On the face of it, the day hike to Laguna Churup from Huaraz is fairly easy.
A simple 45 minute colectivo to an easily identified trail head, two hours up, an hour and half down, and back just in time to meet the same colectivo to take you back to Huaraz.
Throw in an altitude of 4,600m, a trail that quickly becomes a small waterfall during the rainy season (not to mention the actual waterfall that you need to jump over), a route that requires you to haul yourself up a sheer rock face with nothing but a slippery rubber covered rope to hold on to, and a path that is frequently more small boulders or thick mud than pleasant dusty by-way and, well, this day can turn into quite an adventure!
However, do not let that any of that put you off Laguna Churup, because it’s all these elements which combined to make this our second most enjoyable one-day hike in Peru (yep, we think it’s better than Laguna 69). Short and sweet with more interesting sections than simply walking on a single trail for hours on end, if you’re looking for something to ease you into one of the longer hikes in the Huaraz area or just a great, accessible day hike, then you absolutely must get your butt to Laguna Churup.
Oh, and the lake itself by the way? Absolutely stunning.
Here’s everything you need to know to visit Laguna Churup without a tour!
Laguna Churup Essentials
Altitude | 4,600m at the lake’s edge
Distance | 8km round trip from the main trail start
Time | We left on a colectivo from Huaraz at 7.40 a.m. and were back in the city by 2.20 p.m. The hike itself took four hours in total (2 hours up, under 2 hours down) which included plenty photo stops.
Base City | Huaraz - the lake however is within the Huascaran National Park in the Cordillera Blanca
Difficulty | This honestly depends on whether you take the rope-heavy route, the weather conditions on the day, and how much hiking you’ve already done in Peru. We’d call this a moderately difficult route purely because of the nature of reaching certain sections, but if this is your first hike at altitude in Peru then you will find it a bit more challenging than others who have already done several and are fully acclimatised (the quick straw poll on our collectivo back to Huaraz found this to be the main factor in how difficult people found it).
Total Cost | S/. 50 (£12 / $15 / €13) per person
How to Get to Laguna Churup
As we mentioned in the intro, getting to the trailhead is easy-peasy, and means that taking a tour to do this hike is absolutely NOT necessary (we can’t stress this enough).
To get there from Huaraz, you need to take a colectivo heading to Pitec. As with many places in Peru, colectivos to different destinations leave from different streets across the city. Those heading to Pitec leave from Avenida Agustin Gamarra, just past where it intersects with Antonio Raymondi (it clearly states the destination on the front of the minibus). Having been told that the colectivo we needed to take left at 7 a.m., we duly arrived at 6.50 a.m. to discover that it actually departs at 7.40 a.m. However, we would absolutely recommend that you still arrive earlier. Colectivos leave when they are full, and if you happen to choose to hike on a day when many others are making the same trip, you may find that it has already left (on our collectivo there was actually only one local Peruvian, everyone else was a traveller doing the hike!).
At 45 minutes, the winding drive from Huaraz is relatively short, passing through small rural villages and visibly gaining altitude, until you arrive at the carpark which signals the beginning of the hike and end of the colectivo ride.
Without asking, our driver informed us that at 1 p.m., he would be waiting for us to drive back to Huaraz, but be sure to confirm this with him once you arrive at Churup.
Time | 45 minutes
Cost | S/. 10 per person (one-way)
Tip | If you fancy tacking on a couple of hours to your hike, it’s possible to begin your trek to Laguna Churup from Llupa, a small village approximately half way between Huaraz and Pitec. Whilst we didn’t choose this option, a number of people do (three people jumped off of our collectivo to take this route).
The difficulty with this route however is that, as the colectivo back to Huaraz is at a pre-organised time, unless you are an incredibly fast hiker you will almost certainly miss your lift home - meaning you have to walk back to Llupa. Not so bad if it’s beautiful blue skies, pretty crap if you’re shattered and it’s started to pour down!
The Hike to Laguna Churup
From the carpark, not only is the route well-signposted, it’s also very obvious as a clear rock-lined trail heading up; we started hiking at 8.30 a.m.
For the first twenty minutes or so, the path ascends gradually up the steps and trail until you reach a small hut where you should pay the entrance fee. With hands already deep in our pockets, we were surprised when we reached the door and discovered that no-one was there! Whether this is common, we don’t know, but be sure to have your S/. 30 ready in preparation as you’re certainly supposed to pay an entry fee (perhaps it was their day off?) As Churup is part of Huascaran National Park, we expect that those of you with the 2-3 or multi-day tickets should be able to use it here (if this turns out not to be the case, please let us know in the comments!).
Remember, if you’re new to hiking at altitude, that you should not attempt this hike without giving yourself at least one day to acclimatise in Huaraz. The start point is already at 3,800 metres, and you’ll quite quickly start to feel it if your body is not sufficiently used to the thin air - if you have no idea about altitude sickness and how to prepare for it, read this post.
Okay, remember those ropes we mentioned? Well, the good news for those that are terrified at the prospect is that the most challenging section can be avoided by taking an alternative route. The bad news however, is that there is a smaller rope section that all must conquer, not long after the aforementioned hut.
After this, it’s a little more hiking, a little more scrambling, a lot of ‘wow, look at that view’ before you reach a literal fork in the road. Want to avoid those extra ropes? Take the trail to the left and head up towards the mirador. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous however (and you really should be), then absolutely take the route to the right.
Now, let us preface the ascent up the rock face with this: Emily is the most ungraceful, uncoordinated and wholly dyspraxic individual, and Andrew has short legs. When it comes to hauling ourselves up actual cliff faces with no sort of harness, in the rain and on incredibly slippy rocks, well, we’re not the couple you’re going to put your money on making it to the top in one go. Nerves aside however, we didn’t actually find it too difficult, but we did have to give a pep talk and some rock climbing advice to a lady who arrived before us and was really struggling to navigate it - she was all set to go back and take the easier route but we managed to get her up and over by making little changes to what she was doing. Footwork people, it’s all about footwork!
Seriously though, know your own limits and don’t take unnecessary risks if you feel unsafe climbing the rocks or the conditions render it unwise.
We would like to say that after here it is plain sailing, but, well, that would be a lie. Immediately after the rocks, you’ll see a waterfall, and probably, like us, assume that the route couldn’t possibly be on the other side of it. Well, it is, so take a moment to be thankful you invested in those waterproof hiking boots and make the jump!
Ten minutes later however, you should find yourself at the edge of a beautiful lake at 4,450 metres altitude , a lake that even when covered in cloud makes you glad you ventured out for a hike.
Getting to this point took us around two hours at a gentle pace in the intermittent rain, and we then spent a further 30 minutes taking photos and hanging out admiring the view.
To return, you can either go back the same way you came (not recommended if you ascended with the ropes), or head up the not entirely obvious path to the mirador. The route is marked on maps.me, and is easy to follow once you identify its start point (see photo below). This route back has some wonderful views of the surrounding mountain ranges, but can be quite slippy and unstable in sections, so just watch those ankles on the rocks and try to avoid falling on your arse once or twice.
If the colectivo is picking you up at 1 p.m., then our advice is to leave the lake at 11 a.m. at the absolute latest. It took us under two hours to get back down - via a stop and some photos at the mirador - but we were really picking up the pace towards the end to make sure we didn’t miss that bus.
If you do miss it, then you have three options:
Stick around and hope that another one will arrive / try to catch a ride from the car park
Walk onward for 1-2 hours to Llupa and find a colectivo (it’s not a busy road though so you may have to wait a little while)
So yeah, try not to miss that bus back to Huaraz!
Our colectivo driver was a decent old guy who had obviously run this route many many times; despite the time, he waited an additional 25 minutes after spotting two people descending the trail, assuming that they were hikers that had jumped off our bus at Llupa earlier. They weren’t, but it’s nice to know he cared enough to wait. The colectivo and your fellow passengers may wait around for you for a short while, but our advice is to really prioritise getting back by the agreed pick-up time.
Things to know before Hiking to Laguna Churup
Beyond the above instructions, there are a few things to know before taking on this hike.
Acclimatise. In our guide to Laguna 69, we’ve mentioned that this is a good hike to do first, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to acclimatise - far from it. Laguna Churup still sits at 4,600m, and you will feel bloody awful if you attempt it having only arrived from Lima the previous day. Want to know more about altitude sickness in Peru and how to prevent it? Read this post.
Take snacks and water. We genuinely prefer to hike on empty stomachs, but we always bring a few snacks to sustain us during hikes. For this particular trek, we had brought sandwiches we made back in the hostel but with temperatures at the water’s edge being pretty darn chilly, we didn’t feel much like having a little picnic. Instead, nuts, dried fruit, and the hiker’s saviour of granola bars came in pretty handy.
The weather can be very temperamental. In December, we had thick fog, heavy rain, strong winds and clear blue skies - all in the space of few hours - whilst a thunder and lightning storm chased us back down to the bus. It was also very cold! So cold in fact, that the pair of gloves Andrew had assumed had been taking up room in his bag in vain came in very handy. Hiking it in dry season will of course mean more reliable conditions.
Wear the right clothing. Lots of layers, good hiking boots, proper socks, waterproof jackets and warm fleeces; we wore it all on this hike. For full details, check out our What To Pack For Hiking post (published soon!)
There are rustic toilets at the start of the hike, but bring your own toilet paper.
The app Maps.Me has the trail route on it if you’d like to have some additional peace of mind whilst out on the mountains.
Be a responsible traveller and don’t leave any trash, and treat the area with the respect it deserves.