12 May 2010

Cordillera Blanca - The Santa Cruz Loop

Peru has three very popular treks: the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, Colca Canyon, and the Santa Cruz Loop. We just returned from the latter of those three and had an absolutely amazing time. I don't know that the Santa Cruz Loop is ever really crowded. However, we were able to escape the main trail by exploring the seldom-visited side valleys. (Thanks Mark G. for the advice!) Also, our timing was perfect: too early for the high-season crowds, but just late enough to have good weather. We camped by ourselves every night. Despite hiking more miles, we finished the hike easily in four days. In fact, we only hiked two hours on the first day and one hour on the fourth day, meaning we only hiked for 2.5 days. The normal guided trip is 5-6 days, even with the help of mules. The scenery was breathtaking, as I hope these pictures convey a small percentage of what we experienced.

Not a bad lunch stop. This was after three colectivo rides, but before we hiked along the road, then hitched with an American family, then hiked more, and then hitched in the back of a chicken truck.

The start of the trail weaved through a small pueblo, where we were often greated by farm animals or scruffy kids asking for candy (carmelos).

The line at the pit toilets.

The clouds danced through the peaks all day long.

Almost to the top of the 4750 meter pass (Punto Union).

Another fantastic timed-photo with the help of my Gorillapod (tripod)

The view from our tent at sunrise. Just one of the many 5800-6600 meter peaks within view.

It is OK to be silly when no one is around. We had this entire lake and valley to ourselves. And yes, I need a belt. I think I have lost a bit of weight in South America.

And just how high were we? Why don't we check my handy altimeter watch. Over 4400 meters! We camped just below this lake, which would be like sleeping on top of Mt. Whitney in terms of altitude. Thanks Lauren for delivering this watch to Janie, who then mailed it to us.

We got off trail for a while and started hopping around these meandering river branches. The water was crystal clear.

We set up the tarp for our lunch break to protect us from the really intense sun and UV rays that are present in the high altitudes of the Andes.

Sunset from our campsite on the last night, high on a ridge and away from the trail but within earshot of the thundering river rapids. 


  1. These pictures are incredible Danny - thank you for sharing them with us.

  2. Very nice, looks like you guys are having a fantastic time. Agreed, thanks for sharing. The pictures are beautiful.

  3. Good to hear you missed the crowds but got good weather. Are you guys going to Machu Pichu with mom? I know it will be more crowded than you would like, but it's still pretty cool. I thought the roads got washed out not too long ago - maybe it will keep the crowds away. Looking forward to seeing you guys in just over a month.

  4. Those are some great pictures. I really looks like you were having a great time doing the hike. It would kill us low altitute people.

  5. Thanks for the comments! This trekking loop had some really incredible sites and we were simply happy to be there. The pass was tough, but it was a good warm up for our next adventure - a week in the Huayhuash Range . . .