The (Unguided) Guide to the Santa Cruz Trek & Laguna 69

Huaraz, Peru is an up-and-coming destination for hikers, trekkers, and adventure-seekers alike. You may not have heard of it before (I hadn’t), but it will come highly recommended from all travelers in this area – known for its mountain ranges, glaciers, lagunas and more. The Plaza de Armas is small, but pretty – featuring an old, historic church and artisan market in the center of town. This is the most touristic area, with many restaurants offering their food (surprisingly) in English – and guide companies lining the streets, offering one-day and multi-day treks. Other than the Plaza, the city itself wasn’t my favorite.

 

I walked into the streets of Huaraz at 7 am with high hopes, after a 16 hour bus ride. I turned the corner looking for my hostel and immediately watched a man snap a chicken’s neck. Half asleep, half in shock; I turned around to see a motorbike drive by with 8 cartons of live chickens tied tightly to the back. This is never the first impression I hope for.

 

 plaza de armas
 Flo overlooking huaraz

If you venture outside of the Plaza de Armas, you can find many restaurants serving “Menus,” which often consist of a sopa (soup) as well as a meal for around $/.5 soles ($1.50 USD). I even found one spot as low as $./3 soles ($1 USD). The streets are lined with small shops selling clothing and shoes, as well as vendors offering eggs, vegetables, fruits, etc (try to ignore the smells). Check out the main market to see people selling fish, chickens, cuy(guinea pigs), clothing, toys, and more. If you wander upstairs, you will find more restaurants with “Menus” for between $/.5-10 soles (up to $3 USD).

 

With only one week to spare in Huaraz, I set my sights on Laguna 69 (1 day), as well as the Santa Cruz trek (4 days/3 nights) – which had both come highly recommended from previous travel friends. Jimmy had gone home, and I was now on my own, so I had to recruit new friends. Within two days, I had found a new group: Kezza from Australia, and Flo and Jasper, from Germany. 

 

 

Normally, this trek begins in Vaqueria and ends in Cashapampa. Unfortunately, the road to Vaqueria was under construction, so we were forced to do the trek backwards – starting in Cashapampa. If you have interest in this trek, I recommend starting in Vaqueria, because our route adds approximately 800 meters of extra elevation. We spent a day planning out food and organizing transportation, and headed to bed for an early night sleep. Vamos chicos!

GEAR

We carry this already, but any and all of it can be rented in town if necesito.

  • Osprey Exos 58L Backpack
  • Camping Stove
  • Pots, Pans, Sporks
  • Camping Fuel
  • Inflatable Sleeping Pad
  • Northface “Campforter” 0 Degree (Celsius) Down Sleeping Bag
  • REI “Half Dome 2”, 3 season, 2-Person Tent

CLOTHING

  • 1 Pair of Trekking Boots
  • 3 Pairs of Wool Socks
  • 1 Pair of Exofficio Travel Underwear
  • 1 Pair of Shorts
  • 1 Pair of Trekking Pants
  • 1 Pair of Long John’s
  • 1 Pair of Comfy Pants (For Sleeping)
  • 2 T-Shirts
  • 1 Merino Wool Long Sleeve Shirt
  • 1 Fleece Sweater
  • 1 Rain Jacket
  • 1 Down Jacket
  • 1 Pair of Gloves
  • 1 Bandana
  • 1 Merino Wool Hat
  • Sunglasses

The most important thing is to ensure that you have dry clothing to sleep in. If it rains during the day, and your clothing gets wet – you will be much more comfortable having a dry pair of pants, socks, and shirts to wear while you sleep. If not, be prepared for some uncomfortable and cold nights!

Weather: Prepare for everything, and do your research. Mountain Forecast has been generally pretty accurate throughout our trip. We completed this trek in June, and had perfect weather every day, but each night was below freezing. Ensure you have the appropriate gear to keep yourselves warm, especially at the higher altitude campsites.

 

Cost: Most of the fees are unavoidable (entrance fee, collectivo rides), so the only true variable will be how much you spend on food. We will cover total costs at the end, but it is safe to assume that you can spend under $60-$70 USD to complete this trek. Keep in mind that with a tour group, it will generally cost you around $300-$600 USD, depending on your negotiation skills.

 

Water & Food: There is only one shop along the way that has food and drinks, but it is basically useless as it is located about 2 hours from Cashapampa. Depending where you start, this will either be at the very beginning or very end of your trek. There are plenty of running water options, but you must use a filter or iodine tablets. Always be sure to go upstream to avoid the cow and horse caca, as this is likely your biggest cause for concern. Asking the locals or guides before doing so will never hurt.

 

Worth It?: Absolutely. In my opinion – this trek has less people, is more scenic, and is equally easy to follow as the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.

 

Can You Do It?: Definitely. Although not an easy trek by any means, it is very doable for moderate to average hikers. Hundreds of people are completing this trek every week. 

Where to Begin:

We caught our first collectivo at 6 am to Caraz (1.5 hours) for $/.9 soles ($3 USD) per person. Cashapampa is a tiny pueblo one hour north of Caraz, so it was necessary to find one more collectivo. We negotiated for our own car between the four of us for $/.60 soles ($18.50 USD) total.

Upon your arrival, you will need to pay the entrance fee to the Huascaran National Park of $/.65 soles per person ($20 USD). The trek itself, including Alpamaya Base Camp, is 53 km (33 miles), and is usually done in 4 days/3 nights. We felt that this was entirely doable in 3 days/2 nights, and Laguna 69 could be added as the 4th day/3rd night.

Day One: Huaraz -> Caraz -> Cashapampa -> Campsite One

>> Time: 3 hour collectivo(s) ride; 7-8 hours hiking

>>Distance: 22 km (13 miles)

 

And so it began! Starting at 4200 meters in Cashapampa, we took off for our longest day at 9 am. The first few hours were pretty bland, following the path through a canyon and along a river. This cowfight was the most exciting part of the morning. After reaching the first campsite at Llamacorral around 10:30 am, we confirmed that we would be pushing forward and finishing this section of the trek in 3 days/2 nights.

 

After the campsite, the valley began to open up, providing some pretty nice views of where we were headed over the next few days. Around 1:30 pm, we stopped for lunch by a lake with a snow-capped mountain looming in the distance. It was at this time that we met Ben, another German trekker who was on his own, and decided to join our group. The remainder of the hike follows through a desert-like valley, but there lies one last steep ascent before we would reach our first campground. We had planned on camping at Alpamaya Base Camp, but decided to stop earlier at the top of the hill, because we found the views to be better.

 

photo cred: benedikt jurges
photo cred: benedikt jurges
unwanted visitors
photo cred: benedikt jurges

Day Two: Campsite One -> Paria Campsite

>> Time: 7-8 hours hiking

>> Distance: 21 km (12 miles)

 

Feeling confident in our speed, we took our time getting up. At 11 am (After a huge breakfast of oats, mixed nuts, and dried fruits), we left our gear in the tents and headed off towards Montana Alpamay0 – labeled The most beautiful mountain in the world in 1966. 

45 minutes later, we reached the glacier and decided that this (below freezing) water was a perfect opportunity for a bath for a bunch of stinky hikers.

photo cred: benedikt jurges
photo cred: benedikt jurges

We got back to the campsite around 1:30 pm, packed up our equipment, and took off around 2 pm.

My advice: this is too late! 

We underestimated this day, and the Punta Union pass – although very beautiful – proved to be more difficult than we anticipated.

photo cred: benedikt jurges
flo leading the entire trek

Once over the pass, we were treated to a series of small lakes – and with the sun setting behind us, were able to see the reflections of the mountains on our way down. We watched the sky change to a beautiful bright yellow, red and orange – before eventually turning to a frightening pitch black. We still had over an hour to go at this point, which is why I recommend leaving earlier 🙂

In an attempt to get to as low of elevation as possible, we walked for another hour through the dark to the “Paria” campsite (listed on maps.me) – where we made dinner and fell asleep to the sounds of the gushing river behind us.

 more unwanted guests

Day Three: Paria Campsite -> Laguna 69 Campsite

>> Time: 3-4 hours hiking; 2 hour collectivo

>> Distance: 10 km (6 miles)

Not wanting to underestimate the trail again, we got up earlier to begin day three. The trail is mostly downhill as you head towards Vaqueria, but unfortunately the final hour is uphill once again.

 

guard dog

Once we arrived in Vaqueria, we found a collectivo for $/.15 soles ($5 USD) per person to take us to Laguna 69. This is an optional part of the trek, as most people complete Laguna 69 on a one-day trip ($/.35 soles or $12 USD) from Huaraz, but we had the time and wanted to save money. The two hour, windy, bumpy ride will make you nauseous, but gives you external views of both the Montana Huascaran (the highest mountain in Peru), as well as Montana Pisco. We were dropped off around 3 pm, where we walked into the valley, and found our private campsite for the night – which just so happened to be right in between Montana Huascaran and Montana Pisco.

Day Four: Laguna 69 Campsite -> Laguna 69 -> Pisco Base Camp -> Huaraz

 

> Time: 3-4 hours hiking; 3 hour bus

>> Distance: 10 km (6 miles)

>> Optional Extra: 6 km (3.5 miles)

 

The tour buses from Huaraz are scheduled to arrive at the Laguna 69 entrance around 8 am, so in an attempt to beat everyone, we were on the trail by 7:30 am. We were able to leave our gear in the tents at our site, which we were all very thankful for as we ascended into the mountains to find the infamous laguna, and the most visited location in the Huaraz region. Around 9:15 am, all by our lonesomes, we arrived at Laguna 69. It was a rewarding feeling, standing in the freezing cold, celebrating the completion of our trek. Time for a celebratory swim!

We spent over an hour at the lake – taking in the views, swimming, and admiring all that this area has to offer. With many hours to spare before the buses return to Huaraz, we decided to add a little bit extra to the day (see optional above). There is a base camp for Montana Pisco along the trail, which would eventually loop us back to our campsite. We followed a trail to the left of the laguna, which eventually brought us to our highest point, at 4,900 meters (16,000 feet).

4900 metres

We continued on the trail to eventually reach the Pisco Base Camp, a bacan (cool) little lodge that offers housing, food, water, cervezas, and more. This is where most people, or tours, begin the hike to the top of Mount Pisco. This is a one-night hike that most people complete in order to watch the sunrise from the top. Most trekkers in the lodge were saying that this is not difficult to complete on your own, but you would need to rent crampons in town beforehand, so plan ahead if this is in your itinerary! Otherwise, if you don’t feel comfortable hiking through the snow, completing it with a tour group can be booked as well.

 

We arrived back at the campsite around 2 pm, packed up our bags, and headed to the tour buses. After a few minutes of listening to the groups moan about their legs on their backpack-less, one day trip to Laguna 69, we negotiated to return on one of the buses for $/.20 soles ($6 USD) per person. The bus ride took three hours, and we returned to Huaraz around 7 pm.

 

In Conclusion:

The Santa Cruz trek is approximately 53 km (33 miles), and is typically completed in 4D/3N. I’ve spoken to people who planned on completing it on as many as 7D/6N, and as little as 2D/1N. All of these are possible, depending on your trekking expertise and skill level. However, I felt 3D/2N on the trail was a very appropriate amount of time, allowing us to move at a good pace, as well as enjoy every minute of the trek. The only thing to concern yourself is that the collectivo times may not always be convenient when you reach the end.

Adding one day for Laguna 69 to the trek is also recommended, as you will already be in the Huascaran National Park and can save money by doing so. Depending on where you start (Vaqueria or Cashapampa), this would either be your first or last day. 

So, in total..

The Santa Cruz Trek & Laguna 69 (including the Pisco Base Camp trail):

> 4 Days /3 Nights

>> 60 km (37 miles)

>> Money (per person): 

>> Food: $/.75 soles per person ($23 USD)

>> Rented Stove: $/.5 soles ($1.50 USD)

>> One Can of Gas: $/.5 soles ($1.50 USD)

>> Collectivo to Caraz: $/.9 soles ($3 USD)

>> Collective to Cashapampa: $/.15 soles ($5 USD)

>> National Park Entrance Fee: $/.65 soles ($20 USD)

>> Collectivo to Laguna 69: $/.15 soles ($5 USD)

>> Tour Bus to Huaraz: $/.20 soles ($6 USD)

>> Total Money Spent (per person): $/.209 soles ($64 USD)

>> Total Money Per Day: $/.52 soles ($16 USD)

Bode’s Recommendations:

1) Acclimatize: Huaraz, and this trek, are both very high in altitude. Stay at least 3-4 days in Cusco, Huaraz, or other surrounding areas to acclimatize before departing on your journey.

 

2) Vacahouse Backpackers II: In Huaraz, I stayed at Vacahouse Backpackers II. With a dormitory price of just $6 including free breakfast and wifi, I definitely recommend Vacahouse. The staff was friendly and the rooms were clean. There is a large kitchen and patio with tables, hammocks, and pizza nights on Fridays. They also have a private room to lock up your spare equipment if you’re leaving for a trek. You can find Vacahouse on Maps.me upon your arrival in Huaraz.

 

3) Coca Leaves: Because of the altitude, I recommend bringing the local Quechua secret of coca leaves with you. Stop in the market in Huaraz to pick up a bag of coca leaves for $/1 sole. This bag will be enough for 2-3 people throughout the trip. Chew on these a few times per day, or add them to your tea, but do not swallow them. When chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue. It is also very beneficial for overcoming altitude sickness. For your reference, the Punta Union pass reaches 4,750 meters (15,550 feet), and the optional Pisco Base Camp loop reaches up to 4,900 meters (16,000 feet). 

 

4) Maps.me: Make sure you have Maps.me or a similar application before you go. If you download the Peru map while you are in Wifi, you will be able to find all of the campsites, as well as follow yourself on the trail through the entirety of the trip. Even without Maps.me, this trail is very easy to follow, and would be difficult to get lost!

 

5) Vaqueria: Typically, the trek starts in the town of Vaqueria (our end point), approximately 3 hours from Huaraz (this is the same road to Laguna 69). However, the road was under construction – so we were forced to complete the trek backwards, starting in Cashapampa. This was not an issue for us, but starting from Cashapampa adds approximately 800 meters of extra elevation to our trek. I recommend starting from Vaqueria – you will receive the same views and the trek will be easier.

 

6)Stop and Smell the Roses: Take many breaks, drink lots of water, allow your body to acclimatize, and enjoy the trek!

Nick Bode (author), Writes:

“Big shoutouts to Kezza, Flo, Jasper, and Ben for your hard work, dedication, patience and friendship on this trek. An extra thanks to Ben for the killer photos. Bueno suerte y buen viajes to all of you!

If there is anything that I haven’t answered, any parts of this post that are unclear, something you feel could be corrected, or any questions you may have – always feel free to contact me. My goal is to keep this as updated as possible, and if you are interested in completing this trek, I am more than happy to help your planning!”

 

Happy Trails Everyone!

If you wish to contact Goko-Travels directly, please email us at: 

 

info@gokotravels.com

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