HIKING THE SANTA CRUZ TREK, PERU
Hiking the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
Welcome to the Andes!
Explore snow-capped mountains on the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru!
From the beginning of our journey we were sure that we will go on a trek in the Andes one day. And in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru we fulfilled our plan and also one of our dreams.
The Cordillera Blanca is the highest tropical mountain range in the world and an amazing piece of nature. More than 50 mountains over 5,700m make this mountain range to one of the highest in the world.
When we arrived in Huaraz, the starting point for tours in the Cordillera Blanca, we had no idea for which trek we should go for. After some research the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, seemed to be the perfect trek for us. The altitude along the trail ranges from 2,900m to 4,750m.
When to go: Best from May to September (during the dry season)
Altitude: 2,900m to 4,750m
The Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, is the most popular trek in the Cordillera Blanca and now, after we made the trek, we know why. The views are incredible and all the time you have the feeling you discover something new… snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes and beautiful meadows with cows, horses and donkeys.
4-day itinerary of the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
Sister lake Llanganuco
Huaraz-Yungay-Llanganuco Lakes-Portachuelo (4,768m), Vaqueria-Paria
On 6am we were picked up at the hostel and were brought to the Galaxia Expeditions office in the center of Huaraz. Everybody was still tired but excited to start the trip. Our guide Daniel welcomed us and the engine started. In Yungay we had a breakfast stop at a restaurant. Lars, BoB and I brought some food so that we walked a bit through Yungay.
From Yungay we drove directly to the entrance of the National Park Huascaran where we paid the park fee of 65 soles per person. The scenery in the National Park was already breathtaking. The first highlight was the sister lake called Llanganuco with its blue water.
The water of the Lake Llanganuco
was incredibly blue.
After crossing the pass we arrived in the village Vaqueria from where we started our Santa Cruz Trek, Peru. Just equipped with our day pack and a lunch box we followed Daniel through the small village of Huaripampa.
On this point you have left the National Park and you enter it again after the village. You will be registered in the house of the National Park. Here we were already impressed by the first high mountains we had around us. Unfortunately we had some problems with our donkey driver as the organized person didn’t appear. So Daniel had to organize a new one and we had to wait for him for around 2 hours. Finally Daniel got a confirmation from another donkey driver and we could keep on walking. However the sunset already started and so Daniel decided to built up our camp on a closer campsite.
Great view from our campsite of Mt. Pucaraju (5,025m)
In the first moment we were all irritated and thought it’s a disadvantage. But on the next day we realized that we had a much better view of the mountains from this place. So it was even good that this happened.
As soon as the donkeys arrived we put up the tents and the cook started preparing the dinner. We had an absolute great view of Pucaraju (5,025 m). In our “restaurant tent” we got a hot coca tea to warm up. For dinner we had a delicious noodle soup as starter and lamb, rice and potatoes as main dish. As soon as the dinner was over we were all tired and looking forward to jump into our sleeping bags. The first day of our Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, was over.
Yes, we made it! At the Punta Union Pass (4,750m)
Around 6:15am we were woken up by Daniel who brought cups of hot coca tea to every tent. What a start! Then we put our things together and had breakfast. Meanwhile our tents were taken down by Daniel and the donkey driver. With a filled stomach we started our hike into the direction of the highest point of our Santa Cruz Trek, Peru: The pass of Punta Union at 4,750m.
The beginning of the trek was easy but then the hardest part of the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, started: the steep way up to the pass. Very slowly and with little steps we made our way up over huge rocks. For us it was a hard challenge as it was the first time that we did such a long steep walk in the high mountains.
On the way to the Punta Union Pass
Almost 7 hours after leaving our campsite we reached the pass. We all were so proud and enjoyed the amazing views of the Santa Cruz Valley to the west, and the views of the Huaripampa Valley to the east. Looking to the Santa Cruz Valley we could admire the peak of Taulliraju (5,830m) with its glacial lake on the right hand side. On the left hand side we saw the mountains Paria (5,720m) and Artesonraju (6,025m). However, due to the cloudy sky, we couldn’t see the snow-capped peaks.
Far away in the distance we already saw the blue water of Lake Jatuncocha in the Santa Cruz Canon. With good weather conditions you can already see all of Santa Cruz Canon with the mountains Alpamayo (5,947m), Artesonraju, Taulliraju, Rinrihircas, Chacraraju, Chopicalqui and Pucahircas.
After enjoying the views we went down to our next camp, Taullipampa (4,250m). Everything was already prepared. At the dinner table we all talked about the amazing moment when we reached the Punta Union pass on our Santa Cruz Trek, Peru.
Perfect surroundings for taking picutres – with Mt. Artesonraju in the background
Taullipampa-Arhuaycocha Caon-Jatuncocha, Ichicchocha, Llamacorral
On our second morning we were also woken up with a hot coca tea. After breakfast we left the camp Taullipampa and had a nice and much easier way up to a view point from where you have a great view of Paria and Artesonraju. Did you know that Mt. Artesonraju is said to used to be the inspiration for the famous Paramount Pictures logo?
Also on that day the sky was cloudy but we could guess how impressive the peaks must look on a clear day. Slowly the sun found its way through the clouds and we went further to Laguna Arhuaycocha. It is situated at the foot of the mountains Pukahirka and Rinrihirka and the Arway glacier. The blue water was so fascinating and we enjoyed our long break with the view of the Arway glacier.
From here we made our way down into the Santa Cruz Canon and passed the beautiful Lake Jatuncocha. Around 5pm we reached our camp Llamacorral (3,417m). Of course the camp was already set up and after an early dinner at 6pm we all had a very early sleep.
Great waterfalls along the trail
When we woke up on our last day we were welcomed by a much sunnier sky. It was wonderful and we all were looking forward to an amazing day. On the slow way down to our final destination Cashapampa we hiked through different vegetation and suddenly we could see the first cactuses and higher plants along the way.
We followed the Santa Cruz River and loved the peaceful atmosphere in the valley. The sun was shining and it was a perfect day. Around 11:30am we arrived in the village of Cashapampa and were welcomed by a local musician playing on his traditional harp.
Our Minibus was already waiting for us. It was hard to believe that this great trek was over but we all were also looking forward to a long hot shower after four days in the Andes.
Tips for your hike on the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
The Santa Cruz, Peru, takes 4 days / 3 nights and it can be done with a guided tour or individually. When you do a guided tour like us, you fortunately don’t have to carry all your stuff. Helpful donkeys carry all the heavy equipment like tents, sleeping bags etc. Every group also has an own cook. So you don’t need to worry about food or cooking utensils either.
As we have our own equipment we decided to use our tent and mattresses. Our sleeping bags are only made for summer so we used the sleeping bags of the agency. The best season for the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, is May to September as this is the dry season. We went there at the end of August and had mixed weather conditions which was totally fine.
Hard working donkeys carrying the equipment
When you go on the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, you should bring the following things…
- Money: Bring money for the entrance fee of the National Park. When the ticket is not already included in the tour, it costs 65 soles per person and is valid for 21 days. If you plan to do other tours like to Lagoon 69, you can use this ticket. Don’t forget your passport number. The best is to take a picture of your passport. To bring your passport is not necessary. Better keep it in a locker in your accommodation.
- Warm clothes: The temperature range between day and night is huge. During the day it can be sunny and hot whereas at night it is 0°C and lower. Don’t forget your cap and gloves. For the night you should also bring warm clothes. You never know how warm it will be in your rented sleeping bag. We also brought hand warmers for the evening and night. But this is a nice optional extra.
- Sun milk, sun hat and sun glasses: As you are much closer to the sun the intensity is much higher. Bring strong sun milk and put it on 2 or 3 times a day. Don’t underestimate the sun!
- Toilet paper: Definitely important :-). Some tours offer a toilet tent and then you probably get toilet paper. Our tour didn’t include a toilet tent nor toilet paper service :-). We didn’t know that before and were happy that we always take toilet paper with us. But even when your tour includes toilet paper you should have one role in your day back for “breaks” during the hike or to blow your nose. Some websites say that there are pit toilets at regular intervals along the route. Unfortunately most of them are destroyed and can’t be used any longer.
- Water bottle: On the first day we had to bring our own drinking water. The following days we got cooked and cleaned (with tablets) water from the rivers. Therefore you need bottles that can be refilled.
- Energy snacks: The food of our tour was sufficient. We got breakfast, lunch (lunch box) and dinner. But inbetween you might need some extra energy. Take a few chocolate or energy bars with you.
- Camera and batteries: Due to the cold weather batteries lose their energy much faster. To be on the safe side you should take a spare battery, if you have one. Otherwise you should try to keep your battery on a warm place especially at night. Put it into your pillow or into your sleeping bag to avoid bad surprises on the next day when you want to take pictures.
- Good shoes: It is not a very demanding trek but when you plan to do more treks then you should bring good trekking shoes. Mine are very simple and on the third and fourth day I had pain in my knees as I didn’t go correctly due to my uncomfortable shoes. Important: Don’t go with running shoes! They will ruin the whole adventure! And it’s too dangerous.
- Equipment: When you have your own equipment like tent, sleeping bag etc. you should bring it. Our tent and mattresses were much more comfortable than the other equipment. And you don’t need to carry the stuff. The donkeys will do this job for you.
Lars and Liane at the Laguna Arhuaycocha
- VERY IMPORTANT is to acclimate before starting the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru. If you are coming from sea level or anything less than 2,500 meters, you should spend at least 1-2 days in Huaraz. Otherwise the trip won’t be of much fun.
- Drink 2 to 3 liters per day. Sometimes we didn’t realize how quickly time passed and hadn’t drunk enough. Put a timer for every 20 minutes and you won’t make the same mistake and it’s easier to avoid strong headaches due to the change of the altitude.
- Hike at your own pace. It’s totally normal that some people are faster and some slower. Don’t put yourself under pressure. The guide will wait for you.
- Special dietary requirements: When you are vegetarian or have other special restrictions just let your agency know in advance. Usually it’s no problem to fulfill these requirements.
- Rent hiking sticks. We thought we won’t need them and that they are embarrassing in our age. But during the hike we realized that our thoughts were totally bullshit and especially I regretted not to have rented a pair. I’m sure that the sticks would have helped a lot. Two of our group members used them. Next time I will try them.
- Take your clothes into your sleeping bag. It’s so great to jump into warm and dry clothes the next morning. Our trousers had to stay in the cold. They were definitely too dirty ;).
- Be offline! You won’t have any mobile reception in the mountains but try to spend the four days without any entertainment stuff. Just enjoy the nature and stunning views around you.
Our agency and prices
We booked our Santa Cruz Trek, Peru, in our hostel in Huaraz called Alpes Huaraz. They work together with the agency Galaxia Expeditions and we paid 320 soles per person for the whole tour. Our group had a size of 11 people + guide + cook + donkey driver. The price included
- Three meals per day (except breakfast on the first day and dinner on the last day, lunch = lunch box)
- Transportation (Huaraz –National Park – Huaraz)
- Equipment: tent, sleeping bag, mattresses
- Transportation of the heavy things by donkeys
- Spanish and English speaking guide
- Drinking water (except on the first day)
The only thing that is NOT included:
- This is the entrance fee for the National Park Huascaran: it is 65 soles per person. It’s a multiple entry ticket and it’s valid for 21 days. The ticket doesn’t need to be bought in advance. You can buy it when you enter the national park with your tour.
Before we booked our tour we also checked the agency QUECHUANDES. These guys have very good reviews on tripadvisor however they are much more expensive. They offer the same tour for 520 soles per person. The reason for the higher price seemd to be the higher quality of the equipment and the food. When we were in their office we saw that they only use items from well-known brands like THE NORTH FACE or Therm-a-Rest. And on their website the food sound a little bit more fancy. But we knew that we will use our own equipment, so we decided to got for the cheaper trip.
BoB’s rating of the Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz
Level of difficulty:
Is the Santa Cruz Trek an alternative to the Inca Trail?
We haven’t done the Inca Trail yet, so we can’t make any statements about which one of the two is nicer regarding the hiking aspect. And the biggest difference is probably that at the end of the Inca Trail you arrive at Machu Picchu instead of Cashapampa ;).
But regarding the costs there is a huge difference. The classic Inca Trail and also the alternative routes to get to Machu Picchu all cost around 400 to 500 dollars for 4 days/3 nights. The Santa Cruz Trek costs 320 soles which equals 110 dollars. So, the price difference is huge.
I don’t want say that you shouldn’t do the Inca Trail. When you can afford it, go for it! We heard it’s also a great experience. As we have a limited budget we decided to do a great hiking trek in the Andes in Huaraz and visit Machu Picchu individually without a tour. Tomorrow we will take the bus to Cusco and try to find a good and cheap way of visiting Machu Picchu. We will give you all information about “Machu Picchu on a budget” in another post.
When you plan to do a hike in the Andes then I can highly recommend you the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru! It was so much fun and the nature was amazing. It was our first real hike and it was definitiley no the last one! 🙂
If you have any questions about the trek, just leave a comment below. I’m happy to help you planning your Santa Cruz Trek, Peru!
Have a great time in the mountains and safe travels!
Thanks for reading.