We made it to Huaraz, Peru, which is the starting point for many hikes and treks in the Cordillera Blanca and our home for the next week. We have some pretty strenuous day and overnight hikes planned while we are here, so we needed a warm up hike to acclimatize to the altitude. The city of Huaraz is 3,052 meters or 10,010 feet above sea level and our highest trek here is 15,000 feet above sea level. Everyone suggests to spend a day in Huaraz and to take a smaller acclimatization hike before facing the more challenging ones like Laguna 69.
At first we planned to hike Laguna Churup as our acclimatization hike, but the trekking guide at Alikpo hostel suggested something less intense to get use to the altitude first, so we made the half day hike to Wilcacocha instead for our first hike. It’s a good thing he deterred us from Laguna Churup because the easier Wilcacocha hike was not in fact easy and I have been having some pretty frequent headaches which is the first sign of altitude sickness.
The hike to Wilcacocha isn’t the most magnificent hike you’ll take, but it had some beautiful views of the Cordillera Blance, pretty steep inclines, and was the perfect first hike for us.
How to Get There:
Take a colectivo, which is a mini taxi bus, on either the E or 10 lines. Catch this on the corner of Hualcan and Antonia Raymondi 14A (the street corner opposite Akilpo hostel). We left at 9:30 AM, but the colectivo runs every 15 minutes so you can leave whenever as long as you are at the return colectivo stop by 8 PM. The ride takes about 15 minutes and you get off at Chiwipampa.
There is a co-pilot who half stands, half sits at the door to the colectivo van. She let us on, collected our money, and told us where to get off. The co-pilot on the way back also stopped and stamped some sort of card from a box on the side of the road, which I understood to be a time tracker that apparently told our return driver that he was 8 minutes ahead of schedule, which meant a nice slow down on our way home. She was the driver’s hype man. It reminded us of the dynamic between Sense 8 ‘s Capheus and his sidekick co-pilot on the Vandam bus in Africa.
Transportation Cost: 1 PEN ($0.30) each way
Entrance Fee: None
Altitude: 3720 meters (12,204 feet)
Once you get out of the colectivo, you will cross a little bridge over a clear water river and begin the trek up the main road.
Pretty quickly after you start the trek, you have the option to take the longer road where cars drive, or the shorter, and we learned MUCH steeper off-roading trail. It’s a sharp turn to the left and straight on up. By about 100 meters, I was panting, stopping, and so glad we chose this as our acclimatization hike instead of Laguna Churup. Here is a glimpse of how steep the trail became within minutes.
You take this path and enjoy views of bright crop rotations fields along the mountainside across the main road where the colectivo drops you off.
Eventually you get to a pueblo or town on the mountainside. Apparently we missed the next turn for the path that takes you straight up the mountain and ended up taking the road until the next time the path intersected with the road next to the pueblo's school. If you see this view, you are back on the driving road, but it was a really nice break from the steep incline of the path.
Missing our turn was worth it when a little boy chased me yelling "una gringa una gringa" and tried to chase me down and run me over multiple times with his little bike He eventually got tired of trying to crash into me and told me his name was Galleta. Once we realized we missed the path, the other little boy shaking his head and finger no at us made sense.
We rejoined the path and continued up to the top, stopping frequently to catch our breaths and the views of the Cordillera Blanca, which we will explore next week.
Just before we reach the lake, we entered a well-kept stone path that smelled like sage and is shaded by some birch trees that lined the right side.
In total the way up took us a little over 2 hours. We stopped multiple times to take pictures and soak in our surroundings. We aren’t in perfect trekking shape, but we are a pretty fit couple so I don’t know how people can make the trek in much less time unless they sprint up the mountain just for the sake of getting to the top. We were told the hike up would take an hour and a half to an hour and 45 min, which I guess means we are less fit than we thought.
We made this hike on August 27, which is the day before the Peruvian Independence Day, celebrating Peru’s liberation from Spain in 1821. There was not a single tourist in sight at the lake at the top of the mountains. Instead we found ourselves among about a hundred locals spread throughout the area, enjoying a day off.
We circled around the lake and watched some kids play a version of volleyball while two of them stood on each side and physically held up a strap as the net. Then we found ourselves a little spot and enjoyed the lunch we packed.
After lunch, we spent the next hour and a half back down the mountain marveling at the views and getting pumped for our treks in the weeks and months ahead. I’ll say it again, the altitude is no joke and I am sure glad we took some coca leaves to chew on during the hike. If this is the baby hike, I’m a little nervous for how difficult the next ones will be, but it will all be worth it.
Total Hiking Time: 4 hours
Suggested Time at Top: 1 hour
Best Part of the hike: Views of the Cordillera Blanca (& watching the locals enjoy their independence day)
Next up, our day hike to Laguna Churup!