Laguna 69 is one of the most famous and iconic hikes in Peru. Located in Huaraz, the hiking and trekking capital of Peru, the high-altitude day hike is not technically challenging – but the altitude makes Laguna 69 a strenuous hike. Backpackers from all over come to Huaraz for extreme trekking and hiking in Peru, and Laguna 69 is one of its star attractions.
Before you attempt to hike Laguna 69, here`s everything you need to know, from the elevation and altitude challenges you`ll experience while hiking, to what to pack, to who to book your tour with (and whether you need a tour at all).
What`s the Altitude of Laguna 69?
Laguna 69 sits at the base of a giant glacier in the Cordillera Blancas called, adorably, Pisco Peak. Its elevation is at approximately 4.600m, which is insane. At 4.600m of elevation, Laguna 69 sits higher than everywhere in the continental United States, and is a mere 700m below Base Camp on Everest. Once, my wife and I jumped out of a plane to skydive from the highest altitude they were legally able to fly us, and we were STILL lower than Laguna 69.
The city of Huaraz sits at about 3.052m above sea level. We traveled to Huaraz directly after a week in Lima, which was a mistake. I spent a few days acclimating before attempting to hike Laguna 69, but by the time I felt up for it, my wife couldn`t walk down the hallway without feeling like death.
Tips for Hiking Laguna 69
Laguna 69 is not your average day hike. You`ll need to take special care to adjust to the altitude before and during your hike. Here are some tips for hiking Laguna 69.
- Train like crazy before you go hiking in Peru. This doesn`t just apply to Laguna 69, but any hikes in Peru – the altitude is KILLER, and these hikes are really difficult if you`ve never hiked at a high altitude before! I highly recommend picking up a respiratory restriction mask to help simulate the effects of altitude during your training. Sure, you`ll look like Bane from Batman, but you`ll also be training your body to handle the effects of altitude like a pro. Worth the awkward looks you`ll get at the gym!
- Acclimate before you attempt the hike. You need to spend several days acclimating to the altitude of Huaraz before attempting to hike Laguna 69! Altitude sickness is no joke and you can REALLY hurt yourself. Give yourself at least 3-4 days to acclimate in Huaraz before you attempt the hike, and take altitude sickness prevention medication the entire time. Consult your doctor for a prescription before you go to Peru. A good way to make sure you`re acclimatized is to go on an easier hike before you attempt Laguna 69, such as the day hike to Laguna Churup.
- Take your time hiking Laguna 69. Frankly, you`re unlikely tp get a picture of the lake with nobody else in it unless you`re a super-fit trekking expert, or you stay overnight (like i did). For the rest of you. don`t speed ahead early in the game like many people do. Instead, take your time, go slow and steady, and take plenty of breaks for water, tea, and snacks.
- Treat Laguna 69 like a hike, not a photo opp. I saw a lot of ill-prepared hikers in innappropriate gear on the hike. I know most people do it for Social Media, but really, it`s unsafe (and uncomfortable) not to come prepared. Come prepared for a hike, not a photo opp. If you want that gorgeous Instagram-worthy photo, I recommend bringing a change of clothes to change into once you reach Laguna 69.
What to pack for the Laguna 69 Hike
Although Laguna 69 is not a techincally challenging hike – there`s no ice picks or climbing involved, like many of the other treks in Huaraz – it`s also not a casual day hike. The elements at a high altitude can change in a moment`s notice, and being prepared could mean the difference between enjoying yourself or getting ill.
- 2-4 L of water: I have a Fstop Bag that easily fits my photography gear AND has some room for water, snacks too.
- Trekking poles are SO important to help with sliding on the shale which comprises the Laguna 69 hike. I brought our Black Diamond trekking poles with me, folded down and tucked into a side pocket of my backpacks, for my entire 2 year trip around the world and they saved my knees, ankles, and pride.
- Rain Gear: I love my Ultra-Light Packable Rain Jackets and I bring Waterproof Socks to wear under my Trail Runners, just in case.
- Hiking Clothes: Don`t hike in jeans, y`all. Or at least, change after your photo opp. I prefer wool hiking gear thanks to its ability to cool you down in the heat and keep you warm in the rain – totally necessary for high-altitude mountain hiking, where the weather can change in a minute (so bring layers). Laguna 69 is a little chilly, but while you hike, you won`t need a jacket – I wore 2 layered wool shirts and that was perfect. I`ve tried a lot of different hiking clothing over the years, and these are my favorite tried and true picks.
- Socks: My favorite wool sock brand is Woolpower: soft, durable, they come with a lifetime guarantee in the event of holes (that`s how you know it`s real).
- Snacks: You want something nutritious, with a good mix of complex carbs, fats, protein, and electrolytes to fuel your body. My favorite hiking snacks are pretzels, dried fruit (like apple rings or dried mango), and almonds. Hit up a mercado to pick up some dried snacks for your hike.
- Coca Leaves to chew during your hike, which really helped with the altitude. You`ll find Coca Leaves all over Peru, including mercados and even supermarkets. If the leaves are too gross for you (they taste like…well, leaves) there`s also Coca Leaf candy and gum.
- Sunscreen and a Hat or Sunglasses: The Laguna 69 hike is pretty exposed, so if it`s a sunny day, you`ll want sun protection.
- Camera: Laguna 69 is stunning, so don`t forget to pack a camera! Most of my best shots were taken with my Canon 5D Mark IV – the Canon 16-35mm lens with wide panoramic angle is perfect for the sweeping Glacier Lake vistas of Laguna 69. A perfect lightweight, hike-friendly camera that takes amazing photos while still fitting comfortably into your pocket is the GoPro and iPhone. I used those cameras exclusively during my around the world trip and was extremely pleased with them.
Booking the Laguna 69 Trek in Huaraz, Peru
Against the advice of everyone and the internet, I didn`t book a Laguna 69 hike with an actual tour. Honestly, it prefer trekking alone with my wife. It`s possible to get to Laguna 69 and do the hike solo, but it actually costs more to take the combination of buses, taxis, and collectivos than it does to just book a tour. In my case it was much easier, because i had my own vehicle. This is probably the only time during my entire trip that people told me booking a tour is both easier AND cheaper than doing it on your own. Since it`s way easier AND cheaper (not to mention, arguably safer) booking a tour to hike Laguna 69 is definitely the way to go (especially for people with no altitude experience).
The problem with booking tours in Huaraz is there are about a hundred tour agencies. In the other adventure towns I`ve been to, there was a small handful to pull from, which made it easy to find reviews. After I stayed in their Bed&Breakfast, La Casa de Maruja, comes highly recommended from me.
Stunning glacial lake Laguna 69 sits at a grueling 4.600m above sea level. The difficult hike is worth the view! Laguna 69 is outside of Huaraz, Peru in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range.
Departure from Huaraz, Peru to Laguna 69
I woke up bright and early at 4 AM…. and promptly went right back to sleep.
At 5, I was actually out of bed. I left La Casa de Maruja at 5:30, and after picking up my breakfast and snacks I was off. I headed north, deeper into the Callejon de Huaylas valley.
The Owner of La Casa de Maruja told me day before about the landscape surrounding Laguna 69 and gave me a rundown of what to expect from the hike. He said the hike has three parts, each with increasing difficulty. Most people take about 3 to 3.5 hours to hike out, and 2 hours to return (I love my wife, but she hikes at a snail`s pace… and she hates to be rushed, whether by me, a guide, or impending sunset/doom).
I stopped for breakfast. Fully fueled up, I headed into the Cordillera Blancas.
My first stop in the Cordillera Blancas was at Chinancocha, another glacier lake next to the road on the way to Laguna 69. It has the same turquoise color and is actually bigger than Laguna 69, but the landscape around it pales in comparison. After a few minutes of enjoying the view and building anticipation for the hike, i continued driving. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the Laguna 69 trailhead.
Laguna 69 Hike, Section 1: The Valley
The Laguna 69 hike started the way most hikes that are going to kick your ass begin: a gentle stroll. It was actually quite pretty. I was hiking alongside a river between two giant, snow-covered glaciers looming in the distance. The valley was very grassy and was filled with these unique, fascinating looking Quenua trees. These hardy trees are the only ones that can grow above 5000 meters. They look like big manzanita trees and their bark is made up of paper thin pieces.
After a few minutes of breathlessly admiring the scenery, I realized there was a problem: I was already a bit tired.My breaths were labored. The slightest hill made me lean forward and struggle along.
I had heard from other hikers that you want to rush if you can; this way there are fewer people at Laguna 69 and thus you have a better chance to take The Picture that everyone is really hiking to Laguna 69 to get. But the owner of La Casa de Maruja advised against rushing, advising hikers to snack and briefly stop from time to time. I knew there was no chance of being alone at Laguna 69, but I thought I could at least rush through the valley and then take my time on the upcoming switchbacks, so I plunged ahead.
Handling the Altitude change while hiking Laguna 69
As soon as I felt exhaustion set in, I came up with a time regimen. I would drink water as needed, but I had to keep walking. Only in dire straights (or to take photos) would I stop and catch my breath for one minute. Every hour, I would stop for a snack. My hope was to hit the end of each section when I snacked, thus staying on time. I allowed myself to slow my pace as I hiked through the valley, feeling slightly more confident that my plan would work. Slow and steady wins the race, right?
The valley ended. I felt the trail ascend and I looked at my watch. 10:15 AM. It was time for lunch.
Laguna 69 Hike, Section 2: Switchbacks
After some dried mango and almonds, I felt rejuvenated. I looked further down the trail and saw my next objective: hella switchbacks.
Usually I hate switchbacks, but I could see all of the trail from the valley, so I felt slightly less intimidated.
The best part of the switchback portion was the view. As I got higher up the mountain, the valley stretched out below me. Directly across from the trail was a giant waterfall I couldn`t help but stare at. The view alone kept me going. Sure, I had to stop for a breather every time the trail switch-backed, but I was enjoying it.
Laguna 69 Hike, Section 3: The Hard Part
As I passed the lake, I was dreading what was next. I knew I was approaching the “hard” section.
To my surprise, the next part of the hike was… easy. I had entered a grassland. I could hike through a grassland all damn day at that point. There were cows and gentle streams. It was tranquil AF.
I couldn`t help but think, “How is this the hard section?” Famous last words….
The trail began to vanish, fading into a wide stretch of field. Other hikers began taking different routes to cross the many streams criss-crossing the grassy knoll. We were all heading the same direction, but we were fanning out. I decided to follow a peruvian hiker i met while having a snack. He said he has been doing this hike for 20 years and he does it a few times per year. I figured the hiker I was following would know the best way.
After about twenty minutes of gently strolling through grass, I looked ahead and thought to myself, “Oh.. this is why it`s the hard part.”
Laguna 69 Hike: The Wild Zone
Ahead of me was what is called “Zona Sylvestre,” or Wild Zone. Maybe it wasn`t officially called that, but a sign said it and I thought it was fitting. This was the last set of switchbacks, and boy were they serious. The altitude here increased sharply and quickly by about 250m. The trail was made up of small granite stones – the kind some people put in their yards to fight off weeds – which made finding footing difficult.
From the start of the incline, my feet were slipping. Every step turned stones over and pulled me backwards as I fought to move forwards. My trekking poles were incredibly helpful. Still, I almost rolled my ankle multiple times. “This isn`t so bad really,” my inner inner Optimist piped up, “It`s just steep. You`ve done steep.”
Steep proved to not be my enemy. Before hikes like Laguna 69, people always say things like “it`s not the distance, it`s the altitude.” They were right. I was gasping for every breath. Were this hike at sea level, I wouldn`t have been struggling at all. But up here at nearly 5.000m, the air was thin, and I found myself already exhausted.
With every meter up the hill, I felt pressure building in my chest. My lungs were expanding from the lower pressure. They were fighting for breath in the lighter oxygen. My fingers and toes started to tingle.
Finally reaching Laguna 69
As though it heard my thoughts, suddenly there it was…
It was a wonderful feeling to finally be at Laguna 69. And damn, what a beautiful lake it was: crystalline blue, flanked by a razor-thin waterfall gushing ice cold glacier water from of the most incredible, humbling, blindingly white snow-covered mountains I`d ever seen in person.
Camping at Laguna 69
I arrived at the lake as the tour guides were shepherding people down. Before I could set my packs down…it was just me and my wife. My tent went up. The sun went down. The stars come out. My wife and I shared our last cocoa packet and kissed under the Milky Way. It was a moment no future cruel plot twist could ever take away and only possible by our decision to stay awhile.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all rainbows. My wife froze her ass off. She laid in her sleeping bag for an hour before she willed herself to crawl out of the tent to pee. Thankfully, I was sweating in my fluffy, rated to -20 degrees bag and offered my snow pants to her (She said a small prayer of thanks as they slid over her hips).
But despite the cold, we still woke up to the bright glimmering lake…a brighter blue than the color of that sapphire Rose dropped in the ocean at the end of Titanic. We had breakfast with some climbers who passed by headed to hopefully reach the summit of Pisco later that week. As we packed up to leave, day hikers started pouring in. I cheered them on as I descended, “You’re almost there,” “Only 15 more minutes, “Right over that ridge!” It was a brutal hike to do in a day…and only to arrive for a moment then return. How often I do the same…struggling to go in circles as fast as I can?
Laguna 69 Hike: The Return
As I descended down the wild zone, it began sprinkling. Thankfully, I came prepared for rain, so I threw on my rain jacket and backpack cover.
There must have been heavier rain high up in the mountains, because the small streams I had to jump over before had gotten much more intense.
The view on my return took on fairy tale levels of beauty from the growing fog and rain. I had to try hard not to trip over my feet because I was busy looking out off the mountain. As I hit the easier switchbacks, it rained harder. Idiotically, I decided to not put on my rain pants and waterproof socks for the same reason I usually use to opt out of something: laziness. Look, at least I didn`t wear jeans.
Laguna 69 Hike: Vengeance of the Gods
Just when I decided to let my laziness take over, I heard a bellowing from the skies: thunder. The thunder grew more frequent. I realized Catequil (the Incan god of thunder) would not let up, so I stopped to put on my other rain gear. It`s a good thing too, because five minutes after, the skies opened up into a torrential downpour.
I made a bed out of mountains. If only for a night. I lived among stars and the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. In light and dark. For better or worse.
Google Maps says it`s 2 hours back to the hostel, but I have a feeling it`ll be 3.
“Tranquila,” as they say.
P.S. Yep…3 hours. I counted. Change is hard.
Should you hike Laguna 69 in Huaraz, Peru?
So was it worth it? Absolutely. Every labored step. Each bead of sweat. Seeing the blue water of Laguna 69 made it worth the three and a half hours of struggle. If you`re considering hiking Laguna 69 and you`re in reasonable shape, definitely do it! Just acclimate first, and take your time.
Oh, and I found out the reason behind the funny name is actually pretty boring. There are 474 lakes in Huascaran National Park. Laguna 69 was the 69th on the list and they just never came up with an alternate name for it. I feel like this is a half truth, because if any of the lakes didn`t have a name, schouldn`t it be Laguna 474? I guess we`ll never know.
So, dear reader, what questions do you have about this region or Peru? Have you had a similar experience? Share in the comments!