Beautiful view at the Santa Cruz trek in Peru

Hiking the Santa Cruz Trek Without a Guide

B efore arriving in Huaraz, I had heard wonderful things about the Santa Cruz trek. And after doing the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, I was eager to do another multi-day hike. But first, since I was coming from Lima, I needed to get used to the altitude again. So I spent my first days in the city going around looking for street art and searching for information about the trek. Also, I did a day trip to the Pastoruri glacier.

One lazy afternoon, I met a charming Dutch guy at the hostel where I was staying. We started talking and hit it off. We both wanted to do the Santa Cruz, but he didn’t want to go with a tour company. He preferred to do it independently and asked if I wanted to go with him. Since he had just returned from a twelve-day trek by himself in the Huayhuash circuit, I felt confident he’d be a good partner to do the Santa Cruz trek without a guide. And just like that, we started planning what would become our first adventure together.

Edwin and me on the first day of the Santa Cruz trek in Peru

By the time we were ready to go, it was already the end of November, the high season was over and the crowds were gone. We bought enough food for 4-5 days and rented some gear that I needed for the trek. Since I was a little apprehensive about the altitude, I insisted on beginning the trek from Cashapampa rather than Vaqueria, which is the most common starting point for the Santa Cruz trek.

Day One: Let the Adventure Begin

To get to Cashapampa, we took a bus from Huaraz to Caraz. As soon as we got off the bus, we found a shared taxi to bring us all the way to the start of the trek. That ride was quite an experience. The taxi was an old hatchback loaded to the hilt with passengers — two adults and two children on the front seat next to the driver, plus four adults and another two children on the back seat —, market produce and our backpacks. It was amazing to see the old car negotiating the rough terrain with such a heavy load, but somehow we made it.

Edwin and me on the first day of the Santa Cruz trek in Peru

It was already the early hours of the afternoon when we finally started on the Santa Cruz trek without a guide. And even though the path looked pretty straightforward, we managed to loose our way and found ourselves on the wrong side of the river. Since we couldn’t find a way to cross it, we had to back track a little bit. Fortunately, we were in no rush and kept a relaxed pace. Soon we realized that we wouldn’t make it to the first camp, Llamacorral, by nightfall. So we settled on a nice spot next to the river, where we had gorgeous views of the mountains and the lulling sound of the water.

Day Two: Nice Weather and Stunning Views

The next day we continued on with our trek, enjoying the views and keeping a relaxed pace. We were pretty happy with the weather this far. We had warm sunny days with blue skies and only a few clouds. For our second camping night, we found a nice spot by a lake. The views were stunning.

Day Three: Going Against the Flow

We started to walk early the next morning. That day we met a few other hikers on the trail that were coming from the opposite direction. It turns out most people prefer to start the trek from Vaqueria because, even though you get sooner to the highest point on the trek, it’s all mostly downhill after Punta Union.

That day we made it to the Taullipampa campsite by early afternoon. Instead of pushing on to Punta Union, we decided to set camp because we were worried we wouldn’t make it to the next campsite by nightfall. Since we still had a few hours to kill before sunset, we set out in the direction of a nearby lake to explore the area. After so many hours carrying a heavy backpack, it felt great hiking without one!

We didn’t make it to the lake. After a while, we decided to head back to camp because the clouds were getting darker and it seemed that rain was on its way. Just before we got back to our tent,  a mix of wet snow and light hail started coming down on us. We felt lucky as we hurried into our tent. To warm up, we treated ourselves to some hot chocolate and cookies while we made plans for the next day.

Bad weather on the Santa Cruz trek in Peru

At about two in the morning, we woke up feeling wet. It turns out that the rain had turned the spot where we set our tent into a stream, and we were then about 5 cm deep in cold water. So we had to get out, in the rain, and search for some higher ground to move our tent to. We sure as hell didn’t feel so lucky then! As we went back to sleep, we wondered how much longer would the rain last. It wouldn’t be nice to get to Punta Union in that kind of weather.

Day Four: The Hardest

The next morning, we woke up to clear blue skies and beautiful sunshine. It was like the night before never happened. We felt relieved and started on our way up to Punta Union. It wasn’t easy. While Edwin kept treading ahead, I lagged behind feeling the weight of my backpack. To boot, the trail was icy and slippery at some points. And when the water melted there were huge puddles, so it was pretty much impossible to keep our feet dry.

Finally, we made it to Punta Union, the highest point on the trek at 4750 m.a.s.l. I was ecstatic because I knew the hardest part was over. We found a good spot with nice views to have lunch and catch our breath. Then we continued our path down the other side of the mountain. The views on that side were stunning as well. There were lots of small lakes and the landscape was greener. Since we knew there was no way we were going to finish the trek that day unless we rushed for the rest of the afternoon, we decided to take it easy and camp for another night. We found a nicely secluded point by a little lake and enjoyed the views while having a tasty dinner.

The view from the other side of the pass at the Santa Cruz trek

Day Five: The Reward

The next morning we were well rested and ready for our final day on the trek. We enjoyed this part of the hike a lot. There were beautiful forests of queñua, a native species of small trees with reddish brown bark. By early afternoon, we made it to the most beautiful spot on the trek. There was a small lake with turquoise waters, a herd of friendly horses, and stunning views of the snow-capped mountains. It was the perfect place for a quick swim, having lunch and taking a nap. And so we did.

It was about two in the afternoon when we finally decided to move on. We thought that we weren’t that far from Vaquería, but it turned out we were still a few hours away. If we wanted to have a chance to catch a bus that afternoon, we felt like we had to quicken our pace. Still, we enjoyed the beautiful views. The last stretch of the trek, took us through a wide green valley. It was very picturesque.


In the end, when we reached Vaquería, it was way too late to catch a bus anyway; and we had to spend the night there. We were the only foreigners in town, so we could take our pick for accommodation. We settled on a spacious and clean enough bedroom in one of the small tiendas. The owner told us the first bus would be there before sunrise. But we were too tired to even consider waking up when it was still dark. Instead, we chose to wait for the one later, at noon. The next day, we went back to Huaraz without a problem.

Edwin waiting for our ride out of Vaqueria in Peru

For Edwin and me, this trek was an unforgettable experience. We could even say that it was life changing. After this, we became inseparable and started traveling together. In fact, we still go on adventures every time we can with our little toddler daughter tagging along.

For experienced hikers, doing the Santa Cruz trek without a guide is quite doable. The trail is well-trodden in most parts, so getting lost is not really an issue. Finding nice spots to camp is also easy. If you like to cook, you’ll eat better than if you go with a tour (at least in my experience). Plus, you’ll be free to enjoy the area at your own pace, without being hassled by a guide who needs to stick to a timeline.

Have you done the Santa Cruz trek? How was your experience? Are you planning to do this trek and have a question? Leave a comment and have your say!

1600 1063 Bianca Bauza

Bianca Bauza

Bianca Bauza is a world citizen who spent almost four years traveling around South America and Europe. Her passions include photography, street art, outdoor sports, and cooking exotic dishes. She's now based in the Netherlands where she lives with her partner and young daughter. She still enjoys traveling, on her own or with her family, and is always looking for an opportunity to see new places.

All stories by : Bianca Bauza
  • It is looks like Black Sea highlands.

  • Thank you! This is a great article. I am leaving for Peru in a couple days and my boyfriend and I plan on hiking the Santa Cruz (also guidless). Can you tell me more about the weather you faced? Your photos look like you had remarkably great weather for November….although it also seems like its a month that can be hit or miss. I am worried about getting a lot of rain and no views. THANK YOU, cheers – Katie (VT, USA)

    • Thanks, Katie! I’m glad you found it useful. In Huaraz, we enjoyed very good weather those days in November. We hardly experienced any rain, except for that one afternoon during the Santa Cruz trek. I also remember that when I visited the Pastoruri glacier, it was quite cloudy and we had some light rain. Like you said, November is a hit or miss in terms of weather. I hope that you get lucky and have some nice sunny days while you are in Huaraz. It really is a beautiful place and it was one of the highlights of our time in Peru. Have a great trip!

  • Hello! I did salkantay last year and this year I am going to the cordillera Blanca and I am deciding on which trek to do there. How would you compare Santa Cruz to salkantay? Thanks in advance!

  • Hi it is a very useful article thanks. :)

    My girlfriend and I want to do the trek in a few days but for us it would be important to know how it is with the water. Did you carry the water for 4 days with you the whole time or are there any places like at the campsites where we can buy new water?

    Thanks a lot.

    • Hi Felix, I’m glad you found my post useful. For water, we started with a couple of 1.5 liter full bottles. We then refilled them in some of the streams we found during the trek and used water purification tablets. There are no places to buy water (or anything else) at the campsites. For this trek, we were a little conservative in how much water we used because we were not sure how easy it was to find good water. If you start from Cashapampa, like we did, it’s easier to find water at the beginning of the trek because you follow the river for a while. After you pass Punta Unión, the highest point, you can still find water in some small streams not too far from the trail/campsites. Ihope this helps!
      Have a great time :)

    • There is plenty of water everywhere. You really only need to carry enough water with you to drink for an hour or so. (Maybe this is not true during dry season, but during wet season water is everywhere). My boyfriend and I hiked it without a guide in October and it seemed we would cross or were near water all the time. We would just fill up,treat it, drink it and then carry nothing until we hit water again. Which was right away. Think about it, Water weighs a lot. One liter Water=2.2 lbs / 1 kg. You don’t wanna have to carry a lot of it around if you don’t have to. Just make sure to purify it!!!! There’s lots of cow poop around.

      Have fun, peace.

  • I might do this trek next month. I caught trout in laguna llagunanuco. Is there any chance that I could catch a free meal or 5 in the waterways on this trek? Also, I may do it solo bc my girlfriend from Lima has zero hiking experiences and I do not have a climbing partner to bag another peak or two in the blanca. How do you think a beginner would do on this trek?

    • Hi, Luke. I hope you are getting ready to do this trek soon. I have zero fishing experience, so I can’t say if you could catch a meal there. As for your second question, I think that depending on the person’s fitness level, it could be easier or harder; but overall it would be a great experience because it’s a very beautiful place. I hope you have a great time!

  • Hello – thanks for writing this piece. I was wondering how you went about your meals/cooking while on the santa cruz trek. I have a mini camping stove (similar to a jetboil) that I could boil water and cook dehydrated food in…did you go this route? Or did you stock up on food when you were in town, and carry it all with you for the whole hike?

    I am not sure if I will be able to find butane fuel canisters in Huaraz, as I won’t be able to fly with them.

  • Julia Griesheimer

    Very helpful article. We are gonna be in Huaraz in a few days and want to do the trek ourself as well. Thanks for your detailed description!

    Cheers, Julia

  • Thank you for the nice article and beautiful pictures!
    I have a question about doing the hike solo. My friend and I love hiking and we prefer doing it independently. We are in Peru now and really would like to do the Santa Cruz hike or another one in the Cordillera Blanca. We were really looking forward to it, until we read that it’s recently (since 2014-2015?) obligatory to do the hike with an autorized guide?!
    Is this true? And how did you avoid this? We really hope we can still do the hike on our own…
    Thank you for the info!!


    • Hello,

      have you done this trek eventually without guide? I have heard the same so facing similar problem.. would appreciate any info


      • Hi Michael! Yes, we have done the hike without guide in June 2016 so no problem! You just have to pay entrance and that’s it. Enjoy!

    • I did it last October 2015 and did NOY use guide and there were NO laws or regulations saying I needed one. Unless it changed sometime this year, you will be fine solo.

  • Did NOT use guide* ^^sorry for typo

  • Hello! Thank you for amazing article. This will help to plan our trek there. Do you have any info on doing this trek during December – rainy season?

  • Hi
    Great story, wonderful adventure.
    We are going to Huaraz next month, and would love to do this trek. Where can we rent a tent from and cooking stove, as not really into carrying the full gear for just one trek, Is it easy enough to stock up on food for the four days? Anywhere we can rent a donkey to carry our gear, make it a bit easier for us.
    Any info would be useful.
    crazy meds

    • Thanks, Tonia :) Since you’ll be going in high season (July – August), you should not have a problem in finding shops that rent camping gear. I didn’t have any either, so I had to rent a backpack and sleeping bag. My partner had all the rest. What I’d recommend is that you check the gear before you go, to avoid getting stuck with things that don’t work properly. In town, there is at least one supermarket and other food shops, so stocking up on local food is not an issue either. Regarding renting a donkey to carry your gear, I don’t know if it’s possible; so you should ask around. A good place to get hiking information in Huaraz is the Casa de Guías. I hope this helps! Have a great trip and enjoy your time in Peru!

  • Melanie Weston Gyles

    Does anyone know anything about this missing ( Canadian) young man? His family ( friends of my sister) are distraught and the searches thus far have revealed nothing. Any info at all…anything, no matter how small or insignificant.

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