Looking to hike when in Peru? The views along the Santa Cruz trek are stunning. You will camp underneath starry skies, pas turquoise blue lakes with ice flakes bobbing around in them. You’ll see pointy snow-covered peaks all along the trek. Here is all you need to know before hiking the Santa Cruz trek in Peru!
About the Santa Cruz Trek
The Santa Cruz Trek is a 3 nights, 4-days trek through the mountain range of the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes. Cordillera Blanca translates to the white mountain range. The name is due to the white pointy mountain tops and the mountain range occupies most of Huascaran National Park. Ironically the white mountain range is also the world’s biggest tropical mountain range! The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with amazing views, it has a unique biodiversity and the park is therefor also recognized by Unesco as a Biosphere Reserve.
The Santa Cruz trek is named after the Santa Cruz mountain that you pass along the way, with its peak 6,259 meters above the ocean! However, The Santa Cruz trail is the most popular of the Cordillera Blanca treks. It could’ve also been called the Cordillera Blanca trek as the trek goes all through the valley below the mountain range.
The trek is in high altitude. Still, the hiking and elevation is not the only thing along this trek that will take your breath away. As already mentioned, the views are incredible!
Facts about Santa Cruz Trek
Location: Cordilleras Blancas in Huascaran National Park, a part of the Peruvian Andes
The distance of the Santa Cruz Trek: About 45 km
Altitude: Highest point of the hike is Punta Union at 4760 m
Best time to trek: The best time to do the Santa Cruz Trek is in dry season, May to September.
Difficulty of the Santa Cruz Trek: Moderate to difficult
About the Santa Cruz Trek
The trek starts in the village of Vaqueria at 3700 meters altitude and ends in Cashapampa at 2900 meters. Trail along the trek is well marked and relatively easy to follow.
First day and night of Santa Cruz Trek towards Campsite Praia at 3850m
So you’ll leave Huaraz early in a van and drive the 114 km along bumpy roads to the trailhead in Vaqueria. From there you’ll hike about 10km in the Huarípampa Valley to the first nights’ campsite, Paria Camp. The first days’ hike takes an estimate of about 4 hours.
Second day of the Santa Cruz Trek towards Taullipampa campsite at 4250m
The second day is definitely the hardest day of the trek. You start climbing steadily from the start of the day. You pass Laguna Morococha, the colored lagoon, basically a brownish little lake. Shortly after that, you’ll start to see the mountain wall in front of you. There is be no way around it. You will have to ascend to Punta Union pass at 4,750 meters above the ocean. This is the highest point of the 4 day trek and the pass is a little passage in the top of the mountain range. It seemed like we would never get there, but when we were at the top, it was all worth it. We had our lunch there, overlooking the amazing view of the valley bellow as well as a beautiful little blue lagoon.
From Punta Union pass the rest of the day was downhill until we reached the camp at Taullipampa. The camp is situated not to far from a little river. The whole trek on day 2 is going to take you 6 to 7 hours.
The third day of the Santa Cruz hike towards campsite LLamacorrel
The third day you’ll just have about 3 to 4 hours of hiking to the treks last camping site called Llamacorrel. The trek is mostly flat and downhill through the valley. On the way however, make sure to do the detour to Arhuaycocha Lake, it was optional. The detour will, naturally, make the trek a couple of hours longer, but it’s a 100% worth it.
After hiking uphill you get to Arhuaycocha Lake, situated in between the steep mountains. While we sat there taking in the incredible turquoise water, we got to see some parts of the ice on the mountain above, break off and fall into the water. There it joined other ice flakes floating around. In other words, it wasn’t tempting with a swim, and after taking in the views we headed back down into the valley.
The valley has a lot of sandy terrain. The landscape here was very strange and beautiful and a little desert-like as you’ll walk along what was once lake Icchicocha. Passing this mars-like area, you will get to Jatuncocha lake. Passing the lake you’ll have about 1 hour left of trekking before you get to LLamacorrel campsite also along a small river. So good to have the campsite next to rivers to cool off your acing feet after days of hiking!
The fourth day ending the Santa Crus trail in Cashapampa
The last day of hiking from your campsite Llamacorrel to the village of Cashapampa is going to take about 3 hours. There will be mostly downhill hiking and you’ll be able to see the vegetation changing a bit as you decent. When you get to Cashapampa, if you make it with time to spare, see if you can catch a collective to the hotsprings not too far away. If you’re with a tour, ask your guides about it. They might take you there for a little extra payment.
Do the Santa Cruz trek alone or with a tour?
So, should you do the Santa Cruz trek alone of with a guide? This is really up to you to decide, but I’ve written up some pros and cons bellow.
Hike the Santa Cruz Trek alone:
Benefits: Pros about hiking the Santa Cruz trek by yourself is that you can hike in your own pace and spend several days trekking in the area. There are various detours that you can do along the Santa Cruz trail that takes you to beautiful viewpoints and so on. If you want to, you can therefor spend days along the Cordilleras Blancas. There is also something amazing about being more on your own and not have to rely on a bigger group.
Getting to and from the trail of Santa Cruz itself can be an adventure as the journey takes you through several small villages. You can even spend the might in one of them if you want to see how the real rural mountain towns are like!
Drawbacks: Cons about hiking the Santa Crus trek solo is that you will have way more to carry, hence making the trek more difficult. You’ll also depend more on maps to finding your way and finding somewhere to camp. You can consider hiring a donkey and a donkey driver to carry your heavier gear like tent, sleeping bags and cooking equipment. If you don’t already have hiking and camping gear, you would have to rent it. However, there are plenty of places to rent from in Huaraz in you want to do the trek alone.
You will also have to get to and from the Santa Cruz Trail on your own, either with collectivos or by paying a taxi. The drive is about 3 hours, but by collectivo it can quickly become more as you’ll have to change in some of the towns you pass through.
Hiking the Santa Cruz Trek with a tour
Benefits: If you decide to go with a tour, some pros will be that you only have to carry the essentials with you. We each just had a daypack to carry during out hikes. I filled mine with a huge bottle of water, lunch and an extra set of clothes in case it got colder, or I got wet. The rest of my things were carried by the donkeys. The tour company also provided all meals, tents and the rest of the camping gear. You don’t have to worry about what time to get up to leave camp or what pace to hold to reach the next campsite before it gets dark as your guides will make sure of all the logistics. You will also have direct transport to and from the trail and back to Huaraz.
Drawbacks: So, hiking with a group also means that you’ll have to hike with the group, stop when the group wants and have a less secluded experience. However, we were about 15 in our group and other then starting the day by leaving the camp at the same time, having breakfast and dinner together, we were pretty much free to hike in our own pace. Smaller groups soon formed, and people found hiking partners after their level and pace.
You have less opportunity to do alternative hikes and other viewpoints, as you have to stick to the plan and the 3 nights and 4 days provided for the Santa Cruz trek.
How to prepare for the Santa Cruz Trek
So how do you prepare to hike Santa Cruz trek? There are the basic things you should prepare for before any hike stretching over sevelal days, but I’ll start with a very important one; Aclimatize!
Acclimatize before the Santa Cruz trek
The Santa Cruz trek is a trek in high altitude and it’s important to acclimatize your body before heading out on the trek. Give your body a few days acclimatize in Huaraz on 3052 meters above the ocean and consider doing a couple of day hikes from there. I came from sea levels after spending some time in beautiful Trujillo and spend 3 days in Huaraz before I set out for my Santa Cruz hike.
During my days of acclimatizing I hiked to the Laguna 69 and also did a hike to Pastoruri Glacier at over 5000meters above the ocean. I recommend these hikes so that you can get to feel how the altitude affects your body. Especially if you’ve never hiked in altitude before. The hikes have some incredible views, both along the trek, but also on the drive there. Read all about how to handle the altitude and avoid altitude sickness!
How much does it cost to do the Santa Cruz trek?
The Santa Cruz trek will cost you anything between 270 and 350 Soles per person. I recommend that you walk around in Huaraz and ask different companies for their prices. If you are several people you might also be able to negotiate a group price!
The Parque Nacional de Huacarán had an entry fee of 10 soles per day or 65 soles(20 $) for a 21 day pass. If you do the Santa Cruz trek you will have to get toe 21-day pass, but if you have the option to, you can stay in Huaraz longer and do other hikes. By the 21 day pass on your first acclimatization hike!
When booking a Santa Cruz trek tour, make sure to check that they have all the gear you need and specifically ask how their sleeping bags are. Some companies provide thinner sleeping bags, and there is nothing worse than freezing your ass off at night before another long day of trekking in the Andes!
When to go to Huaraz
So, opt to trek in Huaraz in the dry season when temperatures are good, and the chance of rain is lower. You’ll be walking between high mountains in terrain that might become muddy if the rainfall gets heavy. The dry season is usually between May and September, but you can go outside of these months too. However, try to avoid January as that’s the worst of the rainy season.
How to get to Huaraz
To get to Huaraz you’ll have to take the bus. The most common way to get to huaraz is either from Trujillo in the north or Lima in the south.
From Trujillo to Huaraz its about 7 hours in bus and you’ll find several bus companies going there from the bus station in Trujillo.
From Lima to Huaraz it’s also about 7 hours and even more buses running every day. If you are short on time, consider taking a night bus. The roads from Huaraz to Lima are quite winding, but I slept pretty well all the way there. Must admit that hiking 4 days straight might have been a factor in on the good sleep too.
Where to stay in Huaraz
There are plenty of small guest houses, hostels, and hotels in Huaraz. I ended up at Alpes Huaraz Hostel and I can definitely recommend it. They had affordable tours and beds, helpful staff and a good kitchen available for use. They also had breakfast included where you could close from a menu of many different available options. I also loved the rooftop view they had!
What to bring with you on your Santa Cruz Trek
So what should you pack for your Santa Cruz hike?
Beanie: To keep your head and ears warm. I even slept with something on my head during the night to keep warm.
Caps or a hat with a brim: Something to shade your face can be great when the sun is stron, but a cap is also great if to sheald your face if you have to hike in the rain.
Buff: Love buffs because they have so many different uses. I found these really cute designs on amazon. I mainly use them to protect my throat. A fleece one could also be good for hiking in windy cold mountains.
Toilet paper and wet wipes: Because you’ll be hiking in the mountains for 4 days and you would have to go to the toilet and freshen up a liiiitle bit along the day. Remember to not leave any trash behind, bring used wipes and toilet paper back down from the mountain with you. A re-sealable bag, like a ziplock-bag, works great!
Gloves: Bring a pair of thin gloves. There is no need for tick gloves, but it’s very practical with a pair of thin gloves to keep your hand warm in the cool mountain air.
Sunscreen: The sun is much stronger at high elevations, even on cloudy days! Remember to cover up and apply sunscreen! This sunscreen is biodegradable, eco-friendly, and even water resistant!
Sunglasses: Because as mention, the sun is strong up in the Peruvian Andes mountains.
Extra snacks: Even though your tour provides food, bring some extra snacks to keep yourself fuelled for the day. The lunch we got on our tour wasn’t the most impressive. However, the dinners where great!
Water: The tour is going to boil water for you, but make sure you have a big bottle to refill with water. The water the tour gives you in the morning should last you throughout the day, so you should have at least 1 liter of bottle space! If you have a water filter or a Lifestraw waterbottles you can refill your bottle in the rivers and lakes along the trail.
Painkillers: I recommend bringing a few mild painkillers, like paracetamol. Altitude affects your body and many people experience mild headaches, this can make it hard to sleep at night. As you will be trekking a lot during your days along the trek, make sure to get enough rest, and take a painkiller if it’s absolutely necessary.
Pocketknife/multitool: I love this multitool for backpacking. I’ve had two, and its so practical.
Hope this post inspired you to go hike the Santa Cruz trek! Let me know if you have any questions.