Laguna Wilcacocha: Acclimating to Huaraz

Taxi drivers jangled their keys and badges in front of our faces, tour company representatives pushed wrinkled brochures into our hands, and all of the passengers shoved past each other to grab their bags from the undercarriage of the bus. It was way too early for all of this after a long night on the bus from Lima. We grabbed our bags and wandered outside the bus terminal quickly to get away from the crowds.

Maybe we forgot to breathe or maybe it was the thin air, but our hearts were pounding as we stopped to catch our breaths and figure out where our hostel was located. The hike up the hill with all of our things confirmed for us that it would be a good idea to acclimate before going on any long hikes. So, we set our minds on heading to Laguna Wilcacocha. It was the perfect way to acclimate before hiking to Laguna 69 and Pastoruri Glacier over the next few days. For more information on booking these tours in Huaraz, check out our city guide.

One of the many small houses sitting on the hillside overlooking the mountains
One of the many small houses sitting on the hillside overlooking the mountains

 

Getting to Laguna Wilcacocha

After dropping the bags off at the hostel, we headed into the center of Huaraz and waited for a combi. Either bus 10 or E would get us to Chiwipampa, the town below Laguna Wilcacocha, for one sol per person. Most of the combis pass through Antonio Raymondi street in Huaraz, three blocks north of the Plaza de Armas. We hailed down a van and hopped in. In about 30 minutes, we reached our stop and jumped out on the side of the road.

The bridge over the large river marks the beginning of the hike
The bridge over the large river marks the beginning of the hike




Hiking Up to the Lake

The trailhead isn’t marked, but we knew the general direction of the hike, so we crossed a large bridge and began our ascent. The sun was out, making it fairly warm as we walked up the steep dirt road. About 10 minutes into the hike, a small, rocky trail veered off the road on the left. We had no clue where we were going, but we took the trail. We think we made a couple wrong turns during the hike, leading us onto random roads and near small houses. Friendly locals pointed us in the right direction. It turns out that all of the rocks marked with blue spray paint resembling a water spout lead to the lake.

These blue water spouts mark the route up to Laguna Wilcacocha
These blue water spouts mark the route up to Laguna Wilcacocha

 

The 3.2-kilometer (two-mile) one-way hike to Laguna Wilcacocha was definitely a unique one. Instead of being immersed in nature, the entire hike goes straight up through an agricultural village. Farmers work with their horses and ox on their plots of land, and the local children, roosters, sheep, donkeys, and cows are the only things that can be heard. The quiet village sits on the steep hill overlooking the snowcapped peaks of Cordillera Negra and Blanca in the distance.

One of the many locals we passed on the way up the hill
One of the many locals we passed on the way up the hill

 

Peaceful Laguna Wilcacocha

We were visiting Huaraz in the middle of December during the rainy season, so heavy clouds covered the Cordilleras for much of the hike. Despite the dark clouds looming over us, a few locals strolled up to Laguna Wilcacocha to enjoy some food and the views. Breathing hard, we made it up to the lake in about 1.5 hours.

Laguna Wilcacocha turned out to be more of a pond. Several quiet homes sat on the hillsides surrounding the  lake, and colorful birds went about their business on the water as a llama grazed along the shore. The sight of the cordilleras was the most impressive view. We made our way to the other side of the lake and settled on a rocky perch. A few stray dogs sat patiently at our sides as we ate some bread we picked up earlier at the local market.

One of the furry friends we met while hanging out at Laguna Wilcacocha
One of the furry friends we met while hanging out at Laguna Wilcacocha

 

Threatening clouds rolled over the lake and a few large raindrops plopped around us. We decided this would be a good time to head down the hill. We hurried down the rocky path as thunder rumbled above us. By the time we made it back towards the first steep hill above the main road, the rain had begun to fall heavily. We pulled our hoods up and rushed across the road to wait for a ride heading back to Huaraz. A local picked us and another individual up, dropping us in the center of town.

The cordilleras barely visible through the storm clouds
The cordilleras barely visible through the storm clouds

 

Our Thoughts on Laguna Wilcacocha

While it wasn’t the most beautiful hike in the Huaraz area, the Laguna Wilcacocha hike was good to do to acclimate to the altitude and prepare for longer treks. The altitude is no joke, and this hike is a good test to determine whether you are fit to go on the higher, longer, and harder hikes that are popular in the cordilleras. The general benchmark to gauge how well adapted you are to the altitude is taking two hours to reach the lake from the bottom. But, it is important to make sure you stop to take plenty of water breaks along the way.




 

This hike was a great choice for us because it is easy to get to without a tour, making it much more budget friendly. It is also not far from Huaraz and doesn’t take a long time to complete, making it great for a half-day activity. The village around Wilcacocha was very peaceful, and we enjoyed seeing all of the locals go about their daily business and experience a bit of the countryside.

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