High Up In The Peruvian Andes!
The start of ‘Sector 4’ on our 6 month overland trip through South America began with our return to Peru. With its lush green valleys and mountains of immense proportions, Peru is most definitely hiking country. So as keen walkers, we couldn’t wait to set off on the trail to ‘Laguna 69’, one of the most beautiful sights in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca.
Rewarded with this stunning view after a 3 hour slog uphill!
‘Laguna 69’ is a breathtaking turquoise lake that is literally hugged by snowy mountain peaks, jagged rocks and trickling waterfalls some 4,600 metres above sea level. It is both a steep and demanding ascent beginning at 3,800 metres, but the overriding challenge is being able to cope with the high altitude.
A panorama of the breathtaking turquoise lagoon.
Huaraz – A Haven For Hikers
To help our acclimatisation we stayed in the town of Huaraz for 1 night prior to setting off for the lake. Standing tall at 3,100 metres, Huaraz is a good base for at least a few days. The town has become a haven for hikers and mountain climbers alike due to its stunning location. Flanked by mountains, on one side the dry Cordillera Negra and the other side the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz is the gateway to a number of hiking opportunities. Most striking is the sight of the massive Huascaran that dominates the skyline. At 6,768 metres, it is the highest peak in Peru.
A stunning drive to the town of Huaraz.
Huaraz is the gateway to many hiking opportunities.
Huascaran National Park
The ‘Laguna 69’ is situated in the Huascaran National Park, which is easily accessible by local transport from the nearby village of Yungay. If you are staying in Huaraz, you can take a public bus to Yungay and then a combi to the National Park. Alternatively, there are numerous tour operators in Huaraz that offer day-hike packages to the lake which include transport, breakfast and a packed lunch for around $45 USD. Being thrifty as ever, we wanted to do the hike independently but rather than taking a public bus then a combi to the start of the trail, we organised private transport so that we could guarantee our return. (We had been told that as it was off-season there were limited buses returning to Huaraz and we may have found it difficult to get back after 4pm).
Our private transport was a minivan that cost us 45 soles each (Approx £10 GBP p/p). The driver picked us up from our hostel at 6am, drove us to the trailhead and waited for us until we returned from the hike, which was around 4pm. Great service for a third of the cost of a package tour!
Entrance to the Huascaran National Park is 10 soles per adult. (£2.50 GBP).
Driving to the trailhead you pass other stunning lakes in the park.
Fantastic flora and fauna.
More stunning scenery to soak up.
We set off on the trail at 9.30am. The ‘Laguna 69’ trail takes around 3 and a half hours to hike up to the lake and around 2 hours to return. For us, this included numerous photographic stops along the way as the views were just incredible! Plus we enjoyed a half hour lunch stop at the lake itself. We were also having to contend with variations in the weather. Experiencing four seasons in a day is an understatement! From wind and rain to hail then sunshine, our waterproofs were on then off in a continuous cycle.
Rich green moss thriving by the river.
Setting off on the correct trail by keeping to the right of the river.
The first section uphill.
A quick breather at the first waterfall.
The first 45 minutes or so takes you through the valley bottom where there are a few stream crossings on strategically placed rocks before reaching the first set of switchbacks. If you are unsure, try to keep to the right of the main river and look for the cairns that have been placed to help you keep to the right path. It is easy to go off trail and take a cattle track so we found the cairns really useful in leading us in the right direction. The first set of switchbacks are long and gentle. It is the high altitude rather than the steepness of the trail that will cause any problems. The switchbacks end at a small lake – not Laguna 69 – which we thought it was going to be!
Are we there yet? The first lake we reached.
More switchbacks to come after the first lake.
The weather turned as we headed higher.
A bit of respite with a flat section on the trail.
Despite the change in weather, there were beautiful views all around. We were told that on a clear day you can even see the twin peaks of Huascaran. We were actually rewarded with this view towards the end of the day during our minivan ride back to the hostel when the clouds covering the top of Huascaran finally cleared.
Striking yellow lichen against the dark jagged peaks.
The towering peaks that loom high above the trail.
A stark contrast in colour as we get higher in elevation.
A panorama of the landscape as we get closer to the lake.
Our first glimpse of the turquoise blue waters over the last ridge.
A Day Hike To Remember
Whilst huffing and puffing up those switchbacks, you can’t fail to be wowed by the stunning scenery all around. There are incredible views of snowcapped peaks, and huge contrasts in the colour and texture of the landscape as you get higher in elevation. The final reward, when you reach the magnificent turquoise water of Laguna 69 and the icy peaks of the surrounding range.
The stunning lake…
A break in the clouds as we reach the lake. Perfect!
Enjoying the lake too! Just one of the many cows along the route.
A perfect spot to enjoy lunch…
Colour co-ordinated Wayne!
As you walk over the final ridge a glimpse of turquoise comes into view. The beautiful high mountain lake is tucked away at the base of the peaks of Pisco and Chacraraju. We felt lucky as just at that moment the sun began to shine and there was a break in the clouds, giving us an amazing view of the lake.
Returning To The Start Of The Trail
The Laguna 69 hike is not a loop. There is a single trail to the lake which means you have to return the same way as you came. The great thing about this hike is that your return is almost all downhill, a pleasant thought whilst undertaking the gruelling last set of switchbacks on the up!
Returning to the first lake. On a calm day there would be beautiful reflections.
Becoming greener as we near the valley floor.
Returning the same way gave us chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery looking down the valley, which proved a lot more spectacular on our way back as the rain had finally stopped.
The sun bathes the mountains in light.
A beautiful spot on our return down the trail.
We had read somewhere that this hike was deemed ‘One of the best day-hikes in South America’. A huge claim, but one that didn’t disappoint us! Peru has certainly captured our hearts and reminded us why we love the great outdoors so much.
The route map for the hike. You can export a GPX/KML file from this by clicking on the Laguna 69 link.
Our next multi-day hike will be to Colca Canyon. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a canyon of the Colca River in southern Peru that is actually deeper than the Grand Canyon in the USA.
As you can see, Peru isn’t just about Machu Picchu. If you have the time and the inclination, there are many fantastic hikes to be had here. So grab your walking boots and head for the hills. You won’t be disappointed!