Travel Blog: Santa Cruz Trek – Huaraz, Peru

We had spent exactly five months on the road by the time we arrived in the sleepy town of Huaraz, Peru.

Previously, we had trekked to Machu Pichu, climbed Rainbow Mountain outside of Cusco, spent three days traversing Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding mountains in the Argentinean side of Patagonia, visited Perito Moreno Glacier, also in Argentina, and Torres del Paine, in Chilean Patagonia, as well as many other smaller day treks in-between.

So you can possibly understand why, at this point, I felt like I had seen enough magnificent scenery to keep me content for a good while.

Huaraz, however, is a place you come to trek. According to other travellers we’d overheard on our travels,  you can literally spend months trekking outside of Huaraz and the scenery is some of the best in Latin America.

Still, my enthusiasm was lacking. After three weeks of being ill on and off – a bad stomach, feeling run down and generally exhausted – I finally felt that travelling and working in every spare moment had finally taken its toll on me. I was ready to retire my trekking boots for the rest of the trip. I wanted to sit on a beach. I wanted to be in a hot place. I wanted to relax god dammit!

When you feel like this on a long trip, which I think everyone at some point does, you tend to feel a bit guilty and ungrateful because you know how lucky you are to be where you are and seeing all the amazing things that you are seeing.

But eventually that guilty feeling subsides and you don’t give a shit, you just want to do what you want to do, whether that be sitting in a hot tub eating pizza or spending two days doing nothing but chilling in your room.

However, as my very patient husband pointed out to me, repeatedly, you can’t come to Huaraz and not trek.

Trek of choice

I’d already decided I did not want to do the popular Laguna 69 trek and this was non-negotiable. Laguna 69 is stunningly beautiful (I’ve seen other people’s pictures and it looks amazing) but it requires a three-hour drive there and back and in-between a five hour ‘difficult’ trek at altitude above 4,500m. This just seemed like too much of an exhausting day to me.

So instead, after grilling the travel agent for an hour about the route and difficulty rating, we decided to do the three night, four day Santa Cruz Trek in the Cordillera Blanca (white-mountain range). It takes you near Laguna 69 but you divert to a different route.

So, wrapped up in all my trekking gear for what I secretly hoped would be the last time we waited to be picked up at 5:30am. Once again in an ice-cold mini-van we embarked on a six-hour drive to a small village where we had a simple breakfast.

The little village consisted of a simple tienda, ‘shop’, where locals bought and wolfed dwon a salad of white beans. Some of the local children were clearly used to the arrival of tourists and one little girl demanded an English girl on our trek play with her, bouncing her up and down on her lap. The village was also where our guide Yuma from.

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The first day of trekking was moderately challenging, a little up and down, but not too hard.

The sun was out and the scenery idyllic – green valleys, wandering cows, elegant streams and pretty flowers and fauna.

It was a beautiful walk but, in all honestly, I was a little unenthusiastic the first day. I felt drained from the long drive and was consumed by thoughts of the EU referendum result which we’d learned the day before.

I’d rushed out a long blog about it, as well as finishing off a feature for work, and we’d also booked some spare-of-the-moment flights to Colombia, deciding to skip Ecuador, and I wasn’t sure we’d made the right choice. I’d convinced my husband to skip Ecuador in order to spend more time in Colombia because I didn’t want to do the long bus journey (Huarez to Lima for 9 hrs and then 17 hours to Mancora and then five hours to Ecuador) to Ecuador and it would enable us to spend longer in each place and relax more. So my head was all over the place on the first day.

The first night on the trek we camped by a little river surrounded by mountains, donkeys and cows. Even though we paid half the price for this trek than the Salkantay Trek to Machu Piccu the camping equipment was of good quality – sturdy tents, solid mats and down-sleeping bags.

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Over a basic dinner of soup, fish and vegetables we got to know our fellow hikers.

Our group consisted of an English girl from Leeds and her Norwegian boyfriend (a pro-Brexiter), a 66 year-old Melbourne mining designer, a middle-aged Argentine man, a red headed Aussie, also living in Melbourne, and her American/ Mexican boyfriend.

The American/ Mexican couple were experienced travellers and slightly hippy types. About 7 years older than us they’d been travelling for 18 months before and were on their second long trip. The Argentine was a nice guy who made me want to go straight back to Argentina; I’d forgotten how lovely the Argentines are.  He worked for British Airways and seemed to have an affection for the British. He explained that our two countries used to have a special relationship and that’s why many places in the South of Argentina have British names such as the Beagle Channel, O’Higgins street, which I remember seeing everywhere. In fact, a lot of Welsh live in Patagonia.

Anyway, the old, lanky Aussie man was a bit of a character. He spoke very quietly but wanted to speak a lot. However, half the time he would start saying something and then someone at the other end of the dinner table who hadn’t heard him speak would start talking over him. This could be quite awkward if you were the one person who happened to make eye contact with him when he started talking and he was then forced to trail off. Most of his stories lacked some sort of decent punch line and were just a bit awkward. But he did extremely well with the trekking for his age.

The Northern girl and Norwegian were very nice. We, of course, inevitably discussed the EU referendum, although I tried to avoid it for a long time knowing that he was a Brexiter and I a remainer. He didn’t seem to think there was anything to worry about but I couldn’t agree.

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Our guide Yuma was a skinny, giggly chap who had the demeanor of a 19 year-old but was actually 26 years old. He was friendly and cheeky, but unfortunately he wasn’t as funny as our guide for the Salkantay Trek who was the best guide ever.

Throughout the night, which was surprisingly mild in temperature considering we were between mountains and out in the open, I had a little chat with myself and decided that as this was the last long trek we would most likely be doing I should stop being a whiny cow worrying about everything and should just enjoy every minute of the trek and scenery instead. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a talking to – your attitude can really determine if you enjoy something or not. It rained most of the night but by the time we woke up it had stopped, thankfully. Trekking in the pouring rain may possibly have ruined my newly enthusiastic attitude.

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Camp toilet.

Before heading off we had a traditional breakfast of Peruvian soup with spaghetti, a chicken leg and boiled egg. I loved it as I love anything with a decent broth but most people were not impressed, preferring bread and jam instead.

Newly refreshed, belly full and with a new positive attitude, much to my husband’s delight, we set off for the hardest day of the trek up to the mountain pass.

The weather gods did not shine on us for the rest of this day. We encountered snow, sleet, rain and hail as we climbed the mountain. Surprisingly, I found myself not really minding the weather too much. Out of nine

Surprisingly, I found myself not really minding the weather too much. Out of nine treks this was the first bad day of weather we’d had. Sometimes it just goes like that. I was wrapped up and warm enough, and in some ways it made a change from trekking in the sun which is always so strong at altitude. Plus, it allowed for different conditions and scenery that I’d never experienced before. The snow and ice on the mountain were beautiful and then menacing clouds created a kind of Macbeth-esque atmosphere.

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We had to be a bit careful where we trod in order not to not slip, but it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Once we reached the pass I remembered how exhilarating being so high up and surrounded by mountains is.  Looking out in front of us we could briefly see two blue lagoons in the distance but it was minutes before the clouds came and covered them up.

Once we stopped walking, however, the cold grabbed hold of us quickly and jumping on the spot is all we could do to try and stop the burn of the cold in our fingers and toes.

Once four of us had reached the pass we decided not to wait for the others – the Argentine and the old man and the Aussies – because it was too cold and snowing heavily and they were quite far behind.

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A laguna as seen from the top of the mountain pass.

The rest of the walk was an easy, if slippery, descent to our campsite further down the valley.

That night was cold and wet. I slept in five tops and my jacket with a bottle of warm water at my feet. The worst thing about trekking, for me, is the camping. You head to bed at 8:30pm because there’s nothing else to do and it’s so cold, you wrap yourself up, snuggle in your sleeping bag and pray for sleep to come quickly. Of course, it doesn’t because it’s so early and so cold. So eventually you need the toilet but once all warm the thought of heading outside in the rain and the cold is the least appealing thing on earth. My trick is to take a few swigs of bourbon and a low-dose of diazepam, that usually sends me off to sleep a little quicker.

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The last day of the trek was by far the best. It was still raining, which was a shame. The walk up to the first Laguna we visited was a little tough, but the scenery stunning. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings. There were so many unusual flowers and fauna, unusual, winding trees with flaky skin. The Laguna itself was one of the most stunning I’ve seen on this trip, and that’s not easy to achieve this long into our journey when we’ve already seen so many amazing things. The water is so blue and the mountains so white. It’s a shame that clouds covered the peak of the mountain but sometimes you just get unlucky.

The walk to the campsite was equally picturesque. We passed an avalanche that covered part of the walk through the valley in sand. Mountains could be seen from afar and from behind. Colourful patchwork coated cows chilled in the valley gazing at us nonchalantly as we passed by. At one point we were walking in the sun with the drizzle following close behind us – you could actually step in and out of the different climates. Sometimes it would catch up to us and sometimes we’d overtake it.

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We stopped for lunch by a stream and had just enough time to eat before the rain caught up with us again.

The last night was the American-Mexican guy’s birthday so the chef made a makeshift cake (two very thick pancakes covered in fruit) and mulled wine and we drank some bourbon and rum I and the Aussie/American couple had brought. We offered the leftover rum and bourbon to the guide and I’ve never seen anyone accept alcohol so quickly, bless him.

The last day we finally had some sun as we walked down the valley along a never ending waterfall to the town of Santa Cruz. The walk was all downhill which can be quite hard on your feet and knees, but  I generally prefer it. The whole way down I had a bad stomach so I had to hang back and keep joining the cows to go ‘au natural’ whenever the urge took me!

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What greets you at the end of the trek.

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