The best time to do the trek is during the dry season, from May to September.
The 50 km (31 mi) trail follows glacial creeks up to the 4,750 m (15,580 ft) high point at Punta Union pass. From the pass, there are good views down the valleys, of Taulliraju - towering over the pass, and of Huascarán - the tallest mountain in Peru and anywhere in the Tropics.
The trail is reasonably well marked, with signs at major intersections; however, be sure to bring a GPS device (with offline maps) and consider a backup paper map. OpenStreetMap has good coverage of the area. Openandromaps has an excellent offline free vector map that covers all of Peru, with detailed topographic information. An Alpenverein map can be purchased in Huaraz for S/80 or a copy with just the trek for S/20.
The hike may be done in two directions: from Vaqueria to Cashapampa, or from Cashapampa to Vaqueria. However, from the logistical perspective, it may be better to go from Vaqueria to Cashapampa, as it is easier to arrange public transportation back to Huaraz. Some hikers may find it physically easier to start in Vaqueria at 3,700 m (12,100 ft) as opposed to starting at 2,900 m (9,500 ft) from Cashapampa; however, the grade from Cashapampa to the pass is less steep.
There are many tour companies operating out of Huaraz that provide packages from $US150-300. Generally, the more expensive tours include more services (such as hot water, personal baggage allowance on donkeys) and better equipment. At a minimum, all meals, transport, and tents should be provided; the park entry fee is usually not included.
- All-inclusive trip with one of the travel agencies in Huaraz.
- Find an agency that has free space in their bus. If the company already has a group, but some free space is available, it is possible to go for S/30. Otherwise, they will offer you the price for private transportation (approx. S/200 per car).
- Take a colectivo to Yungay, leaving Huaraz at around 05:30. From the Yungay station, take another colectivo to Yanama, leaving at 07:00 and get off at Vaqueria. Total price S/31 (2019).
- Take a colectivo to Caraz then catch another colectivo to Cashapampa. Total price S/17 (2019).
Fees and permits
You must pay the Huascarán National Park entry fee (see link). It's essential to have the permit as there are two checkpoints along the route. When entering the park via collectivo, combi or minibus, the driver may or may not remember to stop at the park office and let extranjeros (foreigners) pay the fee and receive a ticket, so if you speak a little Spanish you might want to remind him.
Hiking is the main option for getting around, although there are small villages where it is possible to rent burros and horses. There are signs at important junctions. On average, it takes four days and three nights to do the trek.
The base camp of Alpamayo, chosen by the German magazine Alpinismus to be the world's most beautiful mountain.
There are no possibilities to buy supplies during the hike.
It is essential to bring cooking supplies, i.e. gas and stove, as fires are prohibited.
There are several camping possibilities around the trek, but bear in mind that in order to preserve the nature and avoid erosion it is essential that you camp at one of the designated campsites. The following designated camping spots are listed in the order from Vaqueria to Cashapampa.
- 1 Paria. Recommended camp site for the first night. Free.
- 2 Taulipampa. Recommended camp site for the second night. Free.
- 3 Ahruaycocha. Alpamayo Base Camp - good destination for a side trip on the third day. Free.
- 4 Llamacorral. Recommended camp site for the last night. Free.
- Santa Cruz Trek B&B (Santa Cruz Trek Hostal), Avenida Interoceanica 719, Nueva Florida, Huaraz, ☏ , email@example.com. Santa Cruz Trek Hostel is special point of meeting for solo travelers and backpackers where they can join a group for trekking and climbing Santa Cruz or Huayhuash, Offers comfortable dorms in wide rooms, easy access to downtown for ATMs, banks, markets, shops and more. Daily departures for guests to the Santa Cruz Trek, minivans and buses available for the Santa Cruz trail head, connecting tours around Peru. US$10.
- Illariy. A beautiful place located at Vaqueria, you can find lodging and food, firstname.lastname@example.org.
At high altitude, the weather can change suddenly - ensure you have appropriate gear for wind, rain, and cold. If the trail is wet, be extra cautious crossing the pass as the rocks can be quite slippery on the eastern side and there can be large cliffs.
You may encounter a variety of livestock along the trail including donkeys, llama, and cows. Always step to the uphill side of the trail to allow donkeys and other animals to pass. Beware of nuisance cows, always keep your food inside your tent and close it, don't leave anything unattended: cows will eat anything including your food, shirt, pants, and shoes.
There is plenty of water available, with the exception of the area surrounding Punta Union (the highest point along the route). It is essential to sterilize the water, using purification tablets, a filter or by boiling it, due to the overwhelming presence of animals.
Bring bug spray - at elevations below 4,000 m (13,000 ft) there are tiny biting flies that leave blood blisters which may become itchy.