Huaraz on high – Laguna 69 & Churup

I’ve always thought that I wasn’t quite the outdoor type. I came to Huaraz (Peru) five days ago, half intimidated by its adventure-vibe, half  intrigued. I thought I’d give it a try and then would soon see my suspicions confirmed that it wasn’t for me. I was wrong. I absolutely loved being in Huaraz and couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Huaraz is a relaxed city in the Ancash region of Peru, surrounded by mountains and snowy peaks. It is known as destination no. 1 for trekkers and adventurers, as there is loads and loads of hiking to do. The mountains surrounding Huaraz are home to some of the most stunning volcanic lakes in the world. Tour agencies all over town offer a wide variety of single-day and multi-day tours and treks, but booking a tour isn’t always necessary. There are several circuits that you can easily do without a guide.

Laguna Churup, situated 28 km east of Huaraz, is one such case. Churup is a literally breathtaking mountain lake situated at 4450m altitude. To get there, you grab a combi (shared taxi van) out of town in the direction of Pitec. We paid s./10 each and it got us there in 45 minutes. You’ll want to travel early, as combi’s work on a ‘fill up and leave’ principle, which means that there is no timetable – vans simply take off once they’re full (rush hour usually ends before 8:30 a.m.). Once at the entrance of the park in Pitec, a day-ticket to enter the park will set you back s./30 (park fairs have recently increased). A park guide will get you registered, and from there you can’t really go wrong. The path upwards is well defined, but that isn’t to say that it’s an easy trek! The first part is extremely steep, and if it’s your first day at high altitude (like it was for us), the height will get to you. After only 15 minutes of climbing, I had to seriously sit down in the shade for a couple of minutes and drink a cup of coca tea that we had brought in a thermo, before I was good to go again. Altitude sickness has a different effect for everyone (headache, dizzyness, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, etc.), but sure thing is that it should be taken seriously. After this challenging start follows an easier part that allows you to get back on breath a bit before going up again. The last part of the trek involves rock-climbing with the help of cables and might be challenging for hikers of an older age and a no-go for small children.

It takes about 2-3 hours to see the end of the trek. Over all, it’s not an easy hike, especially if your body hasn’t adapted to the altitude yet, but boy – is it worth it! Once the mountain lake stretches out before you, it is likely to take your last bit of leftover breath away. It will be chilly and a bit windy up there, so make sure to carry a wind-tight jacket! As for during the walk, a long-sleeve to light jacket will do.

The way down appeared to be a thousand times easier (perhaps because we were walking on clouds from all the beauty we had seen). Our combi was awaiting us downstairs to take us back to Huaraz. If the driver doesn’t offer it himself, you might want to ask him to wait for your return before you start the climb, as after 3 p.m. it can be challenging to find transport back to town. Enough to see during the ride, as not only the landscape offers an incredible scenery, but the inhabitants of small villages hop off and on the bus, wearing their beautiful and abundantly coloured clothing and transporting cargo of the most remarkable shapes and sizes – never a dull moment. That is, of course, if you don’t fall asleep from utter exhaustion.

We decided that having a day of rest was for losers, and so we planned a hike to Laguna 69 for the next day. We booked a tour through our hostel (s./35) which included transport and a guide, but not the entrance to the park (s./30 for expats, s./15 for Peruvian residents). The bus was supposed to pick us up at a monstrous hour early as 5 a.m., but it showed up 10 minutes early and so we had hardly been awake for 5 minutes when we found ourselves half-dressed on the bus, with unbrushed teeth, exploded heads and an almost exploding blatter. After about two hours of driving, we took a short stop at a breathtaking turquoise lake where we could get off the bus and stare in awe for five minutes before we got on. From there it’s around half an hour to the entrance of the park, where we took another pit stop for breakfast and bathroom.

Although the path is relatively ‘flat’ in comparison to the one leading up to Lake Churup, we were completely nackered by the time we made it to the top. It took us 3 hours to reach the lake, but I think we could have done it faster if we we wouldn’t have had such a big day the day before. My legs felt like jelly and my body simply refused to go further upwards, but when returning to the bus a couple of hours later, we would find out that we hadn’t been the only ones having a hard time. Several people, that had been hiking away ahead of us, were so exhausted that they couldn’t stop vomiting after. There is no doubt in my mind that seeing the pristine blue lake at the top as much as the views along the way were a 100% worth the trouble, however.

These are only two of the hundreds things to do in and around Huaraz, but I hope it will inspire you to go out and explore. There is a sidenote to make, though. Unless you’re a professional hiker and used to hiking at high altitude, I wouldn’t recommend going on a multi-day trek alone. Not only does altitude get to you in unpredictable ways, also being new to a country doesn’t always make you estimate the risks and dangers adequately. I am not an overtly careful traveller myself and I do have a sense of adventure, but the last couple of days I have been haunted by the face of a 22-year old Canadian boy who disappeared without a trace doing the Santa Cruz-trek solo last September. Until this day it remains a complete mystery what has happened to him. You don’t need a guide or company for everything, but I recommend you to consider your choices well.

With that off my chest – I hope you will enjoy Huaraz and its surroundings as much as I did! If you are left with any questions after reading this, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

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