Santa Cruz – The most scenic trekking route in Huaraz, Peru. Things you should know.

How do I even begin to put into words…The 4-day trek around the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru had me witness some of the most unreal natural landscapes before my eyes. Cordillera Blanca which stands for “white range” is known to be among one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. Walking through valleys of snow-capped mountains, vivid turquois and blue lakes, strange fauna and floras, rivers and arid lands; some moments were so unreal that I’d pause, look around and breathe in just to take in all that IS surrounding me. That this is real life. Yes it’s as real as can be.

The trek situated in Huascarán National Park which is a well-known national park that comprises with majority of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. We started in Vaqueria, at 3,600 m on the first day briefly after lunch. We then hiked for about 4 hours until we arrived at our first camp-site at 3,800 m. Our guides had set up tents upon our arrival and we were invited into a main tent for tea. Dinner throughout the 4-day trek involved soup, rice, meat and pasta and lots of bread, jam and tea/coffee for breakfast. The temperature drastically dropped on the first night, it would have to be one of the coldest nights I’ve experienced in my life. That feeling, however seemed to quickly vanished in the morning as I unzip the tent and was presented with mystical mountain peaks and a stream of river flowing through our campsite, the mules that helped carry our supplies were eating away at the grass. Unaffected by the chills of the temperature. The grass was covered with a light sprinkle of ice  but our breakfast was also ready in the main tent. On the first day we walked a total of 14 km.

Vaqueria, where we started our trek by foot. These donkeys carried our tents and supply.

Morning after the first night 6:00 A.M

The second day was the toughest out of the four. We started to walk early briefly after breakfast. Our guide told us that we’d be ascending for a few hours until we reach Punta Union at 4,750 m. Trekking at high altitude definitely tests your fitness, endurance and persistence levels, every step that you lift up to take you onto the next step was also fought with the amount of air you breathe into your lungs which somewhat seem insufficient with every breath. Every single gulp of breath was heavy. I remember thinking to myself why do I always end up getting myself into this situation every time (?)… only to realise the answer was just a few more steps above me when a fellow hiker yelled out “You’re almost there, wait until you see this”. We hiked for about 18 km on the second day.

This was the Hatuncocha lagoon behind Punta Union peak.

Pics or it didn’t happen 

We stayed at this picturesque lake for over an hour. We had lunch, we took pictures, we walked around to find our own nature toilet… =) We then ascended for about 4 hours until we reach our campsite, which was again, set up for us. On this night, we camped at 4,250 m. Having known that the temperature will not be kind to us, my tent buddy and I grabbed an extra sleeping bag between us. Night number two wasn’t as bad. Still cold but was bearable. We slept with our socks and jackets on.

Day three involved an optional trek for an extra 3 hours where we’d climb up to Laguna Arhuaycocha, having really placed my body in extreme changing conditions (low jungles of Iquitos for a month just 2 days prior to the high mountainous peaks of the Ancash), I was quite exhausted but since all my fellow hikers decided they’d hike the optional route, I followed through anyway. The day turned out to be a 26 km route, longest of the 4. After slowly making my way there mostly alone listening to some of my favourite tracks, I reached the top. The wind wasn’t friendly but the view was sublime. I conquered another blue Gatorade lake. A moment to embrace and to remember. We then walked on for another 5 hours after meeting up with our guide where she left us that morning. I’d have to say, that following walk would be the most picturesque walk I’d ever set foot on. Check out these pictures below.

Fields of lupine – This is a flower that is wildly populated in regions of North and South America.

Laguna Arhuaycocha

La vida es mejor con un perro 🙂  (Life is better with a dog)

Day four was mostly nice and steady, we walked across many side rivers and lots of steep downhill rocks on our way back. We took plenty of breaks, almost as though we didn’t want the trip to end. I saw the cutest baby calves who seemed like they would be only a week old.

Baby mules playing in their natural habitat

Jarava ichu also known as Peruvian feather grass can be seen in many sections along the trek.

I remember walking and talking with one of my fellow companion who was an avid trekker. He’d done many treks unassisted with family and friends (yes, he’s one of those people that would carry their own heavy backpacks for days while climbing at high altitude) over the years, he asked me whether I’ve done many treks before and my answer was: “I don’t actually enjoy hiking that much”, I said. He laughed. “I think I do it because these are some of the most incredible places that you will not be able to get to unless you do it by foot. The harder the climb, the better the view”, I added. I also take it as a mental training tool and also because the journey always ended up being something very memorable.

In essence, the Santa Cruz Trek in Huaraz was something other-worldly. The landscapes are ever-changing through peaks, lakes, canyons, fields of flora, waterfalls during your trek that it will leave you in awe. The colours are vivid, the brittle sound of rivers streaming through, the bright star-lit skies above your tents, the sunrise and sunsets…They will all make you feel like you’re travelling through a waking dream. I’d recommend this trek to hikers at all levels, it is only a bit more challenging than your weekend day hike because it stretches through 4 days and oh the altitude, however if I can do it, you can do it! I encourage YOU, yes you, to embark on this adventure if you ever have the chance to visit Huaraz, Peru. The best views are always always after a hard climb.

“What you imagine, you create.” – An attempt I made in Photoshop as I didn’t get a chance to capture any star-lit skies due to the freezing cold temperature by night lol

Finally, I’d like to share some tips with you about this tour:

  • Most places will try to sell you this 4D/3N tour for 450 soles ($138 USD) however you should definitely bargain and look around as I got mine down to 330 soles ($101 USD). Never ever settle for the price that your hostel/hotel offers you, as they often get commission for this, you know that you can get it cheaper elsewhere. However, be careful and it doesn’t mean that you should settle for some place significantly cheap because the quality of the tour can decrease. After a long hike, you don’t want your tents to be collapsing on you in the middle of the night. Look for reputable companies that have good reviews online. I went with Mony Tours which acted as an agent like many other tour companies. The guests were from as many as 6 different agencies that formed the group I was with. Our guide was from Ganesa Explorer which was a much larger company.
  • These tours have donkeys that will carry all the supplies and tents for you (provided by the tour company) you can also leave a small bag of clothes/necessities for these donkeys to carry. This ensures that you only carry a small day pack with water and snacks during your hike.
  • Try to carry your own sleeping bag if you got one, that way you can use two as your tour would also supply each person with a sleeping bag. It gets extremely cold on some nights. believe me!
  • Bring your own toilet paper as you’ll need it for snots and nature pees/poos along the way 🙂
  • The first and second day may have you feel like giving up but you’ll 110% LOVE it through all the struggle, pain and lack of oxygen.
  • Feel free to ask me any questions related to this post or Peru in general. I will get back to you asap :)Thanks for reading and I hope it somewhat inspired you to see more of what mother nature has in store for all of us! xx

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