After arriving in Lima from Ica I immediately took a cab to the Z-Bus office to go to Huaraz. The bus was 40 soles and the journey was 8 hours. I arrived at 5am in Huaraz and checked in to Big Mountain Hostel which cost 20 soles per night. I spent the next two days organizing for my first trek in Huaraz.
I decided to use Caleb Expeditions to take a transport to Laguna 69 (30 soles) and from there I would camp a night and then go on to trek the Santa Cruz route. Laguna 69 was beautiful but there were around 90 people there for the day which definitely made it less appealing. The transport picked me up at 4:30am and we arrived at the start of the hike at 9am.
It took a couple of hours to get to the laguna and then I had a couple of hours to enjoy the view before it started to snow so I hiked back to the bus and arrived at 3pm. While at the laguna I met a really nice girl from Iran and we decided to hike back down together. Once I got back to the bus I got my pack and went to go set up camp.
I was the only person in the campground the first night and went to bed early. The next morning I work up around 7am to catch a local bus at 8am on the main road to go to the town of Vaqueria which is where the Santa Cruz trek started. The bus took around 90 minutes and cost 20 soles.
The entire drive it was raining and continued raining when I arrived to Vaqueria. Since it was only 9/9:30am I decided to wait at the little restaurant in Vaqueria to see in the rain would stop. There were the two cutest little girls in the restaurant and I ordered a mate de coca and soup to warm up as I waited. Luckily, the rain stopped around 11am and I set off.
The hike was downhill for the first 45 minutes and the trail led through the town of Huaripampa. While there were still a lot of clouds on this portion of the hike, the rain held off and the views were still pretty. I arrived at the Paria campsite after 3 1/2 hours and set up camp. I spent the afternoon relaxing and eventually the clouds cleared and I had a perfect view of the mountains and glaciers nearby.
The next morning I left camp around 10am. I was a little worried because I saw two groups pass by my campsite at 8:30am but I figured it would probably be fine. On day two the first part of the trail was a pretty steady uphill but nothing too bad. After an hour or so I arrived to the first set of switchbacks. They didn’t last for too long and it was here that I met the first group of hikers with a guide. From here the trail continued uphill but again not too steep.
At 11:30am I arrived at the base of the last uphill to the Punta Union pass. It took 45 minutes to climb up to the pass and it was here that I passed the second group with a guide. Once at the pass I enjoyed my lunch and the view. I also started talking with the second guided group and really enjoyed visiting with the guide.
On the way down from the pass I talked with the guide almost the entire time and arrived to the Taullipampa campsite around 4pm. The campsite was beautiful and offered amazing views of “Paramount” mountain and the surrounding mountains as well.
The next morning I left camp around 8:30am and went to the Alpamayo Mirador which was a short uphill from camp. The view was amazing and also offered a better view of Paramount Mountain. After going up to the mirador it was all downhill. The hike went down the valley and passed a beautiful laguna on the way. At the laguna I decided to stop and read a while in the sun and enjoy this amazing place.
I arrived at the Llamacorral campsite at 12:30pm and had lunch. I then spent the afternoon enjoying the beautiful weather. While I could have finished the hike on day 3, I opted to do four days because I had an interview in two days and I knew I would need to stay in Huaraz if I finished early.
This ended up being a great decision because that evening I heard a voice outside my tent and it was the cook for one of the guided trips with soup and pasta for dinner. After being brought dinner I decided to go over to their tents to visit and talk (after a day of not talking to anyone I was ready for some social contact.) I ended up spending a great evening with the cook, mule driver, and guide that I had spoken with earlier. We talked about the Peruvian culture, politics, and life in the U.S. I loved having this opportunity to talk with locals and hear their point of view.
The next morning I left camp at 7:30am and hiked the 2:30 hours to Cashapampa. The evening before the guide told me I could ride with them back to Huaraz and I decided to take him up on the offer. After getting to Cashapampa I went with their group to a hot springs for a while and then caught a free ride back to Huaraz.
Overall, I really liked the option of linking Laguna 69 and Santa Cruz and I’m not sure why it’s not a more popular option. I only had to pay the national park entrance fee once and it was easy and logical to link the two since they were on the same road. Santa Cruz was a great hike as well and not too difficult. Since it only had one pass and can be done in 3-4 days it is an easy hike to do solo as well. In addition, the trail exists in maps.me and the trail was also very easy to see. I would definitely recommend Santa Cruz to anyone who loves trekking and is looking for a nice mid-range difficulty hike near Huaraz.