Laguna 69, Huascaran National Park, Peru
For our second day trip from Huaraz, we decided to book for a hike to the famous Laguna 69, in Huascaran National Park. We chose the order of our day tours based on the altitude. Eventhough we spent quite a bit of time in Cusco and around, we still wanted to start with the lowest elevation and make our way up every day. We knew the hiking in Huaraz was probably going to be harder on us as well, considering that we would be getting up very early every day, doing long bus rides (seemed to be the theme in Peru), and hiking in altitude.
So on our 3rd day in Huaraz, we had an early morning pick-up from our hostel. Unfortunately, because we were the last ones to get on the bus (our hostel was already North of the center of Huaraz, which also meant we could sleep a bit longer in the morning while all the other travelers were getting picked up downtown), we ended up with the last 2 seats, completely at the back (the last row with 5 seats instead of 4). There was a lot of construction on our road, so we were in for about a 3h drive, very uncomfortable. The tour was 50 soles with an additional 30 soles that you must pay at the entrance. If you are in the area for more than 4 days, it might be worth buying a multi-day pass. You can ask any tour agency about the details. We chose to buy day by day, as it was about the same price or cheaper for us considering the time we were in Huaraz. The trail for the Laguna 69 is just under 14km round-trip, with a total of about 842m of elevation gain, reaching a high of 4600m.
As it seemed to be common for the tour agencies there, we stopped in a small restaurant about 1h from the trailhead for breakfast. We had brought our own food, but a lot of other hikers decided to buy just a tea or a hot drink. It was still quite early in the morning, and it was very chilly. I almost regretted at that point not bringing more warm clothes, although I did not need them for the rest of the day when the sun was up.
As we drove in the national park, we stopped for a few minutes next to the Laguna Llanganuco, which offers great view of the valley and incredible colors. We took a few shots before hopping back up in our bus and finishing our last bit before the hike. We then reached the bus parking lot, and our guide walked us to the beginning of the trail. He told us there would be no restroom in the park or on the trail after we left the breakfast restaurant – however, we noticed on the way back that there was some small cabins with restrooms you could pay right at the trailhead. Feel free to ask more questions to your tour agency as needed!
I usually am not a fan of doing hikes with a tour, because I feel rushed or pushed to go to a different pace that I would want to. The tricky part here is that the trail heads in the area are not easily accessible by vehicle (unless you are okay spending a lot of time driving on road that are not always well-maintained and pretty rough), so it is nice to have an experienced driver take you there without having to worry about the driving and the maintenance of the car (wouldn’t want a flat tire up there for sure!). Honestly, it’s worth the money and I wouldn’t hesitate to pay for these day tours.
My only concern is the push we got from our hiking guide that day. He kept reminding us that we needed to hike at a certain pace to make it up to the Laguna 69 in a maximum of 3hrs. If he felt that we were too slow, he would tell us to turn around and hike back to the bus before we reached the laguna, so that the rest of the group doesn’t have to wait after us. I totally understand this, and it’s important to have some boundaries so that the group can get back in town at a reasonable hour as well. However, I felt that our guide was really pushy, commenting all the time on our speed even after the first 10min of hiking. I just kept looking behind us all the time to make sure he was still far enough behind that I didn’t need to worry about him (!). Turns out we did just fine, and we hiked to the laguna in about 3h15, which was faster than a few others in our group.
The hike up itself isn’t particularly difficult, in the sense that the trail is simple and straightforward. The difficulty was the length and elevation gain at this altitude. There are a few stretches of the trail that are flatter or with a very minor elevation gain, followed by a good section of uphills and sometimes switchbacks. There are a few signs along the way indicating the distance or time left before the laguna, which was good to keep us on track, as we never really know which switchback is the last one.
Seeing the bright blue color of the laguna was extremely satisfying, and everyone on the trail cheered and sighed when we got there. The last section of switchbacks going uphill is quite intense (slow and steady is the key here!), and it is hard to tell where the end of the trail is (there is a trail that continue up the mountains towards a cabin in the park that can be seen on the left hand side of the valley where the laguna is).
We spent about half an hour at the laguna before heading back down before everyone, as we wanted to get enough time to take tons of nice photos with no one in them! It took us just about 2hrs to get back down to the bus, taking our time.
The drive back down was quite eventful, as we moved around a bit in the bus, which created a pretty big drama good enough for a telenovela. That would be the other downside of the large size of the group for that trip and the uncomfortable bus. When we got back to our hostel, we discussed this issue with our hosts, who didn’t wait very long and made sure they contacted the tour agency to complain and make sure we would get the best seats in our tour the next day (which we did!).
The Laguna 69 is also in the same area than the Santa Cruz Trek, so the photos above should give you an idea of what to expect in terms of views and landscapes if you are thinking or planning on doing the Santa Cruz!