Most of the drives that we include in our Epic Drives series of posts are long, remote, and arduous. But what the drive through Cañon del Pato in Peru lacks in length and difficulty it makes up for in sheer geographical wackiness as two major mountain ranges practically touch in this scenic canyon. Don’t miss our dramatic dashcam video.
Welcome to Cañon del Pato in Peru
A stretch of road through Cañon del Pato (which may also be spelled Canon del Pato, Pato Canon, Canyon del Pato, or Pato Canyon) connects the town of Caraz to the town of Huallanco where there’s an important hydroelectric plant.
The word pato means duck in Spanish, but this road is not named after tasty waterfowl–turns out, Huallanco used to be called Patos.
Some people morbidly refer to this area as the Valley of the Dead Nuns because a vehicle full of nuns went over the edge of this road which is narrow and has many sheer drop-offs (though there are some guard rails in place now).
And did we mention the tunnels?
The route through Cañon del Pato travels through an area where the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra mountain ranges get within 20 feet (6 meters) of each other. This wicked-close geography meant that engineers had to hand carve 35 tunnels through sheer rock to allow traffic to pass from the eastern side of the Cordillera Negra to the western side of the Cordillera Negra.
It all makes the famous Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park in the US state of Montana look like child’s play. Not surprisingly, the tunnels and the paved (but potholed) road seemed to be in a perpetual state of maintenance and we passed a lot of road workers who shouted hello to us as we drove by.
Driving through Cañon del Pato
Shortly out of the town of Caraz the canyon narrows and drops fast as the road descends from 7,402 feet (2,256 meters) in Caraz to 1,400 feet (426 meters) in the town of Huallanca.
There are lots of waterfalls along the way including one predictably called Bridal Veil. There are also a bunch of manmade waterfalls that divert even more water to the hydroelectric plant in Huallanca.
With 35 tunnels in a one-way length of just under 8 miles (12 km), that’s about four tunnels for each mile. Sometimes we were no sooner out of one tunnel than we were entering the next one.
And, yes, we honked our horn a lot inside the tunnels, though no other drivers seemed to be doing that…Some of the tunnels are just rough rock inside and other tunnels have been nicely finished.
Inside tunnel 11, for example, there is a nice little siding you can park in before walking along a 650 foot (200 meter) trail to see the tightest point in this rugged and steep canyon as the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra mountain ranges come within 20 feet (6 meters) of each other.
This point is called union de las cordilleras, or meeting of the mountain ranges and the trail that gets you to the viewpoint outside tunnel 11 is narrow in places with steep drop-offs. Use the safety ropes they’ve installed along the way.
After admiring the hydroelectric plant down in steamy, low-altitude Huallanco (there’s really not much else to see there), we turned around and drove the road back up to Caraz.
Get a dashcam view of our epic drive through Cañon del Pato in our drive-lapse video, shot with our Brinno camera, below.
Cañon del Pato by the numbers
Total round trip distance: 46 miles (74 km) from Caraz to Huallanco and back to Caraz
Total round trip drive time: 3 hours
Closest point between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra: 20 feet (6 meters)
Number of hand-carved tunnels: 35
Continue planning your trip to the Cordillera Blanca and Huascarán National Park in Peru with our day-by-day trail guide for the iconic Santa Cruz trek, our post about the day hike to Laguna 69, our post about hiking around Laguna Parón, our post about visiting the Pastoruri Glacier, our photo essay from scenic Punta Winchus, our adventure town travel guide to Caraz, and our adventure town travel guide to Huaraz, the self-proclaimed Adventure Capital of Peru.
Here’s more about travel in Peru
See all of our Epic Drives in the Americas