The Santa Cruz Trek in Peru turned out to be the Annapurna Circuit no one ever told me about. It was awfully strange, being dropped off in an enormous mountain range that’s likeness remained a complete mystery. Each bend in the trail revealed to us valleys and meadows I’d never even seen photos of before. After 4 days of trekking in the Cordillera Blanca, even glacial lagoons become commonplace. It was grand, overwhelming, and seriously beautiful.
Trekking the Santa Cruz was one of my favorite treks in South America, and I’d say anyone with a pair of hiking boots should make a point to head north to Huaraz.
Want to go on an adventure? Here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru.
About the Santa Cruz Trek
What is the Santa Cruz Trek?
The Santa Cruz Trek is a relatively easy 3-4 day hike that takes you through Huascaran National Park in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru. With a max elevation of 4,750 meters (15,580 ft), the Santa Cruz is considered a great acclimation hike if you’re crazy enough to have any more ambitious hiking plans. Guided treks are quite cheap (about $100 for 4-days) and doing the Santa Cruz trek without a guide is even cheaper.
The Santa Cruz Trekking Route
The Santa Cruz Trek takes 3-4 days and begins either in Cashapampa (the classic route) or Vaqueria (the easier route). We unknowingly picked the easy route, and I’d recommend it to anyone planning the trip themselves. Here’s what you can expect if you start your Santa Cruz trek from La Vaquería.
The Easy Way | La Vaquería > Cashapampa | 4 Days
Day 1: From Huaraz, you’ll take a minibus to Caraz (2 hours) and a cooperativo to La Vaquería (4 hours)* where you’ll begin your trek. The easy hike (3 hours) through small villages and across a flat grassy meadow will lead you to the Paria Valley where you’ll set up camp for the night. Day 2: You’ll need an early start for the hardest part of the hike (4 hours). It’s a gradual incline through the Huaripampa Valley, but the trek is more aggressive for the final ascent to Punta Unión at 4,750 meters. From there, it’s an easy downhill to your campsite near the river (3 hours). If you’ve still got the energy to burn, you can trek on to Laguna Arhuaycocha, a roundtrip hike (3 hours) to yet another glacial lake.Day 3: With the hard part behind you, it’s only long distances ahead (7 hours). You’ll walk through the valley past desert, forest, waterfalls, and every other landscape imaginable before setting up camp. Day 4: It’s a short hike today (1.5 hours), but keeping your balance is the biggest challenge with giant rocks to navigate. Once you get to Cashapampa, treat yourself to a cold beer because you did it! It’s a short return to Huaraz (3 hours) from here.
Photos from the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru
How to Get to Huaraz
Getting to Huaraz: It’s about 7 hours north from Lima to Huaraz and 6 hours south from Trujillo. The bus ride into Huaraz is a journey in and of itself! Coming in from Trujillo to Huaraz, we navigated through a landscape that looked more like an apocalyptic movie set than a place you’d ever want to be outside of a bus. It was all vast expanses of nothingness, a maze of sand dunes, then suddenly, some really gigantic, snowcapped mountains.
Getting to the Start of the Trail: Most Santa Cruz trekking tours will include transport from your hotel in Huaraz. If you do it on your own, it is super easy, albeit a bit time-consuming. To get to the start of the Santa Cruz Trek from Huaraz, you’ll take a bus to Caraz (2 hours) and a collectivo to Vaqueria (4 hours) or Cashapampa (3 hours).
Should I do the Santa Cruz Trek with or without a guide?
There are pros and cons to doing the Santa Cruz trek without a guide. We got most of the information we needed for our trek at Hostal Akilpo in Huaraz, but here’s a quick rundown.
- With a Guide: Guided Santa Cruz trekking tours are impressively cheap, starting at around $100. For the two of us, the cost of renting gear and buying food for an independent trek would have worked out to be about the same. Guided treks include a guide, transportation, food, a pack mule, and all of the gear you’ll need for the trek. We went with Ganesa Explorer ($100 USD + $19 park entry fee). While their reviews were a bit rough, we were pleasantly surprised. Yeah, the gear was a bit out of style and the food was relatively simple, but it totally worked for what we needed. If you’re looking for a higher end tour, we read great things about EcoIce Peru and Go2Andes. You’ll pay between $200-$300 +$19 park entry fee, but the trip should be a bit more comfortable.
- Without a Guide: The benefits of doing the Santa Cruz trek without a guide are getting to choose where you camp, what you eat, and who you spend your time with. If you go it alone, you’ll need to work out the details like transport, food, and camping independently. Arranging these details are totally doable, but the real drawback is carrying your own gear. From Hostal Akilpo, the approximate cost of gear rental is as follows (quoted per day in USD): Tent ($6.50), Sleeping Bags ($2-3), Daypacks ($4-$6), Stove ($2), Gas ($10), Sleeping Pads ($5-10), Clothes (Varies). From there, you’ll also want to consider the cost of food ($10-$20), transport ($30), and the park entry fee ($19). You will save money, but ultimately, you’ll be carrying your own gear and setting up your own camp.
What else is there to do in Huaraz?
Huaraz is the base for tons of amazing treks in the region. The Santa Cruz Trek is considered one of the easier of the multi-day treks, but there are tons of great day hikes in Huaraz like Laguna Churrup and Laguna 69. If you’re looking for something more challenging, you might consider Alpamayo Base Camp or the famous Huayhuash Trek.
When is the best time to hike the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru?
The best time to go is May – September with moderate weather and dependably clear skies, but there are more trekking groups. November – April is known to be rainy, cold, and a bit unpredictable. We trekked in the notoriously dismal month of November and got lucky with fewer crowds and beautiful weather. If you can, we recommend the shoulder season for the best of both worlds.
Trekking in South America? You might also like:
- A Get Outside Guide: Trekking the Quilotoa Loop
- A Get Outside Guide: Trekking Rucu Pichincha
- A Get Outside Guide: The Choquequirao Trek
- Going Wild: The 15 Best Treks in South America
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