One of the Best Backpacking Destinations on the Globe is the Ausangate Circuit!

Thinking about backpacking destinations in Peru and people come up with the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. That's certainly a well known trail, but there are other, more challenging routes than the Inca Trail.

Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu
Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, backpacking destinations

The incredible Cordillera Vilcanota, southeast of Cuzco, includes a number of summits of which Ausangate is the highest at 20,945 feet (6,384 meters). The peak is visible from Cuzco on a clear day. After the aptly named Cordillera Blanca, the snow capped peaks of this area are the 2nd largest Peruvian glaciated system. On the eastern side of the cordillera, the slopes give way to Peruvian amazonia, and on the other side is the Andes and altiplano. Climbers may ascend from any side of Ausangate, but the south face is the main route. Climbers must be properly outfitted and experienced because all routes are technical in nature.

Ausangate, backpacking destinations

Ausangate is considered a holy mountain, an apu, a place of offerings and worship from preInca times. Held annually in June, the Apu Ausangate is also famous for the celebration of El Señor de Qoyllur Ritti. The celebrations bring together ancient and Christian rituals in homage to the ancient cult of the sun and Corpus Christi. Throughout the year, Shamanic pilgrimages are made to the mountain.

Apu Ausangate
Apu Ausangate, backpacking destinations

Before heading for Ausangate and using Cuzco as a base, travelers can visit the Sacred Valley, the fortress of Sacsayhuamán, Machu Picchu, and other nearby backpacking destinations, acclimatizing to the altitude. Check flights from your region to Cuzco, Lima, and other backpacking destinations in Peru. You can also browse for car rentals and hotels.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, backpacking destinations

Backpacking Destinations Tour

6 days is average for the Ausangate hike using a combination of horse riding and trekking, but it is possible to do it in 5 days if you are used to the altitude and experienced (excluding travel to and from Cuzco). During the course of the day, plan to climb up and down with extreme changes of elevation. Maximum height is 5,100 m and average is 3,800 m. The hike, which involves a long trek, generally at altitude with crossing mountain passes, is classified as Grade C. Stamina and fitness are essential.

Cuzco, backpacking destinations

It's best to hike with a tour group. Check into the ones in Cuzco, either ahead of time or while you are there, but there aren't that many. You'll want to verify reputations, and the majority offer the same arrangements. If there are too few signed up, some tour operators will cancel the trip. The tour group will usually provide:

  • Some English speaking, local, seasoned porters and guides.
  • pickup from your hostel or hotel
  • meals and guides, transportation to and from Cuzco
  • maybe 1 night at the hostel in Tinqui

Tinqui, backpacking destinations

  • a cook to prepare meals
  • some tours use llamas for packing instead of horses, some use horses and horsemen to care for the horses

Llamas, backpacking destinations

Other Gear provided:

  • cooking equipment, mattress, tents. Some provide a toilet tent
  • emergency oxygen bottle and first aid

Plan to provide your own:

  • backpack
  • poncho or rain gear
  • tough and sturdy footwear
  • warm clothes, including sweaters, fleece, and jacket. In Cuzco, you can buy woolens
  • rated for 0 F - 20 F sleeping bag
  • flashlight or headlamp

Also bring camera, plenty of memory, and extra batteries (they fade faster in the cold and altitude). Cap or hat to protect you from the unpredictable weather. Toilet paper, insect repellent, and Sun block. Sterilizing tablets, nondisposable canteen and snacks.

Last but very important:

  • cash in soles and/or US dollars
  • optional but highly recommended - trekking poles

Backpacking Destinations, When to Go

Even though this includes the winter months, some say April to November, when snow and inclement weather is normal.

Fly into Lima, fly from Lima to Cuzco. Then, go to the small village of Tinqui, near Ocongate, southeast of Cuzco by bus. Beginning and ending from the same spot, from Tinqui, using mules or horses to carry camping equipment, the route is counter clockwise.

Lima, backpacking destinations

Backpacking Destinations, The Hike

You will be camping by lakes and viewing some of Peru's most spectacular scenery, climbing up and down hills, crossing passes, seeing glaciers, passing other peaks, and circling Ausangate. There are hot springs along the way, but it will be cold and high. And if you are riding, you may have to get off and walk because the trail in some places is very steep.

Use this map to help orient yourself to the backpacking destinations on the hike...

Ausangate Map
Ausangate map, backpacking destinations

1st Day: Tinqui to Upis

This is a 5 hour ride or hike to the hot springs of Upis. They will sooth 1st day muscles and give you a great view of Ausangate at the end of the Canyon. You will see alpacas, llamas and Andean birds being tended by Quechua herdsmen. Camp is here the first night.

Upis, backpacking destinations

2nd Day: Upis to Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha

In the morning, you will cross Arapa, stopping for a lunch break along the way. Stop for photos or a video at the pass, where the view of Ausangate is terrific! You will continue down the valley in the afternoon. The trail is a rough, gravel descent. You will go by the green lake of Puqa Q'ocha to the 2nd night's camp at the turquoise Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha. You can climb up a small ridge to look down at the red tinged Lake Vino Q'ocha from here. The lakes are colored by sediment from the nearby mountains. If you're lucky, you may hear ice breaking from a glacier and falling into water.

3rd Day: Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha to Pampacancha

You will ascend up to Apuchata pass and look down at Laguna Ausangate, fed from the melting snow of Ausangate, after breakfast. After you descend to lake level, you will hike up again to Palomani pass at 5,200 m, the highest point of the route. For an overnight stay, the descent will be into the Finaya Pampa.

Palomani Pass
Palomani Pass, backpacking destinations

4th Day: Pampacancha to Q'omer Q'ocha

After rigorous ascents over the passes, the trek past Tres Picos and Puca Punta is an easy route along Pampa Jutunpata valley where the Rio Q'ampa valley provides a home for local wildlife. You may see vicuñas, vizcacha, and other wildlife. Before heading to the final pass of this hike, the Q'ampa pass, you might stop for a break.

Vicuñas, backpacking destinations

You can see several different colored lakes from the top. The last one on the hike, you will camp beside lake Q'oma Q'ocha. On the other side of Ausangate, this lake is almost directly opposite Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha.

5th Day: Q'oma Qocha to Pacchanta

A two and a half hour hike takes you to the village of Pacchanta and the hot springs, after breakfast. Before camping near the village, soak away the sore and cold muscles. If you wish, you can press on for another three hours to the hostel and Tinqui.

6th Day: Pacchanta to Tinqui to Cusco

In the morning return to Tinqui to say goodbye to your porters, horsemen and horse before leaving for Cuzco, arriving there late in the afternoon. If you have the energy and time, you might add the following to your hike:

From Laguna Jatun Piracocha take the trail by Chilca and other villages through Quebrada Llocilla to Pulpera Pass and then on to Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca, backpacking destinations

Starting in Jampa, take the other less traveled trail past Comerchocha and Tres Picos to Laguna Cascara and Laguna Singrenacocha then to Uchuycruz and on to Tinqui.

Jampa Glacier
Jampa Glacier, backpacking destinations

From Laguna Q'omer Q'ocha past Quilhuhuayjo and Laguna Armachocha to join the route at Laguna Singrenacocha.

Another route from Jampa, take the path through Quilleta and Condor Pass and through the cordillera to Puerto Maldonado and Peruvian amazonia.

Cordillera, backpacking destinations

What spectacular backpacking destinations and hiking!

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