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Laguna Wilcacocha in Huaraz: The Ultimate Hiking Guide

Laguna Wilcacocha in Huaraz: The Ultimate Hiking Guide

Laguna Wilcacocha, also known as Wilcacocha Lake, is one of the simplest hikes to do independently from Huaraz in Peru. Given its closeness to Huaraz, it makes for an easy half-day trip. When you consider the trek’s minimum and maximum elevation, Laguna Wilcacocha is a fantastic acclimatisation hike. We’re sure you’re visiting Huaraz with your sights set on Laguna 69, Huayhush or the Santa Cruz trek. But, if you’re needing to acclimatise before these high-elevation treks, look no further than Laguna Wilcacocha.

In this trekking guide, we’ll cover all bases when it comes to Laguna Wilcacocha in Huaraz. We’ll provide a map with GPS directions, technical details about the trek and a trail description. Whilst we’re at it, we’ll talk about other things to do in Huaraz, including other great hikes to do in the area.

We hope you find this guide useful. For other great acclimatisation day hikes in Huaraz, read our guides on Laguna Shallap, Laguna Paron and Laguna Rajucolta.

Laguna Wilcacocha Hike in Huaraz Peru: Preview

Laguna Wilcacocha is located in Cordillera Negra – a mountain range that faces the impressive and far-superior Cordillera Blanca range. Honestly speaking, Laguna Wilcacocha isn’t the most beautiful laguna in Huaraz. Ouch! That’s because most, if not all of the best lagunas in Huaraz, are located in the Cordillera Blanca. Certainly, from Laguna Wilcacocha, you’ll enjoy impressive views of Cordillera Blanca. But, to be straight with you, don’t expect Laguna Wilcacocha to be your favourite hike in Huaraz.

Although, with that said, there are many good reasons to hike Laguna Wilcacocha. First, the Laguna Wilcacocha hike is the only worthwhile trail that we know of that is located in the Cordillera Negra. It would be a shame to come all the way to Huaraz and not experience at least one hike in this mountain range. Second, by doing a hike that faces opposite the Cordillera Blanca, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of it. Third, as mentioned, Laguna Wilcacocha is a perfect acclimatisation hike. In terms of well-known laguna hikes in Huaraz, it’s the trail that has the lowest maximum elevation (3,710m) at its peak. So, Laguna Wilcacocha is your ideal first hike in Huaraz, before you take on other higher-altitude hikes. After all, no one wants to get altitude sickness.

So, practically speaking, Laguna Wilcaocha could end up on your hiking to-do list in Huaraz. To that end, let’s look at the nitty-gritty details about the hike to Wilcacocha Lake.

Wilcacocha Lake

Laguna Wilcacocha Hike Map

Here’s a GPS-guided map of the Laguna Wilcacocha hike.

Laguna Wilcacocha Practical Information (Quick Stats)

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 6.5km
  • Time: 2.5–3.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 565m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Santa Cruz Bridge

Laguna Wilcacocha Trail Description

The Laguna Wilcacocha hike starts at Bodega ‘Gladys’ – a small shop positioned just before the Santa Cruz Bridge in Chiwipampa. After crossing the bridge and serene Rio Santa, you’ll follow a gently inclining wide dirt road. But, almost immediately, you’ll join a steeper dirt trail, traversing its way up the mountainside. Certainly, it’s possible to follow the dirt road all the way up to Wilcacocha Lake. But, you may as well use the hiking trail on offer.

On the narrow trail, you’ll be surrounded by lovely wildflowers. You’ll also pass many locals as you approach the small village of Santa Cruz.

Arriving at Santa Cruz Village

At Santa Cruz village, you’ll find farms, farmhouses, a school and residential dwellings. It’s a traditional village and a fascinating area of Huaraz to pass through. Other than some aggressive guard dogs (luckily tied up), the locals were super friendly. Certainly, we felt welcome.

Soon after passing the town, the trail becomes much steeper. Having been in Cusco for the Choquequirao, Salkantay and Ausangate treks, Beck and I thought we had sufficiently acclimatised. And, well, we had. But, it didn’t feel like it. Starting at around 3,100 metres, you’ll start gaining elevation pretty quickly. Along the approx. 3.25km hike to reach Wilcacocha Lake, you’ll climb around 565 metres. So, even if you’ve been in Cusco or acclimatised elsewhere, expect the climb up to be tough! We certainly weren’t speed hiking this trail.

What’s speed hiking? It’s our obsession and hobby. We love speed hiking; but, sometimes it isn’t possible at high altitudes. Read more about speed hiking here.

After passing by farms, you’ll cross the main dirt road twice more. Then, you’ll reach a set of stairs. Thankfully, these stairs lead you to the shores of Wilcacocha Lake. This signals the end of your ascent.

Wilcacocha Lake Viewpoint

To enjoy the Laguna Wilcacocha Viewpoint, you’ll need to walk halfway around the lake. Admittedly, we were disappointed by the lake. To be honest, we think it looked more like a pond. There’s no wonder why calls it ‘Wilcacocha Water‘. We even asked a local to confirm we had arrived at the lagoon. And, sure, they nodded to say it was indeed Laguna Wilcacocha.

Besides our dissatisfaction with the lake, the views, on the other hand, were splendid. From the Laguna Wilcacocha Viewpoint, you’ll enjoy far-stretching views of the Cordillera Blanca. This is the immense mountain range where you’ll spend most of your time hiking in Huaraz. From this viewpoint, you’ll see Huaraz below in the valley to your left. Above that, you’ll face the mammoth snowy mountains of Huascaran National Park. The viewpoint is an excellent spot for a snack or lunch.

After taking in the sweeping views of the Cordillera Blanca, it’s time to finish the Laguna Wilcacocha hike. We recommend completely walking around Wilcacocha Lake. You know, just because. Then, simply retrace your steps back to Santa Cruz Bridge.

Views of the Cordillera Blanca

Punta Callan Add-On

From Wilcacocha Lake, it’s possible to extend your walk to Punta Callan (4,225m). Personally, we were satisfied with reaching the lake. So, we decided not to continue up to Punta Callan. After all, if you’re using Laguna Wilcacocha as an acclimatisation hike, then you probably don’t want to climb any higher. But, if you’re up to the challenge, there is a trail that leads to this pass. Although, Punta Callan is traditionally a mountain biking route. Additionally, there’s a paved road which essentially reaches the pass. So, we don’t recommend adding Punta Callan to this hike. We don’t think it’s worth it. You may as well save your energy for the other epic hikes in Huaraz.

Laguna Wilcacocha Hike Recap

Hiking Laguna Wilcacocha is a sensible start to your hiking trip in Huaraz. For Beck and I, it was our first hike in Huaraz. Having dreamt of trekking in Huaraz for many years, we were thrilled to be doing this hike. Certainly, Laguna Wilcacocha is the perfect acclimatisation hike. Of course, don’t expect Laguna Wilcacocha to be your best trekking experience in Huaraz. Certainly, the lake itself isn’t overly extraordinary. But, the views of the Cordillera Blanca from Wilcacocha Lake, are worth all the effort.

So, how do you get to Santa Cruz Bridge in the first place?

Dan on the return hike from Wilcacocha Lake

How to Get to the Laguna Wilcacocha Trailhead From Huaraz

Thankfully, it’s very simple to get to the trailhead for the Laguna Wilcacocha hike. Basically, you’ll want to catch colectivo Line 10 or E, heading in the direction of Wilcacocha.

The best place to catch this bus is from Mercado Central de Huaraz. You’ll need to get to the north side of the market on Antonio Raymondi. Most importantly, cross the road opposite the market and wait there. Picking up colectivo Line 10 or E from this side of the road will ensure you’re heading to Wilcacocha.

As mentioned, this hike is probably the closest notable trail to the town of Huaraz. The journey time from Huaraz is around 20–25 minutes and costs S/2 ($0.50USD) per person, one-way. Yes, it’s very cheap!

Getting Back to Huaraz

Once you’ve finished the hike, simply wait on the opposite side of the road to where you were initially dropped off. Keep an eye out for the Line 10 or E colectivo to pass. Simply wave the colectivo down and you’ll be back in Huaraz in no time! Admittedly, after waiting for five minutes, the first colectivo that approached us didn’t stop because it was full. Thankfully, after just another few minutes, another coelctivo stopped for us! To be expected, the return journey takes around 20–25 minutes and costs S/2 ($0.50USD) per person.

Other Things to Do in Huaraz

Of course, there are other phenomenal things to do in and around Huaraz. Other than hiking, Huaraz and the surrounding mountains is a great place for rock climbing, mountain climbing, winter sports, mountain biking and sightseeing tours. Personally, Beck and I are avid and passionate hikers. So, we spent over a month in Huaraz hiking as many trails as possible. We didn’t end up doing any climbing, winter sports, mountain biking or general sightseeing. Although, we hear Pico Mateo is a great mountain to climb for beginners. Additionally, we hear Chavin Temple and Waullac are worthwhile archaeological sites to visit. In terms of popular tours which don’t involve much hiking, perhaps, Pastoruri Glacier is the most visited natural attraction.

Beck at Pastoruri Glacier
Pastoruri Glacier – a popular sightseeing tour in Huaraz

Other Hikes to Do in Huaraz

In terms of other hikes, there are so many awesome trails to do in Huaraz. We highly recommend doing the following trails when you visit:

  • Laguna Churup: another easy-to-do independent day hike.
  • Laguna 69: one of the most famous day hikes to do from Huaraz.
  • Four Lagunas Trek: one of our favourite day hikes that take in four lagoons.
  • Laguna 513: well, our favourite Huaraz day hike is either this one or the Four Lagunas Trek.
  • Laguna Hualcacocha: a lesser-known trail that has a sensational turquoise-coloured lake.
  • Pastoruri Glacier: a popular day trip to an immense glacier that includes a short hike at high-altitude.
  • Laguna Paron: this day hike is among the most popular trails in Huaraz.
  • Laguna Llaca: possibly the most underrated hike in Huaraz.
  • Huayhuash Trek: a world-class multi-day hike. Need I say more?
  • Laguna Shallap: this trek leads you to an otherworldly green lake!
  • Laguna Queshquecocha: probably the least known day hike that we did, which explores an epic valley.
  • Santa Cruz Trek: another well-known multi-day trek that you must add to your to-do list.
  • Laguna Rajucolta: this could be one of the easiest day hikes in Huaraz.
  • Laguna Yanacocha and Uruscocha: one of the most challenging trails among the day hikes in Huaraz.

More About Huaraz

Huaraz is the gateway to the breathtaking Cordillera Blanca and Huascaran National Park. It’s also a province and the capital of the department of Ancash. Huaraz sits approx. 3,050 metres above sea level and is home to around 118,000 people. Indeed, Huaraz is one of the biggest towns in the Peruvian Andes. It’s also one of the most visited tourist destinations in Peru. Given its beautiful location in the mountains, this isn’t a surprise. Huaraz is truly a hiking mecca. When it comes to destinations in Peru, Beck and I rate Huaraz as our favourite.

Reading More About Peru

Hiking Laguna Wilcacocha in Huaraz is barely scratching the surface! For Peru travel and hiking inspiration, make sure to check out our other Peru hiking guides.

Where to Stay in Huaraz

Of course, if you’re doing the Laguna Wilcacocha hike, you’ll need a place to stay in Huaraz. We’ve handpicked the best budget, mid-range and luxury options.

  • Budget – Accommodation Bella-Vista: this is a great option for the shoestring traveller. At Accommodation Bella-Vista, you can expect a nice stay that’s great value for money. There are private and dorm rooms available.
  • Mid-range – Krusty Hostel B&B: Beck and I really enjoyed our stay here. Krusty Hostel B&B is one of the most highly-rated accommodation options in Huaraz. The friendly owner, Ivan, has a wealth of knowledge about hiking and travelling in the area. He’ll help you plan trips that you take independently by giving you advice and renting camping gear. The hostel is also a tour agency, known as Huayhuash Expeditions. This is the tour company that Beck and I used for the Huayhuash trek. So, it’s a convenient place to book tours. The hostel itself is spacious. It features a large shared kitchen and nice rooms with mountain views.
  • Luxury – Cordillera Hotel: this is easily one of the best hotels in Huaraz. Cordillera Hotel is a modern establishment with stylish rooms and excellent facilities. If you’re exhausted from hiking in Huaraz, this would be the perfect place to put your feet up to relax.
Dan at Krusty Hostel

Altitude Sickness

Even before you do the Laguna Wilcacocha hike, you should acclimatise properly. Altitude sickness (AKA Acute Mountain Sickness) is an illness experienced by travellers when they reach high altitudes. The main symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, indigestion and loss of appetite. You can’t predict who will get altitude sickness. Even if you have avoided altitude sickness in the past, that doesn’t mean you won’t get it the next time.

You’ll hear about all sorts of ways to avoid altitude sickness. But, the single most important way to reduce your chances of altitude sickness is to avoid going up too high, too quickly! Generally speaking, you shouldn’t go higher than 500 metres a day, once you’re beyond 2,000 metres above sea level.

In practice, if you arrive in Huaraz (3,050 metres above sea level), you should have at least two days’ rest before you hike. This should give your body time to adjust and acclimatise. In theory, by the third day, your body should be able to tolerate 3,500 metres. By the third (or fourth day to be on the safe side), you should be able to tolerate the hike to Wilcacocha Lake, which reaches a height of 3,710m.

Like many travellers, Beck and I had acclimatised in and hiked in Cusco before going to Huaraz. Given Cusco is around 3,400m, we didn’t experience any altitude sickness when we arrived in Huaraz. Still, when we arrived in Huaraz, we had two rest days. We then started with the Laguna Wilcacocha trek and then worked our way into higher altitude hikes.

How to Avoid Altitude Sickness

If you’re not visiting a high-altitude destination before arriving in Huaraz, there are other ways you can reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness. As mentioned, upon arrival, have two or three days rest. Then, start your Huaraz hiking itinerary with the Laguna Wilcacocha hike.

Besides this, there are some tips you can follow to help reduce your likelihood of getting altitude sickness. Firstly, don’t rush when you’re hiking. Walk slowly and take it easy. Secondly, eat lighter meals and don’t eat them too quickly. Also, drink plenty of water. You could also benefit from coca leaves, tea or sweets. Finally, there are altitude sickness tablets (such as Diamox) available. But, if you acclimatise properly in the first place, you shouldn’t need these.

What to Wear and Pack

When hiking to Wilcacocha Lake, you should also take 2L of water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.

For a more complete hiking gear list, read our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a backpacking trip in Huaraz, check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist.

Bonus Tips

  • Peru is more than just Machu Picchu: indeed, go and see the well-known attractions in Peru. But, spend time at the lesser-known places such as Laguna Wilcacocha in Huaraz.
  • Use Busbud: a great way to book bus tickets in advance at a very reasonable rate. We used Busbud to book our bus tickets from Lima to Huaraz.
  • No entrance fees: there is no entrance fee to hike to Wilcacocha Lake. But, there are entrance fees to do some hikes in Huascaran National Park.
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