If you've ever heard of Huaraz, Peru (and chances are you haven't) than you've probably heard of the Santa Cruz trek. This multi-day trek in the Cordillera Blanca is one of the most famous hikes in the world, and with good reason. I've seen the photos and they are stunning. But it's a trek, not a day hike.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good trek. I muscled my way to Machu Picchu and I'm currently planning to do West Highland Way in Scotland. It's even a dream of mine to do the PCT. But when I was in Huaraz, I didn't have the option to do a multi-day trek. I was already exhausting my vacation days on Machu Picchu, so I chose day hiking instead.
All you hard-core trekkers out there, don't be fooled. The day hiking in Huaraz is arguable more challenging than the Santa Cruz trek (especially if you do it barefoot like I did). There's a lot more climbing at a much higher elevation involved in the day hiking, but if you ask me, the views are more than worth it. Without further ado, here are my favorite day hikes in the Huaraz area.
Length: 8 miles, approx. 5-6 hours
Starting Elevation: 12,465 feet
Highest Elevation: 15,090 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,625 feet
How to get there:
There are plenty of organized treks you can take to Laguna 69 and if that's your scene, go for it. That, however, is not my scene. I'm all about going the local way (even if it didn't save me very much money, was a lot harder, and-let's be honest-no locals are hiking to Laguna 69).
Most organized treks cost around 40 soles ($12) to get to Laguna 69 where as I spent 35 soles ($10) doing it the local way, so it's not really a big money saver. What's fun about doing it without a tour is that you can go at your own pace and stay at the lake as long as you want (even camp there if that's your thing). If you're getting a tour, talk to your hostel/hotel. If you want to do it yourself, catch a colectivo to Yunguy.
A colectivo is basically a big mini-van that acts like a bus. The trip is about an hour long and will cost you around 5 soles ($1.50). In Yungay you have to hire a taxi to take you to the trailhead, which is about 20 soles ($6) per person. he taxi driver will offer to meet you back there at a set time and bring you back to Yungay where you can catch a colectivo back to Huaraz. This is the easiest way, so obviously it's not what my friends and I did. We just hiked and when we got back asked one of the tour buses if we could hitch a ride. They brought us all the way back to Huaraz fro 10 soles ($3).
The trail itself is extremely easy to follow as it is well-marked and there are usually other hikers around. Just follow the stream (it should be on your right until you start climbing) and keep going up. There are a few lakes and peaks that might make you think you've reached the top, but don't be fooled. You're not there yet (sorry). Until you see that unbelievably blue water, you're not at Laguna 69.
Oh, and you might find a few cows blocking your trail. Don't be afraid to push them out of your way... they're pretty chill.
Why this hike:
This was by far the most beautiful hike of my entire Central and South American adventure... maybe even the most beautiful hike of my life. It's hard... really hard. You're climbing the whole time, your at a dangerously high elevation, and every time you think you're done a hiker coming down tells you just how depressingly far you still have to go. But every time you get tired, just look to your side. The views are unreal. And I really mean unreal. I had to keep convincing myself this wasn't fake.
Just when you are exhausted and think there's no way you can go on, you hit a flat trail and you see a tiny sliver of blue. Somewhere in your heart you know it's the lake, but your brain can't believe it. It's just too blue! But you keep walking and the sliver gets bigger and bigger until you turn the corner and a crystalline pool of water shimmers in the sunlight. It's overwhelming. It's flawless. It can't be real... and yet... it is. That's Laguna 69 and if you only have time for one hike, this is the one.
Length: 4.47 miles, approx. 4-6 hours
Starting Elevation: 12,600 feet
Highest Elevation: 14,600 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
How to get there:
Unlike Laguna 69, where it's debatable, it is absolutely worth doing Laguna Churup on your own. From Huaraz you can take a colectivo to Pitek for around 20 soles, though if the colectivo is full you will often get quotes a smaller fee. The park entrance is 5 soles and the colectivo back to town is 10 to 15 soles. To make it even cheaper you can grab a colectivo from Huaraz to Llupa for 5 soles. It's a pretty walk from Llupa to Pitek and very easy, but be warned, if you have a sense of direction as inconsistent as mine, you'll probably get lost. I did... twice.
Why this hike:
Laguna Churup is basically Laguna 69's little sister. It's beautiful where Laguna 69 is breathtaking. It's tough where Laguna 69 is grueling. That being said, it's not to be overlooked.
It's definitely a better acclimating hike than Laguna 69 because it is easier, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Most of the trail is climbing and there's a 45-minute scramble where you use rubber ropes to pretty much pull yourself over the mountain. It's definitely a challenge, but it's also definitely doable.
What I love about Laguna Churup is the ridges. You're climbing along the mountain ridge for almost all of the hike which means you get spectacular views of the valley below. Plus, I thought the scramble was a ton of fun and the multi-colored water of the lake is something else. Oh, and the water is much warmer (not warm, mind you... it just didn't turn me to ice when I jumped in like Laguna 69 did).
I'm not including all the normal stats here because this isn't a normal hike. There's no official trail... it's just a side of a mountain that my friends and I had a lot of fun climbing all over. So I don't have the stats about high it is and it can take you as long as you want, but I am going to talk about why you should go and how to get there so read on... :)
How to get there:
It's super easy! Just grab a colectivo to Cruse Para Escalar Rocas (shouldn't be more than a few soles and takes about 10 minutes). They'll drop you off on the side of the road and you will need to hike behind all the houses, down the valley, across the river, and back up the valley to reach the base of the mountain. We ended up taking a taxi on the way back because we couldn't find a colectivo, but even that was pretty cheap since we were all pitching in.
Why this hike:
This is the perfect acclimating hike. It's also great if you only want to go out for an hour or two. We heard about it because of the rock climbing in the area, but none of us wanted to pay to climb. Instead, we found a boulder that we were 80% sure we could survive climbing and scrambled to the top. Then we followed random trails and paths and somehow ended up with the best view of Huaraz that no one ever told us about.
If you follow the trail along the edge of the mountain and generally keep making your way up, you'll eventually reach this breath-taking summit. The elevation was much lower compared to the two lakes and though there was climbing, there wasn't the steep, exhausting mountain-fronts that Laguna 69 and Laguna Churup are famous for.
Los Olivos may not be the most spectacular hike, but it's a ton of fun. It's also completely unorganized so you have the freedom to explore the hills and valleys however you want.
The Best Day Hike
I did a fair amount of research on the day hikes before I went to Huaraz (okay, fine, on my first morning there... I'm a procrastinator, what of it?). What I found was that no one can agree on what the best day hike is. Some people love the satisfaction of reaching Laguna 69, others think it's not worth the effort and choose to stick to Laguna Churup. Still others say screw all that I'm sticking to the hills (aka Los Olivos area).
My personal opinion is that if you are a strong hiker, Laguna 69 is a must. In fact, this list is in order of my favorite to least favorite of the three day hikes. But I really did love them all and if you have the time and energy, I recommend them all.