Santa Cruz Trek – Unguided


The official line on this trek is that the Huascaran National Park requires that you have a guide, guide costs can vary wildly anywhere from $120 to $560 for a 4 day 3 night trek.  From our research however it seemed that the park rules were not really enforced, so it was with that hope that we decided to go solo.   To do this and it be cost effective you really need to have most of your own gear otherwise the rental fees could end up being only marginally cheaper than a guide, essential gear includes 3 season tent, stove, sleeping bag, good walking shoes and warm clothes.

Day 1

We started in Vaqueria which meant that we were walking the reverse of to the standard route, however it meant that the journey back to our truck in Caraz would be shorter and easier at the end.  At 7am we hopped into collectivo to Yangay (15mins), where as soon as we arrived at the collectivo station and found another leaving for Vaqueria in the next 5 mins.  After 3 hours bumpy roads and my head being whacked off the roof, we pulled into Vaqueria, availed ourselves of our last flush toilet for the next couple of days and began the Trek.

There is no sign to mark start of the trail, but locals pointed it out to us, it is directly across from the collectivo stop to the left of the little stall selling drinks.  The trail descends to the stream below, the first 6km were through small villages, at major junctions there are red signposts, follow the ones for Punta Union.  If in doubt ask any of the villagers they will point you in the right direction, and if there are kids asking for cookies you are almost certainly going the right way.

Eventually the buildings petered out and the trail became very clear, we soon came upon the park entrance, where the friendly ranger did not care about us not having a guide, only that we were not “Isralitas” as they are very bad for littering.  With that new cultural fact we were back on our way.

The weather started to close in on us and with thunder rumbling in the distance we decided not to push on and camped at the Paria campsite.  Campsite is a generous term, it claimed bathrooms but this was a roofless structure with no sign of toilets, it did however have a couple of flat spots and even one without cow and donkey shit.  We ended up cooking in the vestibule of the tent as the winds were so high, making our tent smell of food is not something one would want to do in Canada, what with the bears and all.  After an early dinner it was early to bed.

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Day 2

We woke up to a cloudy damp morning, ate gruel (instant oats) for breakfast and packed up our wet tent and hit the trail.  As the morning wore on the clouds lifted and the magnificent snow capped peaks revealed themselves, we eventually stopped for a long rest in the sun, took on a few calories and dried out our tent.  Then it was time to tackle the pass, Punta Union is 4750m (15,583ft) so nothing to sniff at.  Heather told me to go ahead, and I had a blast pushing myself up as fast as possible, and was rewarded with  lovely flat rock and great views at the top as I lay around waiting for her to catch  up.  We passed through the pass together, and were presented with more snow capped peaks and lakes.

We camped that night at Taullipampa, where we were greeted by a particularly curious cow that seemed intent on trying to eat anything we left unattended.  The days culinary delights continued as I tucked into pesto flavoured instant noodles, and yes that is as wrong and awful as it sounds.  We settled in for a chilly nights sleep at 4200m.

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Day 3

I popped out of the tent to find it was covered in ice, with the odd curios cow lick mark.  We took in the mountains surrounding us and then decided it was too cold to sit around making breakfast so we packed up our frozen tent and got an early start on the trail.  The morning got steadily warmer and when we reached the large dry river bed the sun finally hit us, and we were able to peel off a few layers.  We managed to go off course in the riverbed section, the trail apparently continued to the left we kept  to the middle, not a major issue it just meant wet feet as we crossed a couple of streams to get back to the trail.

Once back on the trail we found a spot next to the river for  late breakfast, we were joined by a couple of dogs who would serve as our guides for the last 15km of the hike, their fee was a share of the awful noodles I had for breakfast, so it was a win win.  As we continued to descend the day got hotter and hotter, and I was jealous of the hikers coming the other way who were smart enough to have on shorts.  The last 5km seemed to last forever, eventually we popped out in the town of Cashapampa where we had time for a quick beer before we got a collectivo back to Caraz (1 hour)

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The hike was spectacular, very easy to do without a guide, we opted to do it in 3 days, which made the last day long, ideally day 1 we would have gotten further but the weather really wasn’t cooperating.  Hope this helps other unguided hikers to have a go, if you have any questions drop us a line.

In the end for two people our cost (USD) for the trek were:

Transportation $20

Park Entry $40

Food $20

Beer at the end $2.50

Toilet at start $0.31, money well spent

Total for 2 peeps $82.81

Good Resources

Trekking in Peru Bradt guide

Wiki Voyage Santa Cruz Page

Love at First Bagels blog, also they have some good recipes for the trail

Wiciloc for downloadable gps routes

Categories: Hiking, Overlanding, Peru, Planning, Trails, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Brilliant blog, am sure it will be useful for others who are lucky to do this spectacular hike, not sure I would have been tempted by the noodles …. Good job your guider dogs were not choosy on their form of payment !


  2. Great risk assessment on the guides issue! Too bad things didn’t work out better on those instant, chemical-enhanced, low-cost yet high priced manufactured meals. However, I’m guessing the spectacular visuals must far outweigh the minor culinary disappointments. Thanks for sharing such fantastic photos!


  3. Glad your research paid off, looks like a fantastic trek with some good 4 legged company. I bet you were glad they were willing to eat the noodles, so you did not have too. Keep on trekking. xo


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