Life in Cordillera Blanca

The new challenges of Quechua people

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

snowflakes in The Cordillera Blanca by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of South America. Because of its size and morphology, the Andes mountain range is rich in both biodiversity and natural resources.

The Cordillera Blanca is found in the northern part of the Andes. It is home to a majority of the world’s tropical glaciers.  Climate change has been linked to a gradual loss of nearly half of the Andean glacial surface area since the 1970’s. The lives of the local Quechua people are inextricably linked to the glaciers.  

Kids playing in Huaraz (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In October 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - in his journey to the world's most fragile places and cultures - visited Peru’s Huascaran National Park and its surrounding areas.  

Road in Huaraz countyside (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Follow the Interoceanica road from the Santa River all the way up the mountains, and you will reach the countryside of Huaraz, 3,000m above sea level. 

Aerial view of Huaraz countyside (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Small hamlets on the slopes of The Cordillera rely on water from seasonal rains that trickle down in small streams.

Quechua farmer (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The local farmers here are part of the Quechua community. Despite centuries of European influence, the women have preserved their traditional dress.

Old Quechua man in his farmhouse (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Theodore is a Quechua farmer from Huaraz. As have many generations of farmers before him, he works his field and crops in the countryside. However, the accelerating impact of climate change has made it more difficult to cultivate the land.

Portrait of Quechua man (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

“When I was young, it used to rain a lot, plants would give fruits in abundance without using any product but livestock manure. Today, if I don’t use pesticides I end up with a really poor harvest. Maybe this is due to the mines that were built on the other side of the river.”

Peruvian purple corn (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The most popular crop in the Andes is corn. In Peru, you can find more than 50 different varieties. The most popular variety is purple corn, which is used to make the traditional chicha morada drink. 

Landscape in Cordillera Blanca (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

As you approach the peaks of The Cordillera Blanca, the impacts of climate change become more apparent.

Laguna 69 (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A relatively easy trek from the foot of the Huascaran mountains will take you to the fascinating Laguna 69 at 4,600m above sea level.

On the lakeshore (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Aerial view of Laguna 69 and Chacraraju (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The small lake is nourished by a waterfall from the Chacraraju glacier above. Chacraraju is considered to be the steepest and most difficult Andean peak to climb.

Chacraraju south face (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Snowmelt from The Cordillera Blanca provides part of Northern Peru with a year-round water supply. The flow of water is increasing at an alarming rate. 

Grassroot huts in southern Cordillera Blanca (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The now-exposed southern part of The Cordillera Blanca is a testament to how fast the ice is melting.  

Aerial vuew of Pastoruri Glacier (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Pastoruri glacier has shrunk in size by half in the last 20 years. 
The underlying rocky surface that is now visible had been hidden under ice for millennia.

Portrait of Quechua shepherdess (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The few Quechua living at higher altitudes are still dedicated to their pastoral farming. But it is a way of life that may last for only a few more decades, as young people move to the city.

Huascaran Norte at sunset (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

As the sun sets over the Huascaran South, Peru’s highest peak (at 6,700 m above sea level) keeps watch over the rapidly-changing landscape. 

Landscape in Cordillera Blanca (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary


The glaciers of The Cordillera Blanca have long been the primary source of water for the Quechua.  As temperatures rise, the glacial meltwaters swell and the rocky landscape that lay beneath the ice is revealed. Local farmers struggle to adapt, knowing that the glaciers, once lost, will not reappear. 


Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Julisa Guillermo Jacinto, Octavio Salazar Obregon, Theodore Salazar, Militza Cotos León, Edgard Raju Merino, Andean Peaks Peru.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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