Not a climber but want spectacular views?

Sometimes we think that to have great views of a snow-covered mountain range, we need to be mountaineers.  In certain places this is true to an extent but in others there are other alternatives. Huaraz is an example of the latter due to its location in the Huaylas Valley between the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra. There are various trails and small roads into the Cordillera Negra close to the city of Huaraz that offer breathtaking views of the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

The 2.5 - 3km hike/trek to Wilcacocha (cocha is a Quéchua word for lake) is one of the better known ones and also doubles as a good acclimatisation trek before getting into the longer and higher treks in the Cordillera Blanca. This is also probably one of the cheapest, virtually free, treks you can do from Huaraz with the return journey by collectivo (minibus taxi) only costing S/2.00 (Soles - about $0.40). The hike has a pretty decent amount of ascent, about 600m, but there’s no need to rush up to the top.

From the western bank of Wilcacocha

Departing from near the Central Market, your minibus taxi (take the “E” or “10” - Bedoya/Jangas) will take 15-20min to Puente Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Bridge) - you do need to tell the conductor after about 12-13min that you want to get off at this bridge otherwise you’ll end up way down the valley. The bridge over the Rio Santa (3,100m altitude) is to the left and you’ll start the walk up the dirt road where after the first 2-3 min you’ll find a trail going up to the left. The trail is well used albeit rocky at times but with rock ‘steps’ at places to avoid the trail eroding with rain. 

Views over the valley will just keep getting better as will your views of some of the already visible snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. You certainly will have more than enough reasons to stop and take some photos - the excuse if anybody asks why you’re stopping a lot. 25 min later you’ll arrive at a junction (a small village “street”) in the village of Santa Cruz. Here you need to go left for a few metres from where there’ll be a fairly large junction on your right - cross this junction onto the main dirt road that ascends from the Huaraz road and turn left.

Mid-way along the trail to Wilcacocha

A minute’s walking and you’ll find a stone bench from where you continue another 12m to where the trail continues up to the right. (Remember that any stage you can continue on along this dirt road to the lake as well; it is further distance-wise but the ascent is much more gradual than the trail.) 20- 30min later you’ll pass a school on your right hand side; also great place to stop and take a break and photos of the snow-capped peaks opposite you on the other side of the valley. From here you have about 40min left to Wilcacocha (lake).

View northwards of the Huaylas Valley with Huaraz in the distance

The final part of the trail goes up stone stairs and under some trees and then suddenly you’re at eye level with the lake. You can now either walk clockwise or anti-clockwise around the lake to two stony outcrops from you have the expansive views of the Huaylas Valley to the north, including Huaraz in the distance and then the Cordillera Blanca peaks lined up for you - on a clear day you might even get some views of the Cordillera Huayhuash further to the south. You are now at 3,700m altitude.

View of Wilcocha at the end of the trail

Have you already done this walk/trek? Feel free to add more information, tips or general comments in the comments section below, from your own experiences. 
I took the photos on this blog on a very cloudy day but the views were hardly boring. Soon I’ll be returning on a less cloudy/clear day to add to my photos. 

Trek Summary

Distance:    2.5 - 3km
Duration:   Ascent: 1h40 - 2 hours (2 hours via the dirt road)
Descent:     50min - 1hour
Altitude difference: Start 3,100m, Wilcacocha at 3,700m = +600m
Costs:        Collectivo (minibus taxi):  S/1.00 each way

Required clothing etc: Comfortable walking/trekking shoes, warm clothes (wind can get quite cold at the top), rain jacket and trousers, sunscreen, 2lit drinking water, fruit and snacks (make some sandwiches or something for lunch at the lake)

Wilcacocha photographed from one of the viewpoints


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