If hiking is your main reason to visit Peru, you can not miss the Ausangate Circuit!
Why? this is only one reason! - Ausangate Circuit
WHY HIKING THE AUSANGATE CIRCUIT? LESS CROWDS AND MORE NATURE!
As always, we spent many hours researching the most beautiful treks to hike in Peru and the Ausangate trek constantly ranks in the top 3 best hikes in the country. Plus, we really wanted to avoid really crowded walks such as the Inca Trail which is probably the most popular trek in Peru as it reaches the famous Machu Pichu.
Ausangate promised less crowds and spectacular natural landscapes and it did not let us down a bit!
By far it’s the best circuit we have done in South America! It offers a taste of everything Peruvian, from stunning alpine lagoons and glaciers, snow capped mountains along the Cordillera Vilcanota, herds of llamas, and traditional villages.
But, best of all, you are likely to share these amazing landscapes with very few people as this circuit is one of the quietest in the region (for the moment).
Why? Another reason! - Ausangate Circuit
Another amazing aspect of the Ausangate Circuit is that it allows for a detour to the popular Rainbow Mountains of Vinicunca, which we added to our package – this detour is hard work but well worth it!
Add a detour to Rainbow Mountain to your Ausangate Circuit - hard work but totally worth it! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
The Ausangate Circuit takes its name from the tallest mountain of the Cusco region, the Ausangate at 6,372 m, which you can see from various angles along the trek. We also really enjoyed the close-by encounters with unique wildlife of the area such as vicunas and viscachas and with local colourful villagers. Not to forget, the final stop at a thermal village where you are treated by amazing views and very hot springs!
Hola amigos! - Ausangate Circuit, Peru
SOLO MISSION OR GUIDED TOUR?
There are many paths you can follow with different duration – as it is not a long trek, some people chose to hike the circuit alone with no guides or porters and horses. However, do not underestimate this hike as there are several passes at or above 5,000 m which will particularly slow you down if you bring all your gear and food on your own.
Thank you amazing horses! Without you it would have been much heavier! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
The norm along the circuit is to camp at designated campsites which offer very basic toilets and a river or lake nearby to get water from. These campsites are run by local communities who come to collect their fee at the end of the day. There are some lodges along the way if camping is not your style. However, we found that, with the right gear (warm especially!) camping gives you more chances to enjoy a truly wilderness experience.
LEARN MORE ABOUT CAMPING GEAR - WHAT YOU NEED AND WHY HERE
We chose to hike 4 days with the company Xtreme-Tourbulencia which, although rather expensive, lived up to its promises of great service and amazing food!
Delicious food along the trek prepared by Xtreme- Turbolencia crew (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
The trek is well defined however, with the help of a guide, you can explore more off the beaten track trails and this is another reason we used a local experienced guide. Overall the circuit is quite demanding if you are not acclimatized well or if you are not a strong walker.
We met some people along the trail who gave up hiking and climbed all the passes on horse back. However, some parts of the trail are so steep that not even a horse can endure the fatigue of carrying a person at 5,000 m over those passes!
Make sure you acclimatize to high altitude before attempting this hike – try a couple of hikes at 4,000 m or more beforehand and spend few days in Cusco which is already at 3,400 m. drink lots of water along the trek and stop at the same altitude or descend to a lower altitude if you feel altitude sickness.
LEARN HOW TO PREPARE FOR ALTITUDE IN OUR BLOG POST ON ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT IN NEPAL HERE
We lost count of all the stunning lagoons along the Ausangate Circuit!
DAY 1 - Cusco (3,400 m) - Tinki (3,775 m) - Arapa Pass (4,800 m) - Yanacocha (4,650 m)
DURATION: 8 hours
- 5 hours to the first 5,000 m pass, Arapa Pass including 1 hour lunch
- 3 hours to Yanacocha camp
Starting with an early pick up from our hotel in Cusco, we only wake up completely after a delicious breakfast in Urcos, a small village on the way to Tinki, which is another small Peruvian “pueblo” and starting point of the Ausangate Circuit.
By 10am all our horses are loaded with camping gear and food for the next few days and they are ready to go. We start hiking through the Vilcanota Valley, under a warm sunny sky with the view of the snowy peak of the Ausangate mountain just in front of us.
First lunch stop along the Ausangate Circuit, Peru
The first 4 hours to our lunch stop are easy and pleasant, passing through another small village and high grasslands. We continue on a well designated path through green pastures for llamas and alpacas.
After lunch along the river the weather starts to get change and soon enough it’s hailing over us just as we tackle our first pass of the trek, Arapa Pass at 4,800 m – this is our first detour thanks to our guide who knows the way up the pass and over instead of following the normal route. Unfortunately the views are interrupted by clouds and hail on the top but we admit it was also somehow fun and better than rain.
"I'm hiking in the hail, I'm hiking in the hail" - Arapa Pass, Ausangate Circuit (Peru)
After getting over the pass clouds slowly dissipate and the sun shines on us again as we look across beautiful lagoons and continue steady to our destination of today, a fantastic campsite (4,500 m) in front of the blue lake of Yanacocha and its glacier. We get here just in time for fantastic sunset pictures before a dark and cold night set upon us.
Yanacocha Lagoon and Glacier before sunset, Ausangate Circuit (Peru)
During the trail today our guide showed us how to build a rope out of the plentiful high yellow grass which grows especially around alpine lagoons in this part of the Andes.
After an earthy dinner we fall into a deep sleep until the next day which will be the longest of our 5 days on the Ausangate. Good night!
CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW WE PACK FOR LONG TRIPS
Happy Tummy! Ausangate Circuit, Peru
DAY 2 - Yanacocha - Pucachoca Pass (4,900 m) - Abra Warmisaya (4,985 m) - Rainbow Mountain (5,036 m) - Ausangate Qocha Lake (4,650 m)
DURATION: 11 hours with 2 hours lunch stop
- 1 hour to the first pass, Pacachoca Pass
- 2 hours 30 minutes to the second pass, Abra Warmisaya
- 1 hour 30 minutes to Rainbow Mountain
- 3 hours to lunch spot in Anantapata
- 3 hours to Ausangate Qocha Lake Camp
It’s 5.30am and we peek out of our frozen tent as the sky is getting brighter by the minute.
Ready to go? Oh yes! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
As we leave our camp at 6.30am, out path is not lit yet by the sun but as soon as we reach our first pass of the day, Pucacocha Pass at 4,900 m, warm sunrays are illuminating the stunning red, yellow and green mountains on the other side of the pass.
First pass of the day almost done - Ausangate Circuit, Peru
Instead of following the normal route down to Anantapata, we take a sharp turn to the right, hiking the right side of the valley as high as possible, finding our way through the rocky terrain until we reach a viewpoint of a teal-coloured lagoon which lies just below our feet.
Off the beaten track on our second day along the Ausangate Circuit, Peru
At this point we start descending the loose outcrop until we connect with the standard trek which climbs up to the second pass of the day, Abra Warmisaya at 4,985 m. From here we can see the famous Rainbow Mountain on the other side in the distance and we can already make out the very crowded viewpoint of the Rainbow Mountain.
Second pass of the day - still a long way to go (Ausangate Circuit detour to Rainbow Mountain)
We start our descent to Lake Kayrawiri, surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and the great valley below – this lagoon is incredible and magically reflects the surrounding landscape like a mirror.
Anyone keen for a a swim? Lake Kayrawiri along the Ausangate Circuit detour to Rainbow Mountain (Peru)
From the lagoon a merely 45 minutes uphill hike takes us to the Rainbow Mountain / Vinicunca Viewpoint on Montaña Winikunka at 5,036 m – not surprisingly, the top of this mountain is very crowded at 11.30am and this partly ruins the otherwise unreal landscape which comes to life in an explosion of colours geometrically lined up as stripes along the Vinicunca mountain.
Rainbow Mountain, we're coming! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
TIP – Some hikers camp at Anantapata, hiking longer on their first day, so on day 2 they can strat very early in the morning to reach the Rainbow Mountain by 7am, enjoying the absence of crowds.
After paying our fee for the Rainbow Mountain, we finally descend again along the same path to the reflecting lagoon and soon enough we start the steady uphill to the Abra Warmisaya pass. This time we feel pretty tired and we look forward to lunch which is set up for us close to Anantapata campsite in the valley below the pass.
Can you spot our lunch break? We can smell it! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
Note that the Rainbow Mountain is not part of the Ausangate Circuit but you can add it to the package as it is reacheable on your second or third day along the Ausangate, depending on your plans.
DO NOT FORGET CAMPING ETIQUETTE! CHECK OUT OUR TIPS HERE TO BE A NICE CAMPER AND NEIGHBOUR
Fancy lunch for a camping trip (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
After a long needed 2 hours lunch break we feel ready for the next 3 hours hike to today’s campsite, Ausangate Qocha Lake (4650 m /15256 f). The path is not particularly strenuous as it goes downhill and flat for the most part. In addition, we get great reflections of the bright red mountains all around us in small water ponds along the final part of the trek to our campsite for the night.
After tea time we go exploring the stunning glacier which dominates the view from our tent. Dinner and bed time well deserved today!
Looking hot there glacier! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
DAY 3 - Ausangate Qocha Lake (4,650 m) - Palomani Pass (5,200 m) - Machuracay Tambo Lagoon (4,850 m) - Jampa (4700 m)
DURATION: 6 hours 30 minutes
- 1 hour 30 minutes to our first 5,200 m pass, Palomani Pass
- 1 hour to the brown lagoon of Machuracay Tambo
- 1hour 30 minutes to another lagoon
- 2 hours to Jampa camp
We are woken up by warm pancakes and mate de coca which revitalizes us immediately in the cold morning.
Today we tackle the highest pass of the circuit, Palomani Pass at 5,200 m. On a good rhythm we reach the pass in 1hour 30 minutes of steady climb and we are welcomed by a less colourful replica of the Rainbow Mountain on top and a 360 degree view of all the mountain ranges – on the side we are leaving we can see the red and green peaks of yesterday and the glacier with its lagoon at our feet. The other side opens up to snowy peaks and a bright brown lagoon we are going to reach next.
Bye bye Qocha Lake! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
At the pass our guide spends a good 45 minutes showing us the traditional offer of 3 coca leaves to all the mountains around us – these leaves represent the past, future and present and the three totem animals for the Quechua culture (condor, puma and snake).
To the condor, the puma and the snake! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
After the offer ceremony we descend down to the lodge Machuracay Tambo which we can see from above – again, we drift from the normal route and we cut through the green pastureland until the lodge. From here we venture to the brown lagoon we could see from above, climbing up and down rocks. This lagoon is very stunning, not only for its particular colour but also because it’s punctuated by miriads of small icebergs which creates a contrasting effect.
Is it cocoa? Can we drink it? (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
After a quick snack it’s time for a second lagoon, blue in colour – this is pretty easy to reach, only the last part of the track is slightly uphill.
Hello lagoon no. 11! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
From here onwards we enjoy an almost flat or downhill path to our next campsite, Jampa (4700 m/15,420 f) which once again offers amazing views of the surrounding peaks. The peculiarity of this camp is the presence of hundreds of furry wild animals called “viscachas" which inhabit this area.
Camping at Jampa in the company of other hiker fellows and viscachas (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
DAY 4 - Jampa (4700 m) - Campa Pass (5,050 m) - Pacchanta (4,350 m)
DURATION: 5 hours
- 2 hours to Campa Pass
- 1 hour 30 minutes to the twin lagoons' viewpoint
- 3 hours 30 minutes to Pacchanta camp and hot springs
Another pass over 5,000m, the Campa pass (5,050 m / 16,568 ft), expects us today - a constant uphill ascent of 2 hours brings us to this spectacular pass accompanied by the view of fabulous peaks and glaciers.
Gaining Campa Pass at 5,050 m - Ausangate Circuit, Peru
After a panoramic snack we start our descent to a lookout of the two most famous lagoons of the Ausangate – we arrive at a crossroad and together with our guide we decide to explore the seven lagoon route and not the classic route along the two lagoons. Our guide also tells us it’s a safer trek as tourists are regularly attacked by aggressive stray dogs along the other route (this was confirmed by a friend of ours who walked this path on the same day as us).
Twin Lagoons and hungry stray dogs in sight - Ausangate Circuit, Peru
We then take the path to the left which leads to impressive lagoons, all of different blue colours and shapes. The first blue lagoon appears around a corner and just around the next corner another perfectly rounded water hole surprises us with its crystal clear waters.
Lagoon no. infinitesimal =) (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
Not far away another blue-green lagoon awaits us and it’s not the last one. We descend towards a bigger valley filled by a beautiful laguna which reflects all the surrounding mountains.
Don't stop me, don't stop me, uuuh uuuh - Ausangate Circuit, Peru
We continue along the valley along a well marked path towards our next campsite – the vegetation starts changing slowly and we can appreciate more types of plants and a greener landscape.
What's this? Another laguna! (Ausangate Circuit, Peru)
Tonight’s camp is in the middle of a village and not exceptional if not for the fact we are only few meters away from the hot springs of Pacchanta (4,350 m /14,270 ft). After lunch we get in our swimsuits ready for an afternoon in the springs.
Tonight we celebrate with a typical Peruvian meal with llama meat and 3 or 4 different kind of local potatoes.
Ausangate Peak in sight - It's not a good bye, it's a see you soon! Ausangate Circuit, Peru
DAY 5 - Pacchanta (4,350 m) - Tinki (3,775 m) - Cusco (3,400 m)
DURATION: 3 hours hiking to Tinki
Some hikers decide to be picked up by vehicle at this village on their last day, however we prefer to walk the whole way to the village of Tinki (our starting point) along the unpaved road. It is mostly all downhill and it takes us approximately 3 hours – it’s a good exercise and you get the opportunity to walk alongside the locals and have a better look at their way of life and their houses.
Local ladies heading to the Sunday Market in Tinki, Ausangate Circuit (Peru)
At Tinki we said goodbye to our horse porter and our driver picked us up to our drive back to Cusco. On the way to Cusco we stop for lunch in a local restaurant – apparently all restaurants offer roasted "cuy" (guinea pigs) and “trucha" (trout) on their menu and we opt for the trucha as we have not the courage to eat the poor cuy.
What a view on the way to Tinki! Ausangate Circuit (Peru)
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