Trip duration   1 day (approx. 10 hours)
Trip type   day hike
Grading   easy to moderate
Places visited   Hatun Machay Stone
                         Forest, Locutorio

Highest Point   Locutorio Viewpoint 4500m
Distance   75km from Huaraz, 15km hike
Hatun Machay, meaning “large cave” in Quechua, is a stone forest situated to the south of Huaraz near Lake Conococha at an altitude of 4250 m in the Cordillera Negra. This huge labyrinth consists of rock towers, mushroom-shaped rocks, large boulders, and caves with rock carvings and paintings dating back to 10,000 BC. The spectacular landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that took place some 6 million years ago. Little is known about the prehistory of the stone forest, but it is evident that the caves have been used intensively by man, testified by the abundance of rock paintings and carvings, as well as of lithic artefacts (such as arrow and spears) found on the site.
These artefacts belong to the Paijanese culture, which is linked to the earliest human occupation of the Peruvian Andes.
Nowadays traditional pastoralist communities live in the area, using the caves to shelter from the harsh, high altitude climate. A visit to Hatun Machay is like stepping into another world.
We leave Huaraz at 7.30 am and travel south along the main road for around one hour and a half. Before reaching Lake Conococha we take a dirt road that goes up westwards into the Cordillera Negra. After some 30 minutes of driving we reach the Hatun Machay refuge located on the edge of the stone forest. There are many options for hiking in the area. The most interesting circuit first goes inside the forest where we can see some caves with ancient paintings and petroglyphs. The trail then goes around the whole forest, starting with a descent on the eastern side and eventually going up the western side, passing many incredible rock formations and caves along the way. The landscape never ceases to amaze, as much for the sheer diversity and beauty of it, than for the fact that is it a completely different world from any other areas in the region, making it a very rewarding visit. Once we have completed our circuit around the forest and get back to the entrance, we have the option to hike for 40 minutes up to a viewpoint offering impressive panoramic vistas of the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash to the east and of the Pacific Ocean to the west.