Since Huaraz is surrounded by mountain ranges whichever way you look, trekking is available in almost every way you decide to head towards. Of all of them, the Santa Cruz trek is one of the most popular route travellers opt for. The combination of spectacular sceneries and a relatively shorter route (compared to others) makes it a top recommended trek.
What you should Know
The trek is about 50 km long and is a 3 or 4 day circuit trek through the Cordillera Blanca mountains. The only really difficult part of this hike is making it through the Punta Union Pass on the second day. Otherwise, it’s an absolutely stunning route that takes you through mountains, beside lagunas, valleys, and lots and lots of waterfalls.
Getting lost on this trail is pretty difficult, which is why a lot of people opt to venture on their own. I decided to make it simple on myself and joined a tour. This way, they carried my camping gear and daily necessities, and all I had to do was enjoy myself. You can find tours for around s/400.
Since this trek is a circuit, there are two possible starting points. Most tours will start in Vaqueria (3,700 m) and finish in Cashapampa (2,900 m). The advantage of starting at Vaqueria is that you start off high and is more of a down hill trek than up. It’s also less total elevation gain during the trek than starting at Cashapampa.
Also, if you’re thinking of doing the trek on your own, it’s much easier to catch a ride back to Huaraz from Cashapampa. It’s actually a town, whereas Vaqueria is more of a station off the side of the road.
I started off at Vaqueria with my tour. The first day began bright and early, before the sun even popped up behind the horizon. We got collected in our van and began a four hour drive towards Vaqueria. We stopped for breakfast, of course. I’m starting to realize Peruvians do not like to skip their meals! We didn’t get to Vaqueria until 1pm, where we were handed a packed lunch, while the team packed up all our gears onto the mules.
The first day is an easy and relaxing hike with some of the best views on the entire trek. About 5 hours of hiking, this section is relatively levelled, so you can spend all your time enjoying the scenery instead of watching your footing.
On Day 2, you get to the pass. You’ll also get the earliest call time today. We left our campsite just as the sun started glowing behind the mountains. While today is the shortest in distance to cover, it’s the most strenuous of all the days.
It’s a steady uphill climb until you see the Punto Union Pass, and from there it’ll only get steeper until you reach the top. The altitude doesn’t help either. At 4750 m, this was the only time I really felt the altitude affecting me. Processing thoughts and getting my limbs to act as they were told became difficult. I was short on breath, and even though my body wasn’t aching from the hike, I was fatigued.
I took a couple caffeine pills to get my body processing quicker and powered through. Making it to the top was an incredible feeling! I have to say, the air smells particularly sweet at the top of the mountain!
Beyond the pass is a rocky switchback path down to the campsite. As the weather can be a bit unpredictable, most tours aim to have all trekkers at camp by the noon time.
Here you can laze around and enjoy the rest of the afternoon or if you’re up for it, take a hike to a lookout point to see the “Paramount Studios” mountain peak, Artesonraju. The hike is a couple hours long and is a steady incline up the mountainside, but is completely achievable.
Still riding the high of climbing over the mountain pass, today is a considerably easier day. Even though I had signed up for a 4 day, 3 nights tour, some trekkers in my group wanted to return to Huaraz sooner. So our guide gave us the option of walking the rest of the way on the third day.
If we stuck to the original plan, we would’ve hiked 3-4 hours each day, arriving at camp around midday.
Our group decided to start out earlier in the day and hike the last 20ish km within one day. This way we got to camp closer to the town where it was warmer. The extended distance wasn’t actually very difficult, as we were predominately going down hill.
The last night was spent in Cashapampa, relaxing around the fire and enjoying the company of my fellow trekkers over beers. The perfect way to end an amazing multi-day hike through the mountains!
For a guide to what else to do in Huaraz, click here
Equivalent to taking a step into Middle Earth and directly being transported into the stunning mountainscapes of the Lord of the Rings, Huaraz is a breathtaking gem located in the Andean Valley.
Sitting pretty at over 3,000 metres above sea level, Huaraz is surrounded by the Cordillera Blanca (snow-capped mountains) to the east and the Cordillera Negra (mountains without snowy tops) to the west. These spectacular mountain ranges are not just beautiful backdrops for the area though. Amongst them are actually some of the highest peaks in Peru and even the Western Hemisphere.
Acclimatize to the altitude
I arrived on an overnight bus from Lima, ready to breath in the fresh air and explore Peru’s very own outdoor playground. Arriving early in the morning, I spent my first day jumping from tour agency to tour agency looking for the best group to join. I was also using this time to let my body acclimatize to the altitude.
Stay in a high-altitude town long enough and you’ll hear plenty of stories of how it affects each traveller differently. There are the ones that get slight headaches and shortness of breath. But then there are those that claim of intense chest pains, chest restrictions that prevented air flow and even vigorous vomiting.
I wasn’t particularly affected by the altitude of the town, but I still didn’t want to chance it. Being completely unaware of how my body would react to it, I took precautionary altitude pills the day before to help keep the potential sickness at bay.
Huaraz, as a town, doesn’t really have a lot of attractions. Visitors can find the standard food market, main city square and church. However, what really motivates travellers to visit are the copious amount of attractions just outside of the town.
Nicknamed the outdoor playground of Peru, Huaraz is an absolute hiker’s paradise. There are day hikes to prestine glacial lagunas, month-long and multi-day treks through the mountain ranges. There are alpine trekking on mountains over 5,000 metres, archeological ruins and even hot springs.
Even though I had planned to stay in Huaraz for almost two weeks, I still had difficulty narrowing down what I wanted to do. Eventually, I decided on two highly rated activities that promised me a staggering experience. I’m usually skeptical when claims are this grand. But when everyone I encountered said the same thing, I had to experience it first hand.
Laguna 69 is the perfect one-day hike to get you into gear. Nearly every tour agency offers a tour to Laguna 69, but it’s also completely doable independently. In the end I decided to join a tour, as it would’ve cost me around the same amount either way.
Tours start early in the morning, before the sun is even up. You’ll more than likely be picked up at your accommodation at around 5 a.m. From Huaraz, it’s about a 2 hour drive to the starting point of Laguna 69. Most tours would also make a quickie pit stop for breakfast and give trekkers one last opportunity to stock up on last minute snacks and drinks.
It’s good to note that none of the tours provide lunch on this trek, so this stop is also a great time to get a pack away lunch for later on.
At approximately 12 kilometers long, the hike
usually takes visitors around 3 hours to ascend and 2 hours to descend. The opening stages are relatively easy and flat. A great way to get into the groove and acclimatize to the altitude, because you start hiking well above 3,500 meters, which for most people is when altitude sickness starts hitting.
The hike progressively climbs to almost over 4,000 meters, and it’s not until the last several kilometers that it really gets tough. The last section is a steady and steep climb, full of switchbacks. The reward at the end is priceless. With the sky opening wide and the turquoise blue laguna sparkling so brightly in front of you.
This multi-day hike is one of the more popular ones in the area, possibly because it offers amazingly diverse views and is less challenging than some of the other hikes in the area.
Similar to Laguna 69, pretty much every tour agency will offer this trek. It’s possible to conqueror the journey completely on your own too, though I didn’t want to carry my own gear so I opted to join a tour.
At about 50km long, there’s only one really difficult bit; when you climb through the Punta Union Pass on the second day. Otherwise, it’s picture perfect every step of the way!
For a more detailed account of my experience trekking Santa Cruz, check out my post here.
Celebrations for Semana Santa or Holy Week takes place all across Peru. But no other city captures the spotlight quite like the small and generally sleepy hillside town of Ayacucho.
Ayacucho holds prominence within the history of Peru, being the location where the gruesome Battle of Ayacucho was held. At the event, pro-independence troops defeated the Spanish army and helped lead the country to independence. Despite the significance of this bit of Peruvian history, this little town still sits quietly on the sidelines until this major celebration every year.
But when this 10-day festival does arrive, it brings in the biiiggg crowds! Ayacucho does make the perfect backdrop for the celebrations though. The town has an overwhelming abundance of churches, 33 to be exact – one for each of Jesus’ lives. Mix that in with descriptive colonial architecture, and it’s the perfect formula for a charming landscape.
While celebrations start days before, the real fun begins on the Good Friday. That’s when the holiday turns from solemn and mournful to a more celebratory atmosphere. Visitors, predominately local tourists, swell the narrow and hilly cobblestone streets. Vendors selling everything from perfectly dipped candy apples to multi-coloured steaming refreshments transform this sleepy town into circus-level excitement.
There really aren’t any town-wide activities scheduled for this day. Many guests just wander the avenues, taking in all the spectacles. Gearing up for the big events lined up later in the weekend.
While the atmosphere remains predominantly calm and family-friendly on Good Friday, the party turns up several notches on Holy Saturday. By 10am, the beers are joyously flowing and the main square is fully vibrating from the parades and various marching bands. Crowds swarm into the main square and the dancing will continue non-stop until the evening.
One of the main events on Holy Saturday is the running of the bulls, known locally as jalatoro. Similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, bulls are let out to run through the town streets, led loosely by Moricuchos (local cowboys). Rumours have it this year is actually the last year they will be practicing this tradition though. A combination of safety (because every year people are sent to the hospital after incurring injuries from this event) and pressure from animal rights organizations are making officials rethink this part of the festival.
As the afternoon sun rises and descends, people flow to and from the main square. Younger festival-goers will attempt to build the tallest human ladder, while others simply lounge around and soak in the atmosphere around the square.
Don’t be surprised to see trucks arriving in the square with food and refreshments for festival-goers. Or the fire fighting team cooling the crowd down by spraying them with gallons of water! It’s a town-wide celebration and everyone is happy to play their part to ensure the festival progresses joyously.
The party does slow down by night time on Holy Saturday, but it never really ends. The town stays half-awake until the religious rites begin at 5am on Easter Sunday. The climax of the entire festival. As dawn creeps into the town, the resurrected Christ is carried out of the main cathedral on a giant white pyramid float, adorned with candles. People parade the pyramid float around the town. Singing, chanting and ringing bells, all while fireworks ignite in the background. A fitting end to a highly atmospheric festival.
Especially for Semana Santa, almost all the bus companies will provide service to Ayacucho. Book your transports early though, especially when planning on arriving the Thursday or Friday before Semana Santa.
If possible, the most economical way I found is to join a tour group. I found a tour group offering a 4 day, 3 nights package. It included transportation, accommodation and activities to nearby sites. The entire package ended up costing me less than a round-trip bus ticket!
Let’s face it, one of the worst parts of the travelling is having to deal with foreign transaction fees, exchange rates, and all the other fees that goes into switch our money from one currency to another.
There’s nothing more annoying than coming home from your adventure-filled travels to find every purchase on your credit card statement much higher than expected.
From the majority of the Canadian banks, every time you make a purchase that isn’t in Canadian dollars, chances are you’re paying a foreign transaction fee between 2.5-3%. And that’s on top of the currency exchange rate.
Unfortunately for Canadians, there really isn’t a whole lot of credit card choices for us to choose from that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
And until recently, I’ve been happily using my Chase Amazon credit card, but Chase has decided to close down shop in Canada, further reducing our options. This ignited my search once again for a Canadian credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Here’s what I’ve found:
Home Trust Preferred Visa
The Home Trust Preferred Visa is currently the only Canadian credit card I could find that gives you a foreign currency conversion fee of 0%. Furthermore, it’s also free and doesn’t charge a monthly fee. Score!
But wait before you do your happy dance, because this card also gives back. You’ll get 1% cash back on all your purchases, with no limits or restrictions to the amount you can earn. You’ll also get purchase and travel insurance included at no extra costs.
While the Fido Mastercard doesn’t technically give you a foreign currency conversion fee of 0%, the math does work out in your favour in the end.
The credit card still charges a 2.5% foreign conversion fee, but on all purchases made in a foreign currency, you’ll get 4% cash back. Basically, the foreign transaction fee cancels out. At the end of it all, you’ll get “no foreign conversion fee” and will get a 1.5% cash back on foreign transactions.
Similar to Home Trust Preferred Visa, there’s no annual fee, but there is one kicker to this card though. It’s very much geared towards Fido customers. They make this obvious when you try to redeem your cask back, making you use the Pay with Review app or through your Fido account when using a computer. Also the rewards predominately revolve around everything Rogers and Fido.
The Rogers Platinum MasterCard is pretty much identical to the Fido Mastercard. It doesn’t give you a foreign transaction fee of 0%, but it does cover it with its cash back.
With this card, there is a foreign transaction fee of 2.5%, but it gives users a 4% cash back on all purchases made in a foreign currency. Again, it basically cancels out the foreign transaction fee and you’ll still get a 1.5% cash back. This also has an addition bonus of giving you a 1.75% cash back on all other purchases.
The main difference between the Rogers Platinum MasterCard and the Fido Mastercard though is it’s annual fee. This card does have a $29 annual fee, but can possibly be waived if you notify them you’re a Rogers customer or if you set up pre-authorized payments with the card.