As far as trekking goes, Huaraz in Peru offers some of the most spectacular hikes in all of South America. And Laguna 69 is a place which needs to be seen to be believed, - yes, the water really is THAT blue.
The city of Huaraz is 8 hours from the capital of Lima, and has an altitude of over 3000m. It is the gateway to the Andes, and we knew we wanted to explore some of the stunning trails this corner of Peru has on offer.
After doing an acclimatisation hike to Laguna Churup we decided to tackle the Laguna 69 trek. This breathtaking blue glacier lake sits at 4,600m above sea level which means this would be the highest hike we had ever attempted.
Trekking Laguna 69 is hard, but it is so worth it. We always feel these that this kind of natural beauty deserves some sacrifice; it simply wouldn't be the same if you could jump on a cable car to the lagoon. So although you may find it tough, and your legs will hurt and you may get altitude sickness as a result of attempting this hike; as soon as you lay your eyes on the stunning lake, any aches and pains will be instantly forgotten about.
Below we've shared our Laguna 69 experience, as well as how to get to Laguna 69, what to pack, what you should expect on this hike, as well as how to help prevent altitude sickness.
trekking laguna 69: how to get there?
We looked into lots of various options when it came to doing Laguna 69 and felt that taking a tour was the easiest method, and pretty good value for money. There are public transport options but we felt these were a lot more hassle than they were worth so we opted to book up with a tour. We booked our Laguna 69 tour through our hostel, Hostel Akilpo. This hostel is a renowned place for hikers to rest their heads in-between hikes and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the various hikes in Huaraz. The cost of the tour was S/.30 (£7) plus an additional S/.30 to pay at the entrance to Huascaran National Park.
The price of this tour includes pick-up from the hostel, transport to and from the national park as well as a guide who will accompany your group on the trek.
what to expect from the laguna 69 trek
Trekking Laguna 69 is an early start where you will be picked up at around 5am from your hostel and then you will drive north towards Huascaran National Park.
There will be a stop for breakfast at around 7am next to the Chinanchocha lagoon. By this point, you will be 3,800m therefore a short stop here will help with the acclimatisation process. This is a good time to also drink some coca tea to assist with any altitude sickness you may experience.
After finishing breakfast, you will then drive for another 2 hours where you will find the start of the track to Laguna 69, at a whopping 3,900m.
Everyone in the group has the freedom to walk the trail at their own pace; and people will gradually fall into a rhythm and spread out which means, even though you are doing it as a tour group, there were big sections of the hike where we saw very few people.
One of the things which we loved most about the Laguna 69 hike, is that it wasn't only the destination which was beautiful. Huascaran National Park is stunning beyond words; the trail to the lagoon is nestled in-between snow-capped mountains and the landscape is constantly changing. It should take you around 3 hours to reach Laguna 69. Weather dependent, the lagoon makes for the perfect spot to stop for lunch and enjoy the views. Although if the weather is not good, it will be a case of snapping a few photos before commencing the 2 hours walk back to the start of the trail.
our experience hiking laguna 69
If you ask David and I how we found Laguna 69, you will probably get very different answers. We both thought the hike was incredibly beautiful and probably the most spectacular trek we've ever done. The natural beauty of this part of Peru is honestly mind-blowing. At first you don't even notice the altitude because you are so in awe with your surroundings.
Then, the altitude kicks in (for me anyway!)
The first 90 minutes of the hike I felt were relatively easy, the trail slowly inclines and although you are going higher it is very gradual. However, by the last 90 minutes of the hike I was really struggling. I had suffered from altitude sickness the day before after doing the Laguna Churup acclimatisation hike, which ironically is supposed to prevent you getting altitude sickness on this hike.
The last hour in particular is difficult as there are constant switch backs; you are climbing uphill relentlessly, and everytime the road bends you are praying for some flat track but to no avail. By this point my head was pounding and I was struggling to catch my breath, only able to walk 10m or so at a time without needing to stop to catch my breath. The altitude impacted me a lot more than David, he was affected very little by it and patiently waited with me whilst I crawled up the final incline.
Finally we reached the top and there was no more climbing! The trail then bended round the right, and as soon as we turned the corner; we caught our first glimpse of Laguna 69. The last hour of exhaustion was already forgotten about as we looked around in awe.
We had the most beautiful blue bird day which meant we could enjoy our lunch at the edge of the lake, and take in all the views. However, the day before there had been strong winds and snow at the lake which meant everyone that day only had time to snap a few photos before turning round. The weather here is very changeable, therefore we were pretty lucky to have had such a gorgeous day. After taking some paracetamol to help the headache and having something to eat, I began to feel a bit better. We were at Laguna 69 for about an hour before starting on our descent.
The hike itself isn't overly difficult; we've done many more physically demanding hikes which are longer, have steeper inclines or require some rope work. However, it was the altitude which I felt made this particularly hard. If, like David, the altitude doesn't affect you as much then chances are this won't be too difficult a hike but if you are susceptible to altitude sickness then you will no doubt find Laguna 69 challenging.
how to prevent altitude sickness
I suffered from altitude sickness several times throughout our trip in South America; by the end of it I was craving to be at sea level! The altitude seemed to impact us in different ways; I would really struggle during a hike above a certain altitude, my head would start to pound and this was usually followed by sickness after getting to a lower altitude.
David on the other hand wasn't particularly impacted by the altitude at the time, however he suffered from headaches the next day.
After completing our hikes in Huaraz and returning to Lima, we ended up chatting with a Peruvian doctor who used to work with hikers at Machu Picchu and he shared a couple of tips with us on how to prevent altitude sickness.
1. Acclimatise - This is probably the most important piece of advice. You need to let your body acclimatise before attempting to hike at altitude. Most people will arrive in Huaraz from Lima, which means you will have gone from sea level to over 3000m in a matter of hours. We would recommend taking at least 1 day (AT LEAST!) to acclimatise to Huaraz and then doing an acclimatisation hike. We opted for Laguna Churup which is a couple of hundred meters lower than Laguna 69 and was recommended by our hostel. However, we suffered from altitude sickness pretty badly after our Laguna Churup hike therefore we would recommend you take 2 days in Huaraz before hiking.
2. . Don't eat meat the day before - in the 24 hours leading up to a hike at altitude then you should only eat small, easily digestible meals. As if you eat heavy meals then the blood in your body is focusing on your stomach to aid digestion as opposed to flowing more steadily to your brain which is where it is needed when hiking at altitude.
3. Start sipping Coca tea the day before - When we done this hike then I had coca tea with breakfast, however you should really start drinking it at least the day before the hike to ensure it is in your system.
We met some travellers who also took altitude sickness medication; we never took this so cannot recommend however some people we met said they made a lot of difference.
what to pack for the laguna 69 trek
As we mentioned, the weather at Laguna 69 is very changeable so it's important to pack for all climates! You should also stock up on snacks to reenergise along the way. This is a list of things we would recommend you take;
Water - A minimum of 3 litres of water per person - we would recommend using the GRAYL reusable water bottles which also double as a filter.
Food - We stocked up on snacks at the local supermarket the night before the hike. We made up sandwiches and bought things like cereal bars and chocolate for extra energy boosts!
Pain Killers - For me, then the worst part about altitude sickness is the pounding headache it gives you. Taking a couple of paracetamol when you feel this come on helps massively; it won't completely numb the headache but will dull it enough until your through your hike and back at a lower altitude. You can also buy coca sweets in local shops which help with the altitude too.
Walking Poles - We didn't use walking poles but I definitely think it would have helped me - especially on the way down as I felt the steep decline on my knees (getting old!). A lot of other hikers were using them though and I wish I had!
Waterproof Jackets - Waterproof jackets are an essential item as you don't want to get caught in the rain and then need to hike the rest of the way damp! Invest in a good waterproof jacket and it will last for years.
Warm Clothes - At 4600m it is pretty damn cold! Even on a nice day, the higher you get the colder it gets therefore we would highly recommend investing in a couple of good hiking jumpers.
Waterproof Trousers - Please don't do this hike in jeans, you will be super uncomfy and again if it rains, you will end up soaked through. Instead roll up a pair of waterproof trousers which you can put on if it rains, or use as an extra layer if its a cold day.
Hiking Boots - The terrain of this hike can get really quite muddy at parts therefore we wouldn't recommend hiking in trainers. Instead invest in a good pair of hiking boots. We have Northface hiking boots and love them! Super comfy and waterproof.
Sunscreen, Hat & Sunglasses - At this altitude its really easy to get burnt, especially if its a windy day as you may not realise how strong the sun is. Take some with you and top up regularly. And make sure you wear a hat and sunglasses too.
Camera - Of course, your camera! Laguna 69 is so beautiful you will definitely want to take a few photos there. All these photos were shot on my Olympus PEN8.
It's also recommended you take extra warm clothes and leave them in the bus, so that if the weather is bad and you do end up cold and wet, you have dry clothes to change into when your return.
The trek to Laguna 69 is not only one of the best hikes in Huaraz, but it ended up being our favourite in Peru. The landscape is stunning and diverse, and when you finally reach Laguna 69 it will surpass all your expectations. Despite us both suffering from altitude sickness after the trek, it was certainly more than worth it! A lot of travellers miss out this section of Peru, however if you want to experience the best hikes in Peru, then a venture up to the beautiful Andes region will blow you away.