Now that I’m in Ecuador scooting (fine, meandering) towards the equator, it’s almost impossible to imagine that a month ago I was freezing my extremities off atop a 4700m pass in Peru, reduced to a teeth-chattering mess by a spontaneous snow storm.
Yet times do change – and in a continent this ginormous and creative in its landscapes, they do so very often.
Wanding in Huaraz
After hearing about the speckled hills of Huaraz while still far away in Bolivia, I knew that it would have to form a part of my Peruvian lifestyle. Located in the province of Ancash and base camp for some of Peru’s best treks (and much cheaper than anything Machu Picchu-related) Huaraz is constantly dotted with travelers ready to pop on their boots and explore.
I hiked the Santa Cruz trek – Huaraz’s classic – with a splendid group of Swiss travelers I met in that hazey stupor following a bad night’s sleep on a bus. As there were five of us, we decided to pool our collective strength and brain space and organise the hike ourselves.
Of course, it’s much easier to let an agency do it for you…but far more satisfying to be responsible for your own good time (or, as it were, emotional breakdown atop a mountain).
The hills of Huaraz are fantastically gorgeous and come highly recommended. For anyone planning on sourcing equipment and planning their own hike, here are the costs involved in renting equipment – as given to us in late 2012.
Quoted by the very ‘ttractive Churup Hostel in Peruvian soles per day. At the time of publication, $USD1 = 2.5 soles
- 2 person tent – 10 soles
- Kitchen tent – 15 soles
- Two burner gas stove – 5 soles
- Sleeping bag – 10 soles
- Two sleeping mats (one blow up, one foam) – 5 soles
- Wooden storage box – 10 soles
- Leki sticks (pair) – 3 soles
- Utilesils and crockery for 6 people – 6 soles
- Gas – 40 soles (flat rate, no per day price)
- Toilet tent – 8 soles
ANIMALS AND DRIVERS
In US dollars per day. Paying in soles was coverted at 3 soles per dollar, losing you money.
- Donkeys – $5
- Arriero (animal handler) – $10
- 380 soles in (A private taxi from Huaraz to trek start point at Cashapampa)
- 90 soles back (Returning by public transport from Vaquería to Huaraz)
OUR COSTS AS A GROUP OF SIX
We rented everything listed above for four days (five for the donkeys and handler), which after conversion left us at:
1467 soles ($587) for equipment, animals/arriero and transport.
Our food costs came out at a total of around:
400 soles ($155), bringing us to:
1867 soles or $742 IN TOTAL.
Plus park entry of $28 brings us to $151 per person.
Pre-arranged treks with companies based in Huaraz ranged from $120 – upwards of $260 (all inclusive, EXCEPT park entry and the first day’s breakfast).
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Donkeys? Animal handler? Seriously?
Yeah, I thought so too. But there’s the thing: Huaraz, while fantastic as a base for all manner of gorgeous climbing, is not a fantastic place to find light-weight equipment. Our stove was a very large and heavy affair stored in a wooden box – it would have taken up one entire backpack all on its lonesome. Tents are big, the kitchen tent a veritable marquee. Sleeping bags are those old-school types, poofy as hell and unable to be reduced in size unless you provide your own sleeping-bag-reduction-strap-kit (a contraption which I’m all too sure has a real name!).
All this means that your equipment is gonna be bulky, heavy and uncomfortable – something which you won’t want to carry up and down mountains at 4000m yourself. Hence, the donkeys.
And where there are donkeys, there is stubborn-ness (and do you really want to be responsible for four donkeys digging their hills in at 4000m?). Hence, the handler.
(Our stuff was so heavy that we needed four donkeys each carrying 30kg.)
How can I spend less?
Bring your own equipment. And make it light, durable stuff that you can carry yourself thus making donkeys obsolete.
As donkeys were already a must, we had some weight to spare and so brought whole foods. If you want to do away with donkeys, it will mean coming prepared with light, dehydrated foods. But if you look for the light-weight, high-energy trekking foods in Huaraz that you’re used to seeing in Canada, New Zealand or Switzerland – you’ll be hard pressed to find anything more exciting than two minute noodles.
Things like toilet tents and Leki sticks are negotiable. (It’s quite likely that upon arrival some days you won’t want to put it up anyway. Happily, bushes are mostly available for hiding your bits.)
Is that super expensive mini van you mentioned really necessary?
No, of course you can get to Cashapampa via public transport (setting you back about 90 soles as per the return). But remember that if you rented the aforementioned bulky-ass equipment available in Huaraz, you’re going to have a LOT of boxes, bags and backpacks with you. As an added bonus, if you are group of four or less, you can expect to pay only 260 soles.
Public transport will require one change of bus, and at 6am we were not so keen on lugging our own stuff and repacking it on another bus.
(Ok, so we were soft, sue us.)
Yes!!! If you rent donkeys and an arriero, you will need to pay them for an extra day (ie, we paid for five, though our trek was four days). This is because the animals and their handler need to make their way back to the start point – a working day for them.
Also! You must include the arriero in your food estimates. Buy an extra serve of everything.
Finally! After finishing, my group and I felt that it was definitely best to start the trek at Cashpampa. This way, your hardest day’s climb at the 4700m pass will take place on Day 2 – not Day 3, when you’re just that little bit more tired.
Also, the view on the last leg to Vaquería is very downhill and not as spectacular as the previous three days. Deciding to start at Vaquería would mean that your first day (as well as not being that attractive), will be very dusty, hot and uphill.
(Thankfully, as we learned in pre-school, donkeys eat grass.)
For a similar price (or much less if you were willing to fork out $200 or more), you can organise your own trek. If you’re rad and are traveling with your own equipment, I salute you, you will spend less much less.
The views and scenery are spectacular, no questions there. Go, go, go…