Laguna 69 is a breathtaking turquoise lake hugged by steep cliffs and snow capped mountains and sits at an altitude of 4,600 meters. A trek to Laguna 69 is the most popular day hike in the Cordillera Blanca and is easily accessible from the hike capital of Northern Peru – Huaraz
The trek itself starts at an altitude of 3900 meters and is rated moderate to hard mainly because it has a steep ascent to the lake and can be challenging depending on how well you cope with altitude. Along the trek you are rewarded with stunning mountain scenery, waterfalls, lakes, old stone ruins and of course the grand finally – the beautiful Laguna 69.
Before you start the hike..
Before considering this hike, if you’re not already acclimatised to altitude then you should spend at least a day or two in Huaraz which is 3100 meters to get some acclimatisation. We spent a day in the town but we had also been at altitude prior with spending 5 weeks in Quito, Ecuador. Huaraz is the Kathmandu of Peru and is a major draw card for hikers and climbers who want to challenge themselves to the many hiking and climbing opportunities in the nearby Cordillera Blanca range which is also home to Peru’s highest peak – Huascaren at 6,768 meters.
Getting to Laguna 69
There are different ways of getting to Laguna 69. You can take a bus to the nearby village of Yungay then a combi from there to the trail head but this is not always reliable depending on the season. The easier option is to take a tour which can be either just transport and guide or more full service that includes a packed lunch and breakfast. We opted for the easiest way to get there and booked a day tour through our guesthouse La Casa de Maruja. There are plenty of tour agencies in town offering day trips or you can simply book through your guesthouse/hostel like we did. Our tour bus was basically minibus transport to/from the trail head and you were accompanied by a guide which for me came in very handy for that steep climb to the lake! Lunch you provide yourself so we made ourselves a picnic lunch from stuff that we had picked up from the supermarket in town.
And so onto the trail..
We were collected from our guesthouse around 7am in the morning for our drive to Huascaran National Park. Our bus was mostly foreigners, a mixture of Europeans and quite a few from Israel.
Before we reached the trail head we stopped at Lagunas Llanganuco, a rich green turquoise lake with a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery. It looked like we struck lucky with the weather too as this time of year in April it can be quite wet but we had glorious sunshine.
Our tour included the 45 soles park entrance fee. The trail is 9 kilometers and takes 3 to 4 hours to complete, we were basically told to be back by 4pm.
The trail started off with a gentle walk up through the Cebollapampa valley where you traverse streams. Along the walk we encountered cows and some old round stone ruins. We also passed our first waterfall that was tumbling down a nearby cliff before reaching the first set of gentle switchbacks that took us up to a small lake.
The climb up wasn’t too bad and the views back down the valley were amazing. It wasn’t long though before the younger members of our group were out in front and Vaughan and I the oldest in the group were left behind with the company of our guide which was nice as we chatted as we paced along.
Trees were not in abundance here but bushes with pretty purple flowers as well as other low scrub bushes and hardy alpine plants were everywhere. The small green coloured lake was pretty with its snow capped mountain back drop.
We followed the track around the lake which opened up into another valley. Every now and then you just had to stop not only to catch your breath but also to take it all in, the landscape of mountain peaks and sheer cliffs was simply stunning.
By now I started to feel the altitude and was slowing. It wasn’t long before we hit the next set of switchbacks, the ones that took you up to the lake and this is when the altitude really hit. I felt dizzy with no energy and I really felt like I couldn’t go on. I had a decision to make: would I turn back or push through it? With some encouragement from Vaughan and the guide I decided not to let it beat me, I had come this far and I wanted to see that lake even if I have to crawl on my hands and knees to get there!! The guide offered to carry my day pack to help relieve some of the weight and make the slog easier for me. We slowly trekked up the switchbacks meeting others who were also struggling. For some strange reason I did start to feel much better as I climbed higher. The trail was narrow and stony and quite steep, as we neared the rockier part it became even steeper. Every time we stopped for a breather we took in the breathtaking views down the valley and the surrounding pinnacle landscape.
At one stop we met a French lady who was struggling so we walked with her and encouraged her to keep going. She was in her 40’s and her group were all very young and were already at the lake, she was worried that she was holding them up and they would be back at the tour bus well before her. The disappointing thing was that their group guide was also out in front with the rest of the group where he should have been at the rear looking out for anyone in trouble. Our guide wasn’t impressed at all, he thought this other tour group’s leader was unprofessional.
As we climbed higher through the terminal moraine the turquoise lake came into view and finally we reached its shores and met up with the others. Our newly found French friend stayed with us even though her group were already getting ready to leave.
The lake was simply breathtaking, so clear and so turquoise I’m glad I made the decision not to turn back. We sat down and enjoyed our lunch in the picturesque surroundings and watched some young people from other groups attempt to take a dip and freeze their nuts off in the process! We stuck our hand in and said “I don’t think so, way too cold for any kind of swimming!”.
The trail back is basically the same trail we took to get to the lake so this time we stuck with our group along with the French lady in tow. It was a very pleasant walk back, much easier as it was all downhill but also we had views of the valley and the twin peaks of Huascaran came into view along with a large waterfall. Walking back meant we could enjoy the scenery from a different perspective.
Arriving back at the minibus in time we could honestly say we were pleased with our achievement as it’s not really an easy hike but definitely worth the slog as it’s was so beautiful. I would put it up there as one of the best day hikes we have done and certainly one of the best day hikes in the Cordillera Blanca ranges.