AUSANGATE TREK INDEPENDENT HIKING GUIDE
Towering to almost 21,000 feet, Mt. Ausangate is Peru’s fifth highest peak and home to one of the best treks found in this region. Inspiring mountain views, surreal turquoise lakes, and breathtaking landscapes make this a hiker’s treasure. While the Salkantay Trek attracts masses of tourists looking to visit Machu Picchu, the Ausangate Trek (pronounced “aus-an-got-tay”) attracts hikers looking for more solitude without sacrificing scenery. Located three hours southeast of Cusco, the Ausangate Trek also offers experienced hikers the option of visiting the seemingly man-made Rainbow Mountain.
The classic Ausangate Trek is simply the path circumnavigating 41 miles around the mountain taking as little as four days. Visitors with ample time can extend this basic path to seven nights and 52 miles to include more segments of this incredible paradise. Navigation can be challenging within individual sections of the Ausangate. Trails seem to evaporate below your feet, and you will be faced with a labyrinth of trails that could either be an actual footpath, or more likely one of the hundreds of paths forged by the grazers that populate this area.
Solitude seekers will find far fewer visitors sharing the trail compared to the Salkantay. The Ausangate is more arduous with more significant elevation gains and more complicated logistics. If quality trekking is your priority for this adventure and you are equipped for the challenge, the Ausangate is the grander choice.
6 Days, 5 Nights
Total Distance: 52 Miles
Minimum Elevation: 12,471 ft
Maximum Elevation: 16,766 ft
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The Ausangate Trek is a loop that starts and ends at the small town of Tinki, about three hours southeast of Cusco. To get to Tinki from Cusco, you can hire a private vehicle for about 100 soles (~$38), or there is a public bus that costs 10 soles per person (~$3.3). For a three to four-hour bus ride, the price is unbeatable. The bus that you are looking for is going to a town called Ocongate. Buses leave sporadically throughout the day. I recommend showing up early and waiting until the bus appears. There is no timetable that I have been able to verify.
My recommendation is to go counterclockwise because the views are better paced in increasing quality in this direction. Once you arrive in Tinki, there are dirt roads that connect to Upis and Pacchanta. You have the option to hire transportation to take you to either of these spots from the main village square. We elected to hike up to Upis, and then pay for a motorbike ride to take us from Pacchanta back to Tinki after the trek.
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Day 1: Cusco to Tinki Bus. Hike to Upis.
The first day of the Ausangate takes you from the village of Tinki up over 2,000 feet of elevation gain to the Upis Campground. I suggest hiking to Upis instead of using a taxi because it is an excellent warm-up for the challenging passes that will appear throughout the hike. The Upis Campground is essentially the trailhead to the actual trek.
Once you arrive in Tinki from Cusco in the morning, you will find the start of the hike by following the small road just east of the main village center. This road turns into a dirt road that travels up towards the towering Ausangate. It gets confusing towards the middle of the day because there are a lot of networking dirt roads, but as long as you continue hiking uphill towards Ausangate, you will find Upis. The last third or so will be off of the dirt roads and force you to hike through vast open fields that are difficult to navigate. The campground offers fantastic views of Ausangate with water and toilet facilities.
Upis: 14,580 feet
Day 2: Upis to Anatapata Lodge via Arapa and Ausangate Pass
Day 2 of the Ausangate contains two sections that can either be split into two relatively short days or combined into one challenging day. It turned out to be a jam-packed day of hiking to complete both of these segments. High altitude, confusing navigation, and significant elevation gain over short distances make this a leg-scorcher of a day. There are two passes to be conquered. The first pass starts immediately upon your departure from the Upis Campground and climbs 1,100 feet up to the Arapa Pass. As you descend, you’ll likely encounter several different herds of alpacas and some smaller turquoise lakes.
Arapa Pass: 15,604 feet
As you approach Laguna Pucacocha in the early afternoon, there will be an unmarked point in the trail where you can descend off of the high ridge and downhill towards the large lake. There is a campground located on the southeastern corner of the lake. However, if you do not want to stop early at this campground, stay high on the path. If you continue east on this path, it will eventually lead to the Ausangatecocha Campground. Navigating to the Ausangate Pass was difficult. To get to the Ausangate Pass, you need to head south up the incredibly steep face with Laguna Pucacocha at your back. It is an exceptionally steep climb up to the Ausangate Pass, taking a strenuous hour from the main trail diversion.
After the summit of the Ausangate, the navigating gets a lot easier all the way to Anatapata Lodge. You’ll descend and veer to the west, then follow the valley uphill until you reach Anatapata Lodge. It was unclear where we were supposed to set up our tents because the workers said we could not set up our tents anywhere in front of the property. We found a site where we could set up our tents further up the valley from the lodge and on the north side of the ridge. Just hike past the lodge and turn right after a few minutes, scrambling uphill until you find the nice flat section worthy of your tent for the night.
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Day 3: Anatapata Lodge -> Abra Warmisaya -> Rainbow Mountain -> Ausangatecocha
Day 3 of the Ausangate Trek is highlighted by the seemingly man-made Rainbow Mountain. When you look at this unbelievable gem, you truly are looking at millions of years of geological history. This geological wonder is the result of sedimentary layers’ unique mineralogy and effects from weathering. Iron oxide rust gives the vibrant red coloration seen in mountains all around this range. The Rainbow Mountain has become one of the most significant tourist attractions in the area bringing hundreds of visitors a day from Cusco to capture this Instagram-worthy picture.
To avoid the buzzing crowds of tourists that infiltrate the Rainbow Mountain, we began the hike from Anatapata Lodge early at 05:30. It takes less than an hour to ascend the 750 feet up to the summit of Abra Warmisaya at 16,444 feet. Watching the sunrise from this epic viewpoint was an incredible highlight. You then quickly descend the steep southern face and lose almost all of the elevation that you gained. It took us about 2.5 hours total to hike from the Anatapata Lodge to the top of the viewpoint for Rainbow Mountain, arriving right around 08:00. As you approach the viewpoint, you’ll be asked to pay a ten soles entrance fee. We were barely beaten to the viewpoint by the first bus of motivated tourists who took the earliest tour from Cusco. In hindsight, I would have left camp by 05:00 to beat the crowds and have some tranquility with the mountain without the buzz of tourists. It would have made this beautiful site more authentic and wilder than when the crowds create a more commercialized experience.
Rainbow Mountain: 16,503 feet
From the Rainbow Mountain, we returned to the Anatapata Lodge via Abra Warmisaya before continuing to Ausangatecocha. The path from Anatapata Lodge down to Ausangatecocha was the most challenging segment to navigate throughout the entire trek. These were the only hours of hiking that I honestly wished to have had a guide showing us the way. It was challenging to discern what was a real hiking path and what were animal grazing paths. Even though it was difficult to navigate, I still recommend this route because it offered great views and saves you a whole day compared to going the long route through Camp Quesiuno. The campground at Ausangatecocha is just south of the namesake lake. Make sure to hike up to the lake for some gorgeous views before grabbing some shut-eye in preparation for the best day of the entire trek.
Day 4: Ausangatecocha to Jampa Campground via Palomani Pass
The fourth day of the Ausangate Trek is magical. The hike begins immediately with a two-hour, 1,600 ft climb up to the summit of the Palomani Pass. Navigation up to the pass is effortless, but your legs will start to scold you for not doing more of the stair stepper. The views from the pass are stunning. You’ll see both Ausangatecocha and Pucacocha lakes as well as the Ausangate Pass from Day 2. You can afford a generous break to catch your breath, enjoy a snack, and soak in the fantastic views before descending the other side of the pass.
Palomani Pass: 16,766 feet
The fantastic hiking of Day 4 only gets better after the Palomani Pass. As you descend 2,100 feet towards Pampacancha, the views of Mt. Ausangate are stunning. The glacier off the southeastern face stretches for miles as you hike along the back face of the Palomani Pass. I adored the hike from the Palomani Pass to Jampa Campground because of the highly dynamic scenery as you curve around the mountain. You will be amazed by one view, see it disappear, and realize that there is an entirely new mountain face that revealed itself. The stretch after Pampacancha was another navigationally difficult section with zero trail signs, but we were able to find our destination with plenty of time to spare. The Jampa Campground was a stunning place to set up a tent and even had a tiny shop where you could purchase some basic food items.
Jampa Campground: 15,040 feet
Day 5: Jampa Campground to Pacchanta via Abra Khampa
Day 5 will take you up to the phenomenal Khampa Pass, past a series of gorgeous turquoise lakes, and ending at the village of Pacchanta where you can enjoy a nice cooked meal and soak in the soothing natural hot springs. The day starts off with another challenging morning climb 1,500 feet up to the top to the Khampa Pass. It is a beautiful trail leading up to the pass with straightforward navigation, even though you’ll have trouble spotting the actual pass much before you arrive. At the summit are breathtaking views of the neighboring Pacchanta Mountain whose jagged features reminded me much of the Salkantay Pass. We enjoyed our last lunch of the trek at this picturesque oasis before descending the western side of the pass.
Khampa Pass: 16,640 ft
Less than an hour of descent from the pass will lead you to a fork in the trail. As instructed by a local guide, we veered left at the fork and followed the signs towards Camp Gratis. Once you pass the Laguna Mirador, the trail steeply descends to the valley floor. You’ll hike past one of the guide company campgrounds along a trail that is easy to follow. For those that seek the thrill of a rock jump into crystal clear but freezing glacial water, there is an excellent one on this segment of the trail in between the Laguna Mirador and Pacchanta. The final push to Pacchanta takes you along rivers and rolling hills but none requiring you to take out your Maps.me too often.
Upon arriving in Pacchanta, we struggled to find the camping spot indicated on Maps.me. It was getting late, so we accepted an offer from a local to set up camp in their backyard for an extremely fair price. After a well-earned hearty dinner, we joined some other trekkers and locals for a night soak in the hot springs right in the city center. Watching the stars come out by the millions as we let our muscles relax in hot water was an fantastic way to finish the trek.
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Day 6: Pacchanta to Tinki. Bus to Cusco.
On Day 6, we decided to save the beating on our legs and take a thirty-minute motorbike ride back down to Tinki instead of enduring the 7.3 miles with 1,800 feet of elevation descent without any impressive views. The ride was absolutely worth the 30 soles per person to eliminate the impact on my knees from such long descent. You only need to ask around the village, and there will be someone with a bike you can negotiate with for a ride down to Tinki. After arriving in Tinki, you can ride back to Cusco on the same bus that brought you to Tinki.
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