Santa Cruz Trek
Depending on your fitness level and budget, you can choose treks going from 2 days to more than 10 days around Huaraz. We had heard about the Santa Cruz Trek as not being too difficult and beautiful, so we deciding to book this one.
We could have organize the trip by ourselves but we decided to book it through an agency. Indeed, we paid a little bit more than 80€ per person for the whole trek, which is not a lot more than what we would have paid if we had organized everything by ourselves. Moreover, we did not have to carry our bags which is definitely a luxury when you hike!
The Santa Cruz is a 4 days/3 nights trek which can be done in two directions: you can either go from Vaqueria to Cashapampa or the other way around. We would advise you to do it in the direction Vaqueria-Cashapampa because it seems to be easier and more beautiful. We were 12 persons in our group: two Israeli, two Taiwanese, one Thai, one Malay, two Polish, one Brazilian and one Peruvian. We also had with us a guide, a cook and a donkey man.
Day 1 / 4 hours – 10 km
The pick-up at our hostel was around 6:00 am and the fun began some 2 hours later as we drove to the pass: the “road” was a huge mud field and the truck before us kept getting stuck. Some people would then climb out of the trucks around us with shovels and start digging out the mud in front of the truck’s tires. The most impressive part about it? We were on a small serpentine road and the persons digging out the mud would not follow the road after the truck started driving again but rather climb straight on the mountain to catch up with their respective trucks!!! And in the meantime, our driver honked to make everything go faster 😀 No need to say that we thought we might never arrive at our destination!
We had lunch in Vaqueria directly after our arrival but I think it was because we were late. Normally, you should start walking for a while and then have lunch on the way. The first day is really easy as the way is mostly flat. It takes you through small villages and leads you to a valley where we spent our first night.
We started at approximately 3600m and ended up at 3800m and walked for about 4 hours. From the beginning of the hike, three dogs started to follow us. They stayed with us during the whole trek and apparently do so with every group! Here some pictures of them:
When we arrived at the camp, we set our tent as quickly as possible between two rain showers. Note that if you don’t bring your own tent, the cook and the donkey man will set your tent for you – so when you arrive at the camp, you have nothing to do but lay on your mattress 😉
It was raining quite a lot this evening, so we all huddled under the eating tent where we were served tea and cookies. The cook brought plates with a noodles soup and came back some 20 minutes later with a huge pot asking if we wanted some more. We all did as we thought this was the main dish. Afterward, we were diligently heading to our tents to sleep when our guide rushed after us to tell us that we still had to eat our main dish!! We had a good laugh about is and enjoyed our rice, fried chicken and veggies before going – this time for real – to bed.
Day 2 / 12 km – 8 hours
This day is the hardest day of the trek – but also the most beautiful one! The aim is to go over the pass at approximately 4750m before going down to the camp at 4200m. We woke up around 06:00 am and started walking around 07:00. We were already at the end of the valley and after walking on a flat way for about 15 minutes and we slowly starting the ascent to the pass.
The way up to the pass consists of 3 ascents with small flat intersections in between. While the first 2 ascents were moderate, the last ascent to the final pass was quite steep. Our guide Margarita recommended us to take our time for that 1,5km and to do the climb slowly due to its steepness and the high altitude.
However every step was worth it as we were greeted by this view as the sun just came out when the first persons in our group reached the pass.
We took a one hour lunch break at the pass at 4650m, taking some more pictures and waiting for the remaining group to catch up. From other travelers we learned later that they had bad weather when reaching the pass and so had to continue trekking further down before doing the lunch break. Lucky us! From here, we had a 3 hours descend to our basecamp, which we could see most of the time. In fact most of the remaining Santa Cruz trek would be downhill with this amazing view.
Luckily the weather stayed good and we even had the time to properly dry our tent before setting it up. This night we were camping at the foot of the Artesonraju mountain, the mountain from the Paramount Pictures introduction. Our dinner was similar but different from yesterday, meaning a combination of soup and rice based main course, however this time completely vegetarian.
Day 3 / 18 km – 8 hours
Our good luck with the weather continued and we had a near perfect blue sky. Today’s hike was almost only downhill to our last camping site closer to the valley exit. We had the opportunity to do a small detour into a side valley to visit a Laguna there and get a different view on the surrounding mountains.
Both Charlotte and me were feeling fine, so we decided to make this additional trip. The two Taiwanese and the Thai decided to join as well. We can only recommend going to this Laguna as it was really beautiful and actually not that exhausting: it was mostly a flat plain and two short ascents.
After returning to the normal path, we followed the way downhill through a very dry valley until we encountered a set of turquoise lakes filling the valley from one side to the other. We then follow the river downhill until we arrived at our nice camping site between the way and the river, with just enough space for all our tents. During the day, the sun had shone quite hardly on us, so we had spoken the whole time about jumping inside of the river: when our tent was set, we actually decided to try to get inside of the water: it was COOOOOLD!!! As the water comes from the glaciers and mountains around, we couldn’t have expected warm water anyway 😉 But it was really refreshing and nice to feel clean after 3 days.
A good tip for this location is to bring a partner looking or smelling tasty to mosquitos, as there were quite a few around as along as the sun was shining. Alternatively you can bring some mosquito repellent, but the former strategy worked fine for me. The day was concluded with a good meal and some nice group discussions in the dinner tent. This evening, we also we came up with the idea to travel together with some persons from this trek during our intended trip to Colca Canyon in a couple of days in Arequipa.
Day 4 / 12 km – 4 hours
This day started really well as we had PANCAKES for breakfast <3 The walk was relatively short as we only had to cover 12 km downhill. The valley continued to slim and the descend was actually surprisingly steep with sandy and rocky surfaces alternating each other. Walk carefully, because the risk of twisting an ankle is quite high!
Around 11:00 am we reached the exit of the valley and a small restaurant where we found a proper toilet for the first time in 3 days. Charlotte instantly fell in love with two puppies running around while we bode farewell to our group and our accompanying dogs, which were eager to start the next trek in the opposite direction.
If you want to see all our pictures from the Santa Cruz Trek, click here!
What you should bring for the trek
Regarding the food, you don’t need to bring a lot of stuffs to eat. The meals are surprinsingly good and the portions are sufficient. For the lunch, we got each morning a picnic with two breads, two cereal bars, cookies and a fruit. For diner, we always had a soup as a starter and then a main dish with most of the time meat, some veggies and rice. If you like to eat during your breaks when you hike, you might like to bring some nuts and dry fruits.
Concerning the clothes, you can encounter any kind of weather, so be prepared! Rain jacket is a must have, bring some gloves for the second day – with the altitude, it might get cold. We each brought two pairs of socks, two tee-shirts, one pullover and some underwears. We also had our trekking trouser and a legging that we used to sleep. Do not forget that the donkeys will have to carry everything, and they already carry a lot, so mind the weight of your backpack…
We brought our own tent, matrasses and sleeping bags, so we cannot tell if the stuffs lend by the agency are good enough. Some people in the group said they were cold during the night, so you might want to bring warm clothes to sleep.
You will also definitely need a high protection suncream and insects repelent. You can also bring a small soap, we camped every nights close to a river, so we took some water from it (cooooold!!!) to clean ourselves a little 😉
Price & Agency
We book the tour with the Ganesa Explorer agency and paid 320 soles per person. We would recommend this agency as our guide Margarita was really nice and the food was good. The guide let us do breaks whenever we wanted and she never pushed us to go faster. She did not even insist that we walk together, which was good because we all had different paces in the group. For the price, we think the quality of the service was actually really good.
If you were satisfied with the trek, the guide and the cook, you might want to leave a tip at the end of the tour. We had no idea how much we should tip, but the Peruvian girl in our group recommended to give between 30 to 40 soles per person.