Why choose lakes or mountains when you can have both? The region of Huaraz, in the centre of Peru, and its beautiful Huascaran National Park, offers just that; a wonderful playground for mountaineers of every level, and stunning laguna views. There are many several-day trekking routes, but during the short time we stayed in Huaraz, we took day hikes and binged on lakes. Here is how to enjoy 3 of them… plus 1 we would honestly not recommend.
This one is the closest to town, very accessible and is probably the best to warm up (and acclimatise, as this is high altitude here!) or if you have only half-a-day time. The hike is short and fairly easy, with only a bit of steep ascent at the beginning.
Take a minivan from the very trafficky Antonio Raymondi street. The ride lasts 40 minutes and should cost you only 2 soles. Tell the driver that you want to go to “Laguna Wilcacocha”.
Once there you will quickly see the path and a board giving you information. It’s a 1h to 1,5h hike return, but you can also make it a 1,5-2h circle trek if you decide to carry on on the other side of the lake and go down to the road. I hate retracing my steps, so that’s what we did. The path is not very well marked but you can follow it easily on the maps.me app, for example.
The place is cute & very peaceful, with a viewpoint on the surrounding mountains. Ideal to enjoy a pick-nick!
Note that this is not part of any National Park, therefore the paths are not cleaned. We highly recommend to bring plastic bags to gather your rubbish but also pick up some you might find on the way. Every little helps!
The Partying Traveler takes you on a wonderful trek nearby with his guide to Cordillera Huayhuash.
Why visit the Huascaran National Park?
The 3 following lakes are part of the Huascaran National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, situated near Huaraz in Peru. Each entrance costs 30 soles, which is the equivalent of 6 lunches at the local market (!). You can also get a ticket (“boleto“) for 60 soles, which is valid for 3 days in a row (or 150 soles for a whole month). This means that if you visit one attraction a day, you’ll save one entrance fee. You can buy it at any entrance: beware though that some less visited places might not have it available.
A few head-spinning numbers: the Huascaran National Park includes around 300 lakes and more than 600 glaciers, about 25 trekking circuits and 102 climbing routes. So make good use of that “boleto” and enjoy the peaks, mountains and glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca!
- Drink water constantly or better, drink (possibly homemade) coca tea;
- Take a day to acclimatise with low-level excursions and climb slowly;
- Don’t rush your body, don’t run or jump;
- Get coca leaves and either chew them or infuse them.
This lake is probably the most famous in the area of Huaraz, maybe in the whole of Peru. The turquoise colour of its water is absolutely stunning and seems Photoshopped by the Pachamama. The hike to get there, despite being slightly demanding, will get you through an appeasing valley with friendly cows and a picturesque river.
We don’t like tours, we really don’t. They’re often unjustifiably expensive, offer little information & gives us the feeling of being part of a herd.
But to visit Laguna 69, we honestly recommend taking a tour. The price is 25 soles; if you tried to go on your own, you’d probably pay 20 soles -we investigated thoroughly before deciding- and waste time waiting in Yungay for the 2nd minibus, which has to wait for you to return.
Despite the friendly guide, we still don’t have a clue why this lake hasn’t got a proper name. If you’ve been there and have found out, please enlighten us in the comments below!
The tour will stop a few minutes at Laguna Llanganuco, aka Laguna 67. This was called the “Female lake” by the Incas, while the Laguna 69 was the “Male lake”. If you’re wondering, there is a tiny Laguna 68 between the two that has no defined gender.
The walk is around 3h up + 2h down, in a valley full of the endemic plants of the Huascaran National Park. You’ll be given time to enjoy the lake too. Note that it’s forbidden to swim but, well, some do it anyway. From the lake, you’ll have a view on the stylish Artesonraju mountain, considered by some to be the inspiration for the Paramount Pictures logo.
This lake was probably our favourite, both because we went there on our own (so less people to share it with) and because the way there is more demanding -Anna likes “performance hikes”.
You will need to take a minibus from Cajamarca street, heading to Pitek. This is a bit expensive because there is no regular traffic until there and the driver will have to wait for you. But if you’re lucky, he’ll be friendly and will tell you a few things about the area so it’ll be like having a tour. The normal price for the return ride is 20 soles.
Remember that the van leaves only when full so there’s no need to go very early; we went at 8 am and left straight away, when others had been waiting half an hour in the van (I was sorry for them, I imagined them waking up early in the cold and the dark, just to have to wait for more fellow hikers in an uncomfortable minivan.)
Just like for Laguna 69, the walk takes 3h up and 2h to go back. At some point on the way up, you’ll have 2 possibilities: the left path can be pretty steep and muddy if it has rained, while the right path involves a bit of climbing. Yes, climbing. But it’s really accessible if you are reasonably fit and have good shoes. There are ropes and each climbing part only lasts a few meters.
Closer to the lake, you will also need to cross the river. Easy-peasy. Never on this path did we think that our final hour had come -this we thought often when crossing a street busy with Peruvian traffic.
This lake is so beautiful, it’s been our Twitter header image for months. The colour of the water, the surrounding snow-capped mountains, the rocks… and the tranquillity of it all! Unlike Laguna 69, there are many spots where you can sit, observe, meditate, have a pick-nick, and several viewpoints too.
When you feel peaceful and resourced -or when the time arranged with your driver is up- you can go back either the same way or the alternate path.
Part of the Huascaran National Park is also the Llaca lake. To get there, you can take either one of the frequent minibuses to Marian (2 soles, 1 hour) or one less frequent to Cachibamba, the furthest village (3 soles, 1h20).
Our main problem with that lake was probably subjective: the hike was much longer than we expected. The lady at the tourist office was nice but wrong. She said it would take us less than 3h to get there from Marian -it took us almost 4,5h from Cachibamba + 3h to come down.
Our other problem was that although the walk was really bucolic, the lake itself was very disappointing.
Our recommendation would be therefore to enjoy the walk from Cachibamba through the fields, with a view on the town behind, up the green hills then along the friendly river, talk to the cows and pet the donkeys, have a picnic somewhere, read a book, rehearse with your band, run around naked, whatever. Then, when you’re done, just walk back and don’t bother with the lake. Others are much more beautiful in Peru, even around Huaraz.
Outside of the Huascaran National Park: Huaraz in Peru
The town of Huaraz is your usual crowded, polluted, grid-plan town of Peru: you probably won’t spend much time there anyway.
The market offers everything you might need, including tasty specialities from the region: dulce de leche and the best cheese we had in Peru, the ‘queso andino de Chiquian‘.
If you’re here to climb, several shops in the centre can provide you with professional gear and accessories.
For a drink out, head out towards the hidden Parque Ginebra, only one block away from the main square.
Which ones of these lakes attract you the most? Which would you like to visit?
Tell us in the comments below!