A non hikers guide to hiking in Peru + best one and two day hikes
I am not a hiker. I’ve never cared to walk five hundred miles just to see a view. Hell, I’d never done a long hike before travelling Peru (that wasn’t meant to rhyme, but I like it). I thought I would hate hiking, but the breathtaking and unique landscapes of Peru made me fall in love with it.
This blog will give you tips and insights on hiking, managing altitude and what to pack. As we non hikers aren’t going to be out here trekking for eight days straight, I’ll also tell you my favourite one and two day hikes across the country.
Info on long hikes, altitude and packing
Altitude can be a mother fucker and make you feel like a pack a day smoker that’s never walked a kilometre. If you’re doing high altitude hikes, take it slow and use coca leaves. You can get coca lollies, tea or leaves to help you. I like the leaves best as they’re the most potent. Fold them into a little package and chew them until they’re in a ball, then tuck it up into your gums. Let the juice drop down in your mouth. It seriously helps and gives you a bit of that cheeky coca energy.
When you get to a new town that’s high in altitude, make sure you spend at least two days acclimatising before heading out on a high altitude trek. This will help you so much. I spent three days walking around towns like Cusco and Huaraz before any of my treks.
The fear of being last or unfit
Perhaps this doesn’t need to be in here but if you’re anything like me, this was a huge fear of mine when hiking in Peru. I thought I would be last, I thought everyone would be powering ahead of me, I thought I’d die of unfitness. I thought many silly things. Please do not let these dumb thoughts stop you from seeing magnificent mountains and lakes, because none of them are true in Peru. Many hikes are high in altitude and this has a nice way of leveling everyone’s fitness.
On all the hikes I did, I thought I’d be last and alone, but I wasn’t. People go slow. The guides make you take loads of breaks. Just when you think you need a break, someone else does too. No one cares about you, your pace or your fitness levels. There are so many people hiking so there is always someone at your level, walking beside you. It’s just you, a magnificent mountain and some steps. It’s that simple.
When I hike, I chill at the back, especially when descending. I like to be slow and take my time because I hate the thought of slipping and hurting myself. If you’re like me, just let people pass you and stay in the back. Again, no one cares about you.
- Lip balm – Your lips get mega dry in the cold and altitude, pack thick lip balm and keep it in ya pocket
- Tissues/toilet paper – Your nose runs like you’ve been up to no good and you’ll need it for the loo (Peruvians call it Inca Baño, by the way)
- Soda – If you’re wlaking a high altitude hike, sometimes you don’t feel like eating. A bottle of soda gives you some energy!
- Water – Duh
- Coca leaves – Can pick a bag up for 1-2 Soles everywhere
- Altitude tablets – If you don’t handle altitude well, you can get altitude tablets from any of the pharmacies super cheap. They’re called Acetazolamide or Diamox
- Layers – Most hikes are cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. Wear layers you can easily take on and off. A hat is good too
- Headphones if you want to zone out
- Lots of snacks – If you’re hiking from Cusco, head to the San Pedro Market to buy tasty nuts and dried fruit, awesome for hiking!
Hiking boots or runners?
Do you need to pack bulky hiking boots? Not realllllyyy. But it depends. If you’re only going to Peru and have the space in your bag, sure pack them. If you’re doing a long trip and you’ll only use your boots in Peru, I don’t think they’re necessary for one day hikes. I didn’t use boots once.
I did two overnight treks and just wore my Brooks runners and I was fine. If you have bad ankles or knees, plan on doing multiple day hikes or hikes in rain or snow, hiking boots would be handy. Alternatively, a great option is to hire them. Places like Huaraz and Cusco have many places you can hire them for under $10 AUD a day!
The best hikes from Huaraz
Huaraz is a town in Northern Peru, about an eight hour drive from Lima. The town itself is a bit average but the hikes surrounding it are absolutely spectacular. You can embark on many multiple day hikes or one day hikes from Huaraz. Hostels in this little town are all a bit shit to be honest. The best one is Selina but it’s rather expensive compared to other hostels in the area. I stayed at Alpine Hostel and it did the job. Make sure you pack earplugs because everyone is getting up at stupid o’clock to go hiking.
Laguna Parón is a blue lake in the middle of white snow capped mountains, sitting at 4155m in altitude. It is truly breathtaking. The colours of the laguna are unlike anything I’ve seen before. I don’t need to type anymore about it, just look at the photos below.
Laguna Parón should be your first hike from Huaraz as it’s an excellent hike to acclimatise to high altitudes and is only 45 minutes up. You’ll spend more time in the car than you will hiking, so be prepared for that.
You’ll need to do a tour to get to Laguna Parón as transport options are limited. Many tours are offered at hotels, hostels and on the streets of Huaraz. The cost of tours varies from 60-80 Soles ($24-31 AUD), without the entrance fee of 5 Soles ($2 AUD).
Quick tip: If you don’t speak Spanish, on the drive to the Laguna, your tour will likely ask you to order some lunch, but that’s for the way back after the hike. You have to stop at the restaurant anyway while everyone else eats lunch, so if you didn’t pack food it’s worth doing this.
This stunning lake is surrounded by gorgeous green nature and alpine mountains. It was my favourite hike in Peru. The best part is you can do it without a guide or tour as Laguna Churup is only a 45 minute drive from Huaraz. The entrance fee to the park is 30 Soles ($12 AUD).
The way up will take 3-3.5 hours and the way down will take 2-2.5 hours. Laguna Churup is far more secluded than other hikes in Peru and there are less tourists. If you’re on your own you might want a guide because this hike is hard in sections (but manageable) and the highest altitude is 4450m. The first part of the hike feels the hardest as you’re immediately whacked with high altitude and there are loads of stairs. Once you adjust to the altitude though, the rest of the way up is easy enough. The views are absolutely worth it and you’ll feel super proud of yourself once you get to the top. Remember, go slow and take your time!
To get to this hike, go to the corner of Avenue Agustin Gamarra and Avenue Antonio Raymondi, or this location on Google Maps. You’ll see a whiteboard with a sign and workers asking people if they want to go to Laguna Churup. Tickets are 20 Soles ($8 AUD) return. The vans leave between five and eight in the morning, with the last bus leaving the lake at four in the afternoon, giving you loads of time for slow hiking!
VERY IMPORTANT INFO:
There are two routes to get to the top of the hike/laguna. One is the “technical route” and the other is the non technical route. The technical route will have you using a chain to pull yourself up a very steep cliff with nothing to catch you if you fall. I met many people who did this and said it was okay, but a bit scary. I absolutely did not do this part. The other non technical route only features a very small section with some rocks and a chain you can use to pull yourself up. It’s very easy, I promise.
Below is a photo of the sign where the fork in the road is. LEFT is the easy, non technical way and RIGHT will have you climbing cliffs.
Once I got to the top and was feeling amazing for conquering a hard hike, I thought I’d give the steep cliff climbing a go on the way back, going down the cliffs using the chain. I did one section, had a panic attack and had to hike all the way around, adding 45 minutes to my journey. WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THIS.
If you feel okay with climbing cliffs, my suggestion is to take the right on the way up to the Laguna and then on the way back, go the other way around (if you’re looking at the lake, the non technical path is on your left). It’d be easier and less scary to go up the ropes than go down.
Laguna 69 is a small lake near Huaraz sitting at 4600m altitude. I didn’t do this hike as I thought Laguna Parón looked similar enough and I was tired, but I regret it. The photos I saw looked beautiful and travellers raved about it.
Laguna 69 is longer than Laguna Parón, taking roughly three hours to get up and 2.5 to get down. Because it takes longer to get up, I’ll bet it feels more rewarding than Laguna Parón (although the lake of Laguna Parón is bigger). I heard the last hour is the hardest part and the rest is easy. As this is a popular hike, you’ll easy find a tour operator on the street to do this or your hotel/hostel will offer them.
The best hikes from Cusco
Vinicunca Mountain (Rainbow Mountain)
This is one of the most popular hikes from Cusco. It’s certainly touristy and it does not look anything like the photos you see that have been edited to the max, but this hike is still amazing and I’d recommend it.
The valleys surrounding Rainbow Mountain are vast and unique, surrounded by high, dreamy white mountains. The hike is relatively easy, taking about three hours return. The altitude is very high at 5200m though, so make sure you bring coca leaves and take it easy going up.
Rainbow Mountain is a three hour drive from Cusco. If you can get a group of friends, take a taxi there and leave the town around eight in the morning. All the group tours will leave at about four in the morning to get you get back to town at a decent hour. If you go with a group, this also means you’ll be on the mountain with 1000’s (and I do mean thousands) of other tourists. You’ll be a human sized ant on an ant hill.
If you take a taxi and go later in the day, you’ll get back around eight or nine in the evening. You’ll be able to enjoy the mountain with fewer tourists, get to take better photos and not have to deal with annoying people.
I’m going to assume you know enough about Machu Pichu for me to not write loads about what it is (haha). There are multiple ways to see Machu Picchu, whether you want to do a one day hike or multiple day hike. Make sure you book at least three weeks in advance to visit this magical place as tickets sell out quick.
You can see Machu Pichu on your own by booking your tickets through the official government website. Seeing Machu Pichu with the different bus routes, trains and sections can get quite confusing. If you want to do a longer trek or have everything organised for you, use a tour company.
The best tour company from Cusco is Machu Picchu Reservations. They are highly regarded in the community, have many tour options, are well organised and speak English. Myself and everyone I met used them and had amazing experiences. As there are so many options to see Machu Picchu, your best bet is to check out their website and see which treks work for your time and budget. When you book, make sure you confirm your ticket to Machu Pichu is included as some tours don’t include this and you need it to get into the ruins.
I did the two day, one night Inca Trail to see Machu Picchu. This is one of the more expensive tours, but you get to walk along the Inca Trail where the Incas lived and see the Wiñaywayna Ruins as well as Machu Pichu. This hike is relatively easy for non hikers, in fact it is recommended for beginners! Most importantly, you get to see Machu Picchu on both days. The first day you’ll experience it next to 1000’s of people. The second day, if you get up early enough, you’ll get the place to yourself. I woke up at four in the morning to hike Machu Pichu and I was alone in the ruins with three other people. It was a mystical experience.
If I had my time again and wasn’t so utterly exhausted from being in cold, altitude for two months straight, I would do the Salkantay Trek. You see the jungle, Humantay Lake (below), Machu Pichu and camp under the stars. It is a longer trek, at five days and four nights, but it looked incredible and everyone I spoke to said it was the highlight of their trip.
Humantay Lake is located at 4000m altitude and is surrounded by snow cap mountains. I didn’t do this but it looked spectacular, however I’d say the hikes from Huaraz look nicer and are generally less touristy.
If you do want to do this, many tours leave from Cusco. I heard from a few friends that it is rather challenging though, but absolutely worth it!
Colca Canyon – Two day hike from Arequipa
The Colca Canyon is the second steepest canyon in the world. It’s a relatively easy two day hike and you can get a tour that includes transport, food and accommodation from Arequipa, also my fave city in Peru. A two day, one night tour should cost between 220-250 Soles ($85-96 AUD).
This hike was yet another one of my favourite hikes in Peru. On the first day of the hike, you’ll descend into the canyon for 5-6 hours, stay the night, see the glistening stars and swim in gorgeous hotel pools deep inside the canyon. The sky was so clear from inside the canyon, allowing you to gaze at the glorious Milky Way, many planets and millions of stars.
The second day is about three hours up. I found the first day was harder on my body than the second. As a non hiker, I genuinely enjoyed the way up more than the way down as I didn’t have to think and my (old ass) knees handled it better. The first day can be tough and if I had my time again I’d actually do the Colca Canyon across three days as you spend the same amount of time walking, but it’s spread out more.
These photos don’t do the Colca Canyon justice, but I would definitely recommend this hike!
That’s it for my favourite hikes for non hikers! I hope this made you feel more confident about hiking in the magnificent landscapes of Peru. Peru is such a magical country, it’d be a damn shame to not see all the breathtaking sights.
Yours in hiking (dying),