Day 9: Five Lagoons

It was raining again today, so we packed our rain jackets and a few warmer items. When we went to start the exploration, we found Chio was our guide again, and it was just us. Double score! Rather than starting with the standard pre-exploration briefing at the map, we went outside and Chio explained the day by pointing to the mountain we were heading to. We hopped in the van for the hour and a half drive.

Rainy drive in the morning

Along the way, Chio explained that since it has started raining, the crops needs to be planted if they haven’t been yet. At Explora, the crops have been planted and they rented one of their fields to the Corn King of Cusco – a man who has the record for the tallest corn. We also saw something that looked like a watermelon growing on a tree, which turns out to be a type of pumpkin.

We arrived in the small mountain village (about 200 people and a bunch of alpacas) called Sapaccto where we began our hike. As the name of the exploration implies, there are 5 lagoons on the path. We went up a steep incline to get to the first lagoon at 4,200 meters. This lagoon is called Carcelcocha, meaning prison lagoon due to the vertical sticks around the perimeter.

Zapaco welcoming party

Lagoon number 1 (rainy)

There are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, and one preparation is Chuño — a naturally freeze-dried potato that takes a week to make. This is a process from the Incan times and is important to the people in small villages because once the process is complete, the potatoes have more nutrients and last up to 5 years. Also on this trail we came across tambos, small huts placed along trails for shelter.

Farmers freeze-drying potatoes

Boil ’em, mash ’em stick ’em in a stew

Human tambo and dog tambo

Near the lake, we saw short stone walls in a square shape. Chio explained that while these look like corrals that you might use for the alpaca, they are actually abrigos, or sweaters. They block the wind and keep the area warm. As we continued, we were walking on shale that had been so exposed to the weather that it was soft. Dragging a hiking pole along the edge would crumble the rock. We hiked on the shale towards the the highest point of the day at 4,357 meters.

Shale we continue hiking up?


We descended to the second lagoon, called Sunturcocha, or Condor Lagoon. Just as we were approaching, the weather shifted (a theme for the day) and we had a beautiful view of the lagoon and surrounding mountains.

Lagoon number 2 (sunny and steamy)

Onwards and upwards to the next lagoon

Matt successfully crossed the creek!

The next lagoon we saw was technically number 5, but because we were higher than it, we could see it from our vantage point. This lagoon is called Pampacocha, which doesn’t make any sense because there are no pampas nearby. It currently looks like two lakes because the water level is low, but as the rainy season continues, it will fill up to one large lagoon. The weather had cleared up again, and we took this opportunity to have a snack. Like yesterday, we decided to wait until we were done with the hike to have lunch, but we couldn’t pass up some delicious Explora soup.

Lagoon number 5 (still sunny)

The soup is always good

After warming up and re-energizing, we followed the path to lagoon number 4, Humillecocha.

Cool terrain on the way to lagoon number 4

Lagoon number 4 (cloudy)

Very close to Humillecocha was Lagoon 3, Totoracocha, named for the branches around the lagoon. This was one of the smaller lagoons we saw today.

Lagoon number 3 (cloudy)

The weather was changing yet again at this point and it had starting sleeting, what Chio called graniso. Not too far along the trail, we made it down to Pampacocha where we could see the lagoon closer up. Also in this area, we saw a bunch of alpacas hanging out on the side of the mountain. I suppose if you live above 4,000 meters, you have to be a pretty good climber.

And now… sleet!

Lagoon number 5 again (cloudy)

Only about two minutes past the alpacas, we made it back to the van. As we did, it really started pouring. We ate our delicious trout sandwiches in the van, then drove back towards Explora. On the way, we drove through Calca. Because today is Sunday, there were a lot of cars from Cusco parked outside the more popular sacred valley restaurants.

Raining in the van…

We arrived back at Explora at 3:00, giving us time hit up the spa. Matt went for a deep-tissue massage while Jo relaxed by the pool.

…but great weather back at Explora

Time to relax and blog at the spa

After the spa, we went back to the bar for the drinks of the day and to decide our last full day exploration. We couldn’t decide between a few options that had been mentioned, but then the director of the explorations came over and presented a different option that sounded better than the other two. We will drive to an area of the valley we have not been to yet and should see some more lagoons, some glaciers, and if the weather cooperates a view of Mt. Veronica. The bad news is it leaves at 6:45, so we ate dinner and went to sleep as soon as possible. Should be a fun last full day!

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