Since Huaraz is surrounded by mountain ranges whichever way you look, trekking is available in almost every way you decide to head towards. Of all of them, the Santa Cruz trek is one of the most popular route travellers opt for. The combination of spectacular sceneries and a relatively shorter route (compared to others) makes it a top recommended trek.
What you should Know
The trek is about 50 km long and is a 3 or 4 day circuit trek through the Cordillera Blanca mountains. The only really difficult part of this hike is making it through the Punta Union Pass on the second day. Otherwise, it’s an absolutely stunning route that takes you through mountains, beside lagunas, valleys, and lots and lots of waterfalls.
Getting lost on this trail is pretty difficult, which is why a lot of people opt to venture on their own. I decided to make it simple on myself and joined a tour. This way, they carried my camping gear and daily necessities, and all I had to do was enjoy myself. You can find tours for around s/400.
Since this trek is a circuit, there are two possible starting points. Most tours will start in Vaqueria (3,700 m) and finish in Cashapampa (2,900 m). The advantage of starting at Vaqueria is that you start off high and is more of a down hill trek than up. It’s also less total elevation gain during the trek than starting at Cashapampa.
Also, if you’re thinking of doing the trek on your own, it’s much easier to catch a ride back to Huaraz from Cashapampa. It’s actually a town, whereas Vaqueria is more of a station off the side of the road.
I started off at Vaqueria with my tour. The first day began bright and early, before the sun even popped up behind the horizon. We got collected in our van and began a four hour drive towards Vaqueria. We stopped for breakfast, of course. I’m starting to realize Peruvians do not like to skip their meals! We didn’t get to Vaqueria until 1pm, where we were handed a packed lunch, while the team packed up all our gears onto the mules.
The first day is an easy and relaxing hike with some of the best views on the entire trek. About 5 hours of hiking, this section is relatively levelled, so you can spend all your time enjoying the scenery instead of watching your footing.
On Day 2, you get to the pass. You’ll also get the earliest call time today. We left our campsite just as the sun started glowing behind the mountains. While today is the shortest in distance to cover, it’s the most strenuous of all the days.
It’s a steady uphill climb until you see the Punto Union Pass, and from there it’ll only get steeper until you reach the top. The altitude doesn’t help either. At 4750 m, this was the only time I really felt the altitude affecting me. Processing thoughts and getting my limbs to act as they were told became difficult. I was short on breath, and even though my body wasn’t aching from the hike, I was fatigued.
I took a couple caffeine pills to get my body processing quicker and powered through. Making it to the top was an incredible feeling! I have to say, the air smells particularly sweet at the top of the mountain!
Beyond the pass is a rocky switchback path down to the campsite. As the weather can be a bit unpredictable, most tours aim to have all trekkers at camp by the noon time.
Here you can laze around and enjoy the rest of the afternoon or if you’re up for it, take a hike to a lookout point to see the “Paramount Studios” mountain peak, Artesonraju. The hike is a couple hours long and is a steady incline up the mountainside, but is completely achievable.
Still riding the high of climbing over the mountain pass, today is a considerably easier day. Even though I had signed up for a 4 day, 3 nights tour, some trekkers in my group wanted to return to Huaraz sooner. So our guide gave us the option of walking the rest of the way on the third day.
If we stuck to the original plan, we would’ve hiked 3-4 hours each day, arriving at camp around midday.
Our group decided to start out earlier in the day and hike the last 20ish km within one day. This way we got to camp closer to the town where it was warmer. The extended distance wasn’t actually very difficult, as we were predominately going down hill.
The last night was spent in Cashapampa, relaxing around the fire and enjoying the company of my fellow trekkers over beers. The perfect way to end an amazing multi-day hike through the mountains!
For a guide to what else to do in Huaraz, click here