Situated in the hiker’s paradise of Huaraz, Laguna 69 has become a destination in itself and an increasingly popular day trip that breaks up many journeys through the north of Peru.
Yes it’s at high altitude, yes it’s not the easiest hike, but my goodness is it worth it. In a world where we are surrounded by images of beautiful destinations across the globe, it’s often the case that the reality just doesn’t live up to the photos - Laguna 69 however exceeded our expectations and then some!
Here’s everything you need to know to plan a day trip to Laguna 69 from Huaraz, including how to get there (and whether you really need a tour), how to handle the altitude challenges, and what to pack.
The Laguna 69 Hike: The Essentials
Altitude | The lake itself sits at 4,600m, with the hike beginning at around 3,800m.
Distance | 14 km round trip
Time | This is a long day trip from Huaraz, with most tours departing around 5 a.m. and not returning until 6 p.m.
Base City | Huaraz
Tour or Independent | It’s possible to do this hike independently but, as we discuss later, a tour is now actually cheaper so makes much more sense.
Difficulty | Moderate. Laguna 69 has a reputation as being a bit of a ‘gringo-killer’. However, whilst it’s certainly not a walk in the park, with the right mindset and preparation, the vast majority of visitors to Huaraz should be able to enjoy this spectacular hike without too many issues.
The most important thing to remember before hiking to Laguna 69 is that you must, must, must acclimatise. We suffered only minor 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.
For most people, acclimatisation may mean simply arriving in Huaraz a couple of days before you hit the trails and hanging out in the city, but many find it useful to do a practice run with a shorter altitude day-trip from Huaraz - something like Laguna Churup. If you’d like to find out more about altitude sickness and what you can do to avoid it in Peru (honestly, it’s useful reading) see our post on the topic.
Secondly, and this actually applies to all those planning a trip to Peru, you need to ensure that your level of fitness is of a relatively good standard prior to boarding the plane. For us and many other travellers , Peru equals hiking and there’s no doubt that many of its most beautiful and magical sites are found at the end of a dusty trail. So, to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of your time in the country, do a few hikes at home before your visit so your body and Peru experience doesn’t suffer.
We promise, you won’t regret it.
How to get to Laguna 69
When considering how to get to Laguna 69, there are three main options depending upon your budget and fondness for independent travel: public transport, with a taxi, or with a tour.
Public Transport to Laguna 69
**Update 2019: The price of public transport have increased somewhat since we did the hike, meaning that visiting Laguna 69 this way is now a much more expensive option. If you take this route, it would be great if you could let us know in the comments what you paid. Thanks!**
The saviour of the budget backpacker in Latin America is without a doubt the collectivo, a familiar dilapidated white minivan that has ferried us between destinations for months. They are not always fast, but they leave frequently and are almost ALWAYS the cheapest option for getting from A to B (yep, that was the case back in 2015 for this hike!) 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 artificially high for this section of the hike, costing around 20 soles 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 30 soles (updated 2019) having recently tripled in price for tourists..
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.
Cost | S/. 50 s+ S/. 30 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 (in 2019, with tours now leaving earlier and the hike now being the most popular reason to come to Huaraz , that solitude isn’t as likely as in previous years).
Cons | We love independent hikes, but given the recent increase in public transport costs, this is one time that it doesn’t pay to do it yourself. Additionally, there is an issue with the uncertainty of the return leg.
The Day Tour to Laguna 69
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. Our hostel (Akilpo - which we highly recommend) had a cracking deal at S/. 30 / £7 / $9 per person for guests (updated 2019), with tour companies around town charging around S/.35 - 40. We’re not huge fans of taking day tours, but this does offer excellent value in comparison to taking public transport.
Do bear in mind however, that 'tour' is actually a pretty loose term for this day excursion, as it doesn't usually include a guide. In fact, the tour fee usually only includes transport to and from the lake with a few stops for photos.
Whilst it shouldn't bother you that you don't have a little man full of facts to escort you on your hike, what may 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 a tour group of ten in the bus. We couldn't really complain as this bus was all that stood between us and a long walk home (and we were mooching a ride!), but it would have been bloody annoying had we paid for the tour.
Cost | S/. 30 - 40 + S/. 30 entry.
Travel time | 5 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 | It’s now cheaper, more convenient, and provides 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 Laguna 69 is also a bonus.
Cons | Having little opportunity to enjoy the lake without others and the frustration you may 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 (we know this sounds a bit harsh, but this happens waaaay too often whenever we take a day tour).
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 around S/. 180 / £42 / $54 (updated 2019) 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 | S/. 150 - 180 + S/. 30 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 roughly at the same cost as a tour per person.
Cons | You run the risk that the taxi driver will not return to pick you up (this has happened to us in Latin America!), which is why booking with the help of a hostel is recommended.
What to Pack for the Laguna 69 Hike
Hiking Poles | We didn’t have these when we did this hike, but should we do it again, we’d definitely use them. Any old poles will do, but we’re particular fans of these ones as they’re nice and light and fold down quite small. Not 100% essential, but make every hike we now do (and the recovery) a hell of a lot easier.
Rain Jackets | Even if you’re hiking in the dry season, this will provide a nice layer of wind-protection. We use these North Face ones, whose breathability makes them great for layering-up.
Proper Hiking Trousers | We don’t believe that you need to invest in lots of super-fancy hiking gear, but we will no longer attempt a proper trek without proper trousers. Emily uses hiking leggings, whereas Andrew prefers these trousers. They’re a little more water resistant, quick drying, versatile, and light.
Hiking boots and socks | Some people will certainly attempt this hike in a pair of trainers, but we feel much more confident in a proper pair of hiking boots. The trails can get particularly muddy in rainy season and there’s lots of rocks; it’s just not worth risking your ankles. Emily uses these exceptionally good value ones, whilst Andrew has been very happy with his choice. Also, be sure to invest in a few decent pairs of socks for Peru - we each have a number of these Brasher ones.
Sunscreen and a hat | High altitude means you’re closer to the sun, and if there’s no cloud cover, you’ll stand a pretty good chance of getting burnt to a crisp if you’re not properly protected. Just don’t risk it.
Swimsuit | Whilst we certainly weren’t brave enough for a dip in the icy cold waters of Laguna 69, a number of people around us did - apparently it’s quite refreshing!
Coca Leaves | Depending on how well acclimatised we are, we’ll sometimes take a bag of coca leaves with us on high-altitude hike. These are easily sourced in the local market, and genuinely help with the effects of altitude.
Water and Snacks | Unsurprisingly, once you get to the trailhead, there is nowhere to buy food or drinks on this hike. Ensure you bring plenty of water (in a water bottle with an in-built filter, that way you can fill-up from one of the many water sources along the way - and help the environment), and snacks to keep you going.
Weather at Laguna 69
We hiked to Laguna 69 during dry season (June), and the weather was spectacular; bright blue skies, brilliant sunshine and warm days. It provided the perfect backdrop to photos and meant we didn’t have to battle added annoyances such as wet weather.
When we visited Huaraz in December however, at the beginning of the rainy season, there were hikers who had an entirely different experience, with heavy rain that poured down- at best - in the mid afternoon, at worst throughout the entire day. The good news is that as the hike is at such a high altitude, you often get the opportunity to head above the clouds, and with the hike beginning early in the morning you may well miss the worst of the rain.
Certainly those we spoke with absolutely didn’t regret their decision to hike during the rainy season, and would do it again, but if you have the opportunity to pick and choose when you visit Huaraz, it’s something to bear in mind.
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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!