With its lush green valleys and snow-peaked mountains, Peru is definitely one of the most sought-out destination for hiking. One of the most popular and iconic hikes is the Laguna 69 near the city of Huaraz. I ran into some photos of the lake while searching for Peru’s top attractions and I was really mesmerized by its beauty so off I went to hike the mountains of Peru just to get a glimpse of this glacial lake.
Laguna 69 (English: Lake 69) is a turquoise lake in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca sitting at 4600 meters above sea level. It makes some people wonder but its name has no particular meaning at all. It’s just that the authorities have to give a name to all the lakes that will be part of the Huascaran National Park so they can finalize the list. Laguna 69 was the 69th on the list.
Table of Contents
- 1 Huaraz: Hiker’s Haven
- 2 How to get to Laguna 69
- 3 How much does it cost
- 4 Book a tour or hike on your own
- 5 Where to book
- 6 What to bring
- 7 Laguna 69 hike
- 8 The Lake 69
- 9 The return to Cebollapampa
- 10 Would I recommend the Laguna 69 hike
- 11 How much did the hike to Laguna 69 cost me?
Huaraz: Hiker’s Haven
The once quiet and unexplored town of Huaraz has now turned into an outdoor adventure capital of Peru attracting thousands of tourists each year. Huaraz is the perfect stop for tourists who want to acclimatise before doing the gruelling, high-altitude hike to Laguna 69 or to the other ice-covered mountain ranges of the Cordillera Blanca. Actually, the lake is nearer to the town called Yungay. However, it is less developed than Huaraz and therefore has fewer accommodations.
How to get to Laguna 69
Laguna 69 is in the northern part of Peru. The only way to get there is by car, plane or bus.
There is only one airline that flies near Huaraz – the LCPeru airlines. They have one flight every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and the travel time takes about 1 hour and 5 mins. The arrival airport is in Anta, a small town in Ancash Region about 30 minutes away from Huaraz. This mode of transportation is not advisable for budget travelers who carry large backpacks as they have a luggage weight restrictions. You can book your flight here.
There are car rentals or private transfers you can book. However, it is quite expensive and has luggage restrictions also. You can try and look up the prices here.
There are a lot of bus companies heading to Huaraz from Lima. Travel time takes about 8-9 hours so try to book for a night bus so no day time is wasted sitting on a bus. These buses are designed to provide comfort to passengers with their reclining seats, toilet on board, television and meals served. The prices are reasonable and they depart several times daily. Cruz del Sur, Oltursa and Movil Tours are the most recommended bus companies. They have their private terminals where you can buy tickets or you can click on the links provided here to purchase it online. They also offer VIP services.
How much does it cost
The entrance to Huascaran National Park costs PEN10 for adults which is paid at the park as tour companies are not allowed to collect it from the tourists. The ticket is valid only for 1 day. If you want to camp, you have to buy the pass costing PEN65 which is valid for 21 days.
Book a tour or hike on your own
For first-timers and non-Spanish speakers, I suggest that you book a tour. They provide hostel pick-up so you don’t have to worry anymore about your transportation. I’ve read some posts from other bloggers that the tour does not include a guide but that is not actually in general. The tour I’ve booked includes a very knowledgeable guide and he is also a professional hiker at the same time. It is a good thing because you will always have that guy behind your tracks motivating and cajoling you to keep up a reasonable pace. He usually stays behind with strugglers and when necessary, sends them back to the bus with their consent. For adventurous people and experienced trekkers, hiking on your own is possible. There are some signposts along the way which will point you to the path you need to take. Hiking without a guide also means you can hike at your own pace or camp inside and have more time to enjoy the view in front of you.
Tips: adding up the costs of transportation needed to get to Huascaran National Park is more than what you pay for a tour
Where to book
There are a couple of tour operators where you can book for Laguna 69. You will find some of them in the website www.findlocaltrips.com with the prices and details about the itinerary and its inclusions. I booked a tour in findlocaltrips.com under tour operator Andes X-plorer. It costs $17.85 and they picked me up at my hostel. Pick up time started at 5:00 AM. I was actually expecting that we will be riding some kind of a van but the one that picked us all up was a bus. The tour does not include breakfast and lunch. If you haven’t eaten breakfast yet, there is no worry because the bus will stop at a restaurant to let hikers get some healthy and hearty meal first before doing the trek and a chance to use the toilet. The restaurant is jam-packed because it is where most hikers stop by to have breakfast. They serve some soups, sandwiches, juices, fresh fruits, bread with jam and butter, coffee and tea made from fresh coca leaves. They also sell just the coca leaves in case you’d like to chew on them while hiking.
Coca leaves are said to help people overcome altitude sickness.
What to bring
- Warm jacket, preferably a waterproof one – The weather up there is actually unpredictable. It changes drastically so it is better to be prepared.
- Sunblock & Hat – the sun sometimes peeks from the mountains/clouds and could burn your faces off badly like mine
- Coca leaf – locals recommend that chewing coca leaves helps relieve altitude sickness
- Water – bring at least 1 liter of water to keep yourself hydrated. It helps also minimizing the effect of altitude sickness.
- Trekking shoes – you need to wear good shoes especially when you don’t have trekking poles.
- Extra t-shirt – to change your sweaty attire after doing the hike. This is not possible though for ladies as there is no toilet for changing.
- Swimwear – this is actually crazy but a lot of people seems to be bewitched by the beauty of the lagoon so they jumped into it despite its freezing temperature
- Camera – of course you don’t wanna miss the snow-capped mountains and the turquoise lagoon so a fully-charged camera is really important.
- Pack lunch – there are no restaurants anymore inside the Huascaran National Park so make sure that you bring enough food to keep you fueled the whole day
Laguna 69 hike
Upon entering the park, you will be welcomed by the lakes Chinancocha and Orconcocha. The tour bus will let you take photos here for 5 mins. After that, they will drive to Cebollapampa, which is located at 3900 m.a.s.l, where the trail starts.
First part of trail: The Valley
The first part of the hike is a valley. This is where most tourists camp. There is a river in the middle and you have a breathtaking view of the Huascaran mountain, the highest peak in Peru at 6,768 m.a.s.l.. My head was actually starting to ache a bit when we started the hike but it wasn’t that distracting that I was still able to keep a reasonable pace to catch up with the others. However, just after an hour and forty minutes of walking (in a plain field), I already felt the altitude sickness kicking in. I was gasping for air and the headache was already distracting me. I didn’t really expect it would be this bad and I did not even drink the tea made from coca leaves all the others were having during breakfast. Afraid that I might collapse suddenly, I hurriedly sat down by the abandoned stone houses and chew on some coca leaves that I bought from the restaurant where we stopped for breakfast. I was standing at 3900 m.a.s.l already. The highest so far I’ve ever been and here I am still aiming to reach the Lake which is at 4600 m.a.s.l.! I couldn’t help but notice how the others seemed to be not affected at all by the altitude. Am I the only one struck by altitude sickness or perhaps they are all used to this kind of thing? Also, some of them were not even dressed properly for hiking. I couldn’t help but stare at one man dressed in a suit, blue jeans and brown pointed shoes. He didn’t even have anything with him aside from the pack lunch at his right hand. I was dumbstruck! Isn’t he cold? Isn’t he going to slip with that kind of shoes? I was busy the whole night planning what to wear and what to pack while some people just dressed like they are doing their regular, daily routine.
Second part of trail: The uphill trek
At about 15 minutes, I reached the second part of the hike. It consists of a series of switchbacks. I told myself this is where the real challenge starts. I was already feeling exhausted just walking in a plain field. I breathed hard and looked up asking God for some strength to continue but then I saw something else above which made me want to scream and cry. The others were already there on the top of the mountain while I was still at the bottom. To try to comfort myself a bit, I looked behind me to look for other hikers from our group and luckily there were some. I also did not see our guide yet. It means there are some people also struggling because guides usually hike with strugglers. I stop from time to time to take a rest, drink water and chew on some coca leaves but unfortunately this made the others catch up and then suddenly I saw our guide already behind me. The strugglers did not continue anymore and just went back to the bus according to him. He said we are almost there to the last part of the trail so I should push myself up. It really made me uncomfortable having him behind me because I felt pressured to increase my pace and my body just can’t do that.
Third part of trail: The plateau
Upon reaching the top, we were welcomed by another lake but it’s not yet the Laguna 69 (Laguna 68 or 67 perhaps?). I took a few pictures and started walking again to get far away from our guide who was still there sitting with the others. Thankfully, this part was just easy. We walked on a swampy grassland and I wished it would be like that until I reach the lake. I was actually dreading the fact that the last part would be something far worse than all the paths we took awhile ago. I was curious and at the same time fearing that my body would give up on me. By the end of the trail, I saw the treacherous path in front of me. Thinking that I would need a lot of energy to proceed, I decided to sit down and indulged on the food I packed.
Last part of trail: The extreme switchbacks
While doing the last part of the trail, I really regretted doing the hike. I couldn’t do more than five steps because my legs were trembling and my heart was pounding heavily. The granite stones scattered everywhere was also making it hard for me to balance myself. Adding up to this pressure and frustration was the presence of the guide behind me again and the number of people who were on there way back already. Some of the hikers I met along the way told me it’s just 20 more minutes away. That made my spirit hiked up a little bit but the 20 minutes actually felt like an hour already and I am still struggling my way up there. The headache was also killing me and I was a bit dizzy. I told myself I could not make it anymore but thanks to that cow poop I saw on the way, it made me thought that if it can reach that high I should be too. So I walked and walked and walked and finally, I reached the top!
The Lake 69
I’m so happy I did not give up because what awaits on me on top is extremely magnificent. The lake with the most wonderful color I’ve ever seen was lying pristinely on top and was literally hugged by the snow-covered mountains. I reached there at exactly 1:03 pm so I had only less than 30 minutes to enjoy the view and finish my lunch. Every one from my group were already there taking pictures, eating and you won’t believe this, swimming! The lake is freezing but perhaps its beauty just made some people want to plunge in it.
The return to Cebollapampa
At exactly 1:30 pm, the guide signaled us to start our way back to the bus and we have to be back to Cebollapampa at 3:30 pm so we won’t be behind schedule. That means, we have to walk the same path we took for 2 hours. Okay, that seems reasonable because it’s easier to walk downhill than uphill but hell, it started to drizzle and the wind was blowing so hard and so cold. I was really shivering and my knees felt like it would break anytime. Everyone was like running for their life and I could not keep up. The worst part was my head seemed like anytime it’s going to explode, I couldn’t breathe properly and I felt my body was so heavy. I saw the others already down the mountain and that made me want to just jump and roll over downhill. (Crazy idea! perhaps result of altitude sickness). Upon reaching the bus, I saw that I was actually the last person to arrive. I was actually chanting some silent prayers in my mind thanking God that I survived and I am still alive.
Would I recommend the Laguna 69 hike
Yes, definitely. The view is breathtaking and it is a very good achievement. However, I warn those people who have a sedentary lifestyle to think twice before climbing because it is really not an easy hike, believe me. The trek takes approximately 3 hours going up and 2 hours going down (I actually took 4 hours and 2.5 hours, respectively). That means, you need to have a strong lower body to be able to keep up with strenuous walking in an uphill and downhill path. Also, you have to take altitude sickness seriously. Laguna 69 sits at 4600m (14700 ft) above sea level. The moment I arrived in Huaraz I already had a mild headache, dizziness and loss of appetite but I disregarded it and continued with the trek the next day. I also did not acclimatize in Huaraz when it is recommended to do that for at least a day. I was in Huaraz for a night only and went to hike Laguna 69 the next day early in the morning. The result was my headache went extremely bad (My veins were protruding on my forehead), I got dizzy and lost my balance a lot of times and couldn’t even manage to walk straight for 5 mins because of difficulty in breathing. Try searching about altitude sickness deaths and you’ll find a lot of reports about it. So dear friends, if you are heading for a trek to Laguna 69 make sure you train hard and don’t hasten yourself to go on trek immediately. Try to acclimatize for two to three days in Huaraz first. If you do both of that, then you’re good to go.
How much did the hike to Laguna 69 cost me?
Below I have summarized all the costs I incurred when I did the hike to Laguna 69.
|Tour (guide plus hotel pick-up and transportation to L69 and back to Huaraz)||17.85|
|Breakfast (American Breakfast + Coca Leaves portion)||7.69|
|Packed Lunch (Chicken with fries)||1.54|
|Cruz del Sur (return ticket-VIP)||22.00|
|Entrance to Huascaran National Park||3.08|
***Rate of 3.25 As mentioned above, booking a tour is actually cheaper than adding up all the costs you will incur in taking the public transportation. It was also my first time hiking so having a tour guide really helped a lot. In terms of breakfast, the tour bus would make a short stop in a restaurant in Yungay as part of the itinerary. However, I recommend getting a packed food from Huaraz since the restaurant is not only jam-packed but it is also a bit pricey. For the hostel, I stayed in Artesonraju Hostel Huaraz. It is cheap, clean, has free breakfast, good internet connection, and a hot-and-cold shower. Lastly, in order to get to the city of Huaraz from Lima, I booked a VIP ticket with Cruz del Sur. Travel to Huaraz takes approximately 7 hours so it’s really nice to be sitting in a comfortable seat during the whole trip. Cruz del Sur is one of the most reliable bus companies in Peru and their buses are very comfortable.