Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
What is the Santa Cruz trek?
The Santa Cruz trek is a popular 3 to 4 day hike in the Cordilla Blanca and Huascarán National Park. There are two start points at the small towns of Cashapampa or Vaqueria hiking from one to the other. These are both around 2-3 hours drive East from Huaraz.
How did we prepare?
We bought a cheap tent, 2 camping mats and inflatable pillows from Sodimac (Peru’s Walmart equivalent) in Trujillo for $72. As Huaraz is the base for most treks you can rent just about anything you need. We rented two sleeping bags at 8 soles per day and bought a camping stove for 75 soles and a pot for 12 soles. The below table shows the cost saving on doing it on our own versus a tour and as a bonus we get to keep our tent, mats, and stove for hiking in Cuzco.
*Note we get to keep the tent, mats, pillows, stove and pot for future use with a value of around $100.
The supermarket had limited choice for camping food so we bought noodles, energy bars, granola, nuts, soups and hot chocolate costing about 40 soles ($16) pp.
Day 1: Huaraz to Cashapampa
We chose to start our 4 day trek at Cashapampa as it was slightly quicker and easier to get to. We got on a combi to Caraz at around 5.30am (6 soles / $2.15 ea) which took a bit over an hour with some hair raising driving along the way. The hardest part of this trip was putting our heavy backpacks on our lap for most of the journey. In Caraz you can walk 20 minutes mostly uphill or take a moto-taxi (1.5 soles / $0.50 ea) to the collectivo for Cashapampa. We’d recommend the moto-taxi and save your legs and direction sense for the trek.
Luckily there was another local going to Cashapampa so we all shared the moto-taxi. She was lovely and asked us the usual; where are we from questions. We were the first three waiting to go to Cashapampa therefore would have to wait until it filled up before it left. Rodora took this as a sign to go get some much needed coffee to wake up. She returned with a huge smile on her face as she had a plastic bag filled with hot coffee. The only issue was how were we going to drink this? We decided the best thing to do was pour the coffee out into a Nalgene bottle. We’re still wondering how the locals drink out of a plastic bag without a straw.
The collectivo filled up beyond full, with some people sitting on others laps for quite a distance in the journey. Luckily the driver put our bags on the top so we didn’t have to carry them on our laps. We slowly curved up and down the mountains on a very bumpy road (making drinking our coffee impossible) through tiny villages until we finally arrived at the trail head in Cashapampa.
Let the hike begin
Day 1: Cashapampa to Llamacorral [12km – 2,950m to 3,800m]
At the start of the trail we were greeted by a park ranger, requesting to see our tickets and sign a waiver. This is the 65 soles ($23.50) National Park Ticket valid for 21 days. There was also a large map of the trail on the billboard. There were three other travellers at the start point, two were going out for about 8 days on a private climbing trek; the other was from Australia as well and was doing the Santa Cruz trek in a day shorter than us.
It was now time to start the hike. We put our heavy rucksacks loaded with 5 days’ worth of food, warm clothing, sleeping bags, tent and started our 5 day trek. The trail was very easy to follow and there were signposts along the way to make sure you were going in the right direction. From the start we were heading uphill. It was a beautiful trail as we followed the river through the valley passing beautiful spring flowers and waterfalls along the way.
Our only regular obstacles were the cows grazing on the land, which we had to clear off the trail multiple times so we could continue onwards.
We didn’t realize how much difference a heavy pack made when backpacking, so it took us longer than expected to reach our first campsite. Leaving at 9.30am, with many breaks we didn’t make it to the first camp site until 2pm.
As seen by the photo, the camp site was quite exposed to the valley winds and no real privacy. The toilet facilities were also quite poor so we decided to push on and camp somewhere along the path so we would shorten our walking time the next day. After 30 minutes we found a spot under some trees and camped there for the night. We set up camp by 4pm and immediately took a two hour nap as we were both completely exhausted.
Day 2: Llamacorral – Alpamaya base camp – Taullipampa [19.4k – 3,800m to 4,250m]
Our alarm clock went off at 5am, but as it was still dark and we were still completely exhausted we slept in and pushed our alarm to 6am. It took us quite a while to pack everything back up again and we weren’t on the trail until 7.30am.
The day began walking through the valley on a relatively flat path at the bottom of the valley. We passed many donkeys on the way and Rodora couldn’t help herself instantly making friends with one of them.
These donkeys are used as porters to carry tents, food and all other gear for tour groups. Most tour groups have their own dining and toilet tent which seems like luxury compared to how we were travelling.
We then continued hiking following the river until we reached two lakes, Ichiq cocha and Hatun cocha stopping to take photos of the beautiful turquoise water.
At the bottom of the valley there was a turn off to Alpamayo base camp through some trees. We were advised by the guys that were climbing that we couldn’t miss this lake as it was spectacular so we decided to take a detour. Rodora was hesitant as it looked like a very steep incline zig zagging up the mountain. At first we decided to hide our packs at the bottom; but as we were climbing another guide advised us that there was another trail not on the map that went from Alpamayo to the campsite on the Santa Cruz trek. We then decided to go back and get our packs and take his advice. Wow were we tired. It was a very tough climb up the mountain with our packs. On the way up we found the trail leading back to the Santa Cruz trek so we decided to hide our bags so we didn’t have to carry them all the way to Alpamayo. This was a brilliant idea! After two hours we finally made it to the lake near Alpamayo. Unfortunately it started snowing when we finally got to the top, so our photos don’t really do it justice.
We then went back to our packs and moved on to the campsite before it got dark. We finally got to the Taullipampa campsite at 4250m (the highest campsite), just before it started raining. Unfortunately it rained most of the night, but at least we set up camp before the rain. Our tent was cheap and didn’t have the best water-proofing so we had to improvise and put random objects on the side to prevent water from getting in during the night.
Day 3: Taullipampa – Punta Union Pass – Huaripampa valley [14km – 4,250m over 4,750m to 3,700m]
The next morning we woke up to not only ice at the bottom of our sleeping bags, but to a frozen tent. As a result we had to use our spoon to scrap off all the ice and wait until it had somewhat dried off before we packed it and left. It definitely felt like the coldest morning to wake up to. This was the hardest day out of all the days. We were no longer facing a long valley floor, but a large ridge in which we had to climb over. We had to climb to the highest point Punta Union at 4,750m, via switchbacks up the ridge. What made this even more difficult was the fact that it was the top of the trail still had snow on it which was melting, so it was very wet and slippery.
After an hour or two we finally made it to the top of the pass. There was an amazing view of where we had hiked from and a beautiful lake and glacier.
It was then time to hike down. As it was wet and slippery we took it very slow. Rodora changed into her wet weather gear as fell a few times and had mud over everything.
There were some great opportunities to get some scenic photos along the way as we made our descent.
After a few hours we made it to the Paria campsite but decided to keep going to get closer to Vaqueria. The next campsite of Huaripampa was another 3km down the trail. We were advised to hide everything at the campsite closest to Vaqueria as things from some groups had gone missing in the past weeks during the night. In the distance were views of the white peaks we had just passed through during the last 3 days of trekking.
Day 4: Huaripampa – Vaqueria [6km – 3,700m to ???]
The last day which we thought was going to be easy wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. It involved 3 hours of hiking, including over an hour of uphill hiking. From where we were camping we passed local villagers helping us with directions on how to get to Vaqueria. With this we unfortunately came across quite a few locals asking for food or money and children asking for cookies. Yes, the kids knew the English name in this case so as to be sure to try and get something sweet.
Vaqueria to Laguna 69
We made it to Vaqueria around 9.45am with the knowledge we wouldn’t likely leave until 11am. Transport here is very infrequent, so plan for some waiting time. The trip to Laguna 69 cost us 20 soles each ($7.20) for a 2 hour trip. We were hoping to get going as soon as possible and the combi driver told us we would actually leave at 10.30am. This was sadly not the case and just added to the frustration. In our waiting time we would enjoy some sunshine, an Inca Kola (very tasty) and some local snacks. Our combi driver would also get some lunch while we waited for the van to fill up.
Eventually we were on our way at 11.50am with an overpacked van and some bumpy but amazingly scenic roads ahead.
The most spectacular would be this crazy switchback road in the photo below. We stopped at the top of the pass for nearly 10 minutes; we think so the van could recover a little and the passengers could stretch their legs.
We didn’t arrive into our camp spot at Laguna 69 until about 2pm which was too late to try and get a hike up and back, so it would an early start tomorrow morning to get up there.
Day 5: Laguna 69 [13km]
This is one of the most popular day hikes from Huaraz and you can typically get return transport for 30 soles ($10) on the main street during busy season. One way takes about 3 hours but it is worth the view on a clear day.
We set off early at 7.15am to try and make the most of our time. It would be about a 3 hour hike up and 2 hours back. It was literally freezing as we set off and the thermometer showed 0C. The trail was fairly easy to follow and curled around the valley we had initially walked into. There was a couple of waterfalls to look at, but the lighting wasn’t great on the way up.
We soon came up over a ridge to a small reflective lagoon great for some photo practice.
From here the trail comes out into another valley with a glacier trail on the right. For those without a guide, the main lagoon is across the other side of the valley and up over a ridge. The trail markers are nearly non-existent, so bring a GPS/phone or good map to know where to navigate.
The final hour or so of switchbacks up that ridge are worth it when you see the first views of Laguna 69. It was quite hard to do it justice by camera. The turquoise blue colour of the water was greatly enhanced by the near perfectly blue sky. We actually had nearly a whole hour up there by ourselves with time to reflect on things and just enjoy the scenery before the noise of other tourists spoilt the tranquility. We exited when the tourists started arriving.
We hiked back down and packed up our camp and headed to the road to find a nearly empty tourist bus on its way to Huaraz for 20 soles each ($7.20).
It’s really hard to describe just how great this trip was. Going solo without a guide is more than possible and depending on your travel type is a more worthy experience. We know of some others who got their price down to around 280 soles ($100) each for the 4 day experience, not including the Laguna 69 trip we added on ourselves.
Our next adventure was an 8 day trek in Huayhuash which we actually chose to go with an organised tour, but more on that in the next post.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/