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Santa Cruz Trek: Walk in the Shadow of Giants

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The Santa Cruz Trek is one of the most popular trekking trails of Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru. Offering the chance of high-altitude hikes against a backdrop of sublime mountain vistas and with some of the country’s loftiest peaks, including the mighty Huascarán, towering in the distance, this trail is a favourite with many trekkers to the region.

For those looking for an adventurous challenge but one that won’t push them to their absolute limits, this trek is an attractive option and often is considered as one of the best treks in Peru. Below we're giving you all the details of the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru.

Overview

Santa Cruz trek is the most popular of all the Cordillera Blanca treks and for a good reason. It is easy to organise from Huaraz and offers the chance to see some of the magic of the Andes without requiring excessive exertion or high levels of fitness, meaning it is accessible to anyone in reasonably good shape.

On day two, trekkers will see two beautiful lakes known as Ichiccocha and Jatuncocha (Big and Small Lake in Quechua). On day three, the trail leads over the Punta Unión Pass (4750 m), the highest point on the trail, which offers some of the best views. On the final day, trekkers can view snow-capped peaks like Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru, before arriving in Vaquería, from where transport completes the journey back to Huaraz.

Highlights

  • Easy to organise and easily accessible from Huaraz
  • Moderate difficulty meaning extreme levels of fitness and endurance are not required
  • Views of some of Peru’s highest mountains, including Huascarán (6768 m)
  • The chance to tackle at least one high pass without needing to cross too many
  • Beautiful scenery along the way including pretty mountain lakes

Lowlight

  • The most popular trek in Cordillera Blanca region. Expect the trail to be overcrowded.

Santa Cruz Trek Facts

  • Trek Difficulty: Moderate. While it does involve some relatively tough ascents and descents, there is nothing that would be considered especially difficult. The major challenge comes from the high altitude of the trek, with the associated risk of altitude sickness and the extra physical strain which hiking at altitude places on your body.
  • Trek Duration: The classic trek generally takes 4 days to complete, with each day requiring about 4 to 6 hours of trekking. Alternative Santa Cruz Trek itineraries are possible which cut the length to 3 days or which combine it with other trails or peaks, potentially increasing the duration up to a week. 
  • Remoteness: There are no significant settlements along the trail but it is a popular hike and there are campsites and other places to buy snacks along the route. The nearest town is Huaraz, northern Peru’s ‘trekking capital’. 
  • Altitudes and Temperatures: The trek starts at the village of Cashapampa at 2,900 m and reaches a maximum altitude of 4,750 m at the Punta Unión Pass. Most of the trek is above 3,000 m. Temperatures can range from 25°C to - 3°C and at high altitude, temperatures can drop rapidly once the sun goes down.
  • Accommodation: Camping at campsites along the way. Donkeys usually carry equipment, if you've booked a trek with a guide.
  • Best Season: From May to September which corresponds to the dry season in Peru, although this can also be the coldest time of the year. The months of April and October can also be two good months, but with more unpredictable weather patterns. The rest of the year can be rainy, making the trails wet and muddy and increasing the risk of slipping. It is possible, however, to complete the trek during any time of year.
  • Start / End Locations: Huaraz to Cashapampa
  • Permits: Since the Santa Cruz Trek is located in Huascarán National Park, a permit is required for entry. If you are hiking independently, you can organise the permit at the Park Office in Huaraz. However, we advise that you do this trek with a professional trekking guide. 
santa cruz trek is one of the most popular treks in Peru
4 Days Santa Cruz Trek Map

4D / 3N Santa Cruz trek: Standard Itinerary

Day 1: Huaraz - Cashapampa - Llamacorral

Drive from Huaraz to Cashapampa (2,900 m). First day of walking to Llamacorral (3,760 m) and camp for the night.

Day 2: Llamacorral - Taullipampa

Walk from Llamacorral to Taullipampa (4,200 m) passing Ichiccocha and Jatuncocha lakes along the way.

Day 3: Taullipampa - Paria / Huaripampa / Cahinapampa

Set out from Taullipampa and cross the Punta Unión Pass (4,750 m), the highest point of the trek. There are various camping options for the third night, including Paria, Huaripampa and Cahinapampa.

Day 4: Vaqueria - Huaraz 

Walk to Vaquería for transport back to Huaraz. Most trekking itineraries will stop at the twin Llanganuco lakes on the way back.

3D / 2N or 7D / 6N Santa Cruz trek: Alternative Itineraries

3D / 2N Santa Cruz Trekking Itinerary

Shorter and easier options exist for completing the Santa Cruz trek. For example, a three day itinerary that starts with a transfer from Huaraz to Cashapampa followed by a walk to the campsite at Llamacorral. The second day would include a visit to Ichiccocha and the Jatuncocha lakes, a walk to the Alpamayo viewpoint and then camping at Arhuaycocha, with an optional visit to Arhuaycocha lake. The third day sees participants hike back to Cashapampa from where they take transport back to Huaraz.

7D / 6N Santa Cruz Trekking Itinerary

A longer alternative trekking itinerary include combining the trek with an ascent of Pisco mountain. This would require around 7 days in total, and you'd need to be accompanied by a professional climbing guide. 

Trekkers will pass the Punta Union Pass during the Santa Cruz trek
The Punta Union Pass is the highest point of the standard 4 day Santa Cruz trek

Safety Considerations

Huascaran National Park is considered a safe area to trek in and receives many tourists every year. The main safety concern is altitude sickness. Those trekking independently should be experienced hikers and take all necessary precautions against altitude and cold weather.

Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness can strike anyone at altitudes of above 2,000 m - 2,400 m and the entirety of the Santa Cruz Trek is considerably higher than this, meaning that altitude sickness may occur. Early symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache and dizziness, and anyone displaying these symptoms are advised to not ascend higher and, in worst case, immediately descend to a lower altitude to recover. It is highly recommended to spend a day or two in Huaraz to acclimatise before attempting this trail. We also always advise trekkers to bring a professional trekking guide. 

Physical fitness

This is a moderately challenging trek and participants should have a reasonable level of physical fitness before attempting it. The air at these altitudes is noticeably thinner, making it harder to breathe and easier to tire, and if you are not in suitable condition, you will find certain sections to be tough. Attempting easier hikes at lower altitude in the days and weeks leading up to the Santa Cruz Trek is a good way to prepare for high-altitude trekking.

What to bring

Weather in the mountains is notoriously changeable and you should be prepared for both rain and sun, whichever season you attempt the trek. You should carry sunblock, insect repellent and cash for snacks along the route. Good walking boots are highly recommended – make sure you break into those boots first! For more information about which gear to bring, please read the Trekking Equipment Needed while trekking article. 

There are countless possibilities for trekking in the Cordillera Blanca and with its combination of exquisite scenery, moderate difficulty level and easy access from Huaraz, the Santa Cruz Trek has become one of the quintessential hiking circuits in this part of Peru. Although its trails lead up to high altitudes, the majority of people who undertake this trek are able to complete it, and the feeling of having conquered one of the classic Peruvian treks is a highlight of many visits to the country.

Even if you cannot complete for this trek, you can instead opt for the challenging but rewarding day hike to Laguna 69 in the Huascarán National Park. 

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