Have you heard of the Ausangate trek? It’s not as popular as Santa Cruz, Inca Trail etc but that’s a good thing! We’ve chosen this option over Huayhuash in the north after consulting more experienced people who did both and we’re very happy. It’s about 70 kms long without the detour to Rainbow mountain (which we did). It took us 4,5 days of trekking without the transport. And most importantly, we did it independently without a tour which meant we were carrying all our equipment and food for us and the dogs, But let’s get you on the scene.
How do you get to the start of Ausangate trek?
There are buses from Cusco to the village of Tinke. In Cusco you can take one from the terminal close to Coliseo Cerrado. The price of one journey is 10 soles and it takes about 3 hours to get to Tinke. From here there will be taxi drivers offering to drive you up to Upis but we’ve opted to walk.
Gear for independent hiking of Ausangate trek
- tent – one that survives wind, rain and cold
- warm sleeping bag – temperatures fall below zero overnight
- good isolating mattress
- warm clothes, gloves, hats, buffs
- comfortable hiking shoes/boots
- cooking equipment and stove – there are no restaurants once in the mountains and you’ll appreciate hot food and drinks
- water treatment system – filter or drops/tablets – there’s plentiful water on the trek but there’s also plentiful alpacas and llamas, you want to treat your water
- sunscreen – most of the time you’re above 4500 masl
- first aid kit – you have to be self reliant in case of problems
- optional – 2 instant heaters you invite into your sleeping bag at night, called Phoebe and Lolo
- we rented our backpacks and hiking poles from Equipos de Camping Himalaya in Cusco (2 backpacks 70 soles/6 days of rental and 2 pairs of poles 40 soles/6 days of rental)
Day 1 – Tinke to Upis and how we were robbed
We arrived to Tinke around 3 pm and started our hike to Upis. Right after the village there’s a booth where you pay 10 soles entrance fee. After some time we met fellow hikers from Czech Republic Martin and Honza and since then we hiked together. As the sun was setting we were still 6 kms to Upis. We wanted to try our luck to sleep at school but it was closed. There was a teenage boy who offered his family “hostal” up the road and we agreed on camping there for 5 soles/pp. We saw beautiful sunset and had direct view of Ausangate. Unfortunately in the morning we were woken up by Martin yelling all his belongings are outside (the guys had their backpacks under the fly of the tent as they don’t fit inside) and his money are missing. The thieves undid the pegs of the fly of both our tents so they didn’t have to use the zippers. We had only dogs’ bowl missing (?!) even though our stove and shoes and cooking pots were outside too. The thieves were so “nice”, they took only the money but returned Martin’s passport and credit card into the backpack. Two days after we met a Finnish girl who camped at the official campsite in Upis and they stole her cooking equipment the same night so she couldn’t finish the whole circuit. Well, this wasn’t a pleasant start of Ausangate trek but at least we could have continued.
Day 2 – Upis to Ananta
We walked remaining 6 kms to Upis and the grade was pretty mild. In Upis you can find thermal springs but we continued up to the first pass. I don’t know why all the blogs we’ve read say there are no steep sections on Ausangate trek because all the passed have got VERY steep sections. They are not long but they take the breath away and it’s not (only) from the beauty. The first pass in Arapa pass at the altitude of 4850 metres. Here we were caught in some hail and met a tour group. For lunch we got to the mirador (viewpoint) over the first laguna at the Puca Cocha group. Here we lunched on delicious vegan empanadas from Little Bake Shop in Cusco and everybody was jealous including the dogs around :). From there we continued by laguna Hatun Puca Cocha where the tour group stopped to set up camp. We had a discussion if we should continue as there was another almost 5000m pass ahead of us. The boys persuaded me but when we were crawling up the pass, all of us were suffering badly. No proper path and the route went straight up. From time to time there was a huge rumbling noise and we could see ice and snow from the opposite glacier falling down into the lagoon. Finally we were up and the scenery changed completely. Glaciers were replaced by colourful rainbow mountains. We rushed down as the sun was setting and found two chozas (shepherd’s hut) where our tents fitted perfectly.
Day 3 – Ananta to Quechua village via Rainbow Mountain
We put the alarm for 5 o’clock to beat the crowds at the Rainbow Mountain. When we opened the tent zipper, we saw this.
Everything was white and foggy and we had a doggie companion who spent the night next to the boys’ tent. So after imagining how the Rainbow mountain will be covered in snow and how hard it will be to follow the trail, we decided to take it slowly, enjoy breakfast and several teas and coffees and wait until later to let the snow melt. We had to overcome 4980 metres Warmisaya pass before descending a little and then gradually ascending to the Rainbow Mountain. It was about 1pm and most of the tourists were leaving. A local in colourful clothes didn’t forget to charge us 10 soles pp for being here and thanked us for keeping our dogs on the leash while there were three Peruvian dogs walking around. No pasa nada, he said, they don’t chase the llamas and alpacas, they’re used to them.
Not to walk the same route we descended towards Chilca but not all the way. The plan was to camp at Laguna Ausangatecocha but we were caught in terrible rain and wind in the valley at 4300metres. We turned and walked back to a little Quechua village with 7 inhabitants and 500 llamas and alpacas where Santos gave us refuge in his old restaurant in exchange for some coca leaves and 10 soles. The restaurant looked more like a barn but it was dry and sheltered us from the wind.
Day 4 – Quechua village before Ausangatecocha to Campa campsite
We started walking the road towards Ausangatecocha and after some 6- 7 kms we reached the lake. We met Santos agaian with a group of tourists who were probably here to experience local culture. They were playing football with small Quechua kids. This valley is not very touristy anymore since a new road to Rainbow Mountain was built. Just before the laguna Honza and Martin helped local lady to pull an alpaca from the swamp. She said it’s going to die. We were still hopeful that if it wasn’t in the cold water for too long maybe it could recover in the sun.
Since Rainbow mountain we were accompanied by three mountain dogs who adopted us and were protecting us from the other dogs and guarded us at night. Funny thing was that Phoebe and Lolo were tolerated as they were part of the pack. These dogs looked like they did not have owners and were used to live off from what tourists gave them as well as hunting viscachas and also alpacas (thankfully we didn’t see any successful hunt). With Tom we called them Negro, Tigre and Bruno. We saw Tigre feasting on a dead llama as well as running after one alpaca who fell and stayed on the ground. It didn’t seem visibly injured but until we left, it didn’t want to move. Tom went to the nearby cliff to check on her from the distance and fortunately she was already up on all four and walking. All this may seem very harsh and cruel to you, on the other hand these dogs didn’t fall here from the skies, they are products of uncontrolled breeding and without owners they found their way how to survive. To be honest, they seemed to be the happiest dogs in Peru.
At Laguna Ausangatecocha we had lunch and then carried on to the highest pass on the circuit – Palomani 5100 masl. It was definitely the toughest challenge, short little steps, not being able to talk at all. About 400 metres before the pass I lied down on the ground with terrible headache. It was only 70 vertical metres though so Tom took my backpack and we reached Palomani. Boys were somewhere in front with Tigre and Bruno while our loyal Negrito accompanied us all the time. We passed by a Chocolate Lake called like that thanks to the colour of water. Down in the valley we met Honza and Martin again and walked some 5 – 6 kms to the campground together, totally knackered.
We reached the luxurious campsite with flushing toilets right on time to snap some beautifully coloured photos with the glacier in the background. Our three companions had dinner altogether with Phoebe and Lolo. Suddenly a local appeared who wanted to charge us 10 soles pp for camping. It would have been all ok but he didn’t have any receipts to prove our payment (as his companions normally did). So with my lovely Spanish I sent him home with an advice to come back with the receipts. It was a good call! Next morning another local with his pet llama appeared, armed with the receipts, wanting money for camping. This time we paid of course. So just be careful of this practice while on Ausangate trek.
Day 5 – Campa to Pacchanta
Next day we woke up into the freezing morning, eagerly waiting until the sun hit the tents. Three dog musketeers slept next to the tents (they declined an offer to go under the fly) and were covered in frost. Today Honza and Martin were walking way ahead of us because Phoebe and Lolo already adopted the as part of the pack and they were pulling on the leashes and squeaking when they saw them ahead. Campa pass was for us probably the most beautiful. Beautiful blue skies, glaciers and gradual ascent to 5100 metre pass. Negrito was with us while Bruno and Tigre were ahead. At the top we met some mountain bikers who came here to enjoy the off-road riding without the load. While descending we saw many colourful lakes and also horrible storm in the distance. Negro abandoned us in the last campground to play with the other dogs and Tigre and Bruno apparently did the same at various points. These three days companions of ours probably didn’t understand correctly when I mentioned three dinners that were waiting in Pacchanta for them. On the other hand I totally understand why they didn’t want to hang around in the village. Mountains are better!
We rushed down to Pacchanta but our path was crossed by the agressive llamas. They literally were charging at us and the dogs, some of them taller than Tom. We had to leave the path and bypass them and they followed us for a while. In Pacchanta we found Martin and Honza who arranged a room for all of us. There are thermal pools in the village but after learning that everybody uses them as a normal bath (as there are no proper showers), we decided to wait with washing ourselves until the next day. Ladies at the hostel prepared simple dinner and breakfast and next day we took a taxi down to the village (40 soles/car).
Read about our other favourite hike
Ausangate trek – is it worth the effort?
Oh definitely. Still not very popular, meaning only few people, beautiful scenery, funny alpacas and llamas. Opportunity to see not only Rainbow mountain but also other colourful mountains. We saw proper snow after 2,5 years!! Anyway, the altitude is challenging so be properly acclimatised and put everything in your tent at night, not to give the thieves any chance.
BONUS and inspiration – What do vegans eat on Ausangate trek?
We got this question from our fellow companions from Czech Republic and also from Slovak friends we met after the trek in Cusco. Important thing to say, Cusco is heaven for vegans and it’s easy to stock up here. There are so many great places to eat that we keep prolonging our stay, but don’t tell anybody!
Breakfast: oats porridge with nuts, cocoa, dried fruit + coffee
Lunch: vegan empanadas from The Little Bake Shop in Cusco (best thing ever!), crackers with vegan cheese and veggies, crackers with tofu spread (donated by Martin and Honza, our Czech brothers :D), galletas de agua with peanut butter and jam
Dinner: lentil curry with mushrooms by Alee from Cyclingabout, lentils + fava beans + rice + carrot and onion soup, instant mashed potatoes and dehydrated soy pieces with onions, Asian soup – shitake + fava + rice + minced soy + ginger, last night at the hostel – veggie soup, quinoa with veggies and french fries
Snacks: homemade trail mix (different dried fruit and nuts), energy bars – great local brand is Farbar, brownies from The Little Bake Shop (don’t even let me start on this goodness), caramelised popcorn, fresh fruit…
And coca tea, loads of coca tea!
Do you still think we’re starving, brothers and sisters?
Have a lovely week, we hope you enjoyed this guide and story about Ausangate trek and we’ll see you in Bolivia!