Category Archives: Peru

Peru’s Ausangate & Rainbow Mountains: A Hidden Gem for Trekkers

When I had the opportunity to do the Classic Inca Trail in Peru with a group of 30 people, I decided to add a more off the beaten path trail to the experience.  The Inca Trail is a classic for a reason and you can read about the reasons why you should go HERE.  However, I wanted to also experience more remoteness and a wilder trekking adventure that is opposite of the experience from the Inca Trail.

My nature of being such a curious hiker ultimately led me to discovering Ausangate.  BestHike.com, which is  a website that compiles the best treks in the world named Ausangate along with Pacchanta (also known as Rainbow Mountains) as one of the top 10 hikes in South America.  The great thing about it is that it only takes 5-7 days to do so combined with the Inca Trail, you can do a decent 9-11 days of hiking, which makes for a solid two-week trip in Peru.

To get to Ausangate, the starting point is Cusco.  There are many flights to Cusco via Lima.  You can also opt to spend a few days in Lima and book a local flight from there to Cusco.  Either way, the flight costs are quite reasonable.  Once in Cusco, it’s recommended that you have a day or two of acclimatizing to the altitude.  Cusco is at an elevation of 11,152 feet, which is high enough to experience the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness.  For tips on how to prepare for altitude mountain sickness (AMS), read THIS.  Spending time in Cusco is heavenly anyway so you should take a day or two to enjoy the cobbled stone streets and its historical sites.  Typically, people visit the Sacred Valley nearby to see the ruins as  an easy day trip.

To do the Ausangate trek, one must book a reliable tour operator who will provide a guide, an assistant guide, cook and horses to carry the gear.  The price includes tents, basic sleeping mats, all the meals while trekking, dining tents, toilet tents and transport to and from the trail.  The starting point is at  Tinki village, which is only a few hours of a bus ride from Cusco.  We did the 7 day itinerary.  You can do a 5 or 6 day variation of the trek.

How difficult is Ausangate?  It’s a REAL trek.  When I say that, despite the fact that you only need to carry a day pack, it is a much harder trek than the Inca Trail.  Here are the things to keep in mind about Ausangate:

It’s freezing cold!

It’s often below freezing at night from the first day until the end.  While the Inca Trail trek is a pleasantly mild experience when it comes to weather, think “extreme” for Ausangate.  Every night, we all struggled to keep our water bottles from freezing, to no avail.  We huddled in the warmest part of our campsite – the dining tent or our respective sleeping bags.  Campfires are not allowed for good reasons, of course.  Due to the cold, we didn’t manage to stay up too long which meant long nights in the tent.  You wait eagerly for the sunrise each day as that’s the only source of heat you can rely on.

It’s very high right from the start

You start at a high elevation of about 12, 500 feet and it doesn’t go below that until the end.  The highest point is the pass at over 17,000 feet.   Plus, the challenge is to go over a few passes, four in our case, that ranged from 15,000 to 17,000 feet  in altitude.  This is the exact reason why I combined this trek with the Inca Trail.  Doing the Inca Trail first allowed for some way to acclimatize.  Even though my group still dealt with some symptoms of AMS, I’m certain that the symptoms would have been far more severe had we not trekked the Inca Trail beforehand which went up to almost 14, 000 feet in elevation at its highest point.

It’s remote

It’s remote, as in when my group of 15 people did it, we did not see a single hiker on the trail.  It’s beautiful indeed to be in the middle of nowhere.  That’s what attracted me to do Ausangate in the first place.  But as hikers, we all know that the more remote a trekking destination gets, the more safety issues you’ll potentially deal with.

It’s easy to get lost

The trail is unmarked and there is no clear path.  Hence, you really should have a guide.  Some hardcore hikers have done this without a guide but you better be an expert on navigation as there is nothing up in those mountains that will give you a hint of where to go.   To do this alone is risky as there’s hardly any locals in the area.  Although you will see villages at the start and end of the trek, there are no locals to be seen in-between except for one or two shepherds and their herds of llamas; therefore, help will be difficult to get if you do it without a guide.

It’s roughing it

There are no facilities during the trek.   No showers for sure or warm streams to bathe in.  You set up camp in the wild like a true wilderness backpacking experience.  You rely on the natural water sources for drinking water.  Everything must be carried in and out, which is done by the use of horses. Going to the toilet means searching for a spot in the wild or there’s the infamous toilet tent.  The toilet tent will be your source of privacy but it can be an unpleasant experience if you have 15 people sharing it.  It sounds petty but it can get mentally  challenging to deal with this aspect when you’re actually there.  The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the time there are no bushes or trees given you’re up at a high altitude so you’ll need to resort to the use of the toilet tent.  The best approach is to do your business as much as possible without having to use the toilet tent. It’s not that sanitary as you can imagine.

Having said all this, I don’t want to discourage you.  Avid mountaineers know this universal truth:

Mountains make you work hard so you can enjoy their magnificent beauty to its utmost level.

Frankly, I still blush and glow with a smile when I think about Ausangate and Pacchanta.  This part of the Andes is rather spectacular and less visited compared to the nearby treks that take you to Machu Picchu due to reasons noted above.  However, the toughness of the trek undoubtedly adds more value to the experience.

Now, enters the best part – You immerse yourself in a spectacular and unique mountain scenery that only a few souls can ever see in person.   See below for yourself, and always remember:

Mountain trekking is not meant to be easy.  Facing challenges is what we do because while we’re in it, nature always has a way to remind us that we can conquer just about anything with persistence and determination.

Photo credit: Flavio H.



Photo credit: Flavio H.
Photo credit: Flavio H.
Photo Credit: Flavio H.
Photo credit: Flavio H.

Brown Gal Trekker’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations, has a join-in group set to go in May, 2017 for the Ausangate & Pacchanta Trek.  To join, see THIS LINK.

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Trekking the Inca Trail: Why Go With The Crowd?

It’s no exaggeration.  The Classic Inca Trail has to be on every list of top 10 treks in the world.  

Hence, it can get crowded.   You may even be so unlucky that you lose out on the chances of getting a permit. But, don’t be discouraged!  Take this as a good reason to keep trying to cross this trek  off your bucket list because it’s deemed to be one of the best for a reason.

I organized a group of 30 people to do the classic Inca Trail years back.  Even to this day, we still reminisce about the experience.  Upon reflecting on our journey, we can’t help but feel the same joy we felt while on the trail.  The Classic Inca Trail trek is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable adventures of our lives.

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So, why is the Inca Trail THAT appealing?  Here are 11 reasons why:

1. It’s a short trek – only 4 days

Let’s start with the obvious.  The Inca  Trail trek is in essence akin to a long weekend backpacking trip.  You wake up early on the first day so you can get to the trail head just after the sunrise and start walking on the same day.  On the last day, you wake up early before sunrise to hike to the much awaited highlight of the trek – Machu Picchu.  The trail itself is only 26 miles long.  Hence, a traveler can easily add this trek to his or her itinerary without using up too many days to do so.

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2.  It’s not so high

Although it’s deemed as a high altitude trek, the highest point is only 13, 828 feet.  It’s high enough to feel the altitude but low enough to comfortably trudge on without much of an issue. In fact, my group of 30 consisted of ages ranging from 20s to 60s.  All of us made it to the highest point with no problem.  Of course, you would need to consult with your doctor to make sure there are no pre-existing conditions that would render you unsuitable for high altitude trekking.  For more on how to prepare for high altitude trekking, read THIS.  Please keep in mind that this trek does require hiking up a significant amount of elevation so you have to be fit and in good health!

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3. It’s trekking with a day pack

One of the key factors as to why this trek is easier than most is the fact that you can hike the entire trail with a small daypack to carry only your day hiking essentials.  A lighter weight on your back means a much more comfortable walking experience.  At the same time, this trek has been instrumental in the tourism industry in the Cusco region of Peru, no doubt.  The trek has created jobs for the locals who are hired as porters to carry all your personal belongings.  Typically, you can share the cost of hiring one porter or you can have one porter to be assigned only to you.  Usually, people share porter services as each hiker is allowed to hand over 15-20 pounds of items.  With it being only 4 days, you can easily minimize the weight to under 15 pounds. As a side note, it’s always appreciated when hikers are mindful of the weight they give to the porters to carry so avoid that urge to overpack.

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4. It’s a luxury vacation on the trail

You don’t need to deal with setting up tents, cooking meals and setting up group gear.  As part of the tour, you have the luxury of simply walking from one point to the next and not even have to worry about setting up a tent.  Tours include set up of tents and the meals on the trail.  Once you get to the camp, the time you have there is all yours to do whatever you wish. There are no chores to be done on your end. Your job is to enjoy your rest and the nature that surrounds you.

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5. It’s an easy and well-marked path

The trail is well-maintained and closed part of the year for the purposes of cleaning and overseeing the trail.  There’s nothing technical about it; nor is there scrambling or any tricky parts to the trail except for some sections that may be rockier than others.  In addition, there’s no concern about getting lost on the Inca Trail.  Even if you do find solitude along the way (which can happen most definitely), you don’t need to panic and worry about getting lost.  You’re far from being off the beaten path. It’s a well-trodden trail that even trying to get deliberately lost would be a challenge.  Don’t even try.

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6.  The weather conditions are typically pleasant

Unless you go during the rainy season, this is a trek that poses no concerns regarding any kind of extreme weather.  The area may be prone to rain, but even so, the rain typically doesn’t last long and the amount is rather minimal.  At night, it can get chilly but it’ll never be below freezing.  This means there’s no need for you to buy an expensive high quality sleeping bag.  Most decent sleeping bags will do and oftentimes travelers rent the bags from the tour company, which is the more reason why the trek attracts crowds.  The tour company can essentially supply you all the gear that you need.

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7.  Machu Picchu is at the end of it

Obviously, this is the top reason why Inca Trail is on everyone’s bucket list.  Having been there myself, I can confirm that the majestic nature of this site DOES live up to its reputation.  DON’T MISS IT.  That’s all I have to say.

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8.  You can dip into a hot spring as a reward.

Aguas Caliente, the hot spring and the town with the same name are both amazing treats to hikers.  Who can resist the idea of trekking for 4 days and ending the journey with a dip in a hot spring?  Plus, the town of  Aguas Caliente is full of restaurants and shopping opportunities that attract the tourist side to those who hike the trail.  It also serves as a quick immersion back to civilization.

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9.  You visit Cusco.

For full immersion after the trek, you return to Cusco in the evening on the fourth day – a highlight in, and of, itself.  Cusco is one of the most beautiful colonial towns in South America with such a warm and welcoming atmosphere to tourists of all kinds. There are plenty of restaurants for the hungry hikers of the Inca Trail where you can indulge in local delicacies before heading back home.  As an aside, souvenir shopping can be had in every corner of the town.  Not a bad place to end your trek.

10.  Reasonable airfares

Let’s not forget one other good reason for the popularity of this trek – the reasonable flight costs, especially from the U.S.  If you wish to be creative and are willing to sacrifice time and sleep, it’s possible to book a $200-300 flight round-trip from the U.S.  Be prepared, however, to  deal with long and multiple layovers to get to Lima and back.  Otherwise, on average, the flights can go anywhere from $650-850.

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11.  You can get by without speaking Spanish

Finally, you don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to survive the experience, both on and off the Inca Trail.  English-speaking locals are common in Lima and Cusco.  Once on the trail, you’ll be with an English-speaking tour guide and TONS of English-speaking hikers.  There’s plenty of English to be spoken on this kind of trip so don’t even spend a second worrying about language barriers.  Having said that, it would serve you well to learn some Spanish before the trip and practice it when you get there.  Locals always appreciate the effort.

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In summary, the trek is an ideal experience for all levels of hikers, even those who are new to multi-day trekking and high altitude. As a bonus, it’s also a great introduction to other cultures for those who are first-timers to overseas traveling.  The culture shock is minimal which renders the entire experience pleasurable.

So, coming from a hiker who loves off the beaten path trails, for this one moment in time, I will happily deviate from that to to tell you –

Go follow the crowd!  Seriously, you should.

I did with 30 people and to this day it’s still the best NON-off the beaten path experience I ever had.

As a side note, you can join Brown Gal Trekker’s trekking group for the April, 2017 Classic Inca Trail Trek.  For info, click HERE.

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