The Santa Cruz trek originating just outside of Huaraz, an Andean city 7 hours from the Peruvian capital of Lima, is largely considered one of the world’s best hikes.
For adventure lovers traveling to Peru (or those seeking a different thrill than hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu), there is no better place to base yourself out of than the city of Huaraz. Situated in the central region of the country’s Andean mountain range, Huaraz is the perfect jump off spot to some of the most picturesque trekking and climbing destinations in not only Peru but the world, and being in the high Sierra, is also a cornerstone to some of the most representative and authentic Peruvian traditions and customs. There are many trails one could embark on, many lasting just 1 day making them great for acclimating to the high altitude, but one of the more popular and breathtaking is the 4-day Santa Cruz trek.
The Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca (White Range) is regularly considered one of the top journeys on earth, making it a clear choice for any unforgettable trip to Peru. It takes trekkers past a number of striking mountain lagoons, through lush and verdant valleys that continue as far as the eye can see, and over a high pass adjacent to a most awe-inspiring glacier. In preparation, challengers should make a point to bring all the provisions and equipment they will need to survive in the wild for a few days, since there are no facilities along the way. This is nature as pristine as can be found. Those who want a more stress-free time can hire a guide and porter to carry their items. However, conveniently, the trail continues along the banks of a river the entire time, so a dependable water source should not be a worry for hikers.
The white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca (White Range) are some of the highest in the world outside of the Asian Himalayas.
Overall, the easier starting point is regarded to be the little town of Cochapampa (2800 meters) about 1.5 hours from the town of Caraz, which in turn is about 2 hours from Huaraz. The beauty of these routes all served by public transportation will properly whet your appetite for the trek to come. From Cochapampa, the first day of the hike is a 6 to 7 hour, 10 kilometer uphill walk advancing more than 900 meters in altitude. However difficult this may be, don’t get discouraged because the glory of the first campsite at Llamacorral (3760 meters) will properly help you recuperate for the second day.
The second day, trekkers will wake up in the fertile valley and move towards the smaller Ichiccocha and larger Jatuncocha lakes. Peaceful cows and horses accent the landscape while the occasional waterfall draws vertical streaks along the mountainsides. The walk on this day is rather easy though long especially compared with the previous day. In the late afternoon, you should reach the second campsite of Taullipampa (4250 meters) which lies just below the shadow of the Centillo peak and its glaring white glacier. Here, you will be humbled by the immenseness of nature, so far removed from any other Peru destinations.
The valleys on either sides of the Punta Union pass, which stands at over 4750 meters above sea level, are uniquely different in their own stunning details.
Finally, it is the third day that stands as the highlight for most visitors. This is the day for crossing the Punta Union pass at over 4750 meters above sea level. From Taullipampa, it is a 3 hour slightly gradual uphill journey taking you ever closer to the Centillo glacier and providing views of the long distant lakes you passed the day before. If trekkers had not felt the effects of altitude yet, heading toward the pass might make quite a punch so drink lots of water or even take a sirocho pill to counter any symptoms. Reaching the Punta Union pass by noon will allow for a most stunning lunch location as you admire the icy blue lake under the nearby peak and the black granite-flanked valley lying ahead of you. The second half of the day on the other side of Punta Union is vastly different and arguably more densely dramatic than the Santa Cruz trek has been yet, as it is possible to witness multiple waterfalls, white-capped peaks, lakes, and lush high altitude vegetation all from single viewpoints. Camping at Cachinapampa (2950 meters) will be a nice break after the most exciting of days.
The fourth day, then, is mostly about walking out of the Huascaran National Park and congratulating yourself on a job well done. Crossing the Punta Union pass more than 4750 meters above the earth definitely earns bragging rights! The final challenge is the steep climb up to the town of Vaqueria (3600 meters) where trekkers can catch rides back to town, whether it be Caraz, Yungay, or Huaraz. Be sure to arrive in Vaqueria by 1 pm at the latest so you don’t miss the last minivan or bus of the day. On the meandering drive down, relish in having accomplished and experienced the world-renowned Santa Cruz trek!