A Day at Laguna 69
January 1, 1970
by Seth P. Sacks
I have seen the bluest of blues. High in the mountains of Huascarán National Park, near Huaraz, Peru, past the gushing waterfalls, beyond the massive rock formations, lies the beautiful Laguna 69. This magical water pool is nestled into the mountains and surrounded by wondrous glaciers that remain just out of reach yet are hard to look away from. These ice structures feed the lagoon with pristine melted waters by the timeless creation of a long flowing waterfall. What we are granted with is the jaw dropping eye candy that is Laguna 69. This hike is on the beaten path gringo trail, and is sold in nearly every travel shop, but is most definitely worth seeing.
Prices and Rates
The going rate at the time I was in Huaraz (February 2017) seemed to be between 30 to 40 soles, which was around $9 to $13 U.S. This price should get you transportation both to and from the trail. There are surely other prices and options that provide more, but I found this to be the best budget option. You can get to the park without signing up for a tour, but if you add up all the expenses and time getting there, then a tour can be your best option. There is also the entrance fee for the park to account for. If you are only doing one day in the park you can get a day pass for 10 soles ($3 U.S). However you can also get a 21 day pass for 65 soles (around $20 U.S.), and if you plan on coming back to do the Santa Cruz trek or any other visits to the park (especially any multiple day excursions), then this may be your best option. Normally the tour bus will stop and purchase the passes at the entrance and you can let them know if you already have your 21 day pass or if you plan on returning to the park for another trek.
Planning Your Meals
A stop is made on the way in where you can purchase a relatively cheap breakfast for around 3 to 8 soles per item ($1 to $3 U.S.). This includes mainly breakfast sandwiches, hamburgers, coffee, and tea. You can expect to be here for 30 to 45 minutes. No lunch is provided and there is no where to buy anything once on the trail so I highly recommend either packing a lunch or buying extra breakfast sandwiches to bring up the trail for lunch. If you are doing a tour you can ask if any lunch is included in the price. You will have time once at the lagoon to enjoy a celebratory lunch at a decent hour while soaking up the stunning views. You will be returning rather late in the afternoon, and skipping lunch could prove to be a mistake after doing quite a bit of hiking.
What to Bring
It can get rather rainy and foggy so I recommend a light rain jacket if you have one. Rain is always a possibility in this area and it can hit at any time. At this elevation, and waking up and waiting for a bus while it’s still dark, means that you want to have some warm clothes. It can be warm while at the base of the mountains at the beginning of the trail, so having a variety of clothes for both warm and cold weather can never hurt. However don’t let this deter you, this hike is worth doing if you have the time, just make sure to pack smart. The terrain is a bit rocky and steep at points, but I don’t think hiking boots are necessary, just some decent walking shoes will be enough to get you to the top. The trek is around 13 km and can take two to three hours each way, so flip flop and barefoot hikers may want to rethink not having some shoes at hand. Of course water is a must and around 2 liters is enough to get you up and down the trek without having to worry about running out. A stop should be made after the hike at a small store where you can buy snacks and drinks before the drive back to Huaraz.
Starting the Hike
An early 5 am wake up and a 2 hour scenic drive brings you to the first spectacle. A serene lagoon stretches out before you with a waterfall that drops off on one side, creating a spectacular view, and giving the effect of an infinity pool. The lake is an incredible reflective blue that encompasses images of the sky and sheer rock walls. The canyon narrows as the lake fades away into the horizon of a rising sun and a new day. Looking at the edges of the lake it is unclear where the tranquil water ends and the steep cliffs begin. It is not easy to leave this lake but the thought of what is to come is a promising consolation. A quick drive shortly after leaves you at the beginning of this unique trail and the start of the journey on foot. A stunning flat terrain is just the beginning. Stone huts, massive mossy boulders, and lush foliage are taken in as the hike progresses. The dark red peeling Paper Bark trees take over the rich green grass fields with a color contrast that guarantees to bring out your inner wizard. The trail begins to incline as the waterfalls become more abundant and magnificent. The rocky path winds up and carves through the powerful mountains. The occasional condor can be seen gliding in the sky either high above near the clouds, or close to the ground and the elated observers. Smaller ponds and lagoons are seen but they are just a taste of what is to come. Ice begins to overcome the crevasses of the rock walls. A large field stretches out before you with green grass and beautiful mountain structures. This is the last flat ground before you begin the final switchbacks which lead up to the lagoon. The air starts to become thinner as you climb higher and higher. Breathing becomes a conscious effort as you get closer and closer. The glaciers seem to grow in size as you ascend; the final push.
Arriving at the Lagoon
The path suddenly opens up as you round the bend and you get your first glimpse at perfection. You find yourself in a valley tucked away and overlooked by tall snowy peaks. Peacefully laying at the bottom is an outstretched lagoon that appears to defy what blue can really be. The glaciers seem to meld with the clouds as they create the icy veins that run down the rock faces and into this celestial body of water. People of all ages, tourists, backpackers, families, solo hikers; everyone that finishes the climb are all taken aback by the astounding sight. Reflection, celebration, and sheer joy are just a few of the visible emotions among the onlookers. A quick swim will remind you that it is an ice cold glacial lake, but it is well worth the chill. Lasting more than a minute in this water is quite the challenge and probably not the best idea considering how cold it may be once back on the surrounding rocks. Also do not forget the long walk you have to return and being cold and wet may make you regret staying in for too long. Photos are taken, snacks are split and shared, stories are exchanged. Smiling is irresistible as the beauty surrounds you in every direction. The walk back seems as though you are strolling on a cloud after experiencing the feeling of being in heaven.