The Santa Cruz Trek
The Santa Cruz trek is perhaps one of the most beautiful and accessible treks in the world. You can do the trek anywhere from 2-4 days. When we asked around at the tour agencies the prices for a guided trek was anywhere from $100-$200. We also met a few people who did the trek on their own. We debated back and forth which way to do it as both options appealed to us.
On the one hand, if you do it with a tour there are a few positives. The tour company will provide you with all the camping gear you need from the tent to the sleeping bags. This was not a big deal to us since we actually have our own gear. The big positive was that they would actually carry the bags for us on the backs of donkeys. In addition they would carry all the food and cook for us.
On the other hand if you do it on your own you have much more flexibility. You can choose the quality of your food, your own pace, and where to camp that night. Those that we talked to who did this option tended to go at a quicker pace which allowed them to carry less food.
Getting to the Trailhead
We ended up choosing the tour option. It appealed to us to have our gear carried so that we could enjoy the trek itself more. The bus picked us up at our hostal around 6:45am and we drove about 1 1/2 hours before we stopped to grab breakfast.
Looking at the weather many of the other people on the trek were a little bit dismayed. Being from the Pacific Northwest we, on the other hand, could not get enough of the fog. It was by our standards a gorgeous sight. After breakfast we continued driving. The road is the same one as to Laguna 69, except much further. We stopped at a viewpoint and were amazed at how beautiful it was.
Upon arriving at a little town we waited for about an hour. All the gear needed to be packed and loaded on the donkeys. As we waited the fog began to lift and we could see the surrounding mountains more clearly.
Santa Cruz Trek: Day 1
The trek began relatively flat and was quite easy. The sun shone on us and we enjoyed hiking along. There were, of course, some uphill sections. After a short while we arrived at the park entrance. Here we checked in and had our park entrance ticket stamped. Nearby was a herd of sheep and we relaxed in the sun.
We met a group that was coming down from the other direction. Due to the fickleness of the weather they actually did not get to see a view when they summited. Such is the nature of weather at this time of the year. Thankfully as we continued along we saw clear skies and had hope for better luck.
After our relaxing time hanging out with the sheep we continued hiking. The path after this point became much steeper. After a short while more we arrived at our campsite. The cooks had food ready for us and we were glad to not need to make it in the cold. Due to the elevation it was pretty much freezing outside.
Santa Cruz Trek: Day 2
The next day we were awakened at about 5:30 am. We needed to eat breakfast and pack up before the insects would wake up and start bothering us. After a standard Peruvian breakfast we set out. This day is the most difficult in terms of elevation.
Our hike began relatively flat once more. The path had a slow incline most of the way until a certain point. Here the path quickly became very steep and we could see the point at which we would summit high above us. For the duration of the hike we had good weather which allowed us to see our surroundings quite clearly. All around us were nothing but mountains, and more mountains.
Finally we reached the top. Here we had a sight of the sort one generally only dreams about. All around us were white-capped mountains. Below us on one side was the valley we had just hiked through. On the other side stretched out before us the valley we would hike through the next day. In addition we saw beautiful lagoons below us. Even these words do not even begin to describe what we saw and felt.
I think one of the reasons the sight touched us so much was the feeling of having conquered. There is an indescribable beauty one feels when seeing a sight that was fought for. Knowing that we left our sweat and hard work to reach where we are. Afterwards we hiked down to our campsite and relaxed in the sun.
Santa Cruz Trek: Day 3
This day of the trek was the longest distance-wise. We began the trek around 7 am. There are two options at this point. You can hike up to a viewpoint, enjoy the view and continue onward to the campsite. Doing it this way would make the hike be 17km that day. The other option was to add another 5km to the hike and visit a nearby Laguna.
Of course we did not want to leave any sight unseen and decided to hike to the Laguna. It was a decision we did not regret (sort of). The hike up was at a slight incline but nothing compared to the day before. The lake itself was incredibly beautiful. After spending some time there we returned to the viewpoint where we had lunch.
You get the best view of the Paramount Mountain from the Laguna.
The rest of the hike was downhill or flat. What we were not prepared for, however was how long it would be. It felt like the hike would never end. Thankfully the scenery was incredibly beautiful. We were hiking along a valley and passed by a couple of lakes, as well as hiked through a desert area, lush grasslands, and beautiful forests. Just when it felt like the soles of our feet were about to give out on us we arrived at the final campsite.
Santa Cruz Trek: Day 4
On the final day of the Santa Cruz trek we had a relatively short hike. It was all downhill and we arrived at a small town. We rested at a small restaurant where we had lunch. One of the new friends we made along the trek invited us to check out a hot springs on the way home.
Located about 40 minutes outside of Huaraz these hot springs were unlike any we had ever seen before. For 2 soles (about 60 cents) we had the use of our own private bath. The bath was very large fitting both of us easily. We were able to stay until we had enough. After we were done we caught a bus back to Huaraz.
Tips for the Intrepid Hiker
Can you do this hike on your own? Absolutely. We even met one person who was doing the hike in one night. He ended up doing the summit late evening and told us he felt a bit rushed. We personally feel that due to the weather, doing it on our own would not have been all that enjoyable. It was great to arrive at camp and know we did not need to cook. Was the food the best quality? Not really. It was enough to keep us going, however, and they even had a vegetarian option for Katie.
One thing we were a little surprised about was the lack of any sort of established restrooms along the trail. The trail is fairly heavily used so it would make sense for at least the campsites to have a dedicated spot. What we found instead was that if you walked off the trail for a distance a rock or a bush that blocked the view would have a pile of refuse and toilet paper behind it.
We also saw many people in our group carrying a lot of clothes. Although you do not need to carry your own stuff, it still makes sense to pack less. This puts less strain on the donkeys as well as allows you to carry less stuff if you want to get off at a different town. We found that having a down coat and thermals allow you to stay warm during all except the coldest weather.