Huaraz: land of mountains, Leki sticks, gas cylinders and some of Peru’s most ‘tractive trekking around. Here nestled in snowy mountains of the Cordillera Blanca and the stripy brown and green ones of her sister the Cordillera Negra, you’ll find enough hiking to keep you occupied for as long as your ankles and supplies are kind enough to stay with you.
Before planning and hiking the Santa Cruz trail (Huaraz’s premier and most famous hike, taking you to a height of 4700m over four days), I fit in a couple of lesser ambles; both in the name of acclaimatisation and simply getting my arse moving again post three weeks eating all that was put before me in Lima. Those reading along may remember that the ye olde acclaimatisation idea didn’t work out all that splendidly, sending me reeling along a nice bout of altitude sickness…yet the thought was intelligent anyway!
For those planning on walking one of Huaraz’s more meaty tracks, chucking in a couple of practice ones is a must. Not only will it give your eyes something to oggle at (the views are, as always, spectacular) but it will get you used to walking at altitudes surpassing 4000m, which is essential to reduce – or completely do away with – your chances of suffering from altitude sickness while away.
For those heading to Huaraz, here are two top picks for preparation walks.
Recommended by our hostel, the hike to Laguna Willcakocha was the first my group and I did and (thankfully for my post Lima lull) was a perfect introductory hike. Reaching 3745m at its highest, it couldn’t honestly be called easy – but nor was it glute-screamingly difficult. Along the way, we were entertained by creaking, earth-coloured crickets and transparent dragonflies – however our arrival at the lagoon itself was a bit of a let-down. Probably due to lacklustre rains of late, we got there to find a very large puddle of water and were left to deduce its being Willcakocha by a tiny stone marker and a map offered by a group of Canadian girls roasting a tuna picnic in a can. (Which, apparently, is normal camping behaviour in Canada.)
PROS: The walk is relatively short and easy. While the lagoon was not the massive blue body of water worthy of worship I’d expected, the views of the Cordillera Blanca at the top were top notch. Sheep and friendly dogs are an added bonus.
CONS: Forget swimming, Willcakocha Lagoon itself was quite a bit more stagnant that you’d hope for. The hike is also not the easiest one if you don’t speak Spanish. You’d be unlikely to get lost as the path is mostly dirt roads and country paths, but there is very little signage, and knowing which way to go at certain intersections relies on asking locals (themselves not always present,).
MEASUREMENTS: 7km, with the highest point lying at 3745m.
GETTING THERE: Take a taxi to Puente Santa Cruz (S/.10 soles, $4 USD) or a colectivo from in front of Huaraz’s Central Market. The hike starts and ends at the Santa Cruz bridge (return via the same way you came) and you can find a return coletivo to Huaraz there also.
More challenging than Laguna Willcakocha, the trek to Laguna Churup pops you in splendid terrain, on an easy to follow trail far from villages or towns. The lagoon is large, blue and scenenically placed at the base of several mountains – huzzah!
PROS: A beautiful hike, well worth visiting. At its even higher altitude (around 4400m) it’s real practice for Santa Cruz.
CONS: There are several points that require serious rock scrambling – complete with metal cords in places for extra support. Be aware that the final spurt before arriving at the lagoon is much more difficult. And that of course, you’ll have to come back down this same way – so o save energy. A day park entry fee of S/.5 ($2 USD) is charge – if you want to spend additional days hiking within the national park, it works out cheaper to pay for a week at once.
GETTING THERE: Colectivos to and from Huaraz are available, but will only take you as far as a village an hour’s walk away from the start point. We decided that the extra half hour in bed was worth the additional soles in taking a taxi. A return trip to the start point cost us S/.150 for the group of six (or S/.25 per person, $12 USD) which worked out at about double the cost of what the bus would have been. Have your hostel order your taxi, as you’ll need to leave between 6 and 7am – a time when all normal, healthy people are curled up in bed, not thinking about hauling ass up mountains.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Leave a rest day between your Churup hike and leaving to start the ‘Cruz. Your knees will thank you for it.