Over Easter weekend we went on our first proper hiking trip in Peru, and what a place to start! As the world’s second highest mountain range after the Himalayas, the Cordillera Blanca attracts hiking enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies from all over the world…and casual weekend holidayers from Lima as it happens!
Road trip! We went with our German friends Evi and Helge in their VW and the ‘scenic route’ to Huaraz was half the story. I’ll save that one for another blog, but the moral of the story and likely blog title is, Never Trust Google Maps…
As we were short on time, we decided to just do Laguna 69 – the turquoise jewel in the Cordillera Crown. We had a personal recommendation for local guide, Epi, and went with a two-day hike with camping.
Epi has lived and worked in the mountains his whole life – first as a porter, then a cook, and now as a trained and registered guide for the national park. He’s trying to set up his own business offering excursions all over the region, and treated us very well. He was really knowledgeable about the geography and wildlife, and shared Quechua legends personifying the mountains in tales of love and betrayal that have been passed down through the generations.
One of my favourite moments was our picnic lunch on the first day. After a few hours hiking, we stopped at a quiet spot next to a mountain stream and Epi laid out a picnic blanket, and a feast appeared out of his backpack. We had chicken with rice cooked with spinach and parsley, still warm from the pot, with a lovely salad. I love eating al fresco, and really appreciated the tranquility of the moment – there was no one else in sight, and all we could hear was water flowing and birds chirping. For me, this is why you go hiking.
Later that afternoon we arrived at Laguna Chinancocha. Accessible by road, it was full of day-trippers snapping selfies and queuing for the obligatory rowing boats. Not exactly peace and serenity, so we continued on to our campsite beside the next lake along the valley – Laguna Orconcocha. Epi’s son and assistant, Carlos, had already set up our camp, in a beautiful isolated spot beside the lake. There were a few local families enjoying the national park, and Steven joined in the family football game. They loved laughing at the out-of-breath gringo struggling with the altitude and being outrun by little girls in petticoat skirts.
The next morning we were woken at dawn by Epi with a hot cup of coca tea and bowls of hot water to ‘wash’. Peeking out of the tent, the serenity and beauty of the lake at dawn with mist on the water and the moon still in the sky just took our breath away. We didn’t have long to sit around and enjoy the view though – following a hearty breakfast we set out for Laguna 69.
From our campsite it took us about 4 hours to get to the Laguna, with frequent breaks to catch our breath and take photos. We passed secluded mountain plateaus, small lakes, gorgeous waterfalls and ancient glaciers – wherever you turned, there was a stunning view to take your breath away. In the quiet of the morning we enjoyed the chirping birds and a fleeting glimpse of a type of wild hare, called a viscacha.
Finally, huffing and puffing, after a dizzying array of zig-zagging paths up almost vertical mountain faces, we reached the top. Between two hill spurs in the foreground, we could see a tiny triangle of turquoise ahead with a waterfall perfectly aligned in the middle – the famous Laguna 69.
I’ve never seen water such a bright blue outside of the Grenadines. The fact that we were at 4,600m (15,092ft) above sea level made it that much more special. Fed by the slow trickle of the surrounding glaciers, the Lagoon’s brilliant turquoise water is contrasted by the dark rocky slopes and the white of the snowy glaciers above. When the clouds part and the sun shines down, the whole lake is illuminated and simply stunning.
Of course we were not content to just sit and watch it. These two West Indian water-babies are always drawn to water, despite knowing the shock to come. Yes, there were stares at the crazy people swimming in the freezing cold glacier lake!
What an experience; I could not recommend this hike any more. You need a reasonable level of fitness, and acclimatizing to the altitude first is recommended, but it’s a good challenge for beginner-hikers. I can’t wait to go back to the Cordillera Blanca and discover more. Come join us!
Love from Lima xxx
Adapted from original published by Aracari Travel.