Huaraz, Peru is buzzing with adventure and plenty of people are traveling here to take in the beautiful landscape. Huaraz is 8 hours north of Lima and 8 hours south of Trujillo in Peru. In either direction it’s a beautiful journey with unbelievable mountains signaling your entrance into the city. Among the many outdoor activities that bring life to this area, the most popular are Laguna 69 and the Santa Cruz trek.
Yes, they are two different activities that are easily lumped together.
Laguna 69 is a one day hike, 6 hours (3 up 3 down) to view an outstanding turquoise lake at 4,600m (15,000ft). It’s an incredibly rewarding journey that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The combination of the altitude and the intensity at which you increase in altitude makes this hike difficult. There are plenty of tour companies that offer the Laguna 69 hike averaging about 30soles ($8.88 USD) before the price of entering the park which is 10soles ($2.96 USD). You can also opt to do this hike without a guide and just pay the entrance fee.
With restrictions on time, we had to choose between the two hikes and we opted for the Santa Cruz trek. It appeared to us as the more rewarding adventure that allowed us to camp in nature and we were up for the challenge of accomplishing the hike on our own.
There are a few ways to do this trek. It’s 55km so the comfortable way to do this hike is in four days, camping three nights in very well marked camping grounds. We decided to do it in three days instead of four and we did it without a guide.
With a tour
(4 days) all food and accommodations (tent/sleeping bag) included + 60 soles entrance into the park. Total Cost 360 Soles
Without a tour for one person - Total coast 226 Soles
We split it among three people and only paid 115 soles each for equipment, food, and entrance to the park
-Tent: 15/day x 3days = 45
-Sleeping bag: 7/day x 3days = 21
-Stove + free utensils: 10/day x 3days = 30
-Gas: 20/can (we were able to return our unused one for a full deposit)
-Detailed topographical map = 25 soles
-Hiking boots bought off a side street from a woman named Nelly = 40 soles
-Head lamp: 5 soles
-Entrance Fee per person: 60 soles
-Food: 60 soles
The biggest thing for us was the freedom of being able to set our own pace, camp where we wanted to, and oh yeah to be able to light a campfire. We had heard that campfires weren’t allowed in the park, but it doesn’t say this anywhere on the entrance ticket or the park maps. The only ones enforcing this idea are the tour companies. If you book a tour you don’t get a campfire and isn’t that half the fun of camping? We were told by one tour guide who passed by that we would be fined 300 soles if we didn’t put ours out. Just be smart about it and don’t burn the park down.
So how do you prepare for 55kms and 15,584 feet?
Lots of food, warm clothes, water, and just a little bit of insanity. Maybe a map :)
We spent a day in Huaraz at hostel Alpes Huaraz collecting information and supplies for the trip. We were directed to a shop just off the main strip in Huarraz, the name has K3 in the tittle and they were able to loan us some gear. They supplied us what we needed, checked everything before giving it to us. They even set up our tent in the parking lot to make sure we were satisfied. They answered all our questions, no matter the ridiculous nature of it and we were able to buy a map from them before we set out. The map we bought wasn’t necessary to the trip and in fact it didn’t help us with the small doubts we had on the path.
There are two routes that you can do for the Santa Cruz trek. You can start in Cashapampa and end in Vaqueria, or start in Vaqueria and end in Cashapampa which is the direction we decided to take. The benefit of starting in Vaqueria is that your first day trek is less strenuous and the view at the top of the pass is more rewarding.
Starting from Huaraz you’ll need to catch a ride to Yungay for 5soles. The first one is at 5:30am and it’s a passenger van that takes roughly an hour. Ask your hostel where the Caraz bus stop is and they’ll point you in the right direction. Caraz is the town you need to head if you want to start in Cashapampa, Yungay is on the way. From Yungay you’ll need to catch another van to Vaqueria for 20soles. If you time it right you can catch the van leaving at 7am and it’s 3 hours to the top. The van will stop at the entrance of the park where you’ll purchase your ticket for 60 soles. You’ll need your passport number. The ride goes by quick because the views are incredible. You’ll pass three amazing lakes along the way and if you get a good driver, they’ll stop and let you capture the moment.
Day 1 begins in Vaqueria (14kms 4hrs 45mins lunch)
The path isn’t marked but it’s fairly obvious. The first 3 hours are the only time in the next 3 days you’ll pass by civilization and we found that the only times we got lost were near where we could ask locals the way. If we really got lost we could follow the fresh donkey poop. The trail is full of people who book it through companies and those companies hire donkeys to cary all their stuff. The donkeys usually head out early in the morning to make it to campsites before their trekkers and their fresh poop will lead the way if you’re lost.
The first campsite is Paira. It’s roughly 4 hours into the trek. All the campsites are well marked. If you want to do the trek in 3 days, you must walk passed this point. Even if it’s only an hour or 2 passed, it will help make up time so that the last day isn’t a 9 hour hike.
Day 2 is the pass (19kms 8hrs 1hr lunch)
It’s a rough day with distance and altitude so be mentally prepared. We were hoping to get a good early start around 6am, but the cold weather and warmth of the morning fire had us delayed. We would recommend an early start, but we set off by 9am. It’s pretty much all up hill. It’s a few switch backs in the morning and from Paira it’s a good 3 hours before you reach the pass. Then it’s an hour, or in our case two, before you reach the top. The altitude really limited our mobility and we definitely took our time with lots of water breaks.
The top of the pass, Punta Union is indescribably beautiful. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views in all directions. Making it to the top some how erases all aches and frustrations—it’s well worth the torment. There is a laguna here, Taullicocha, that makes up for not making it to Laguna 69. The second campsite, also named Taullicocha is at the base of Taulliraju, which is the gorgeous glacier at Punta Union. It’ll take roughly 2 hours to descend from Punta Union to the river. Again, to make it a 3 day trek you need to continue walking passed the established campsites to make up time. Plus walking beyond campsites will allow you to find a cozy tucked away place apart from the masses of people. And you get to light a fire.
Optional Glacier Detour
At the end of day 2 or the beginning of day 3 you can detour to a separate glacier. It’s roughly 1 hour each way to the glacier. To get there, about 1 hour after the second campsite you’ll come to a big rock and a split in the path. If you take the path to the right, it will lead you up the mountain to the glacier. Going to the left will led you to the Santa Cruz trail.
Day 3 is the final descent to Cashapampa (17km 7hrs hike, 1hr lunch).
The beginning of the walk is conquering the valley of sand and loose rocks. You’ll be able to see lake Latuncocha in the distance which is roughly the half way point in the trek and where we decided to check “being natural in nature” off our bucket list. Skinny dipping was on our mind, but the water is freezing. The path towards the lake isn’t well marked this direction and we headed straight down the middle of the valley, over the creeks on the sand, but on the southwest side there’s a trail along the edge of the mountain that’s easier to follow. If you follow down the middle you’ll eventually reach a fence across the width of the valley.
Continuing on you’ll pass waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife along the way. The final three hours wind up and down the mountains, along the river, until finally you’ll reach a small shack and a rock painted with an arrow toward Cashapampa.
There’s supposedly a bus stop in town, but the schedule was unclear and we waited at the mouth of the trail where all the taxis met with no luck. We had the opportunity to jump in the back of a truck for a ride into town and paid 6soles for an hour journey to Caraz. From Caraz you can catch a passenger van to Huraz for another 6soles and it takes an hour.
Money Spent: 115 Soles
Time Spent Trekking: 19 hours
Total Time: 3 days/2 nights
Route: Yungay to Cashapampa