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The Cordillera Vilcanota is an impressive range of mountains which include the massive Nevado de Ausangate (6,385m) and three others over 6000m. It's excellent trekking country offering the traveller everything you could want: spectacular mountain scenery, snow-capped peaks, hot springs, turquoise lakes, glaciers, herds of llamas and alpacas, picturesque villages and traditionally dressed Indians. Its also high, tough and cold, so be prepared.
This beautiful seven day circular trek starts and finishes at the small Andean village of Tinqui and takes you around the massif of Ausangate and over three high passes (two of them over 5000m). It is essential to be properly acclimatized for this hike spending at least three days in Cusco (or equivalent altitude) before starting.
Many tour operators provide a horse for each person to ride. Since many parts of the trail are steep, riders will need to dismount and walk with the horse for about 40% of the trek. Horses are also used for carrying all the equipment. If you are not confident on horseback then there are usually some 'trekking only' tours.
There are only a few trekking operators in Cusco offering this trek on a regular basis. During the high season (June-August) it may be possible simply to arrive in Cusco and visit all of the travel companies around the Plaza, Plateros and Procuradores to see if any have a group leaving. Joining a group works out a lot cheaper but it can be a bit of a haphazard affair as far as quality, group size and departure dates are concerned. A company will often say it will leave in two days time and then cancel at the last minute if it can't find enough other people for the group. These 'pooled' service treks can cost as little as $80 for a 7 day trek, although the group sizes can be as much as 20 persons.
If you've come to Cusco with the intention of doing this trek then it is always best to book in advance. A recommended list of trekking operator can be found on our local tour operators page.
As with all private treks the cost of the trek depends on how many people there are in your group. E-mail the company first for a price and list of services included in the trek.
Usually the Ausangate trek is undertaken in 7 days, using a combination of trekking and horse riding. Well acclimatized trekkers could complete the trek in 6 days if they want, including all transport to and from Cusco. The best months for doing the trek are April to November.
Day 1: Cusco to Tinqui (3,800m)
It's a 7 hour bus ride out to the village of Tinqui, the starting point of the trek, passing through some of the most beautiful scenery that Peru has to offer. Several traditional villages along the route include Urcos, Cattca and Ocongate. The night will probably be spent in a small and very basic hostal in Tinqui.
Day 2: Tinqui to Urpis (4,400m)
After packing the equipment and getting acquainted with your horses you'll spend about 5 hours trekking to the camp close to the hot springs of Urpis. The springs are a bit run-down but have great views of Ausangate at the end of the valley. Better hot springs can be found at Pacchanta on day six of the trek.
Day 3: Urpis to Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha.
You'll hike to the first pass, the Arapa pass (4,850m), in the morning, continuing down the valley in the afternoon to the camp at the turquoise Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha. You'll pass the green lake of Puqa Q'ocha on the way.
From the campsite you can climb the small ridge north of the camp to see Lake Vino Q'ocha (named by the locals because it is sometimes red like wine due to glacial sediment coming down from nearby red mountains.) Sometimes, as you camp beside the lake at night, you can hear the eiree sound of ice breaking away from a nearby glacier and falling into the water.
Day 4: Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha to Pampacancha
In the morning you'll ascend the second pass of Apuchata (4,900m) with the turquoise Laguna Ausangate below. This lake is fed from the melting snow of Ausangate. From the lake you'll then climb again to the Palomani pass (5,200m), the highest point of the trek. Following the trail into the next valley for an hour or so brings you to the campsite at Pampacancha.
Day 5: Pampacancha to Q'omer Q'ocha.
Compared to the previous days, this one should prove relatively easy. During the trek the snow-capped peaks of Tres Picos and Puca Punta come into view. The trail between the broad green valley of Pampa Jutunpata and the Rio Q'ampa valley are an excellent place to observe the delightful viscacha. This small rodent looks like a cross between a squirrel and a rabbit and lives in large family groups amongst the stones and boulders at the foot of the scree slopes. You may also be lucky enough to see groups of vicuña, undoubtedly the most beautiful member of the llama family, with its slender neck, huge eyes and soft golden wool.
After passing through the small community of Q'ampa the trail continues north west to the final pass of this hike, the Q'ampa pass (5,000m). From the top you can see several different coloured lakes. You'll camp beside the final greeny turquoise lake called Q'oma Q'ocha.
Day 6: Q'oma Qocha to Pacchanta
Another fairly easy day today, trekking for about 2.5 hours to the small Andean village of Pacchanta. You'll have the opportunity to rest and relax in the hot thermal springs for a couple of hours and even have a beer in this interesting Andean village. You can spend the night camping close to the village or make the 3 hour trek back to Tinqui to stay the night in a hostal.
Day 7: Pacchanta or Tinqui to Cusco
Leave by bus back to Cusco returning late in the afternoon