This Ausangate hike has been one of the best moments while travelling. We went through spectacular scenery and amazing landscapes every day. From hail, to snow, to sunshine and rain at times, this multi-day trek was indeed unforgettable and I would definitely not forget the sights and friends I met along the way. There are many trails in Cusco to follow – the iconic Inca Trail, its counterpart the Salkantay Trail, Choquiquerao, Lares and Ausangate (just to name a few). The Ausangate trek was named as one of the most difficult treks in this part of the Andes (not including the Huayhuash Circuit up north) but I decided to take on the challenge as I felt that it gave the most rewarding views. This guide will aim to explain what the classic Ausangate Trek circuit is, and the process of finding a reputable company to go with. 

Getting to Ausangate 

Our Crew!

To get to Ausangate, you have to enter via 2 methods. One is via Tinki and the other via Pacchanta, both of which are in close proximity to the starting points to the Ausangate Trek. You can arrange transport yourself in Cusco if you’re planning to do the trek independently. When you book with a tour agency, they will be the ones who will be arranging the transport for you. As it was my first multi-day hike, I decided to go with an agency as they had the necessary equipment and expertise. 

Packing List

 

This packing list was most what Peru Summit gave me, I’ll just add on a few things here and there. 

  1. Travel insurance 
  2. Sleeping bag (I rented it from there, and it was indeed snug and comfortable, top notch quality!)
  3. Backpack (I didn’t have a hiking backpack so I used my 40L Pacsafe Bag which in retrospect I should have bought an Osprey for my first multi-day hike)
  4. Phone, Camera (for night skies, use a lower aperture with longer exposure, for the scenery in the day you could opt for  a simple zoom lens)
  5. Chargers (I would add extra charged batteries here, the cold temperatures zap the lives out of your devices)
  6. Headlamp / Torch (I brought a headlamp from Decathlon – cheap and sturdy)
  7. Mosquito Repellent (actually didn’t have to do much of these due to the high altitude and cold temperatures)
  8. Hiking Poles (make sure they are good enough not to break!!! these are super important even for day hikes, as they help to aid you with stability in rough terrain – the hike had parts with slippery mud at the start)
  9. Hiking Boots (LOWE sells pretty good ones but there are many other brands out there for hiking boots, depends whether you will want to hike again in the future)
  10. Raincoat for you 
  11. Raincoat for your backpack 
  12. Water resistant outer shell / windbreaker (This outermost layer was super useful as I did not want to keep changing my raincoat)
  13. Down jacket (This layer runs beneath the windbreaker)
  14. Fleece jacket (I travelled in August and I used this layer a lot as my outermost layer [instead of the windbreaker] especially in the mornings and afternoons when it was a nice 15 to 16 degrees out in the open)
  15. Hiking long-sleeved shirts (brought 2, wicking material too!, mostly used these for outdoor wear)
  16. Hiking short sleeved shirts (brought 2, mainly for sleeping)
  17. Hiking pants (brought 2)
  18. Comfortable track pants (1 for sleeping)
  19. Underwear (at your discretion but I don’t recommend wearing a pair for more than 2 days)
  20. Sleeping bag liner (will be provided)
  21. Thermal clothing (get the Ultra Heat Tech ones from Uniqlo (2 sets) they’re so comfortable against the cold, on a budget, I didn’t have the money to get expensive Merino Wool ones and the wool ones make me itch anyway, he synthetic material of Uniqlo was comparable)
  22.  Socks (similarly, I only bought one pair of Wool socks from Decathlon for sleeping at night, I used synthetic socks in the day)
  23. Sun hat (really useful normally, but I substituted it for a neck scarf to help protect against the cold alpine winds as well)
  24. Gloves (ESSENTIAL, I cannot stress this highly enough, gloves are a blessing at minus 10 degrees)
  25. Beanie (ESSENTIAL)
  26. Medication (I took some painkillers and basic antibiotics (Amoxicillin) with me just in case) – (recommended meds besides this would be Diamox (acetazolamide) for altitude sickness, plasters / band-aids, antihistamines (Cetirizine, Loratidine) for runny noses / itching / hives, Loperamide for diarrhoea, ORS rehydration salts and any other prescription meds you need, I actually took some Dexamethasone if anyone gets severe altitude sickness it helps the cerebral edema)
  27. Toilet Paper (took one roll, they will provide for the nights but you will need one roll for the days)
  28. Some Peruvian Soles (for tips for guides, chefs and porters at the end)
 

Finding a reputable company in Cusco

My company! Peru Summit

I actually found the company while I was in cusco, and I tried calling the various tour agencies asking about their Ausangate treks. As Ausangate is not a very popular route, most of the tour agencies did not have any available Ausangate treks for the days which I wanted.

I finally decided on Peru Summit as my company of choice, and it was one of the best decisions I have made. Peru Summit answered my questions through WhatsApp really quickly, and it had raving reviews on Tripadvisor. The price was a little more expensive than some other agencies, but I can assure you it was worth the money. 

You have to be clear during the preparatory phase, and ask more about the guides, the tents, accommodation, kinds of food they provide etc. I will provide a more succinct list at the side.  Peru Summit as a family-run company assured me that they take an eco-friendly approach to the trek, and that they helped support the local economy as well. 

Details and Links

Company: Peru Summit

Website: here
Tripadvisor link: here

What to ask during the preparatory phase

  1. Accommodation (what brands are the tents / how old are they)
  2. Sleeping bags (what temperatures are they made for? -18 ? -16? )
  3. Other tent equipment like hiking pole rental
  4. Max number of people per group (for me it was  8 people, some prefer fewer numbers)
  5. Number of guides provided / do they speak English or the relevant language? A little or conversational?
  6. Do they provide emergency oxygen and horses (and if so, how many?)

What is provided in the Peru Summit package? (including Accommoation)

Tents by Peru Summit

we slept in tents provided by Peru Summit. These were super comfortable and were well set for the cold temperatures faced in the mountains.  The tents were always set up as soon as possible and in most of the days were already pitched before we reached the campsite. 

The tents were super warm and they had great sleeping bags in them as well! The picture above shows the eating tent in which we had our meals each day. 

According to the website, they provide

  • Transportation from hotel to Upis (Upis is the starting point of the hike)
  • Transportation back to hotel from Pacchanta town (where the hot springs are located) at the end of our journey.
  • Camping equipment 4 season tent in Black Diamond or North Face Summit Series brand (04 people tent for 02 people) – these were really good tents it made us feel so pampered honestly
  • Air sleeping pad, Therma-Rest brand comes with pillows (this would be your sleeping bags, also super comfortable)
  • Other camping equipment, a dining tent with table and chairs, and a kitchen tent, manned by a professional cooking staff.
  • Entrance tickets (to the national park holding Ausangate)
  • Trek Leader (JC was our head leader,  wonderful guide)
  • Meals: Breakfast (4), lunch (5), dinner (4), and snacks.
  • A professional chef (really the meals he whipped up were insane in the freezing cold temperatures up there)
  • Horses, and muleteers; horses carry your 8-kg / 16-pound personal items.
  • Emergency horse to escort us during the trek. (helpful for the high passes if you’re really feeling down with altitude sickness) – (Basically its 4 people to one horse so our group had 8 people so 2 horses)
  • Oxygen tank.
  • Duffel bags where to put your personal items (the donkeys will help carry them in the day, you carry your daypack)

Links

 

The Journey

Day 1

The day started early, as we were picked up from our hotels in Cusco around 5 in the morning.  Being bleary-eyed and the first one to be picked up, I waved hi to Carlos  and slumbered my way into the van, only opening my eyes to glance at my companions who gradually joined me as we made our way towards Upis, the starting  point of the route. A few greetings were exchanged, but most of us exchanged snores in the wee hours of the morning. In the next few days, I would learn a lot more about this bunch of people who pressed on together for 5 days.

We reached the small town of Tinki on the way, where we took a short toilet break, where Carlos told us this was the last town we would be seeing for the next few days. The locals looked at us curiously as we did our business and proceeded on. There was still mobile data on my phone as I sent a few messages back to my family. The van trudged on.

By 8 we had reached the start point of Upis, a gravel road marked with various signs, it was the first time I was seeing Ausangate in the flesh. We would be trekking around Ausangate, seeing its many faces through the days. The chefs and porters immediately made a makeshift breakfast table where we had our first meal together. My group warmed up to each other, partly aided by hot coffee and simple biscuits. 

The journey was about to begin as we hauled our day pack with us and proceeded to the starting route. It was going to be a long day, with 7 to 8 hours of hiking to our first camp. Being my first multi-day hike, I did not know what to expect. I hoped I could keep up. 

The sights were downright amazing. From herds of alpacas to green luscious valleys with the fresh cool air of the mountains, I realized what I had been missing out on. I snapped a few photos and took out my phone, wanting to send the photos to my hiker friends. Alas, there was absolutely no data signal coming in. Time to get disconnected

We even chanced upon a cute dog on the way up to the mountain. It attempted to follow up a little bit but I was glad it didn’t persist. We encountered slight hail and fog on the first day as we went through the first pass (Arapi Pass). It was still amazing as it was my first time seeing such barren and rocky scenery. 

There it was, the Arapi Pass. After getting pelted by hail and slight snow for a little more than an hour, we saw the signs telling us that the Pass was near. This Pass was not a steep one, it was more of the gentle ascend but nonetheless a good warm up for the next few days. 

After a long 7 hours walk, we finally made to the first campsite where we were just glad to put our belongings down and breathe in the fresh evening breeze. The campsite was nestled a valley which was perfect. Day 1 was done! After dinner, we all headed back to our tents to rest up for the morning. 

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Day 2

We were awoken by our second guide – Jhon, early in the morning. It was still hard to believe that I was in the mountains, even with icicles and frozen puddles beside my sleeping bag. It was that cold at night. “Coffee or tea? Sugar yes?” It felt so good stretching your legs from the tent, with a hot coffee in hand. However, today was going to be one of the hardest days on the trail. It was good to be prepared.  

Today, we were going to do two passes – Apacheta and Warmisaya Passes respectively. We returned the duffel bags that held our items to the crew and moved with our day packs to the breakfast tent. The crew had brought along some chocolate powder akin to “Milo” powder and it tasted amazing. They had a tea bag containing different types of tea , I always opted for the coca leaves for the first few days as it helps with acclimatisation. For other days I chose the Camomile tea.  After a few pieces of biscuits and bread, we headed off for the first pass of the day. 

My leg muscles ached as I started to hike. Well, I wasn’t used to hiking 7-8 hours a day, even with the previous acclimatization to Cusco. Today’s scenery blew my mind. As we creeped along the edges of the mountain, a beautiful glacial lake came into view. It was my first time seeing something like this. An awestruck me started shooting as many photos as I could. Little did I know that for the next 5-6 hours I would be passing by numerous lakes, all different shades of blue. The head guide chuckled at my camera’s rapid fire. I was the youngest of the group, it was understandable that it probably was my first time seeing a glacial lake. 

It was during this day that 2 members of our group experienced mild altitude sickness. It started with the cough, then the headaches and breathlessness. The horses were invaluable at this moment. Slowly but surely, we passed Apacheta Pass. After stopping for lunch, we moved on to conquer Warmisaya Pass. My legs were dying by the time we reached the top. 

The skies were so clear on that night, I just had to wait out in the cloud for the perfect picture moments. It was definitely worth the wait. I used some random stones as a tripod for my camera as I did not have one. My group was really impressed with me the next morning! Haha well everyone was sleeping soundly while I had to wait 30 seconds for each long exposure shot, I deserve at least a little praise. 🙂

Two of our members decided to fall out today as they weren’t feeling too well. This was understandable given that they had only arrived in Cusco 3 days ago with limited time to acclimatize. Our group fell to 6. The way Peru Summit dealt with it was commendable, their departures were smoothly planned and we wished the best for them as they waited for their friends back in Cusco. Today we hiked about 8 to 9 hours due to the steep terrain and multiple passes we had to make. The next day was going to be extremely exciting as we were hiking up to Rainbow Mountain!

Day 3

The third day was the most colourful day of them all. After a hearty breakfast, we trudged up Warmisaya Pass again to reach the highlight of the day – the Rainbow Mountain, early in the morning (before the tour groups and day crowds arrive). It was a cold and early start to the morning, the cold wind bit at our faces, waking us up from our slumber.

The terrain we hiked around was amazing though. It changed from barren rockland to streaks of color spread across the mountains. The surrounding area already looked a little rainbow-ish from afar. 

Within a few hours, we hit Rainbow Mountain and had to trudge up its side. The colors were bursting and. Amazingly, they also had alpacas stationed there ready for their daily photoshoots. 

 

I had seen Rainbow Mountain on pictures but seeing it in person was amazing, even more so without the bustling crowds that come on the tour buses later in the day. I remember the crowds piling up like crazy when we were leaving. They looked like ants on an anthill from afar. Most of the day trippers were panting and huffing as they climbed up the mountain, no surprise as the altitude of 5036 metres was a far cry from Cusco’s at 3400 metres. 

As we walked towards the next campsite, we were told that it was where we will be able to see a glacier up close. I was so excited! The guide also mentioned that this was the coldest campsite as we were in close vicinity to the glacier.

 Finally, we reached the third campsite. There was a cute little stream which probably came from the glacier and our campsite became visible as we crossed the bridge towards the other side. Our chefs cooked up a tantalising spread this night and our bellies were so full. How they could do this in the freezing cold still stumps me. I remember the sleep being particularly good that night. I can say that this campsite was the most unique of all the days, precisely because you could literally see the glacier behind you. That doesn’t happen often! 

Price

  • 50000 Kip (8 SGD) for scooter rental of 1 day’s duration.
  • Entry to the Lagoon is 20 Kip each.
  • You will need to put your your passport as a deposit. We used only one passport as a deposit for the 3 of us.
  • You will need to navigate in possibly muddy terrain especially in the wet season (but it’s still lotsa fun, especially more to see your friends’ feet get stuck in the mud :p)

Day 4

Day 4 was the day where we were going to have our highest pass, the Palomani pass at 5200 metres. We were off to an early start. We actually had a small discussion over breakfast whether to do the Pass or not as one of our group members was feeling a little under the weather. We concluded that we had already done 3 days, it would be fruitful and an accomplishment to complete the highest Pass on the Ausangate Trek. 

With that in mind, we pushed on. Today’s scenery was spectacular, it could clearly top the previous 3 days as it was so scenic it blew my mind. Everywhere you look, was clearly a photo opportunity (to my untrained eye heh). The contrast of the photo subjects against the beautiful background was definitely insane.

Palomani pass was no doubt difficult but I was so proud of my group when we climbed past the big sign. At the top, we did a traditional Incan prayer and offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) using the sacred coca leaves in Peru. You pick up 3 unbroken coca leaves from the pile and blow it as an offering to what Mother Earth provides us with (an ancient Incan tradition). JC the head guide also told us about the various mountains near the region. It was breathtaking just to turn 360 degrees and be met by such different landscapes. 

We had to head to the last campsite soon as crossing the Palomani pass takes up some time. By the fourth day, our group had already bonded quite a bit, throwing out subtle jokes (at my acrophobia) without hesitation. We all knew the journey was coming to an end, as we trudged along wearily towards our last campsite, where hot dinners and dessert awaited us. 

The last campsite (picture above) had a little store on site so we could purchase tidbits and other necessities.  Be sure to bring small change as it is a small store after all. It didn’t have that much spare change. For the last night, they brought out a CAKE. Seriously, a cake in the middle of nowhere. And it tasted good. My heart was a little heavy knowing that I was leaving my companions the next day…

Day 5

I’m sure you can tell the difference between this scenery and the rest of the days. You’re right, it was so snowy. My home country does not have snow and it was probably the third time in my life seeing snow, and SO MUCH all around me. It was good that the snow was not that thick as the floor was already a little slippery, and I didn’t have crampons with me (not that we supposed to have them). But the photos looked so nice with the snowy background I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter.

 

 

As we walked to Pacchanta, the town in which we were going to be picked up from, we passed by various glacial lakes, of which one had the most azure blue color I’ve ever seen. Apparently, its name WAS Blue Lake LOL. It was a good surprise especially at the last leg of the hike. There were also other lakes just around the corner. It was really scenic.

 

As such, we concluded our journey at Pacchanta. No one wanted to dip into the hot springs at Pacchanta and we departed back to Cusco. Everyone exchanged contacts on the way back and it was concluded that I would be sharing all my photos with them 🙂 I loved how everyone was hesitant for me to take photos at the start, however they all willing posed over the next few days. This was the view below as we walked out towards Pacchanta. Bye, Ausangate. You’ve been hell of a journey. 

 

 

Price: 10000 Kip for entry

 

Conclusion

The Ausangate Trek was definitely not an easy one, but it was a new one that made me fall in love with hiking. What I loved about all 5 dayswas the fact that the scenery changed day to day. From rockland, to grassland, to hail and snow, it made the hike less boring and so much more interesting. What I feel really made this hike great was actually the company I had. My companions were all willing to accommodate to each other and Peru Summit handled everything well as well. I would like to commend JC and Jhon for their passion in guiding the entire trip, even when we had to make a few detours here and there. The chefs and porters also deserve due recognition with their prompt meal preparation and setting up of the campsites. As such, I would definitely recommend Peru Summit to anyone looking for treks in Ausangate, and they do offer other treks to places like Macchu Picchu and the Salkantay trek if you’re interested in more jungly treks. 

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