Huaraz & The Santa Cruz

Before I left on this journey, I knew I wanted to see Huaraz and hike The Santa Cruz Trek in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. Huaraz is known for its beautiful mountain scapes and turquoise blue lakes… Muy Bonito! So Steve and I made plans to meet and do this adventure together.

The night Steve and I met up in Ollantaytambo, I started to get really sick. Terrible sinus infection and fever ensued. This was a Saturday night and we were to start our trek the following Wednesday. My only goal was to get better by then. This was not so easy, as Sunday required a full day of travel to include an overnight bus ride arriving in Huaraz Monday morning.

(I made a friend waiting for Steve to arrive in Ollantaytambo!)

We made it to the hostel, I was weak and ready to just lay down. We spent all of Monday in the hostel and I slept most of that time. Steve took good care of me and picked up dinner at the Andean Cafe. I tried to eat as much of my fried rice/quinoa/tofu/veggies as possible and went straight back to sleep. (Side note: The Andean Cafe is great for vegans/vegetarians!) It is a major bummer to be in a new lovely town to explore and no energy to even get out of bed. I watched a lot of “Friends” in Spanish and I think I’ll be ready to press ‘2’ por parle Español soon.

Tuesday, I finally started to feel a bit better but stayed in the hostel most of the day. I did make it out to dinner and ate all I could as my appetite finally started to come back and my fever finally broke. At this point I was still unsure if I would make the trek the next morning.

The day finally came for our hike and I woke up at 5am feeling about 80%. I decided to buck up and push through. This is why we were here and I didn’t want to miss spending time with Steve. Also, I had read that the first day’s hike was pretty flat so I figured I would be alright come time for the hard part. We decided to go with a guide and group because we thought it might make the journey a bit more fun.

So we set off with our group of 9 international travelers in a bus and made it to the trail head about noon. Knowing we had about 4.5hrs of walking ahead of us that day, I was exhausted, but still had it in mind that it would be flat. So ‘no big deal’, I thought.

(The river on the way up. It was so beautiful.)

We set off down the trail, where I quickly learn there was no “flat” to be had. You see, if you take the trail East to West, then you have a flat first day and all the ‘up’ happens on day 2. We were walking West to East. This means we have the ‘up’ divvied across 3 days. While this sounds like a better option (and it was!), it was not the day one I was prepared for.

(Up and up and up…. But the views were amazing.)

Over that 4.5 hour hike, we gained over 2,500 feet in elevation, starting at 9,700ft to 12,340ft above sea level. It’s hard to catch breath at this altitude. I thought I was going to die and Steve has the candid photo evidence to prove it. (It won’t be published here.) We camped at Llomacoral and I was all too happy to eat and sleep.

Day 2 brought a whole new set of challenges. While the hike was mostly flat, only 1,500 feet to climb, I woke up feeling more ill. It was a long day of walking and climbing. Thankfully one of the others in the group had some miracle medicine and I was feeling much better by the time we got to the Taullipampa camp site.

(Beautiful lake we passed on day two. The turquoise color due to glacial runoff was stunning.)

I walked with one of the others in the group while Steve went ahead to do an optional hike. He was able to hike up to one of the beautiful glaciers in the mountains and then on to another lake. I knew I didn’t have it in me, but I didn’t want him missing out! Steve is a bit of a machine and the trek didn’t phase him much. I was impressed!

(Steve at the second lake he hiked to. Almost as high as our target altitude for the trek! Apparently the views were beautiful up there.)

Day 3 we summit to the pass – 15,600 feet above sea level. Another 1,500 foot climb in the morning then it’s ALL a steep down hill from there. By this day I’m feeling a bit better, though the altitude is continuing to affect me a bit. It’s weird when you know you’re telling your legs to move, but they just won’t. Steve and I walked together, taking our time and enjoying the views. We walked 13 miles over 8 hours that day through the peaks and valleys and it was stunning.


(The steep downhill. Somewhere along that top ridge is the pass.)

(The beautiful valley on the way to camp.)

Day 4 we climbed out of the valley to catch a 4 hour bus back to Huaraz. In total, we walked 31 miles and hit a total altitude that’s higher than any other point in the continental US. Every day I was the last to camp, which is ok. I walked slow and took my time. I hit several personal records on this hike including total altitude acquired and altitude gained in one day.

(This sweet pup followed us the whole way. I think that’s how she makes her living – following trekking groups.) 

(Steve celebrates his impressive performance! Lol!)

(A viewpoint we stopped at on the way back. The lakes are stunning, and Steve made me laugh.)

The Santa Cruz Trek is considered one of the best hikes in the world and I see why. It is full of challenges sweetened by amazing views. All of which will take your breath away. Here’s hoping my next trek doesn’t involve so much illness.

Steve went back to the US because someone has to be responsible. While I’m happy to travel alone, I will miss my adventure partner. Here’s to more trips in the future!

(At some cool ruins outside of Huaraz)