The Santa Cruz Trek is easily one of the best multi-day hikes in Peru and even in the whole of South America. Trekking Santa Cruz, should be prioritised on your backpacking route in Peru. Indeed, reaching the spectacular Punta Union Pass along the Santa Cruz Trek in Huaraz is an unforgettable moment. Of course, like many multi-day hikes in Peru, there are many different itinerary options. In this travel guide, we’re going to outline and recommend doing the 3 day Santa Cruz Trek independently. But, we’ll also cover information about the 4 day option and doing a guided Santa Cruz Trek tour. That way, all bases are covered.
So, by reading this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about the Santa Cruz Hike in Peru. Importantly, for the independent trekkers, we’ll reveal the best camping spots, which avoid the busy and well-known campsites. By following our advice, you might even have these camping spots to yourself. Just like we did!
Santa Cruz Trek Guide
If you decide to trek Santa Cruz in Huaraz, you’ll be taking on one of the world’s most highly rated multi-day treks. Undoubtedly, the Santa Cruz Trek is a well-known hike. But, since the emergence of the increasingly popular Huayhuash trek, trekking Santa Cruz is no longer the most popular multi-day hike in Huaraz.
In recent times, most hikers will opt for Huayhuash over the Santa Cruz Trek. There’s no denying that Huayhush is a more epic hike. But, there are many good reasons why you should still do the Santa Cruz Trek. One of the main reasons is that it’s much shorter (3 or 4 days). So, the Santa Cruz Trek is much easier to manage independently. As a result, the Santa Cruz Trek is much cheaper. Indeed, doing the Santa Cruz Trek solo is an awesome experience and one that won’t cost the Earth.
We hope this guide helps in your planning of the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru. Whether you choose to do it in 3 or 4 days, guided or unguided, you’ll find all of the necessary information here. Of course, for the ultimate experience, we recommend doing the trek independently in 3 days. But, more on that later. For now, let’s look at exactly where the Santa Cruz Trek is located in Peru.
Santa Cruz Trek in Cordillera Blanca, Peru
The Santa Cruz Trek in Huaraz, or, should we say, near the city of Huaraz, is located in the Huascaran National Park, which is nestled in the breathtaking Cordillera Blanca mountain range. When it comes to Cordillera Blanca treks, there are many to choose from. Certainly, the Santa Cruz Trek is just one brilliant option. From Huaraz, the capital of the Ancash region in Northern Peru, you’re just a stone’s throw away from the Cordillera Blanca. So, Huaraz is the ideal base for trekking Santa Cruz.
So, will you do the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru in 3 or 4 days?
Santa Cruz Trek 3 Days vs. 4 Days
Traditionally, the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru is completed in 4 days. Indeed, most Santa Cruz Trek tours offer a 4 day itinerary. So, straight up, if you’re keen on doing the hike in 3 days, you’ll most likely be doing it independently without a guide. Certainly, most other independent hikers we saw on the trail were doing the trek in just 3 days.
So, what’s so good about trekking Santa Cruz in 3 days? Honestly speaking, if you’re a keen hiker, you’ll find 4 days is an excessive amount of time. If you’re reasonably fit and have acclimatised, 3 days is plenty of time to hike to Punta Union and complete the Santa Cruz Trek. Of course, by doing the hike in 3 days, the overall experience will be cheaper. Personally, we hired our camping gear. So, hiring gear for a shorter amount of time was cheaper. Another benefit is having an extra day up your sleeve. This means you have more time to explore other hikes in Huaraz other than just the Santa Cruz Trek!
Of course, doing the Santa Cruz Trek in 4 days is still an awesome experience. If you’re wanting an easier hike and costs aren’t as much an issue, then 4 days may suit you perfectly.
Either way, in the Santa Cruz Trek Itinerary section, we’ll cover the typical itineraries for both the 3 and 4 day options. These details will be very helpful if you plan on hiking independently. Equally, even if you’re doing a guided tour, this information will help you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into! So, to do a guided tour or not?
Santa Cruz Trek: With or Without a Guide?
Your decision on whether to do the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru independently or with a guided tour will come down to trekking experience and personal preference. If you’re an experienced trekker, you’ll have no problems with doing this trek solo. Trail navigation is straightforward and the trail isn’t at all technical. In terms of personal preference, there are many different factors to consider. By exploring the pros and cons of doing a guided tour and hiking solo, we’ll touch on these factors below.
Trekking Santa Cruz With a Guide – Pros
There are many benefits to doing the Santa Cruz Trek in Huaraz with a guided tour. These include:
- Minimal to no pre-trekking planning required
- All transport is organised
- You don’t have to carry all of your gear when hiking (thanks to the mules)
- Trail navigation, meals and pitching at campsites are all taken care of
- Security with hiking with a guide and in a group (although the trek is very safe)
- Guidance and safety equipment if things go wrong at high altitude
- Information provided about the area, culture, etc.
Certainly, trekking Santa Cruz with a guide is the most convenient and stress-free option. Indeed, trekking with a guide in Peru can make life much easier. That’s why we chose to do a guided tour when hiking Choquequirao, Ausangate and Huayhuash. But, Beck and I preferred to do the Santa Cruz Trek without a guide.
Trekking Santa Cruz With a Guide – Cons
There are some disadvantages to doing the Santa Cruz Trek in Huaraz with a guided tour. These include:
- No choice or decision-making on the itinerary – less flexibility with your schedule
- Forced to camp at busy campsites
- More costly to organise a guided tour as it’s usually with a tour company
- Dealing with the dynamics of hiking with a large group of people
These are some of the reasons why Beck and I didn’t opt for a guided Santa Cruz tour. Personally, we wanted the control and freedom to hike Santa Cruz at our own pace and be able to choose our own trail options. That way, we were able to do the hike in 3 days, instead of 4 days, and still visit Laguna Arhuaycocha (Alpamayo Base Camp). Even on 4 day guided tours, with an extra day, this stunning lagoon often isn’t included in the itinerary.
Of course, one of the best parts of trekking Santa Cruz independently was choosing our own campsites. In the Santa Cruz Itinerary section, we’ll reveal two awesome camping spots, that we had to ourselves. In addition, you can save money by avoiding a guided tour. Finally, by hiking independently, you’ll get to choose who you want to hike with. Guided tours involving large groups of people can usually get noisy and chaotic. Of course, if you’re a solo trekker looking to meet new people, this could be a fantastic option. But, honestly speaking, Beck and I were happy to simply do this trek together, just us and nature!
Trekking Santa Cruz Without a Guide – Pros
To reiterate the negative aspects of doing a guided tour, we’ll look at the advantages of trekking Santa Cruz solo:
- More flexibility with your hiking itinerary
- Not needing to rely on tour companies – freedom to choose exactly the dates you want to hike
- Ability to avoid busy campsites
- Doing your own cooking
- Using your own camping equipment
Personally, Beck and I enjoyed trekking Santa Cruz in Peru independently for most of the reasons listed above. But, of course, this option might not be for everyone.
Trekking Santa Cruz Without a Guide – Cons
By way of contrast, here are some disadvantages of trekking Santa Cruz in Huaraz independently:
- Detailed planning required
- Having to carry all of your gear
- Organising all of your own transport
- No safety net (emergency mules or oxygen) on-hand if things go wrong at high altitude
- Learning less about the area, culture, etc.
Certainly, advanced planning is needed to organise doing the Santa Cruz Trek independently. Of course, by talking to a knowledgeable local in Huaraz, you may be able to save time on figuring out all of the logistics on your own. In addition, carrying all of your equipment, particularly up Punta Union, can be very physically demanding! That’s why doing the trek in 3 days may be a better option as you’ll have less food and gear to carry compared with doing the trek over a longer period of time.
Thankfully, organising your own transport is quite easy. Also, if you acclimatise properly, you shouldn’t need to worry about altitude sickness when you reach high altitudes such as at Punta Union. Admittedly though, at times, we were unsure about which mountains we were looking at and hiking by. Indeed, a guide would have been useful to help point out the names of mountains and other landforms.
So, if you aren’t interested in trekking Santa Cruz independently, you’ll want to consider doing a guided tour.
Santa Cruz Trek Tours
Undoubtedly, there are many benefits of doing a guided Santa Cruz Trek Huaraz tour. Most tour companies offer a very similar tour. Specifically, guided Santa Cruz Trek tours involve a 4 day trekking itinerary. Often, you’ll start the hike in Cashapampa and finish in Vaqueria. They’ll offer roundtrip transportation from Huaraz. Usually, they’ll provide all of your meals and camping equipment, which they set up for you. In most cases, you’ll have an English-speaking guide. These tours are generally around $200–300USD. So, which Huaraz trekking company is best?
Huaraz Trekking Companies
There are many tour companies in Huaraz offering Santa Cruz Trek tours. As mentioned, Beck and I didn’t do a guided Santa Cruz Trek tour. So, we haven’t personally experienced a Santa Cruz Trek tour. But, we did a guided Huayhuash Trek tour with Huayhuash Expeditions (AKA Krusty Travels). They provided excellent service during this tour. So, we’d happily recommend this tour company for doing a guided Santa Cruz Trek. Huayhuash Expeditions offer the guided Santa Cruz Trek tour for $200USD. You’ll usually find tour sizes are between 6–14 people. They provide everything to be expected of a tour, including an emergency mule and safety equipment such as oxygen masks, if required.
Admittedly, though, most trekking companies offer a very similar service of comparable quality.
Santa Cruz Trek Price
Santa Cruz Trek Peru costs: well, this depends on whether you hike independently or with a guided tour. As mentioned, the Santa Cruz Trek cost, if done with a guided tour from Huaraz, is between $200–300USD per person. Of course, trekking Santa Cruz independently is cheaper. But, by how much? Let’s look at a breakdown of the costs.
- Camping gear rental per day: approx. S/55 ($14USD)
- Food: S/30 ($8USD) per day
- Colectivo from Huaraz to Yungay: S/10 ($2.50USD) per person
- Colectivo from Yungay to Vaqueria: S/50 ($12USD) per person
- Huascaran National Park Entrance Fee: S/30 ($8USD) per person
- Huascaran National Park Exit Fee: S/30 ($8USD) per person
- Colectivo from Cashapampa to Caraz: S/20 ($5USD) per person
- Colectvo from Caraz to Huaraz: S/10 ($2.50USD) per person
Trekking Santa Cruz independently in 3 days, should cost around S/400 ($100USD) per person. Of course, most of the costs may be from the rental of camping gear in Huaraz, which totals around S/165 ($41USD). If you have your own camping gear, trekking independently will only be around S/235 ($59USD) per person. In this case, you’ll only need to pay for food, transport and entrance fees. As you can see, trekking Santa Cruz independently is much cheaper. In fact, trekking without a guide is at least half the price of a tour!
So, we’ve just mentioned some of the colectivos you’ll need to catch in order to do the Santa Cruz Trek independently. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.
Santa Cruz Trek From Huaraz: How to Get There and Back
Reaching the start of the Santa Cruz Trek independently is straightforward. Although, you have two options as to where to start the hike – Vaqueria or Cashapampa. Most independent hikers will start from Vaqueria and hike to Cashapampa over 3 or 4 days. For that reason, we’ll outline how to get from Huaraz to Vaqueria and back to Huaraz from Cashapampa. In the section below, we’ll explain why Vaqueria is a better place to start the trek compared with Cashapampa.
Colectivo from Huaraz to Yungay: there are a few places in Huaraz where you can get a colectivo from Huaraz to Yungay. Basically, look for a colectivo service running to Caraz. You’ll alight before Caraz, at a small town called Yungay. Colectivos start at around 5:30am and are S/10 ($2.50USD) per person. The journey takes around 1.5 hours.
It’s important to catch an early colectivo to give yourself enough time to trek on the first day as the colectivo from Yungay to Vaqueria arrives around 11–11:30am. Confusingly enough, we were told to go to Paradero Caraz for this first colectivo. But, there were so signs of any colectivos here in mid-2022. So, we walked around aimlessly and then rocked up at Paradero Carhuaz, where collectivos were running to Caraz! By taking this colectivo, you’ll be dropped off at the town entrance of Yungay. From here, locals will lead you to the colectivo to Vaqueria.
Colectivo from Yungay to Vaqueria: once you arrive at Yungay, you’ll have to wait for the colectivo to fill before it departs. Having arrived at Yungay at around 7am, we waited around half an hour before it left. Indeed, usually, the first colectivo to Vaqueria leaves Yungay at around 7:30am. As mentioned, it’s really important to catch this first colectivo to Vaqueria, to give yourself enough time to hike on Day 1. To our surprise, we were charged S/50 ($12USD) per person for the approx. 3.5 hour journey. This was more than we had expected. Perhaps, we were ripped off, or, prices have surged post-pandemic.
FYI – this colectivo ride is bumpy, winding and downright unenjoyable. Make sure to take travel sickness tablets if you suffer from motion sickness.
Colectivo from Cashapampa to Caraz: the last colectivo from Cashapampa to Caraz is at 3pm. This means you’ll need to start hiking on Day 3 nice and early (we started at 6am) to make it in time (we arrived at around midday). But, if you don’t make it in time, don’t stress. It’s possible to get a taxi back to Caraz instead. You’ll just have to factor in the extra costs. The colectivo from Cashapampa to Caraz costs S/20 ($5USD) per person. Journey time is around 1 hour.
Colectivo from Caraz to Huaraz: thankfully, there are plenty of colectivos running from Caraz to Huaraz, which run well into the evening. Once you arrive in Caraz, tell the colectivo driver that you want to go back to Huaraz and they’ll drop you off at a colectivo station. The colectivo from Caraz to Huaraz is S/10 ($2.50USD) per person. Journey time is around 1.5–2 hours.
Two Trailheads Options: Vaqueria or Cashapampa
Because the Santa Cruz Trek, near Huaraz, is a one-way trail, it’s possible to start at either end – Vaqueria or Cashapampa. In fact, Cashapampa is usually the preferred starting point for tour companies offering the guided 4 day trekking option. But, if you’re trekking Santa Cruz independently, there are two main reasons why you should start at Vaqueria.
The first reason has got to do with logistics. There are not many, if any, colectivos departing from Vaqueria to Yungay in the afternoon. So, finishing the Santa Cruz Trek there could leave you at risk of not having a ride back to Huaraz, particularly, if you arrive mid to late afternoon. Certainly, finishing in Cashapampa is a better option.
Secondly, trekking Santa Cruz from Vaqueria to Cashapampa is much easier than hiking from Cashapampa to Vaqueria. By hiking from Vaqueria to Cashapampa, you’ll gain a total of 2,765 metres and descend a total of 3,490 metres. As you can see, there’s more downhill by hiking in this direction, which will make the hike far less physically demanding. Especially, if you’re carrying all of your equipment. Considering the 3 day Santa Cruz Trek is already pretty tough, do yourself a favour and choose to start at Vaqueria.
FYI – Cashapampa is a popular place for climbers to start trekking to Alpamayo Base Camp.
Santa Cruz Trek Quick Stats
- Type: Multi-day trek
- Distance: 55.5km
- Time: 3 days
- Accumulated elevation gain: 2,765m
- Accumulated elevation loss: 3,490m
- Maximum elevation: 4,760m (Punta Union)
- Minimum elevation: 3,010m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Vaqueria
The Santa Cruz Trek in Peru is relatively hard, particularly the ascent of Punta Union. Of course, the difficulty is mostly determined by how many days you choose to trek Santa Cruz. Obviously, covering the same distance in 3 days is much harder than doing it in 4 days. In addition, doing a Santa Cruz Trek tour is also much easier as you won’t need to carry all of your gear.
Overall, trekking Santa Cruz independently in 3 days, including an out and back to Laguna Arhuaycocha (Alpamayo Base Camp) is quite physically demanding. Perhaps, trekking Santa Cruz over 4 days in a guided tour would only be of moderate difficulty. Although, the high altitude of Punta Union means the trek is certainly challenging, whether completed over 3 or 4 days.
Santa Cruz Trek Peru Map
For those interested, here’s the Santa Cruz Trek map. We recorded this Santa Cruz trail map using Wikiloc.
You’ll find a specific map for each day of the trek under the relevant headings in the trail description section.
Santa Cruz Trek Itinerary
Your Santa Cruz Trek itinerary will depend on whether you complete the trail in 3 or 4 days and whether you go independently or with a tour group. Let’s look at the typical itineraries below and then we’ll reveal our unique itinerary, which avoids busy campsites.
Typical 4 day Itinerary (or vice-versa):
- Day 1: Cashapampa – Llamacorral
- Day 2: Llamacorral – Taullipampa (possible out and back side-trip to Laguna Arhuaycocha (Alpamayo Base Camp)
- Day 3: Taullipampa – Paria via Punta Union
- Day 4: Paria – Vaqueria
Typical 3 Day Itinerary:
- Day 1: Vaqueria – Paria
- Day 2: Paria – Taullipampa via Punta Union
- Day 3: Taullipampa – Vaqueria
Our unique 3 Day Itinerary:
- Day 1: Vaqueria – near Paria (wild camping)
- Day 2: Paria – Jatunquisar via Punta Union with out and back side-trip to Laguna Arhuaycocha (Alpamayo Base Camp)
- Day 3: Jatunquisar – Cashapampa
In terms of camping on the first night, we recommend passing through Paria, which is an official but busy campsite. There are quite a few wild camping spots beyond Paria. Personally, we found a great spot approx. 2km beyond Paria. Check out our Wikiloc map from Day 1 for the exact wild camping spot.
For the second night of camping, we advise avoiding Taullipampa, which gets really busy. If you hike another approx. 2km along the trail, you’ll arrive at the secluded Jatunquisar campsite. Beck and I were the only people camping there when we visited. The other benefit is that your third day of hiking will be slightly shorter, ensuring you arrive at Cashapampa in time for the last colectivo.
Rest assured, both wild camping near the Paria campsite and the quiet Jatunquisar campsite are located next to a river. So, plenty of fresh water is available.
Santa Cruz Trek Trail Description
Now that you’ve heard about our unique 3 day Santa Cruz Trek itinerary, let us briefly describe it. We’ve conveniently broken up the trail description into sections depicting each day of the trail. You’ll also find specific hiking stats and maps for each day.
Day 1: Vaqueria to near Paria
- Distance: 13km
- Time: 4.5–6 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 600m
- Accumulated elevation loss: 265m
- Maximum elevation: 4,000m
- Minimum elevation: 3,420m
- Difficulty: Easy
After a long and bumpy ride, your Santa Cruz Trek starts in the small village of Vaqueria. Initially, you’ll descend past and weave through farmland and other parts of the village. Admittedly, the early stages of the trek are nothing extraordinary.
Soon enough, though, you’ll progress further into Huaripampa Valley, which reveals spectacular scattered rocks and green mountainsides. Eventually, you’ll reach the first official campsite and checkpoint – Huaripampa. This is where you’ll pay the entrance fee.
You’ll then continue beside the river stream towards Paria.
As mentioned, this is a popular campsite. Indeed, we recommend continuing your hike in the direction of Punta Union for three reasons. Firstly, you wouldn’t have hiked very far at this stage. So, whilst you have energy, you may as well go a bit further. Secondly, you’ll have less hiking to do on Day 2, which is the longest and hardest day involving Punta Union. Thirdly, and most importantly, wild camping further upstream is a much more tranquil and enjoyable experience.
Day 2: Paria to Jatunquisar
- Distance: 20.5km
- Time: 8.5–10.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,040m
- Accumulated elevation loss: 1,050m
- Maximum elevation: 4,760m (Punta Union)
- Minimum elevation: 3,990m
- Difficulty: Hard
After enjoying a peaceful night’s sleep, we recommend setting off early as today is a long one! From the outset, the trail gradually ascends. As you gain elevation, you’ll reach increasingly mountainous terrain. You’ll also pass some small lakes, which magnificently reflect the skies above.
Admittedly, with all of our gear on our backs, Beck and I slowly struggled towards the highest point – the Punta Union Pass (4,760m). Thankfully, you’ll have sweeping views of snow-capped peaks to help distract you from the struggle. Of course, reaching Punta Union is a highlight of trekking Santa Cruz.
You’ll enjoy a great sense of satisfaction as you reach and pass through the Punta Union mountain pass. At the peak, there’s an opportunity to climb and scramble to glorious viewpoints of the surrounding mountains. In particular, Taulliraju (5,830m) stands outlandishly tall. From Punta Union, you’ll also enjoy incredible views of Laguna Taullicocha. In fact, as you begin your descent from Punta Union, into Santa Cruz Valley, you’ll near closer to this beautiful lake.
With the consistent downhill portion of this section of trail, you’ll soon arrive at Taullipampa. This campsite stretches over some distance, creating a few different areas to pitch along the river. But, as mentioned, this campsite gets crowded with large tour groups. So, we recommend continuing to a much smaller and secluded campsite. But, not before taking a side trail to Laguna Arhuaycocha (Alpamayo Base Camp).
Laguna Arhuaycocha (Alpamayo Base Camp)
Technically speaking, the side trail to Laguna Arhuaycocha isn’t part of the Santa Cruz Trek. This short out and back follows the Alpamayo Trail, which initially leads to Alpamayo Base Camp. To follow this trail, from Taullipampa, you’ll veer right, following a less-defined trail. It’s a steep trail, that eventually flattens at Mirador Alpamayo. Despite the stunning mountain surrounds, the views from the Mirador itself are actually a tad underwhelming. But, don’t worry. If you continue to follow the trail, you’ll soon arrive at Alpamayo Base Camp. From there, there’s a short, steep trail leading you to Laguna Arhuaycocha. Indeed, the views from the lake are breathtaking and worth the almighty effort.
Despite not being officially part of the Santa Cruz Trek, we highly recommend adding this out and back to your itinerary. Personally, Laguna Arhuaycocha was one of the best natural attractions we saw in Peru!
After enjoying the lake, it’s time to retrace your steps back to the Mirador Alpamayo. From here, instead of turning left to return to Taullipampa, turn right towards Jatunquisar. You’ll descend many steep switchbacks before finally arriving at a forested area. Hidden by the trees, you’ll find an official, but small and relatively unknown campsite. It’s the perfect place to camp on your second night and makes your hike on Day 3 around 2km shorter when compared with starting from Taullipampa. Win-win!
Day 3: Jatunquisar to Cashapampa
- Distance: 21.8km
- Time: 5.5–7.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 26m
- Accumulated elevation loss: 980m
- Maximum elevation: 3,990m
- Minimum elevation: 3,010m
- Difficulty: Moderate
From Jatunquisar, you’ll hike mostly downhill towards Cashapampa, which is your final destination of the Santa Cruz Trek. Initially, you’ll hike on a vast valley floor, following and skipping along the river. Eventually, you’ll reach and pass Laguna Jatuncocha, which has an exceptional green tinge.
Then, the valley and trail narrow, forming a more defined trail. You’ll soon pass Llamacorral, which is the only campsite with a small tienda. Admittedly, at this point of the trek, you’ll undoubtedly feel fatigued, especially after conquering Punta Union the day before. With weary legs, make sure to take care. It was nearing the final stages of the steep descent that Beck rolled her ankle!
With the sun blaring, Beck and I were relieved to arrive in Cashapampa after an enjoyable spell of speed hiking. This signalled the end of the Santa Cruz Trek and the start of our journey back to Huaraz. Near the end of the trail, you’ll pass another checkpoint, where you may have to pay another entrance fee for that hiking in Huascaran National Park that day. From there, it’s a short walk to the village of Cashapampa. If you’ve made it by 3pm, you’ll wait for the next colectivo to Caraz.
What’s speed hiking? It’s purposefully hiking at a high speed. Hiking at quick speeds at high altitudes, such as Punta Union, isn’t recommended. But, if properly acclimatised, it’s possible to speed hike on the third day as you approach Cashapampa.
Things to Know Before Trekking Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Trek in Peru is certainly one of the country’s best multi-day hikes. But, you’ll want to be prepared. To that end, we’re going to cover the most important things to know before trekking Santa Cruz to make sure you have the best time, whilst caring for the environment and others.
Thankfully, the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru is considered, by many, to be very safe. The locals are generally very friendly and welcoming. In fact, when we consider safety pertaining to this trek, it’s the high altitude that requires more concern. Indeed, the Santa Cruz Trek is a high-altitude hike. You’ll need a period of acclimatisation in order to reduce your chances of altitude sickness when taking on this hike.
Santa Cruz Trek Altitude
At 4,670m, Punta Union is the highest point of the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru. In terms of altitude along the entire trek, Vaqueria (the usual starting place) is at 3,420m. By the end of Day 1, if you reach Paria or wild camp near there, you’ll be sleeping at around 4,000m.
So, it’s extremely important to acclimatise before doing the Santa Cruz Trek. Altitude sickness (AKA Acute Mountain Sickness) is an illness that can be experienced by hikers when they reach high altitudes. The main symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, indigestion and loss of appetite.
Acclimatisation: How to Avoid Altitude Sickness
There are many different things you can do to reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness. But, the single most important thing 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 fly into Huaraz (3,050 metres), you should have at least two rest days before you begin to hike. This will give your body time to adjust and acclimatise. Then, before doing the Santa Cruz Trek, you should do some acclimatisation hikes to expose your body to higher altitudes. For instance, you could start with Laguna Wilcacocha (3,710m). On subsequent days, you could hike to Laguna Shallap (4,250m), Rajucolta (4,271m), Paron (4,300m), Churup (4,450m), Laguna 69 (4,600m) and Pastoruri Glacier (5,000m). By exposing yourself to higher altitudes, slowly over time, you’ll dramatically reduce your chances of altitude sickness during the Santa Cruz Trek.
But, if you don’t have time to do numerous acclimatisation hikes, there are other ways you can reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness. Exerting less effort by hiking over 4 days, instead of 3 days, and, doing a guided tour without the need to carry all of your equipment may help.
In addition, there are some simple tips you can follow to help reduce your chance of getting altitude sickness. Firstly, don’t rush. Walk slowly and calmly. Secondly, eat lighter meals and don’t eat them too quickly. Also, drink plenty of water. You could also have coca leaves, tea and/or sweets. This is what the locals recommend. Finally, there are altitude sickness tablets (such as Diamox) available. But, if you acclimatise properly in the first place, you shouldn’t need these.
Santa Cruz Trek Weather
Weather in the mountains is another safety aspect to consider during the Santa Cruz Trek, near Huaraz. Mountain weather can be unpredictable. So, you’ll need to be aware of the forecast and be prepared to change your plans if poor weather prevents you from hiking high passes such as Punta Union. You’ll also want to be prepared with the right gear just in case the weather turns sour.
Best Time to Visit
In Peru, the dry season runs from May to October. This is when you’ll likely experience the best weather for trekking in the Cordillera Blanca. Of course, weather in the mountains plays by its own rules. When Beck and I visited in June, we experienced rain and overcast conditions on the first day. Also, it’s not a coincidence that the dry season is also the peak tourist season.
If you enjoy a quieter trail, then consider hiking during the rainy season, which runs from November to April. But, don’t be surprised if the weather isn’t as kind to you during this period. To that end, it’s probably best to trek Santa Cruz during the dry season. Thankfully, the trail never gets too overcrowded. So, even during peak season, you should still experience a fairly quiet trail.
More often than not, you’ll be following a river during the Santa Cruz Trek. So, there’ll be ample access to water. But, you’ll want to either treat or boil the water to ensure it’s safe to drink. If you’re prepared and eco-friendly, take a filter water bottle or water filtration tablets.
Other than Vaqueria and Cashapampa, the only place to buy food and water along the Santa Cruz Trek is at Llamacorral campsite. There, you’ll find a small tienda with only snacks and drinks. Even at Vaqueria and Cashapampa, your food choices will be limited. So, before doing the Santa Cruz Trek, we recommend buying your food in Huaraz.
The campsites along the Santa Cruz Trek are quite basic. So, don’t expect any showers along the way. Unless you plan on bathing in the river, take baby wipes to clean yourself. Also, don’t forget your hand sanitiser!
Bugs shouldn’t be a problem during the Santa Cruz Trek. Given the altitude, you won’t need to worry about mosquitoes. But, some of the farms around Vaqueria and Cashapampa attract numerous types of small insects. So, you might want your bug spray/gel when passing through those areas.
Environmental and Cultural Considerations
It’s an absolute privilege to be able to trek Santa Cruz and do other hikes in and around Huaraz. It goes without saying, but, of course, always take your rubbish with you. Leave no trace and all of that. In addition, make sure to be polite and courteous to the locals. A simple greeting in Spanish will go a long way. And, if you plan on photographing a local, make sure to gain their consent before snapping away.
Other Cordillera Blanca Hiking Trails
Other than the Santa Cruz Trek, there are many other brilliant Cordillera Blanca trekking options. Beck and I stayed in Huaraz for one month. So, we had the pleasure of doing many of the best treks in the area. If you have enough time, we recommend the following trails in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Laguna 69: one of the most popular day hikes in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Laguna 513: a turquoise-coloured lake, similar to Laguna 69, but without the crowds.
- Pastoruri Glacier: a popular day trip that visits a spectacular glacier.
- Laguna Churup: an easy day hike to do solo from Huaraz.
- Laguna Llaca: the most underrated day hike in the area.
- Paron Lake: a short hike that explores the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Laguna Hualcacocha: one of the newest day hikes in Huaraz.
- Laguna Queshquecocha: a day hike which is even lesser known than Laguna Hualcacocha!
- Four Lagunas Trek: our favourite day hike in Huaraz.
- Laguna Shallap: a hike that visits an unbelievable green lake.
- Laguna Yanacocha and Uruscocha: one of the hardest day hikes in Huaraz.
Where to Stay in Huaraz
It’s easy to do the Santa Cruz Trek from Huaraz in Peru. To that end, here are a few Huaraz accommodations options to consider for before and after the trek.
- Budget – Accommodation Bella-Vista: this is a decent option for budget backpackers. At Accommodation Bella-Vista, you’ll have a nice stay that’s good value for money. They do have private rooms; but, of course, the dorm rooms are where you’ll enjoy the best value.
- Mid-range – Krusty Hostel B&B: Beck and I really enjoyed our time staying here. Krusty Hostel B&B is one of the most highly-rated accommodation options in Huaraz. The private rooms are nice and cosy. Plus, the hostel features a large shared kitchen, which includes a free breakfast.
- Luxury – Cordillera Hotel: this is one of the best hotels in Huaraz. Cordillera Hotel is a great place to stay. It has lovely rooms and modern facilities. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to stay in the area.
Five Hiking Essentials
Here are some hiking essentials for the Santa Cruz Trek, near Huaraz, Peru.
Why do you need this?
See it in action
You'll want a good pair of hiking boots for a multi-day trek. These boots are lightweight, breathable and very comfortable
This camera is lightweight and compact, so it's perfect for a multi-day trek. The Sony Cybershot RX100 VII takes high-quality photos and 4K videos
A waterproof jacket is a non-negotiable when hiking in the mountains
We highly rate the Osprey Aether AG 70L backpack. The anti-gravity suspension makes the backpack feel very light. You can even adjust the back support so it fits your body perfectly
A fleece jacket will help keep you warm. The North Face TKA Glacier has a great warmth:weight ratio, so it's ideal for multi-day trekking
Five Camping Essentials
Here are some camping essentials for the Santa Cruz Trek, near Huaraz, Peru.
Why do you need this?
See it in action
Of course, sleeping bags are a no-brainer. But, for an extra layer of warmth and cleanliness, you should take a sleeping bag liner
A headlamp is necessary during nighttime at camp
This compact inflatable pillow is an absolute game-changer for a good night's sleep whilst camping
I always take a sleep mask on multi-day treks
A portable battery pack will be useful as the campsites along the Santa Cruz Trek are very basic
Other than the five hiking and camping essentials, here’s a general list of other things to wear/pack for this multi-day trek. Of course, the quantity of these items will depend on how many days you are trekking.
- Water filter bottle / filtration tablets
- Quick-dry T-Shirts
- Waterproof trousers, or water-resistance trousers and packable waterproof over-trousers
- Warm clothes: down jacket, long-sleeve top, etc.
- Hat (cap)
- Neck gaiter
- Spare pairs of underwear and quick-dry hiking socks
- Toothbrush/biodegradable toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Bug spray
- Ear plugs
- Trekking poles
- Any necessary medications
- Action Camera (GoPro Hero 9)
- Phone (alarm clock/watch/maps)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
For a more complete gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Peru, read our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
You’d be crazy to travel without travel insurance, especially when you’re doing high-altitude treks. We recommend World Nomads as a dependable and trustworthy provider who covers trekking at high altitudes.
Visa Requirements For Peru
For most travellers, you won’t need to apply for a visa before travelling to Peru. In most instances, you’ll receive a 90-day tourist visa upon arrival. Admittedly, from what Beck and I had read online, we were expecting a 180-day tourist visa. But, in mid-2022, with an Australian and UK passport, respectively, we received 90-day tourist visas.
- Ask locals about colectivos: schedules can change at any time. It’s always best to check with locals about timings for colectivos.
- Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this hike: we loved smashing this hike out in 3 days. But, we had spent considerable time acclimatising and were in peak hiking condition. And, still, we found it quite challenging. Be prepared and don’t take this multi-day high-altitude hike too lightly.
- Bookmark this page: this is one of the most comprehensive Santa Cruz Trek guides online. Bookmark our guide, so you can easily refer to it at a later date.
We’d like to keep this guide as up-to-date as possible. Please let us know in the comments if any of our information needs updating. Thank you!
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