Hiking Laguna 69 - How difficult really is it?

Saturday, 28 April 2018

We’d done so much looking into all of the places worth visiting in the south of Peru but once we got to Lima we began to realise that we knew very little about the north. So we did some research and aside from the beach towns, the other main spot on the tourist route seemed to be the city of Huaraz in the mountains. Intrigued, we looked at what there was to do around the city, as we weren’t about to leave the warm weather along the coastline for the cold and rainy Andes for no good reason. Laguna 69 is without a doubt Huaraz’s biggest attraction and after seeing the pictures we made up our minds - we were heading for the mountains. 

Huaraz is nothing special. As expected there really wasn’t much to see in the city apart from glaring at some of the most ridiculous hats we’ve seen all trip. It is however the perfect location for venturing off into the hills to hike, with tens of trips leaving every day, from 1 day hikes to 10 day expeditions. 

Laguna 69 is a one day hike which involves a 2 hour bus ride to the start point followed by roughly 5-6 hours walking, mostly uphill, with a very blue lagoon to enjoy looking at about halfway through. 

More detail...
After struggling with the altitude the last time we did a trek over 4000m (Rainbow Mountain) Lissa decided to give this one a miss and so I did it with some others from our hostel. 

We were picked up from our hostel at around 6am then headed into the mountains on a minibus. At around 8am we stopped to eat breakfast for half an hour or so (but this was not included in the price of the ‘tour’). I say tour but really all that is included in the 30 soles you pay is the transport. Everybody walks at their own pace and consequently you'll have to wait for the last person to reach the end before heading back.

After breakfast we continued on for half an hour or so before entering the national park (an entrance fee must be paid which is 30 soles for tourists). We then stopped a few minutes further down the road to take some photos of a lagoon (not Laguna 69) before carrying on towards the start point. 

We started the hike at 9am and, as mentioned, you walk at your own pace. There was no guide to walk with the group but the route is very clear and it is impossible to get lost. There are lots of people doing the hike as a few companies run the tour everyday which on the one hand meant you couldn’t enjoy the scenery completely undisturbed, but on the other hand it meant that there were always other people walking the same speed as you to talk to if you’re walking alone as I was.

There were timings given to us by the driver to ensure that we weren’t all waiting for someone at the end of the hike. There were as followed:

9:00 - 12:00 = Hiking up to the lagoon

12:00 - 13:00 = Hour spent having lunch at the top of the lagoon (take your own food there is nothing to buy up there)

13:00 - 15:30 = Hiking back to the minibus

It is not a circular route and you will be walking back down the same way you came. I wouldn’t say this is such a bad thing as I found the views facing there other way were quite different and can’t be enjoyed hiking uphill at high altitude (on the way up you’re eyes are fixed on the finish line!).

The timings that we were given were generous and aimed at the slowest in the group. I am an alright hiker but struggle as much as the next person with the altitude, however I reached the top at about 11:30, half an hour earlier than expected. I also found that an hour was a very long time to spend at the top so even if you were half an hour late to the lagoon, you could take 30 minutes for lunch and then head back.

The lagoon really is as impressive as the photos make it out to be and it’ll take a while to get over how blue it actually is! It’s definitely a trek which is ‘vale la pena’ as the locals would say (worth the effort).

The walk back to the minibus is significantly easier than the walk to the lagoon as when walking downhill you’ll hardly feel the effects of the altitude at all. It is likely to only take you around 2 hours for this reason. 

I got back to the minibus at around 5:00 and only had to wait 40 minutes until everyone was here and we could leave. This isn’t so bad because after the early start you’ll probably welcome a short nap.

How hard is the trek to Laguna 69?
First off you need to consider the fact that you are walking at high altitude. Lissa hasn’t agreed with walking over 4000m in the past such as climbing Rainbow Mountain in the photo above and so decided it wasn’t for her. I tend to feel it when walking uphill a lot but not so much going down, which is pretty common for most people. We’d deliberated for some time as to whether it’d be too difficult or not and I’m glad I did it whilst Lissa’s glad she didn’t. 

If you are generally fit and have hiked in the past then I think you’d manage it alright, just make sure you take it slow as you are given plenty of time. 

If you’ve had problems with altitude in the past in cities such as Cusco or Puno which are below 4000m then this hike probably isn’t for you as the lagoon is at an altitude of nearly 5000m. 

One piece of advice I was given from some friends was if you’re not sure, do it, because the walk in itself is beautiful. This means if you’re struggling more than you thought you would and can’t reach the top, you haven’t wasted a day. It’s also relatively cheap with the whole hike costing just over $15us dollars for transport and entrance, meaning you haven’t wasted your money. 

If you decide to go for it then make sure you’re prepared for the altitude. This means taking coca sweets or leaves, lots of high energy snacks and paracetamol for headaches. For more information on how to deal with altitude sickness, check out our post all about it here.

If you’re still unsure about whether it’s for you please send me a message on Instagram or Facebook @allofthegearnoidea, comment on this post, or send us an email at allofthegearnoidea@gmail.com.

What other treks are on offer?
As mentioned before, Huaraz is a hikers paradise and we met a number of people who had spent over a week here doing different treks each day. Here is a list of some other options on offer in the region:

Laguna Wilcacocha - This trek is supposed to be slightly easier than Laguna 69 and doesn’t reach as high an altitude. It can be done in half a day and without booking a tour through taking a collectivo (shared taxi).

Santa Cruz trek - This was a very popular option from talking to people at our hostel. The trek normally takes five days (but can be done in four). It is accessible to people who like to hike (but are not obsessed!) and can be done with our without a guide. 

Huayhuash trek - This one is for all of your hardcore trekkers out there. Taking anywhere between 10 days and 2 weeks and with mountain passes at 5000m, you’ve got to really like walking to do this one! The trek passes through the Yerapajé mountains which are the second highest in the Andes and are supposed to be spectacular.

Pastoruri Glacier - You pass glaciers on the Laguna 69 trek but if you really want to get up close than this trek is for you. You’ll need to take a tour as it is a few hours away from Huaraz but the tour often includes stop off points to view lagoons on the way.

Where to eat in Huaraz
We didn’t spend much time in the city but we did find one nice cafe which seemed to attract all the tourists in town. This was California Cafe, which did great breakfast and lunch (not sure whether it was open in the evenings) and it had great WiFi.

Where to stay in Huaraz
We stayed at Hostel Akilpo which we were really pleased with. The location was good, the beds were comfy, there was a great social space, the showers were hot, the WiFi worked really well and there was a kitchen we could use - all for only £5 ($7us) a night! Are only criticism is that there seemed to only be one toilet for quite a few rooms. You could also book treks from the hostel which was really handy. 

We hope this post has been useful.

Thanks for reading!

Will & Melissa

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