Huaraz is one of the best places to go hiking in the world, even more so than the crowded trails around Machu Picchu. The city is located in the Callejon de Huaylas valley at 3000m above sea level and act as a perfect base to launch yourself into all the awesome trekking and hiking trails around this part of the Andes.
One of the best treks you can do in Huaraz is the Santa Cruz trail that will take you through the Cordillera Blanca mountains, home to many 6000m+ peaks. This trek only takes 4 days but it will reward you with the view of a stunning turquoise alpine lake, fantastic view from the high pass (highest point at 4,750m), and a front seat row to the one of the most prominent mountains in the region such as the Taulliraju (5,830 m) and Alpamayo (5,947m) etc.
If you are looking for the ultimate backpacking guide on how to hike the Santa Cruz trek in Huaraz in 4 days, completely independent, you are in the right place. Scroll down and let's plan this epic hiking trip together.
Looking for a complete itinerary for Peru? One Month Backpacking Guide For Peru.
Santa Cruz Hiking Map
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When to Trek Santa Cruz
The best time to hike the Santa Cruz trail in Huaraz is from May to October as you are likely to have more clear days and mild temperature during this time. Although, there will be a lot more people on the trail too as it is the peak season.
I was hiking in Mid-November and I was lucky enough to have all 4 clear days for the hike and almost had the whole place to yourself. Although, I did wait in Huaraz for a week for the rain to pass as I have heard reports that some people were caught in a hailstorm and had to turn back 2 days prior to my hike. If you have time to spare and it is raining in Huaraz, I would recommend you to wait for the rain to pass before you begin the trail.
Things to Prepare for Santa Cruz Trek
Since you will be trekking independently, the risk is much higher now than doing a day-hike or with a tour company. It is very important that you are prepared for whatever that can come your way and have the equipment to deal with any situation that could happen when trekking the Santa Cruz trail. Here are all the things you need to have with you before you begin your journey.
- Weather-proof Jackets and Layers: Since Santa Cruz trek is a high altitude hike, you will be going up to over 4500m and the weather can be cold all year round at that altitude so prepare layers and jackets in case of rain. Gloves, sunglasses, thick socks, and beanie are also good for the cold and you will definitely need it at night.
- Sturdy Shoes: The trail towards Punta Union can be quite steep so sturdy shoes are recommended. Most of the trail is pretty easy to walk on but it gets quite sandy at times so good shoes will prevent the sand to accumulate inside.
- Camping Gear: If you want to do it independently, you will have to carry all your camping gear with you. That includes:
- 1 x tent
- 1 x stove
- 1 x gas canister
- 1 x cup
- 1 x spoon
- 1 x sleeping bag
- 1 x sleeping mat
- 1 x headlamp
- 1 x backpack to fit it all
- 1 x pack of water purification tablets
- Food and Snacks for 4 Days: You won't be able to buy anything on the trail so be sure to bring all the food and snack for the entire trail. Some examples are: pasta & sauce, instant noodles, chips, crackers etc.
- Water Purification Tablets: There is a river running through the valley throughout the trail and all the camping site are situated near water source so you can replenish your water supply throughout the trail. You might have to purify the water though because god knows what animals are pooping in the river up ahead.
- Toilet Stuff: Fancy pooping in a hole? Well, better prepare a roll of tissue paper for your business. Most campsites will have a "toilet" dug out for you so all you need is a toilet paper. Also prepare other toilet stuff like toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, towel etc.
- Cash and Passport: You will need this to register at the ticket office in either Cashapampa or Vaquería at the entrance of the area and pay for the entry fee (25 USD or 65 PEN).
- Get Maps.me: Download Maps.me app on your phone and download the North Peru map for offline navigation. They do have the trail map available and it's quite accurate. The app is available on both Android and iOS.
Looking to buy new hiking gear? Check out: The Ultimate Hiking Gear Guide For Solo Travelers.
Camping Gear Rental
Since Huaraz is known for hiking, there are plenty of shops in the city center where you will be able to rent camping gear for your trip so you don't have to carry it all the way from home.
I personally brought my own tent (regular Backpacking double layers tent) and sleeping bag (-10°c) from home for my South America trip and rented all the cooking gear from a shop called Lalo Travel. There are hundreds of outdoor stores along the Av. Mariscal Toribio de Luzuriaga and the Antonio Raymondi streets so you can walk around and find the cheapest one with the best quality possible. For a tent, be sure to get one with a wind/rain cover as it can get cold and windy outside.
Altitude Sickness (Important!)
Altitude sickness (AMS) is a real threat when hiking above 4,000m which include this particular hike. Precautions need to be taken seriously before you start hiking the Santa Cruz trail. I would recommend staying in Huaraz for at least 2 - 3 days before you start your journey since Huaraz is already 3,052m above sea-level. That should help you acclimatize your body before going above 4,000m. You can also spend those time doing day hikes like the Laguna 69 trail so that you can get used to the altitude.
If you don't feel well even before you start the trail, I would recommend you to wait until the symptoms subside before beginning your journey. There are no facilities available for 4 days once you started the trail so do not risk it.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Peru, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
Where to Stay in Huaraz
Budget - La Casa De Maruja B & B - 7.97 USD/Night (Dorm) | 23 USD/Night (Double Room)
One of the best hotel experience in Peru. The owner knows everything about all the hiking you can do in Huaraz. He will even organize you a trip if you want to. The room is really comfortable, perfect for when you come back from the long hike. If there isn't a lot of guests, they will upgrade your dorm room to a double room for free. Highly recommended.
How to Get to Huaraz
There are several airlines that flies to Lima such as Delta, United and American airlines for the US, Air France, KLM, British Airline for Europe and Asia, and Avianca or LATAM for within South America. To find the cheapest deal, be sure to browse through Skyscanner or Momondo and get a flight that works for you itinerary.
From Lima, you can either fly domestic (100 - 150 USD) or take the Peru comfortable overnight buses from Lima to Huaraz which should take around 8 hours and cost from 7 - 20 USD. I would recommend going with either Cruz del Sur or Oltursa bus companies as they have the most comfortable seat and services out there.
Keep in mind: Buses in Peru operate differently from the other countries as each bus company has their own bus terminal in a different location so make sure you go to the right one.
How to Get to Santa Cruz Trail Head
There are 2 ways you can hike the Santa Cruz trail and that will determine where you will start your hike. You can either start from Vaquería (3,700m) to Cashapampa (2,900m) or the opposite direction. I did the latter which begins at Cashapampa and I find it to be much steeper on the first day than doing the opposite even though it begins at a lower altitude.
I would recommend starting your trail from Vaquería to Cashapampa as it is easier for you and shorter too on your first day.
Getting to Vaquería
From Huaraz, you will have to begin as early as 5:30 AM. If you are staying at the accommodation I recommended, all you have to do is stand on the road heading north and wait for a collectivo (minivan) to come. Flag them down and ask if they are going to Yungay. It shouldn't take long until you find one that will drop you off in Yungay. It should take you around an hour and cost you no more than 5 PEN.
If you are not staying on the north-bound road, you can head over to Empresas De Transporte and get a collectivo to Yungay from there.
From Yungay, there will be someone there waiting eagerly for you and ask you if you want to go to Vaquería and they will direct you to their minivan. This is a bit of a long ride up the winding mountain (one of the most beautiful roads in Peru so seat yourself by the left windows and prepare your camera) and it will take you around 2 -3 hours until you arrive in Vaqueria.
From Vaqueria, simply walk up north up a few hills and start heading west along the valley. You should find a ticket booth along the way at the entrance of the Huascaran National Park. Pay for your 3-days ticket and register your name down and how long you will up there and begin your journey.
Getting Out from Cashapampa
If you have finally finished the trail, there will be a few minivans waiting at the end and you will be able to get on one down to Caraz. From the bus terminal, there will be plenty of collectivo that will take you all the way to Huaraz. The entire trip from Cashapampa should take around 2 hours and cost you no more than 20 PEN.
Hiking from Cashapampa to Vaquería
If you want to start from Cashapampa, the guide above still applies but in the opposite direction and instead of asking the collectivo if they are heading towards Yungay, ask them if they go further to Caraz instead.
Santa Cruz of Cordillera Blanca Hiking Trail
Day 1: Huaraz to Paria (3,850m)
From Huaraz, you will have to start as early as 5:30 AM so that you will make it on time to the camping site before dark. From Huaraz, you can either flag down a collectivo heading northward or you can get one from the city center at Empresas De Transporte.
For more info: A Complete Backpacking Guide to Huaraz.
From Huaraz, it should take around 1.5 hours before you will have to change to another collectivo. When you arrive, the locals will know exactly where you want to go and ask you if you are heading to Vaquería. Get on one of their collectivo and you should be at the trail head in 2.5 - 3 hours.
The road from Yungay to Vaquería goes through one of the most beautiful part of the mountain in this area so be sure to be seated on the left window for the best view.
From Vaquería, you can either tell the collectivo driver to drop you off at the park entrance or you can walk yourself. The path to the trail head is a little tricky but there will be some signs that will help direct you to the trail head. If you got lost, simply ask the locals in town to direct you to the right path.
From the trail head, it will be a simple stroll until you reach the entrance of the national park where you will have to pay for a ticket and register in. The ticket for 3 - 4 days should cost around 60 PEN.
From here, you will walk through grassland for about 3 hours before you arrive in Paria Valley where you will put up your tent and camp. The view at the campsite is pretty stunning and will give you a sneak peek of what's to come.
Day 2: Paria to Punta Union to Taullipampa (4,250m)
On your day 2, leave as early as you can as you will be tackling Punta Union (4,750m), the highest point of the trail today. You will begin your day with a steep climb up through the valley, and when you think it can't get any steeper, wait until you are approaching the high pass.
If you haven't feel out of breath ever since arriving in Huaraz, you will now as you ascend up the pass to 4,750m. Slowly but surely, you will arrive at the top and you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the valley where you can see a pristine turquoise lake that you will pass through the next day.
Walking down is pretty simple and should not take you too long. You should be arriving at the Taullipampa campsite in about 6 - 7 hours from Paria campsite.
From here you can pitch a tent right in front of the mighty Tawllirahu mountain and rest for the day or you can do a side-trip to the Arhuaycocha Alpamayo view point either in the afternoon or the next morning.
Day 3: Taullipampa to Llamacorrel (3,750m)
You can wake up super early and do a side trek from here to the Arhuaycocha Alpamayo view point which should take you around 3 hours and you can start heading down the valley towards the Jatuncocha lake.
Today is a simple stroll down the valley and a long ass walk through the sandy plain before approaching the Jatuncocha lake. From the lake, it should be about an hour before you reach your last campsite, the Llamacorrel.
Since there is not a lot of climbing up today, you can enjoy the scenery at your leisure but don't be too chill as you will be covering quite a distance today.
Day 5: Llamacorrel to Huaraz (3,000m)
From Llamacorrel campsite, you will be going downhill for the rest of the trail and it should take you around 3 hours to reach Cashapampa, where vegetations become a little more lively, a welcome change after hiking through the Santa Cruz trail.
When you arrive at Cashapampa, be sure to register out so they know you are safe and from the ticket booth, you will have to wait for a collectivo to come and get on it heading towards Caraz. From Caraz, there will be plenty of collectivo to pick you up and drop you off in Huaraz
And there you have it. How to trek the Santa Cruz trail in Huaraz independently, carrying your own stuff and without going through a tour company. If you have any questions regarding hiking the Santa Cruz trail solo, let me know in the comments below.
Want to do it with a tour company? Read more here: Independent or Guided Trekking: Santa Cruz Trekking Guide.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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