Peru’s most popular hiking trails generally include visits to the ruins of ancient Inca civilization. But if you’re one of those hikers who’s looking for an “off the beaten track” kind of adventure, then an Ausangate trek expedition is just what you’re craving.
Instead of the usual hiking destinations, and Ausangate hike will take you through some of the most scenic and breathtaking landscapes Peru has to offer. A word of caution though: this trek is not for everyone, especially novice hikers. The trail is as physically and mentally demanding as it is beautiful. Nonetheless, if you’re ready for this kind of challenge, then read up on our beginner’s guide to hiking the Ausangate trail so you can better plan your trip.
The Ausangate Trek Overview
With over 70 kilometers of trails and several mountain peaks reaching over 5,000 meters high, the Ausangate trek is not for novice hikers. It generally takes about six days for hikers to complete the trail, although longer treks are available with some venturing to the world-renowned travel destination: Machu Picchu. Most hiking tour companies offer a six-day trip, and solo hikers will often follow the same route and itinerary.
Unlike other trails in the region, Ausangate is not your typical Andean hiking trip with ruins of ancient Inca temples and plazas as the highlights. Instead, hikers are treated to some of the best natural landscapes in the country, from snow-capped mountain peaks, azure lakes of varying sizes, hot springs to the famous “Rainbow Mountains” and more. Aside from the landscapes, the trail is also full of interesting wildlife including condors, vicunas, bobcats, and even pumas.
As with other high-altitude hiking destinations, the weather in Ausangate can be a bit tricky. Light rains are fairly common, as well as heavy downpours and even blizzards which is why it is recommended to schedule your trip wisely.
Best Time to Go
There are two main seasons in the place, namely the dry season and the wet season. Like other hiking treks in the region, an Ausangate hike is best done during the dry season which falls between May and September. During these times of the year, the temperature is generally mild and with very minimal inclement weather systems. Thus there is good visibility all around, which will not only allow you to enjoy the scenic views better but also make traveling a lot easier and safer (which is very important when hiking at high altitude). Nonetheless, you’ll want to make sure that you wear enough layers and bring warm sleeping bags because the nights can get chilly up there.
The wet season generally takes place from November and lasts until February in the following year. Although it is possible to go hiking here during those months, it is recommended to avoid doing so. Heavy downpours can wreak havoc on the trails, making them all muddy, slippery, and altogether difficult to walk on. At worst, landslides and flash floods can happen which can trap you in the trail. And even if you’re lucky enough not to encounter any of these natural disasters, you’re bound to have a miserable time camping out there in the rain.
Food and Water
If you go on a guided Ausangate hike tour, you wouldn’t need to worry about food that much because they are usually included in the tour package (when in doubt, ask the tour service provider before committing or booking with them). The package also includes a chef so you don’t have to worry about learning how to cook or what dish to make with the ingredients they brought. Nonetheless, you’ll still want to pack along a few snacks (preferably calorie-dense foods) for when you get hungry before scheduled meal times.
However, if you’re going on an independent hike then you’ll want to pack enough food to last you for the whole trip, as well as a camping stove and some cooking and eating utensils. It is important to note that there are no stores along the trail, so you’ll want to make sure that you are fully stocked before you start the hike and leave civilization behind. You can buy your supplies in Tinqui, but some hikers prefer to do their shopping in Cusco since there are more choices available in the city.
As for water, there are plenty of creeks and rivers along the route where you can refill your water bottles. However, be sure to bring a water filter because no one can guarantee the cleanliness and drinkability of the water coming from these sources (especially when you consider all the alpacas and other wildlife grazing in the area.)
Camping and Accommodations
At best, the only accommodations you’ll find along the trail are primitive huts scattered far and few in between. That said, you’re very likely (and should expect) to be sleeping over dirt and under the stars.
There are also no designated campsites along the Ausangate hike trail, although some spots have become favorite camping destinations for hikers and tour operators. For instance, many tour operators and hikers choose to spend their nights camping along the shores of Jatun Pucacocha or the “Big Red Lake”. Another favorite campsite would be up in the mountain-climbers’ base camp where you’ll be pitching your tent amidst highland meadows and icy moraines.
What to Wear
As with any other hiking adventure, be sure that wear the appropriate clothes to ensure your comfort along the trail. Also, remember that you’ll be hiking in high altitudes where nights can get cold so be sure to dress for that as well. That said, here is some basic hiking apparel you’ll want to wear for this trip.
1. Hiking Pants
High altitudes usually mean cold climates even during the dry season, so you’ll want to wear a pair of reliable hiking pants when hiking the Ausangate trail. Long pants are also recommended since they can help keep you warm during those cold nights up in the mountains.
2. Hiking Jackets
We can’t stress this enough: it can get really cold up in the mountains so be sure to bring along warm hiking hardshell jackets. A windbreaker is also a good idea because cold winds can be unforgiving especially during the winter months.
3. Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes
Many hikers prefer hiking shoes over hiking boots for several reasons, but both are okay for this trip. Just make sure that you break them in properly to ensure your comfort and avoid any unwanted foot or ankle injuries.
4. Base and Mid Layers
If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that weather and temperature can be unpredictable in high altitude places like the Ausangate trek. That said, be sure you wear good base layers and mid layers to help you deal with these changes.
5. Hiking Hats and Beanies
Hiking hats do not only protect you from the sun but they can also provide some warmth and protection against drizzles. Be sure to have a beanie in hand because you will need them to keep your head warm as you sleep.
You’ll want to protect your eyes not only from the sun’s glare but also from other debris like sand and dirt, so a good pair of hiking sunglasses is essential for this trip. Plus, they’ll make it easier for you to enjoy the majestic views in Ausangate without the sun’s glare blinding your sight.
7. Hiking Socks
Hiking socks should be worn on any hiking adventure and not your ordinary socks. Your ordinary socks which are made from cotton will absorb moisture (which are plenty up in high altitude areas) and not only make you uncomfortable but will also make your feet feel much colder.
8. Trekking Poles
If there’s one piece of hiking equipment you’ll want for multi-day treks that would be a reliable pair of trekking poles. Regardless of what others say, there are plenty of benefits of using trekking poles that will make walking much easier.
What to Bring
As with any other backpacking trip, you’ll want to make sure that you bring the following items in your backpacking backpack.
1. Backpacking Tent
Because you’ll be spending your nights in high altitude campsites, you’ll want a good backpacking tent that can protect you from moisture and strong winds. It should also be light enough so you don’t feel burdened while carrying it. Your tent should be a 3-season tent at the least, but if you can carry a 4-season tent then that would be better.
2. Sleeping Bag
3-season sleeping bags should be good enough to keep you warm when camping even in high altitude areas. Both synthetic and down sleeping bags are okay, just make sure that you choose a high-quality sleeping bag, or else you’ll be cold at night.
3. Sleeping Pad
Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable and hard on the back so you’ll want to pack along a sleeping pad. Choose an inflatable sleeping pad instead of a mattress because it will be much lighter to carry and waterproof.
4. Rain Poncho
Bring a rain poncho to keep you dry when unexpected rain starts pouring. It does rain occasionally in high altitude places even during the dry season.
6. Water Bottle
There is running water available along the trail. Still, you’ll have to purify them with a backpacking water filter to avoid getting stomach aches, diarrhea, and other diseases.
7. Medicine and First Aid
A small first aid kit is essential in any backpacking or hiking trip. If you are going to high altitude places, be sure to add some hot pack in your kit.
8. Cameras and Batteries
The Ausangate is filled with some of Peru’s most beautiful natural landscapes, so be sure to bring a hiking camera along. Plus, these photos and videos will more than prove that you survived one of the most challenging treks in the country, possibly the world.
Nights in high altitude places are not only cold but they can get pretty dark as well. Be sure to have a battery-operated flashlight or headlamp within reach.
10. Camping Stove and Utensils
If you’re traveling with a guide, you can let go of this camping equipment. But if you’re a solo hiker, this is one thing you won’t want to forget. Be sure to bring along enough fuel for your camping stove as well, and don’t forget your cooking and eating utensils, too.
Hiking Solo vs. Guided Tours
We have mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating that Ausangate is one of the most difficult trails in Peru and should not be taken lightly. That said, inexperienced hikers are strongly advised against going at it alone.
Guided tours are the safest option for most hikers, even those who have already gone on one or two hikes in the past. Guides will know the best routes to take to ensure safe passage even through the most treacherous trails (though it is highly unlikely that you’ll be going through them). They will also have an excellent idea of the geographical, historical, and cultural background of the place, and you’re bound to pick up tons of interesting information from them.
Guided tours also offer packages that can make your Ausangate trek much easier and more convenient. For one, these packages will cover food and provisions throughout the trip so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own. Hiking will also be easier since you don’t have to carry a huge backpack with all your things in it. You’ll only need to tote your day pack while hiking and all your other belongings will be carried by the horses. All in all, traveling with guided tours will make the whole trip less tiring and stressful for you since everything is already planned out and accounted for. However, the biggest drawback would be the price of the package, which can be expensive especially for backpackers on a budget.
Independent hikes will be way cheaper and will allow you more freedom with your plans since you can adjust them as you see fit. But it should only be undertaken by those who have prior experience in hiking in high altitude trails (and not just once). You should also be properly acclimatized, otherwise, you may suffer from various health issues related to high altitude hiking. That’s why even veteran hikers often do a short pre-trip expedition in trails similar to Ausangate to acclimatize and prepare their bodies.
Globo Surf Overview
Ausangate trek is certainly one of the most rewarding hiking adventures you can have in Peru. It may not have ancient ruins that other trails are known for, but the beautiful sceneries and landscapes will more than satisfy any hikers’ whims. However, keep in mind that the Ausangate hike is not to be taken lightly. The trail is as difficult as it is beautiful, and there are challenges associated with high-altitude hiking that you should be aware of. Nonetheless, whether you go solo or join a tour, be sure to add this trek to your hiking bucket list. It will be one adventure you won’t ever forget.
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