The first thing we did when arriving in Huaraz was to visit travel agencies to book the Santa Cruz trek, a spectacular 4-day hike through remote mountain valleys between towering white-capped peaks. But the next group wasn’t leaving for a few days, so we had some time to kill. Whatever would we do with so much nature around us?
Even though we were pretty well acclimatized, having spent the last several weeks in Cusco and the southern Altiplano, we thought it couldn’t hurt to do a day hike to stay in shape and push ourselves a little, especially since there was a pretty high pass coming up our the Santa Cruz trek. Not wanting to go very far, we looked around and discovered that the alpine glacial lake, Laguna Churup was close by and would be a perfect trip.
Getting directions from our hostel, we found the collectivos that ran up the valley to the town of Llupa. You have two options here. Either get off and walk up a trail/road for an hour or so to Pitec where the proper trail starts, or you can pay a bunch more to be driven there. Guess which we chose?
The hike from Llupa to Pitec is nothing special, but neither is it unenjoyable. The mountain homesteads are charming, and the agricultural highlands and low mountains make an interesting backdrop. When you do reach Pitec, you’ll enter Huascaran National Park, where the entrance sign reminds you to “kill nothing but time and mosquitos”. From here, we immediately started hiking up a stony ridge towards the mountain of Nevado Churup in the distance. At some point, park rangers coming down from the lake met us and we paid our entrance fee before continuing on.
The trail is quite pleasant, and we were lucky to have some clouds in the sky to keep the alpine sun off our necks. We continued onwards, able to see where our destination must lie, above and behind an imposing vertical rock wall. We’d read that there would be some scrambling on this route, and we were soon to discover this to be true!
The clouds above turned darker, and we walked for a while in intermittent rain before finally coming to the rock wall we’d seen earlier.
Here a waterfall cascaded down from what must have been the hidden lake above, and we could see the trail winding it’s way up the cliff side.
In order to follow the path, we had to scramble over lots of rocks, using cables bolted into the cliff face at times to keep balance. It was a bit tricky with the stone slippery from the recent rain, but we persevered and reached the top.
Here we could see a small stream of the clearest water I’ve ever encountered, winding through the alpine vegetation. Where it was still, you could almost believe there wasn’t anything there at all, just any empty depression in the earth.
We moved on, over the final crest, and came upon Laguna Churup. Located at 4450 m (14,600 ft), the lake is nestled at the base of the mountain of the same name, impressively topped with snow even though it is only a minor peak in the region.
The water here was once again perfectly clear, with stunning blue, green, and orange deposits on the rocks below the surface near shore.
With such perfect surroundings, we wanted to stay all afternoon, but it was quite chilly and it looked like more rain, so we downed a quick lunch before heading back towards town. Laguna Churup was a great day hike, with absolutely stunning scenery at the end. I highly recommend it.
Logistics (October 2013):
Here’s what we had to pay for this day trip, per person. Various agencies also arrange tours, but there is absolutely no reason not to do it independently as it’s so easy.
Collectivo from Huaraz to Llupa: s/5 (supposedly another s/15 to go on to Pitec)
Park Daily Entrance Fee: s/5 (or pay the s/65 for the month long pass if you’ll be doing a trek. We forget to bring enough cash, so had to get a day pass.)
Collectivo from ? back to Huaraz: s/1.5 (Collectivos back to the city are rarer, especially in the afternoon. Rather than wait in Llupa, we started walking down the road, hoping to flag one down as it passed. We ended up taking a local’s suggestion, and headed right down a pedestrian road through an unknown town. When we reached the square, we found a collectivo, and it was super cheap!)