, climbers typically start in the city of Huaraz. From there, a trip to the town of Yungay takes you close to the base camps for both Chopicalqui and Peru’s highest mountain, Nevado Huascarán.
20,813 foot (6,344 m), Cordillera Huayhuash
Siula Grande is the second highest mountain in the Cordillera Huayhuash (behind the towering Yerupajá). Despite not being the tallest in the range, it is the most famous.
In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates scaled the west face, becoming the first climbers to reach the 20,813 foot (6,344 m) summit by that route. Simpson broke his leg while descending along the north ridge, then became separated from Yates during a storm. He documented his near-fatal experience in the book Touching the Void, which later became a movie.
Siula Grande has a subpeak that measures 20,538 feet (6,260 m), known as Siula Chico.
Chinchey and Palcaraju
20,698 feet (6,309 m) and 20,584 feet (6,274 m), Cordillera Blanca
Nevado Chinchey and Nevado Palcaraju are both parts of the Chinchey massif, located in the Cordillera Blanca. At 20,698 feet (6,309 m), Chinchay is just over 100 feet taller than the neighboring Palcaraju. The two summits are about 5 kilometers apart.
Chinchey and Palcaraju are located near the city of Huaraz.
20,630 feet (6,288 m), Cordillera Ampato
Located about 60 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa, Ampato is one of the highest mountains in the far south of Peru. The dormant stratovolcano rises to a height of 20,630 feet (6,288 m) and forms part of the Cordillera Ampato, which also includes the lofty Coropuna and the active Sabancaya stratovolcano.
Ampato is particularly famous for the discovery of the “Ice Maiden” Juanita. In 1995, an expedition led by Dr. Johan Reinhard discovered the frozen and mummified remains of an Inca girl near the summit of the mountain. She had been killed by a blow to the head, a child sacrifice to the apus, or mountain gods. Her well-preserved remains, along with other mummies and artifacts discovered on Ampato, are now housed in the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa.
20,574 feet (6,271 m), Cordillera Vilcabamba
Nevado Salkantay (or Salcantay) is the highest mountain in the Cordillera Vilcabamba. Located in the department of Cusco, the mountain sits not far from the former Inca capital and directly south of Machu Picchu. Due to its location and prominence, Salkantay was one of the most sacred mountains in the Inca Empire, an apu that could control weather and fertility in the surrounding region.
Salkantay attracts both experienced climbers and casual trekkers. The multi-day Salkantay trek is a tough yet popular alternative to the classic Inca Trail. Climbers normally approach the mountain from the town of Mollepata, located about two and a half hours from Cusco.