There's a saying that you can have something good, fast or cheap - but never all three. This is definitely true when it comes to getting to and from Laguna 69, a gorgeous glacier lake hidden away in the north of Peru.
After A LOT of internet research, we stuck to what we knew best and negotiated the route to the start of the hike by public transport. However, as it turned out, this is not without its problems.
So, we thought we would do a nice little summary for you, future trekker, of the pros and cons of taking a tour, a taxi or public transport to enjoy those amazing views! Which one is best for you?
#1 public transport
The saviour of the budget backpacker in Latin America is without a doubt the collectivo, a familiar dilapidated white minivan that has been ferrying us between destinations for the last 17 months. They are not always fast, but they leave frequently and are almost ALWAYS the cheapest option for getting from A to B. The difficulty with taking this option in Huaraz, as it turned out, was not so much getting to A but getting back from B.
If you plan on doing public transport in both directions, you're going to need to get up VERY early. The first collectivos leave Huaraz at between 5.30 a.m. and 6 a.m. - you NEED to be on one of these heading to Yungay (the minivans leave from Simon Bolivar, a block or so past the bus long distance bus companies - just ask a local to point you in the right direction). Driving time is around one hour and should cost no more than 5 soles (£1 / $1.7) per person.
The minivan will drop you off in Yungay at a car park which doubles up as a bus station. As soon as you clamber out of the door, you will be set upon by taxi and collectivo bus drivers vying for your business. You can either commission a private taxi to the lake entrance, wait around for others to split the taxi costs with you or take a seat in another collectivo.
Unless you splurge on a private taxi, whichever option you take should be the same price. Do bear in mind however that both vehicles end up being rather full and cramped, especially for those with long legs. The price is fixed at the artificially high 15 soles (£3 / $5) per person, and the bumpy, winding drive should take no longer than 1.5 hours. Although all the drivers will know Laguna Sesenta Neuve, the drop off point might also be referred to as La Cebolla.
Along the way, the taxi or collectivo should stop in order for you to buy your boleto touristico before continuing on for another 15/20 minutes to the hike entrance. A one-day pass cost 10 soles (£2 / $3.3) at the time of writing but, with this being Peru, don't be surprised if it increases.
If you're fit and acclimatised, the hike from the entrance up to Laguna 69 should take no more than three hours, and two hours down. It is an absolutely stunning trek and one of our Peru highlights.
The biggest problem with using public transport arises once the hike is over. The last reliable connecting collectivo back to Yungay passes the carpark entrance at 3 p.m. according to some, 4 p.m. according to others. This means that, even if you're on the first collectivo out of Huaraz in the morning, you probably don't have the time to be at the lake's edge for any more than 45 minutes to 1 hour at the absolute max.
Despite zipping up and down on the hike (and spending 1 hr 45 mins at the waters edge), we didn't make it back until 3.45 p.m. No collectivo turned up at 4 p.m for us.
Should you miss the last collectivo however, all is not lost. One option would be to sit and hope a truck passes by with which you can hitch a lift back to Yungay. Or, like we did, you can get a ride back to Huaraz on one of the many tour buses with a few empty seats. This costs the same as public transport (possibly less if you haggle with the driver), but comes with a problem all of its own, as you'll soon discover in the next section.
public transport cost: 40 soles + 10 soles entry
travel time: 6 a.m. departure from Huaraz - 7 p.m. return.
pros: As ever with public transport, it's much more of an adventure and allows you to hang out with some locals (almost all of whom have excellent hats in Huaraz). The best part however is that it means you will be in perfect solitude for large stretches of the hike, save a little bit of cash on the activity and potentially have more time by the lake.
cons: The uncertainty of the return leg of the journey is a real shame and probably the biggest deterrent for solo travellers. It's also a pretty tiring full day of travel in cramped conditions.
#2 the tour
Judging by the large groups of people we kept overtaking on our hike to the lake, joining a tour definitely seems to be the most popular choice for visiting backpackers. And at around 30 - 50 soles per person for all transport, it's not terrible value in comparison to taking public transport. Indeed, if you find somebody who can do it for 30 soles per person, it comes in cheaper.
Bear in mind however, that 'tour' is actually a pretty loose term for this day excursion, as it doesn't actually include a tour guide. In fact, all you are paying for is your transport to and from the lake with a few 'lookout spots' and a stop for breakfast on the way (not included in the price).
Whilst it shouldn't bother you that you don't have a little man full of facts to escort you on your hike, what can (and likely will) cause you problems is that you don't have said little man to cajole the whole group into keeping up a decent pace and to a certain timescale.
This means that should you complete the hike at a reasonable pace, you may well find yourself back at the bus with literally hours to spare whilst you wait for stragglers. For us, after we mooched a lift home with a tour company, there was a two hour wait in dropping temperatures under the setting sun for just three people out of of a tour group of ten. We couldn't really complain as this bus was all that stood between us and a long walk home, but it would have been bloody annoying had we paid for the tour!
cost: 30 - 50 soles + 10 soles entry. A reader let us know that if you look hard enough around town, you may find a tour place for 30 soles per person - this is really good value.
travel time: 7 a.m. departure from Huaraz - return times are uncertain but you'll usually be back in at your hostel between 6 p.m - 7 p.m. if all the stragglers have made it back.
pros: Convenience, pick-up from your hostel door and a more comfortable direct ride between Huaraz and the lake entrance. The opportunity to stop off and photograph a couple of the pretty lakes on the road up to 69.
cons: Aside from transportation, you aren't receiving anything extra in terms of service or experience for the extra soles. Indeed, it increases the chance that you'll be sharing your vistas with a large group of other people whilst on the hike.
More significant however is the frustration you will feel at waiting hours in the cold for people in your group who are either too unfit, too selfish or too complacent to return by a certain time.
#3 private taxi from huaraz
If you are a money rich, time poor sort of backpacker, this may well be the option that suits you best - especially if you're travelling in a group of three or four.
For between 150 - 180 soles (£30-£36 / $50-$60) you can commission a taxi to take you from Huaraz, drop you off at the start of the hike and then be there to pick you up when you're done. Although we didn't meet anybody who chose this option, in the process of our numerous internet searches we found many accounts of travellers who did this with no problems.
To organise this, simply ask at your hostel as this seems to be something that they can easily arrange.
cost: 150 - 180 soles + 10 soles entry
travel time: Although you would still require an early departure for journey to the lake entrance, the taxi would undoubtedly cover the ground quicker that the two options above.
pros: Convenience, a comfortable direct ride between Huaraz and the lake entrance and a set return time.
If you are in a group of 3-4 people who don't fancy public transport or a couple who can afford to pay a bit extra, then this is definitely the option we'd recommend as it works out at the same cost as a tour per person, or even a little bit cheaper.
cons: You run the risk that the taxi driver will not return to pick you up (this has happened to us in Latin America!), this is why booking with the help of a hostel is recommended.
things to know before you go
Regardless of which option you take, here's our essential advice for the trek:
- Laguna 69 is at 4,600 metres above sea level. Giving yourself time to acclimatise to the altitude is absolutely vital. We only suffered some headaches because of the height, but other people along the trail were really struggling. An English guy we met did the hike two days after landing in Lima from the UK and he said his body had never felt so awful - don't be stupid and put yourself through unnecessary suffering.
If you've acclimatised and are in decent shape, then the hike (with clear walking trails) won't be a problem.
- Bring plenty water and snacks, especially if doing it on your own. Given that you're going to be setting off at 6 a.m., ensure that you have a hearty breakfast, bring along something for lunch and a few bananas to keep you going.
- We were blessed with warm weather and blue skies for the majority of the hike but you should take plenty of layers with you to combat the chill further up and in the late afternoon.
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Still deciding whether to visit Laguna 69? Take a look at these photos of the most beautiful colour blue we've ever seen and wonder no more! Go on, you know you want to!