Huaraz, Perú is a quaint little town about 6-8 hours away from Lima by car. It sits just a little over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. Huaraz is famous in travel circles as a great place to go if you’re really into hiking and outdoor activities. Perhaps the most famous thing to do in Huaraz is a day trip to Laguna 69.
Laguna 69 is a small lagoon about 3 hours outside of Huaraz that has become hugely popular on Instagram.
But what does it take to get that photo? Is Laguna 69 worth the trip to get the perfect Instagram shot? This post will attempt to answer that question as honestly as possible.
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What is Laguna 69?
Laguna 69, or Lake 69, is one of about 400 lakes that makes up Huascarán National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While several of the lakes in the region have normal names, like Allicocha, Auquiscocha or Palcacocha, there are several that just have numbers, like Laguna 69.
Huascaran National Park was created in 1975, and there was a bit of a rush to name all of the lakes in order to comply with the rules for creating the park. Laguna 69 was, apparently, the 69th lake to get a name.
What’s the weather like?
As our guide told us, “I hope you have your rain gear because it’s rained almost every day here at Laguna 69 this week.”
Well, it didn’t rain. We lucked out and it was a nice day for the entire time we were there. But you need to be prepared for the rain, just in case. Even in the dry season, expect rain. Unless you are us and have horseshoes up your butt.
As soon as we began the drive home, it started to rain. So the guide was technically right.
Getting from Huaraz to Laguna 69
From a logistical standpoint, the journey from Huaraz to Laguna 69 is easy. We used Scheler Artizon Trek for the trip. It cost us $28. Keep in mind that this cost includes the roughly $10 U.S. admission fee to the park. When you book at a hostel or in other places, your fee will likely not include that $10 (everyone in our van, except us, paid the fee as we entered the park).
The trip with Scheler Artizon Trek includes hotel pickup, transportation, a guide, park admission, and a stop for breakfast where you’ll pay for your own meal (approximately 12-15 soles or less than $5 U.S.).
It doesn’t include anything else.
What’s a Laguna 69 day trip really like?
This is the reality check that I think most people need when they are deciding if they should go to Laguna 69 to get their Instagram shot. Or to go at all, for that matter. Here’s what your day is going to look like:
- Wake up at 4:00 am and get ready
- Bus/van picks you up at your hotel or hostel
- Drive two hours to a breakfast place
- Drive one more hour to Cebolla Pampa campground
- Hike three hours up to Laguna 69
- Spend 40-60 minutes at Laguna 69
- Hike two hours back to Cebolla Pampa campground
- Drive 3-4 hours back to Huaraz, depending on traffic
So, you have to decide if what could amount to a FOURTEEN HOUR day is worth one hour at Laguna 69.
Here’s a little more of an in-depth description of what you’ll go through for that one hour for one perfect Laguna 69 Instagram shot.
The drive to Huascarán National Park
You’ll start your drive at about 4:30-5:00 am and proceed for about an hour in a van or bus along a fairly decent, paved highway – 3 North. The “fun” begins when you turn onto Highway 106 – which at the time of this writing, was anything but decent or paved. To put it mildly, it will be one of the roughest rides you’ll experience on a day trip in Perú or anywhere.
And, aside from stopping for 20 minutes for breakfast, there is absolutely no respite from this experience for two hours. It’s a bone-jarring, brain-shaking ride up kilometers and kilometers of switchbacks. You’ll wear your seat belt not just in case of an accident, but also to just keep from being thrown out of your seat.
The biggest shock about the drive to Laguna 69 was that none of the 20 passengers in our van got sick. Incredible.
The hike up to Laguna 69
A few days before, we did a hike up to Rainbow Mountain. It was an amazing experience and it was completely worth the 80-90 minute hike up to 5,200 meters (17,060 feet). But it was challenging. The altitude definitely got to us even though we’d already been at altitude in Cusco for about three weeks prior to doing the hike.
Laguna 69 is 4,600 meters or about 14,000 feet high. The problem is that most people only come to Huaraz for a day or two and usually just to do the day trip to Laguna 69. In other words, they rarely have time to adjust to the altitude. On our trip, a few people didn’t even make it to the hilly part before giving up.
The hike to Laguna 69 is three hours for the average person (we took exactly this amount of time). 2.5 hours of this is uphill. We made it all the way, but we found it very challenging and we’re in fairly decent shape.
Laguna 69 – Instagram versus reality
Nearly every Instagram photo you see of Laguna 69 is incredibly beautiful. Crystal clear turquoise water surrounded by massive mountains that seem to disappear into the clouds. Here’s an example:
I’m not the best photo editor. But I hope you get the point.
Yes, Laguna 69 is quite a place. But it’s not exactly what you see on Instagram – especially if you’ve ever been to a glacial lake. If, for example, you’ve been to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed by Laguna 69.
Personally, I’d describe Laguna 69 this way: It looks like a giant rock quarry, surrounded by mountains, and filled with green water. Sorry to spoil it, but I think this is a pretty accurate description.
To get the Instagram shot, you have to sit or stand in a very specific place so you don’t capture all of the crushed rock that makes up the rest of the “wall” surrounding the lake.
The hike back down
You’ve weathered two hours of body-numbing shaking in a van to get to Cebolla Pampa campground at 3,900 meters. Then, you hiked 7 kilometers for 3 hours all the way up to Laguna 69 at 4,600 meters. You spent an hour or less walking around the lake, taking in the beauty of the surrounding mountains, waterfall, and crushed rock and you got your perfect Laguna 69 Instagram photo.
You’ve been on your feet now for at least 4 hours and you’re probably very tired and worn out. Now, you have to hike back down – a hike that will take you about 2 hours.
Trust me when I say that the hike down to Cebollapampa is not easy. You’re already feeling wobbly from being awake since 4:00 and a tough 3-hour hike up 700 vertical meters. The hike down is mostly an exercise in concentrating on where you’re putting your feet.
When we got back to the van, we were completely exhausted. Personally, I don’t know if I could have done it for much longer.
Three things to remember:
- Three hours up, one hour at the lake, and two hours down. You will not have access to a toilet (or privacy to do anything at all) for the next 6 hours.
- You’ll eat breakfast at about 8 am. Unless you bring your own, you won’t see food again till you get back to Huaraz.
- Your backpack will need to hold enough water to last the day, food for your trip, any layers of clothing you need, and rain gear.
The drive from Laguna 69 to Huaraz
You are utterly wiped out from your day at Laguna 69. All you want to do is collapse in the chair of your bus, relax, and perhaps sleep for the three-hour (+) drive back to Huaraz.
HAHAHAHA! GOOD LUCK TRYING TO SLEEP!!
Remember that bone-jarring, brain-shaking 2-hour drive you experienced on the way up to Laguna 69? You have to do it all over again. But it’s even worse than that because you hit the bumps even harder going downhill.
And if you think that’s bad, the drive on the paved part involves speed bumps every kilometer or so. That didn’t bother you on the way there, but you’re going to hate it on the way back as you pray to anyone who’ll listen to just let you get 5 minutes of sleep!
Oh, and the drive back is going to happen during rush hour – so it’s probably going to take four hours instead of three.
Is Laguna 69 worth it?
I’ve tried to be as honest as possible in this post. Most people only ever hear about the end result of the trip – the actual time at Laguna 69. And to be honest, Halef and I both liked actually being there.
But we both agree that the entire experience wasn’t worth it. We have absolutely no complaints about Scheler Artizon Trek – the company we used. They just took us on the same day trip from Huaraz that any other company would have done. If you’re going to do Laguna 69 anyway, go with them.
But just understand what your trip will involve. You’re going to have to wake up at 4 am and drive for three hours – two of which feel like you’re in a continuous 9.0+ earthquake. Then, you’re going to have to hike for three solid hours, quite possibly in the rain, up to a lake that really looks very little like the heavily-edited photos you see on Instagram.
You’ll spend an hour there getting your photos.
Then, you’re going to do a very tough hike for two hours back to your van. Then, and only then, can you use the toilet after 6 hours.
Finally, you have to do that even worse two-hour drive back down and one hour (possibly two) back to Huaraz.
Visiting Cusco? Here are several of the best day trips you can take from Cusco and how you can do them on your own.
Two redeeming factors
It wasn’t all bad, of course. Halef and I are both really glad we did the trip, both so we could write about it for you and for the following reasons:
First of all, the scenery during the hike up and on the way back down is incredible. If you stop to look around instead of just hunkering down and pushing your way to the top, you’ll get some pictures that rival the lake itself. The waterfalls are stunning. The glaciers are mind-boggling. The mountains make you feel small.
Second, this is a great hike for the exercise alone. I personally feel like it was a huge accomplishment for me. It was, by a long shot, the longest hike I’ve ever done at altitude. The fact that I finished at all was something that made me proud of myself.
Would we hike to Laguna 69 again?
It’s really as simple as that. From a financial perspective, it’s worth it. $28 for a tour company to spend 12-14 hours with you is a great deal. This is especially true since the majority of the money they get is likely going to repair the inevitable damage to the suspension system on their fleet of vans.
From a time and effort standpoint though, I would prefer to have found something more economical to do with my time. To be completely honest, Laguna 69 is nothing more than a tourist trap. And the only reason it’s popular is because of Instagram. You don’t learn anything about Peru there. There’s nothing particularly historic about it.
In the end, it’s sort of like Rainbow Mountain except less pretty and a far, far larger investment of your time and effort to get that one photo.
If you go, put yourself in the mindset that you’re going because you want to see and experience everything – the hike, the stunning mountains, the waterfalls, Laguna 69, the cows and their manure, the fields, and more.
Because if you do all this just for a measly 45-60 minutes at a glorified turquoise rock quarry that you saw in a heavily-edited photo on Instagram, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
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