Off the Grid South America

A Get Outside Guide: The Santa Cruz Trek | Peru

Trekking the Santa Cruz Trek in Huaraz, Peru - Skull at Camp

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 Trek - Mountain Views

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. The Santa Cruz Trek - CampsiteDay 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.The Santa Cruz Trek - Punta UnionDay 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. The Santa Cruz Trek - Hiking TrailDay 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

The Santa Cruz Trek - Mountain Range

The Santa Cruz Trek - MountainsThe Santa Cruz Trek - Punta Union

The Santa Cruz Trek - Punta Union

The Santa Cruz Trek - Laguna Arhuaycocha

The Santa Cruz Trek - Mountain Range Day 2

The Santa Cruz Trek - Campsite with Ganesa Explorer
The Santa Cruz Trek - Cooking Equipment

The Santa Cruz Trek - Chilling at Camp

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).

The Road to the Santa Cruz Trek

The Santa Cruz Trek - Ganesa Explorer Van

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.

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The Santa Cruz Trek outside of Huaraz, Peru is the coolest trek you've never heard much about. A complete guide to planning the Santa Cruz Trek and important details for trekking in Peru.

Anyone else ever taken the Santa Cruz Trek or been trekking in Peru? What did ya think? We took the trek in 2016. Send us a message if you have any questions!

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  • Reply
    life lately (a little late): November 2016 – Travel Outlandish
    December 31, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    […] spent the final days of November high up in the Cordillera Blanca hiking The Santa Cruz Trek. We’d heard pretty much nothing about the trek before going, but it ended up being one of our […]

  • Reply
    Lia @ Practical Wanderlust
    January 14, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    These pictures are phenomenal! Next time we visit Huaraz hopefully I won’t be knocked out with altitude sickness so we can do the Santa Cruz trek!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      January 17, 2017 at 12:27 am

      It was such a stunner, Lia! But I figure there’s no such thing as an ugly hike in Peru.

  • Reply
    A Guide to the Choquequirao Trek without a Guide - Travel Outlandish
    January 24, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    […] a get outside guide: the Santa Cruz Trek, Peru […]

  • Reply
    Chris Dizon
    August 7, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Very nice photos. I plan to do Santa Cruz trek as this October and hope to see clear skies like you did. I just have a few questions and hope you can help me. Did you bring only the necessary gears and clothes with you (tent, cookset etc) and leave your baggage somewhere (like your last hostel) while trekking?

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      August 8, 2017 at 8:36 am

      Thanks for the compliment, Chris! It’s honestly one of the most photogenic mountain ranges I’ve ever trekked in. When we did the Santa Cruz trek, we went with an organized tour. There were mules to carry our tent, food, etc. and we hiked with a day pack. That being said, all of the hostels in Huaraz have baggage storage (typically free). If you are going on your own, I’d recommend bringing just the camping basics and reclaiming your big bag in Huaraz at the end. Let me know if you have any other questions as you’re planning the trek!

    • Reply
      October 2, 2017 at 1:32 am

      Hey Chris! I am also planning on doing the hike this October (if I find someone to hike with because I don’t want to go it completelty alone!) When were yoi thinking of going?

      • Reply
        October 13, 2017 at 11:49 am

        Hi Heidi,

        I just read you email now and it might be too late but I plan to do the hike on October 14, 2017. I am staying the big mountain hotel right now. If you are interested to join me, please email me at I’ll be out in the morning but should be able to reply to you whenever there’s wifi. Hope to hear fron you soon.

  • Reply
    August 28, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Hello! I plan on doing this trek next month and I’m trying to find a company to go with. Who did you guys use for your trek?

    • Reply
      August 28, 2017 at 6:16 am

      I’m sorry…I just saw where you wrote what company you used!

      • Reply
        Taylor Record
        September 1, 2017 at 12:43 pm

        Hi Danielle, no apologies needed! We went with Ganesa Explorer, but the experience was little more than equipment, simple food, and someone to lead the way. If you’re looking for something a bit more thorough, there are probably 50+ operators in Huaraz and TripAdvisor does a pretty good job of giving insight on which to choose. Good luck with your trek!

    • Reply
      September 6, 2017 at 4:24 am

      Hi DANIELLE!

      I’m doing the trekking on Tuesday, 12th September.
      If you want, you can join me.


  • Reply
    September 29, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I don’t suppose anyone is looking to do this trek in the next week?! Absolutely wonderful advice btw Taylor!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      October 4, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks for that, Heidi! I was nervous to start the trek alone, but left with plenty of friends. I’m certain you’ll meet people on the trail, but if you’re interested in sorting something out ahead of time, I’d recommend posting on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forum or stopping by the orientation at Erratic Rock. Go get it, girl!

  • Reply
    Ana Fitzgerald
    August 28, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Excellent article Taylor! I like the recommendations you make here! It is true that Huaraz is amazing! It has several places with nature such as the Cordillera Blanca and the Huascaran. Other places I loved was Yungay and Hatun Machay stone forest. I recommend to travel by bus from Lima to Huaraz because it is cheap and there are several bus companies with good services.

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