Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis: A Photo Diary

The Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis are both only a few hours away from Lima, and make for a perfect weekend trip from the city. Water, sun, and sand are very different from the mountain treks and high altitude hikes we are used to in Peru, but I’m definitely not complaining! Check out our photos from the weekend, and click here to get all the travel details!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Perfect Weekend Trip from Lima

After being in a city of 8 million for over two weeks, I really needed an escape from the noise and pollution. Daniel and I decided to take a weekend trip from Lima to the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis. While there we met up with one of my best friends who is currently doing the Gringo trail and passing through Peru. We had an awesome time, and now I definitely recommend visiting the Huacachina Oasis on a weekend trip from Lima!

 

 

Day One – Lima to Paracas

Our first stop was the Islas Ballestas in Paracas. They are a four hour bus ride from Peru. We caught the bus on a Friday afternoon for our weekend trip from Lima at the Soyuz bus station on Avenida Mexico where the Soyuz and Peru Bus lines both run. They leave every 15 to 20 minutes on the Lima to Ica route, and cost $12 per person.

The bus dropped us off in Pisco, and from there we had to take another 20 minute and $8 taxi ride to Paracas,  a small town right on the water. It has a tiny beach front and a strip of restaurants on the ocean. We met up with our friends, grabbed dinner and a few drinks, and called it a night.

 

Day Two – Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis

The next morning, we woke up for the 10 am Islas Ballestas tour. The tour cost $8 with another $5 tax, and it is super easy to buy tickets at any of the hostels or agencies around the square. We walked to the pier right in the center of the small town and loaded up on the small boat.

The Islas Ballestas are called the poor man’s Galapagos, but honestly, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. The tour was just… ok. Some factors into my less than enthusiastic review include a hangover on a choppy boat, crowded and uncomfortable seating, crappy gray weather, and worst of all the absolutely horrible and strong smell of exhaust that engulfed us whenever the boat stopped to point out birds or animals. It was extremely unpleasant and definitely impacted my enjoyment of the trip.

 

 

However, there were still a few highlights. Most notably was the teeny tiny penguins who lived up on the rock cliffs with the birds, and of course the sea lions. These fuzzy and strange creatures were such a delight to see up close (even though in the back of my mind, I felt awful for being complicit in bringing so much horrible exhaust and boat fumes into their habitats.) The boat tour was two hours total, and we saw the birds, penguins, and sea lions for about 30 to 45 minutes of the trip.

 

 

My Tips

If you decide to do the Islas Ballestas tours, my tips would be to bring warm clothes because the boat ride is cold and the wind is strong. Also, if I did it again I would have spent the whole weekend and both nights in Huacachina, and just booked the tour through an agency there to take us out and back, and skip the night in Paracas (although this may be more expensive).

Finally, if you’re really into wildlife you can also add on a second trip to the Paracas National Reserve after your island tour. This is 5 more hours, but only costs an extra $5. Definitely something to consider if you have a lot of time on your hands.

 

Paracas to Huacachina

 

 

After the tour and lunch in town, we started the next leg of our weekend trip from Lima. This time it was off to the Huacachina Oasis. To get to the oasis from Paracas, we waved down a taxi to take us to the Pisco bus station. Although it is back tracking, it was cheaper to take the bus than the $35 taxi ride to Ica. At the bus station, we took an hour long $1.50 bus ride to Ica, the large city that Huacachina lies just outside of.

 

 

The oasis may seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but in reality it’s only a 5 minute taxi ride from the Ica bus station. Huacachina is a small little town built around a small little lake. The town and lake are surrounded by looming sand dunes on almost all sides, and it has a really awesome and lively atmosphere on the weekends.

The markets, shops, restaurants and bars surround the small lake, and palm trees shade the walk. This oasis was never at the top of my bucket list, but it’s been one of my favorite destinations in the country and is a perfect weekend trip from Lima if you want to just chill and relax.

 

We stayed in the Carola hostel (which isn’t actually completely constructed yet) and spent the afternoon lounging in our swim suits by the large pool and enjoying the sun. Later, we climbed up onto the sand dunes to enjoy the sunset, and then ate an awesome dinner and delicious wings at the Huacachina Backpackers House. Our hostel warned us they were going to be partying in their bar until 6am, and they didn’t disappoint. Music blasted and the club filled up until sunrise.

 

Day Three – Sandboarding, Dune Buggies, & the Tacama Winery

 

 

Sunday was off to a slow start. We woke up and ate a late breakfast, then split up for the afternoon. My friends decided to try out the sand boarding and dune buggies, while we went off to the Tacama Winery.

The sand boarding and dune buggy tours leave every morning at 10:30 and every afternoon at 4:30. They cost $11 each and are two hours of riding around on the surrounding dunes, and boarding down them at sunset. This tour is one of the most popular in Huacachina and seems like a blast.

 

 

However, we opted to hit up the Tacama Winery instead, and I’m so glad we did. This winery is the oldest vineyard in South America. It was founded by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1540’s and has been continuously run ever since. The winery is also so beautiful that it is regularly used for weddings and events, and I can definitely see why.

The entrance is a long tree covered lane lined with flowers, and the winery itself is surrounded by a lush green lawn and colorful gardens. Inside we did the $3 tour and tasting, and were able to see the old monastery, chapel, and courtyard as well. So beautiful.

 

 

The best part about the Tacama winery (which also serves Pisco, the national liquor of Peru,  if that’s more your style) is that the bottles were delicious and cheap at only $7 each. The four of us split a bottle of red and white while sitting out on the lawn, breathing the fresh air and watching the sun begin to set.

The only complaint I had is that the winery closed at 5:30 and we had to leave… even though it is probably for the best. The vineyard is secluded so they even called a taxi for us to take us back to the Ica bus station.

 

 

Passport Theft

From here, it was time to head home. We took the 8pm bus for $8 back to Lima. The five hour ride was uneventful for us, but not my friend. She was on the 7pm bus after the sand boarding, and unfortunately her boyfriend’s backpack containing one phone, two laptops, and BOTH their passports was stolen from under the seat while they were asleep.

This devastating discovery has been tough, and means they’re going to be stuck in Lima for two weeks instead of two days while they work on getting their passports replaced at the US Embassy. If you have valuable stuff in your bags on the busses in Peru, make sure you keep them on your laps or under your feet at all times, because losing a passport is every traveler’s worst nightmare.

 

All in all, and besides this (pretty major) setback with the passports, the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis were the perfect weekend trip from Lima. They are all situated close together and super easy and cheap to get to from Lima. The oasis is also an amazing place to relax and unwind for a weekend from work or travel. Definitely don’t miss it on your way through Peru!

All my love,
Di

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The Lima List: What to do for a day in Barranco

A lot of blogs and articles recommend heading to Miraflores for the best that Lima has to offer, but if you do, you’re missing out. Barranco is far and away my favorite neighborhood in Lima. It’s trendy, hip, and artsy. It has amazing food and nightlife, and a super chill and happy vibe. It’s easy to spend a day in Barranco, and when you do don’t miss out on my favorite spots!

 

To Do

One of my favorite places to stop by during a day in Barranco is definitely Dedalo Arte y Artesenia. This store is almost like a gallery because everything they sell is so beautiful. Trust me, it’s not like the other tourist markets with the same alpaca sweatshirts and knick knacks. At Dedalo, every room has a different theme, from jewelry, to art, to my favorite with gorgeous ceramic tea pots that I definitely can’t afford but still will dream about. There is also an outdoor cafe with craft beer, coffees, artisanal chocolates and desserts and an amazing secret garden ambiance. Don’t miss stopping in Dedalo if you’re in the area!

 

 

La Feria market is another can’t miss spot in Barranco. It’s one street up from the main square, but only open on the weekends. If you can, plan your trip around being here because it’s amazing. Stalls sell homemade products, clothes, art, and of course amazing food. There’s a sushi stall here I really want to try, as well as crepes, ice cream, coffee, cocktails, pizzas, and plenty more. There’s a stage for live music at night, and the last time I was here there was even an adoption stall with puppies and the tiniest kittens we could hold and play with. It seriously does not get any better than that!

Feeling outdoorsy? The beach walk is a great, free, and relaxing activity to add to your to do list. Barranco is located on cliffs overlooking the ocean, and there are little parks, paths, and green spaces along them to walk or sit and enjoy the waves. If you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s not gray and smoggy, you’ll also get awesome skyline views of Lima as well.

 

 

Finally, the Bridge of Sighs is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Barranco, and it’s cool for a couple reasons. Built in the 1800’s the bridge is the historical center of the neighborhood. It’s surrounded by amazing graffiti, an old church, and a score of restaurants and bars. It has a view of a cobbled street packed with vendors and you should definitely spend some time wandering the area, relaxing in the flowered park, and taking in the ocean view from the nearby vantage point.

 

To Eat

Barranco has some amazing spots to sit down for a bite to eat. While there, we tried a lot, and passed by more restaurants we wish we had room for!

The first is La Panetteria. This cute little bakery is perfect for a meal or a snack. We got iced coffee, a smoothie, and some fresh ciabatta to take home, but they also have sandwiches and amazing looking desserts. It’s right by the main square and a perfect place to chill. They even had some craft beers on the menu that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in Peru, like a cream and cocoa brew.

I’ve been craving a good burrito forever (miss ya Chipotle!) so when I read the reviews for the Burrito Bar, I knew we couldn’t miss it. It’s for sure the best burrito I’ve had in my 10 months in South America, and also cheap. It was only about $5 for a burrito that is definitely big enough to split. The tortillas are so fresh and tasty, and the barbacoa meat was really flavorful. It’s easy to order and build with the exact toppings you want, so if you’re missing good Mexican food, the burritos, quesadillas, and tacos here are a must.

 

 

Some honorable mentions on this list are two restaurants I passed by but didn’t try. Both were packed, and one even had a line of people waiting out the door. The first is Isolina Taberna. This restaurant is Peruvian and must be amazing. The decor inside was cool, and the menu was surprisingly cheap for how nice it looked. Interestingly, the menu states that every meal is big enough for three people! The Peruvian dishes seemed heavy on the meat, but were still only $10 to $20 each. Not bad to feed a whole group. They also had $5 fish and pork sandwiches that sounded delicious. Second, if you’re craving seafood and ceviche (Lima has some of the best in the world) then check out El Muelle. It was packed all day and the dishes people were eating on the patio looked gigantic. If I head back to spend a day in Barranco again before I leave Lima, this is definitely at the top of my list and I will report back on the experience!

 

To Drink

By far my favorite bar in Barranco is Wick’s. This traditional English pub is run by a English-Peruvian couple. All of the staff spoke English and best of all… they had draft cider! If you’re a cider lover like me, you’ll be in heaven! I haven’t had a good one since I moved to South America so it was a delicious taste of home. They also have their own house beers on tap, as well a a daily deal for a meal and a pint for $10.

The Barranco Beer Company is another great bar for beer lovers to visit during a day in Barranco. The bar is big and you can see their brewery in the back. The Barranco Beer Co. has a few different house beers like the new Saca Tu Machete on tap with 10% ABV. We tried the oatmeal stout and the lager and both were really good. If you’re sick of drinking Cusquena and Pilsner, this is a great place to try something new.

 

 

If  you’re more into cocktails than beer (I’m not, so I didn’t try this bar but it has rave reviews) check out Ayahuasca Resto Bar and let me know how it is. The bar features craft cocktails and is built in a renovated colonial mansion. Nothing more hip than that!

 

If you’re in Lima and planning to spend a day in Barranco, don’t miss these top spots to shop, take in the sights, and of course eat and drink some of the best Lima has to offer. Barranco is a trendy, hipster neighborhood in Lima and feels like as escape into a totally different world. Definitely don’t forget to add a day in Barranco to your Lima to do list!

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The Best Restaurants and Craft Beer in Huaraz

Daniel and I spent one month in the small city of Huaraz in central Peru, and we ate and drank our way through the town like champs. Surprisingly, the food was a lot better than I thought, and there we’re even multiple breweries selling craft beer in Huaraz. If you find yourself in the city before your next trek, use my list to try the best restaurants and craft beer in Huaraz.

 

Trivio

Trivio is great because it has good food and craft beer. Trivio is the official restaurant selling Sierra Andina beer, a craft beer brewed in the city. Sierra Andina is the best beer that I’ve had in Peru. They have a couple different flavors and types, including an IPA that is 10.5% alcohol. Deadly, but delicious. At Trivio you can get 1/2 jars and full jars of beer to split. A 1/2 jar (which we usually got) is two beers for 15 to 18 soles. Otherwise, you can get bottles for 7 to 10 soles each.

When it comes to food, Trivio has huge portions. My favorite dishes there are the 20 sole chicken tender and fries platter thats definitely big enough for two, the 10 sole menus of the day with an appetizer, meal, drink and dessert, or the breakfast for 16 soles with eggs, bacon, pancakes, coffee and fresh juice. All great.

 

Chili Heaven

I loooooove Indian food (who doesn’t?) so for my birthday meal we decided to check out Chili Heaven. They had good reviews for their indian curries on TripAdvisor, but unfortunately on the night we went they didn’t have it! Instead, we tried the Thai red curry, and it was seriously amazing. Easily as good as any other Thai restaurant I’ve been to in the states. The prices are a little high at 27 soles for the curry & rice, but it was big enough for two people to split. Definitely worth a visit if you enjoy Indian and Thai food!

 

La Comedia Pizza

This place is bomb. It’s a kind of long walk from the main square to outside of town (about 15 minutes) but it’s so worth it. The pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven and were just as delicious as the pizzas I used to eat when I studied in Florence, Italy. We got the margarita pizza, garlic bread, and a water bottle for 36 soles total. Not bad, especially because its nice, well-lit, and romantic to boot. A perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Huaraz.

 

13 Buhos

I know this article is called the best restaurants AND craft beer in Huaraz, so of course I can’t leave 13 Buhos off the list. Surprisingly, this restaurant brews their own beer, Lucho’s, named after their owner. The large beers are big enough for two, so when Daniel and I went we split a large “Coca Roja” for 12 soles (really unique flavor) and each got a massive burger and fries for 20 soles more per plate. The portion was huge and I took at least half of it home for another meal. The fries were also really delicious and some of the best I’ve had in a long time. If you’re a craft beer lover, definitely don’t miss Lucho’s beer at 13 Buhos.

 

BONUS: I also want to mention some of the street foods we tried in Huaraz, because the options were so different from everywhere else we’ve been in Peru. They have large fried potato balls with boiled egg in them and an onion sauce (kinda weird, they were ok) but also this great bean salad called ceviche de tarwi. The beans are just like ceviche, with a vinegar and citrus onion sauce, and a weird texture thats hard and soft at the same time. It’s really good and super cheap to buy a portion for one or two soles on the street. If you pass someone selling it definitely stop and give it a try!

When it comes to restaurants and craft beer in Huaraz, the city surprisingly has some really great offers. Check out these restaurants next time you go out, and treat yourself to a craft beer as a reward for completing a long trek like Santa Cruz or Nevado Mateo. Huaraz is a small but quaint mountain town with some great eats if you know where to look 🙂

 

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Solo Hike Santa Cruz: The Complete Guide

Daniel and I decided to solo hike Santa Cruz when we came to Huaraz, Peru, and it was the best decision we ever made. The trail was super easy to get to and follow, and there were other people and groups around the whole time in case anything went wrong. If you’re thinking about ditching the tour groups and going out on your own (which you should!) this guide has everything you need to know from transportation, packing lists, costs and more. Check it out and leave a comment below if you have any more questions!

 

The Stats

Max Altitude: The highest elevation on the trek is 4,750m/ 15,583 ft
Total Time: Four days. We left our apartment in Huaraz at 5am on Thursday and arrived back at 4pm on Sunday.
Difficulty: Moderate. Crossing the pass on the second day can be tough due to the high altitude.
Total Cost: We spent about 845 soles/ $260 usd for all gear, food, and transportation

 

 

Packing Lists

Ok, I’m going to break down our packing lists into four categories: clothes, gear, food, and miscellaneous. I think these lists are pretty spot on, because while on the trek there was nothing in my bag that I didn’t use, and there was also nothing that I wished I had and forgot.

My Clothes
Leggings x 2
T-shirt x 2
Sweatshirt
Hiking socks x2
Sports bra x2
Underwear x3
Boots
Gloves
Hat
Waterproof hiking pants
Waterproof jacket
Down coat

Our Gear
Hiking poles x2
Large backpack x2
Gas
Stove top
Pot
Spoon x2
Bowl x2 (we mostly just ate out of the pot and found these unnecessary)
Mug x2
Tent + Raincover
Sleeping bag x2
Sleeping mat x2
Waterproof backpack cover x2

Our Food
Three Breakfasts: pre-made large cinnamon and peanut butter pancakes  (one per day)
Four Lunches: pre-made bacon and cheese quesadillas for two days, and pre-made peanut butter and jelly quesadillas for two days (these turned out to be gross and I mostly just fed them to the stray dogs)
Four Snacks: I packed one snack bag per day with a meat stick, a cereal bar, peanuts, craisins, dried apricots, gummy worms, chocolate covered peanuts, and mentos. Unwrap and mix everything together before you leave to reduce the trash you’ll have to carry on the trek.
Three dinners: Hotdogs on day one, soup packet with ramen noodles added on day two, and plain ramen on day three
Instant coffee every morning and tea every evening

Miscellaneous
iPhone
Extra charging block and cord
Sunscreen
Bug spray
Bandaids
Water bottles x2
Iodine to clean our water
Sunglasses
Hand sanitizer
Ibuprofen and Tums
Deodorant
Toothbrushes
Toothpaste
Cash for park entrance and transportation
Deck of cards
Passports
Toilet paper
Wet wipes
Lighter
Pocket knife

 

 

Cost Breakdown

If you have your own gear you will save a lot of money, because that was by far our biggest cost. Not only did we need to rent all of our gear to solo hike Santa Cruz, we also had to rent the waterproof and warm clothes. The only thing we had going in was our large Osprey backpacks (which I love and completely recommend) and our hiking boots. Keep in mind that the following costs are for two people. The total cost for our gear rental from Peruvian Classic Adventures was 512 soles/ $157 usd.

There aren’t large supermarkets in Huaraz, so food is kind of expensive because it has to be bought at smaller stores. All of our food cost around 200 soles/ $61 usd. We also had to buy hand sanitizer, sunscreen, iodine and other miscellaneous items from the pharmacies that added up to another 55 soles/ $17 usd.

Finally, our transport cost was 77 soles/ $24 usd total for two people. If you haven’t already bought a three week pass into the park on a previous trip, that will be another 65 soles/ $20 usd per person.

 

 

Transport

Ok so you want to solo hike Santa Cruz, but how do you get from Huaraz to the start of the trek?

First, you need to take a collectiv0 from Huaraz to Yungay. You can get this on the corner of Avenida Raymondi and Cajamarca. The trip is about and hour and a half and costs 5 soles each. The collectivo will drop you off at a small station in Yungay where you can get the next one. Ask around, or more accurately, wait for a driver to accost you as soon as he sees a gringo with a hiking pack. Get on a collectivo to Vaqueria. This is about a three hour drive and costs 15 to 20 soles each. The driver will drop you off right at the start of the trail. Easy!

To get back to Huaraz after you finish the trek, you can get a collectivo right at the end of the trail where it meets the road and a small town. This collectivo will take you to Caraz, where you will then get another one to Huaraz.

Just a word of warning, make sure you get a collectivo heading left from the trail end, not to the right. We got on one saying he was heading to Caraz, but instead he proceeded to make deliveries, drop offs, and pick ups for an HOUR AND A HALF before returning to the trailhead to begin the drive to Caraz. That was… frustrating to say the least. The drive from the trail end to Caraz should be 10 soles and one hour long. In Caraz, you will be dropped at another small station where you can get a collectivo back to Huaraz. This is 6 soles each and will be another hour and a half drive back to town.

 

 

Which Way Should You Solo Hike Santa Cruz?

The Santa Cruz trek can be hiked in two directions. The most popular choice (which we did) is to go from Vaqueria to Cashapampa. However, many people also choose to hike it “backwards” from Cashapampa to Vaqueria. Both have their pros and cons.

The trek from Vaqueria to Cashapampa is easier. Day one is flat, day two is uphill through the pass, and day three and four are flat or downhill. You can also do the extra side hike to the mountain mirador and lake in the morning instead of the afternoon after a day of hiking. Finally, you’ll have a shorter drive home after the trek from Cashapampa instead of the 5 hour trip from Vaqueria. However…

The trek from Cashapampa to Vaqueria is more beautiful. You walk towards the mountains rather than away from them, and have some of the most beautiful views on the last day rather than the first. This direction is definitely more difficult though. Day one is pretty much uphill the whole time, day two is flat and uphilll, day three is uphill through the pass, and day four is flat.

Personally, I’m glad we chose the easier route, especially because it was my first backpacking trip carrying all my gear, but I know other people who have done it backwards and really enjoyed it too.

 

 

Temperature and Weather

Just because it’s warm in Huaraz, doesn’t mean it will be the same on the Santa Cruz trek. Temps are colder at high altitude and weather can change at the drop of a hat in the mountain ranges, so you need to be prepared.

We went in mid-October. Remember, Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere so here this is the start of spring and the rainy season. We had pretty warm temperatures in the days and I mostly hiked in leggings and a sweatshirt. At night, it got colder and an extra pair of pants and a down coat was necessary. Unfortunately because we went in October, the first two days of our trek were super cloudy and most of the peaks and best views were obscured.

If you go in the high season in June, July, and August, it’s winter in Peru and the coldest months of the year. Temperatures will definitely be lower and nights will be cold, but you will also be rewarded with clear skies, dry weather, and sunshine every day.

 

 

Our Experience Solo Hiking Santa Cruz

If you decide to solo hike Santa Cruz, you definitely won’t be the only ones taking on the challenge. We went in mid-October, which is the start of the off season, but there were still plenty of other people on the trail with us. There were two large tour groups of about 15 people each, and another ten or so people solo hiking Santa Cruz. I was so glad we were one of them.

I read a lot of reviews of various agencies about the trek, and they were so hit or miss. I really didn’t want to end up ruining the trip I was so looking forward to because the food was terrible and I was starving the whole time, or the equipment was dirty or left us freezing all night.

It is possible to sign up for a Santa Cruz trek with an agency here for as little as 300 soles/ $90 usd per person. However, I’d rather spend a little extra money and know that my gear is high-quality, my food is good, and my water is clean. Plus, there was no one telling us what to do and we could just plop down for a rest or set up camp whenever and wherever we wanted. It was amazing.

 

 

Day One – A Flat Start – 5 Hours Hiking

On day one we left our apartment in Huaraz at 5am and arrived at the trailhead in Vaqueria at 10am. The first 15 minutes of the trek were kind of confusing. I’m going to detail the right directions here as best as I can remember, but make sure you also keep asking locals which way to go.

You will start by heading down a hillside. When the trail reaches a road, walk on the road for a bit. There will be a small grass trail to the left, but it’s not right (this is the one we ended up taking on accident.) Keep walking until you see a larger and more obvious trail on the left and continue on it downhill. Once you reach the river, cross it and turn right. Follow the trail into a small town. Here you’ll reach a fork at a small shop and you need to continue on the left fork (even though the one on the right looks bigger and better.) Walk along the trail for another 5 to 10 minutes. You’ll go downhill then back up again with houses on either side.

This is the most important part: The main road you are walking on will continue straight, but you need to take the smaller dirt trail that goes up and to the left. We totally missed this and luckily a woman at her house saw us and yelled at us to turn around and go the right way.

Once you’re on the right trail here, it’s easy going for the rest of the trek. You’ll walk for about an hour until you finally reach the entrance to Huascaran National Park. Here you need to sign in and buy a ticket for 65 soles/ $20 usd if you haven’t already.

Whew, ok. After that it’s a really nice and beautiful flat hike to the campsite. We walked mostly along the river and went through beautiful green valleys and fields. It was also here that we picked up the first of the stray dog pack that hiked all the way through the trek with us. Adopting a trail dog is an integral part of the Santa Cruz solo hiking experience. These pups lead the way, ate our leftovers, and protected our tent from any donkeys or cows that strayed too close.

After about 5 hours of flat hiking, we arrived at the campsite. All of the campsites on the Santa Cruz trek are marked with signs and very obvious. From the campsite the weather cleared for sunset and we got stunning views of mountains in all directions. We set up, cooked dinner, and went to bed around 8pm.

 

 

Day Two – Through the Pass – 8 Hours Hiking

The second day is the hardest day of the trek. We began with a beautiful flat walk for two hours. The walk then started to go uphill for the next two hours, but it was nothing to strenuous. Finally, we came to an imposing rock face. Yep, this is the dreaded pass that every hiker on Santa Cruz knows about. The uphill got much steeper, and we climbed for two more hours (with a lot of rests) to reach the top. It started to snow, but the views were still amazing. Finally, we came over the pass. Wow.

I promise you will be rewarded for making the climb! To the right and left were giant white capped peaks, and below us a lush green valley spread out. Most stunning of all, though, was the lake that was so turquoise blue it rivaled Laguna 69. We ate our lunch in the pass and walked another two hours downhill to the camp. The camp is down in the valley, and we woke up with clear skies and stunning mountain views in all directions. Seriously amazing.

 

 

Day Three – Mountain Mirador – 6 hours hiking

I don’t know if it was the clear skies we woke up to or the fact that the hardest part of the trek was over, but day three was one of my favorites of our Santa Cruz solo hike. It takes about four hours to get from this camp site to the next, but there is a side hike to a mountain lookout and lake that adds another two to three hours to the day.

We left camp at 6:45am and climbed an hour up to the mirador. This trail starts about 20 minutes from the camp and was super easy to find and follow. When we got to the top, the view of three mountains was absolutely stunning in the morning light. One of the peaks was voted “the most beautiful in the world” in the 60’s and is used as the Paramount logo, so you can picture how awesome the view really was. Waterfalls ran by us and green grass and trees stretched out as far as we could see. It was definitely worth the extra uphill battle.

There is also a lake here if you want to keep walking another 30 minutes more to it, but Daniel and I opted out and decided to turn around and continue on the trek instead, so I can’t tell you if it’s worth the walk. After we got back to the valley, we walked through a strange sandy wasteland, then by a beautiful blue lake. Finally, we reached the third campsite around 1pm. Luckily we had a beautiful day, so we spent the afternoon playing cards, sitting by the river, and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

If you’re short on time and need to cut the Santa Cruz trek from four days to three, you could skip the side hike to the mountain lookout, and continue the last four hours from camp to Cashapampa.

 

 

Day Four – The Finish – 4 hours hiking

The last day of the trek! When you solo hike Santa Cruz, this is both a blessing because you know you can finally get rid of your heavy pack, and a curse, because it means heading back to reality.

The first two hours of day four are flat and beautiful, winding along the riverside. Eventually, though, we found ourselves heading downhill. This was another two hours. Finally, we reached Cashapampa at 11am. At the end of the trek is a small town where you can buy lunch and a few celebratory beers while you wait for the next collectivo to pass by, which it seems like they do every hour or so. Due to our small snafu, we ended up getting back Huaraz, dropping off our gear, and finally returning to our apartment around 4pm. A shower and a hot meal never felt so good 🙂

 

 

So, there you have it! If you are planning to solo hike Santa Cruz in Peru, this is absolutely everything you need to do to complete the hike on your own. I felt really accomplished arriving at the end with my pack, knowing I had been completely self sufficient for four days. I also loved the total lack of small talk that we usually have to make in the tour groups.

It was a beautiful experience solo hiking Santa Cruz with Daniel and being out in nature together, completely cut off from the Internet, media and the rest of the world. When you come to Huaraz, I really recommend considering a solo trek for Santa Cruz! It was one of the most peaceful and beautiful trips of my life, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Enjoy, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below!

All my love,

Di

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The Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Nevado Mateo

Have you always wanted to climb a mountain, but you’re not sure if you’re ready? Does the idea of ice climbing on glaciers and in snow make you a little nervous? If so, you’re not alone. I felt the exact same way when we first began considering climbing Nevado Mateo in Huaraz, Peru.

The photos looked beautiful and the tour agencies insisted it was fine for beginners, but we had such an exhausting and terrifying experience climbing Misti Volcano in Arequipa that I didn’t trust the agencies at all when they promised we could do it. I couldn’t find much information online about the mountain and if it was suitable for beginners, so I’m here to answer that question for you.

We decided to take the risk and try climbing Nevado Mateo and I’m so glad we did. It was amazing, easy, and safe – even for beginners. If you’re considering climbing it but are on the fence, read about our experience below.

 

 

Is Nevado Mateo for you?

Climbing Nevado Mateo is definitely suitable for beginner climbers, but not for total novices. Like, I wouldn’t recommend it to my mom. But if you have been doing some high altitude hikes in Peru, if you’re in good shape, if you’ve done some uphill treks like Laguna 69, Rainbow Mountain, or Salktantay, then this climb is definitely for you. I’ve done a lot of trekking and hiking in Peru, but Nevado Mateo is the first time in my life I’ve used crampons, harnesses, ropes, and ice picks. Actually, though, it was easier than most of the other trips I’ve done here. Trust me, if you’re in shape, you will be fine!

 

The Stats

Distance: 3 km/1.8 miles

Elevation: 400 m/1,300 ft

Altitude: 5,150 m/ 16,900 ft

Hike Time: We’re fairly slow, and it took us 4 hours total to climb and descend

Total Trip Time: 9 hours from pick up to drop off at our apartment in Huaraz

Cost: $90pp for all gear, English speaking guide, and transportation. You’ll need an additional $3.50 each in cash for entrance into Huascaran National Park. If you plan on visiting more during your stay, you can buy a 3-week pass to the park for $20.

Tour Agency: This is the first and only agency I’ve recommended in Peru because they went above and beyond to make the experience safe with high-quality gear and equipment. I definitely recommend Dario at Peruvian Classic Adventures for your tours in Huaraz (and no, I’m not getting paid to say this, they really are great.) When choosing an agency, ask to see the gear you’ll be using and keep in mind that licensed mountain guides are only allowed to take 3 people per guide up the mountain with them. So, if your guide is taking more than that, he’s either not licensed or not following the safety guidelines correctly.

 

 

Getting Started

The day started early with a 4 am pick up from our apartment. This isn’t a very popular climb (there were only 7 other people on the mountain with us) so we just had a small group of me, Daniel, and our guide Dario. We were picked up in a taxi and the three of us slept (or tried to) on the two-hour drive out to the base of Nevado Mateo in Huascaran National Park. The roads are bumpy and wind up a mountainside, and by the time we arrived I was feeling incredibly nauseous from the drive.

Huaraz is at 10,000 feet and we started our hike at 15,750 feet. I’m not sure if it was this altitude change on the drive, a lack of sleep, or the winding roads, but when we got out of the car I was definitely not feeling my best. Luckily, Dario had coca leaves to save the day. A couple minutes chewing them, and all was cured… except the cold! I couldn’t believe how absolutely FREEZING it was at the start of climbing Nevado Mateo. My fingers were numb and hurting within 2 minutes of leaving the warm taxi. This is another reason why you need to vet your tour agency well… if they don’t provide warm clothes you’re going to be miserable.

We quickly put on all our gear. For me, that meant leggings, a sweater, a jacket, headband, and the agency’s heavy waterproof pants, down coat, and ski gloves. Whew. Then we packed up the harnesses, ice picks, crampons, water, and snacks, and put on our helmets for the climb.

 

 

Climbing Nevado Mateo

We started climbing at 6:30 am when we were immediately confronted with the rocky mountain face. We started going up and could walk for the most part, but at times needed to use our hands as well to grab a hold of the next rock or keep steady on the climb. Clear ice lined a lot of the “trail” and Dario made sure to point it out to use so we could skip over it without slipping. The wind was also shockingly strong. At one point a powerful gust hit me square in the chest and almost knocked me off my feet, but luckily Dario grabbed me before I went flying off the side of the mountain.

We climbed up the rocky outcropping for about an hour and a half, enjoying the stunning views from Nevado Mateo. Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain, was in full view, along with other snow-topped peaks, green valleys, winding rivers and glacial lakes. It was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen and is just one of many reasons why climbing Nevado Mateo needs to go on your bucket list for Huaraz.

Finally, we reached the glacier that sits at Nevado Mateo’s peak. We found some flat rocks and began gearing up. First, we put on our harnesses, then Dario helped us fit the crampons onto our boots. Next, he tied us all together: Dario leading up front, me in the middle, and Daniel in the back. We grabbed our ice picks and after a quick tutorial, we began climbing the ice. It was so much fun. Some parts where the wall was steep were hard to climb, but other parts were covered in snow and easy to walk up. It was strange getting used to the rope, and pulling against someone when you were going too slow or fast. All in all, though, it was definitely easier and more fun than I thought it as going to be!

 

The Summit and Descent

We climbed the snow and glacier for about 45 minutes, and then finally reached the peak! What a great feeling! It was kind of cloudy, but the views were still amazing. On one side sat Huascaran and the peaks and valleys. On the other, bright blue glacial lakes and mountains as far as the eye could see. We also got close-ups of Nevado Mateo’s neighboring peaks and their stunning white and blue glacial ice coverings. We snapped a few pictures and sat in the snow, enjoying the view and our accomplishment.

All too soon, though, it was time to head back down. Dario taught us to take tiny, hard, steps, slamming our ice picks and crampons into the glacier to keep our balance on the way down. He also explained that if someone falls, the rest of us have to fall too and slam out axes into the snow, to keep from sliding down the mountain. (Luckily, we never had to do so!)

The walk down was in the opposite order, with Dario in the rear and Daniel leading the way. We had a couple slips and close calls and had to stop to refind the right route again a few times, but it wasn’t too hard (just a major thigh and calf workout!)

We made it back to the rocks, took off our gear, and finished the descent back to the car. In total, the descent took about an hour and a half. We reached the taxi, had a few snacks, and made a quick pit stop at the nearby turquoise glacial lake to take a few pictures, then we were on our way home. We finished the two-hour drive and were in our apartment in Huaraz again by 1 pm. It was a short but amazing and exhausting day!

 

Climbing Nevado Mateo is honestly one of the most fun and most beautiful things I’ve done in our four months in Peru. If you’re in Huaraz, definitely don’t miss it. Nevado Mateo is safe and fairly easy, and a perfect first ice climb for beginners. Do your research to find a good agency, and I promise you’ll have an absolute blast!

All my love,

Di

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