This complete hiking guide has up to date information of the Ausangate Trek to use for planning your next independent hiking adventure in Peru! Everything from current access points and trail routes to necessary gear, maps, and need to know dangers.
About The Ausangate Trek
Situated 100km southeast of Cusco in the Vilcanota mountain range is the sacred peak of Ausangate. Standing at 20,945 ft (6,384m) it’s the sixth tallest mountain in Peru and the tallest in the Cusco region.
The Ausangate Trek is a route that circumnavigates the glacier and is often referred to as the Ausangate Circuit. The trek is remote and poses several trekking challenges requiring previous backcountry experience and some high-altitude experience.
The circuit is located five miles from Vinicunca, also known as Rainbow Mountain. This highly popular destination can be added to the Ausangate Trek without much logistical difficulty.
Distance: 30 Miles
Distance w/ Rainbow Mountain: 40 Miles
Max Elevation: 16,731 ft
Min Elevation: 14,256 ft
Ascent: 7,455 ft
Ascent w/ Rainbow Mountain: 10,781 ft
Guide Required: No
Number of Days: 3 - 5
Difficulty: Moderate - the main challenges are altitude and cold. Backpackers who are comfortable with carrying their gear will find the climbs only difficult because of the altitude.
Season: The trek is open year round with dry season of May through October being most common.
*Stats above assumes Upis is the beginning and end point for your trek. It is possible to hike up and down from Tinki on a mix of roads and trails which accounts for the discrepancy you may see amongst other blogs and guides.
Maps & Routes
Getting to the circuit will require a few modes of transportation but can be done independently with ease. There are a few access points to the circuit each of which I’ll detail from Cusco.
Travel Time: Approx. 4 Hours
This is the most common place trekkers start for the Ausangate Trek. It has been the primary access point for decades before other roads in the vicinity were built. To get from Cusco to Tinki you may need to take a bus followed by a colectivo as finding a bus all the way was proving to be difficult.
In Cusco look for a bus that is going to Ocongate, another small city and district a few miles before Tinki. If this proves to be difficult then a bus to Urcos (or headed in the direction of Urcos like Sicuani) will be sufficient for the first leg of the journey.
Once you’ve made it to Urcos or Ocongate look for a collective heading in the direction towards Tinki on the road. In typical Peruvian fashion wave them down passing by and confirm they can stop at Tinki.
Once arrived in Tinki, you can gather any last-minute supplies that you may need at the markets and Boticas. This trek is remote compared to others in the Machu Picchu area so don’t plan on passing by any huts selling Gatorades and Lays chips.
In the main market area of Tinki, there are typically motorcycle drivers waiting around. Explain you are trying to get to Upis to hike the Ausangate Trek and they’ll know exactly where to go.
Getting to Tinki will take at least 3 hours and the motorcycle ride another 30 plus minutes. Plan to head out from Cusco as early as possible if you’re looking to get any hiking in your first day.
Travel Time: Approx. 4 Hours
Getting here from Cusco is the same but once in Tinki let your driver know to head to Pacchanta instead of Upis. Pacchanta is another access point to the circuit and is a real town in comparison to Upis. The benefit of starting and ending here is that you’re more likely to find transportation going back to Tinki.
If ending in Upis you may require more of a walk before coming across transportation that can take you into Tinki.
Travel Time: Approx. 3 Hours
This is something I’ve never read or heard of people doing but during my trek I realized it could be one of the most efficient options of transport, especially if you plan to make a side trip to Vinicunca anyways.
A little background on Vinicunca first: Prior to 2015, the mountain of Vinicunca that is referred to as Rainbow Mountain was covered in a glacier. It was unknown that the magnificent layers of colorful sediment lay below the ice.
Fast forward to 2015 and the glacier atop the mountain melted away entirely revealing the awe-inspiring colorful layers. It took Peru no time whatsoever to realize they had a new savvy tourist spot on their hands and almost instantly new trails and roads for easy access to the mountain went into development.
The mountain is a short distance from the main Ausangate Trek and includes even more of the amazing landscape you see on the main circuit route.
So what makes this a great access point to Ausangate? The fact that countless tours run busses to and from Cusco daily means that you should *in theory* be able to find cheap, comfortable, and direct transportation both ways from the parking lot a mile and a half from Vinicunca.
This would mean you also get to see Vinicunca twice which after seeing once, I prefer the rest of the Ausangate Trek’s landscape but, it would be a grand place to start and finish your trek and can get a celebratory Inca Kola and Snickers atop!
Lightweight backpacking should be observed as much as possible on this trek. Doing this without a guide means you’ll be required to carry the full weight of your pack up high mountain passes.
The effects of altitude are stronger with a heavier pack and making every piece of gear count is essential. Leave unnecessary gear in storage at your hostel in Cusco.
Hospedaje Turistic Recoleta did this for me on several of my treks totaling almost double the amount of days of storage for free as days that I slept there! It was also a great hostel, friendly owners, and beyond helpful with figuring out independent transportation to my most out there places.
The list of gear below is the minimum amount of gear required on this trek but anything additional should raise the question of importance and whether it's necessary.
Seasoned backpackers and thru-hikers should be well suited with gear for this trek.
The Big Four:
-Backpack (waterproof, liner, or pack cover required)
-Sleeping Pad (a high R-Value of 4+ is recommended)
-Sleeping Bag (20-Degree or lower, depends on season)
-Lightweight Tent or Tarp
-A Pair of Shorts/Pants
-Base Layer Made of Wool
-2 Pairs of Wool Socks
-Insulated Jacket (“Puffy Jacket”)
-Good Rain/Wind Outerwear Jacket
-Battery Pack w/ Chargers
-GPS w/ SOS Button and Subscription
-Hiking Boots or Trail Runners
-Lightweight Camp Shoes
-Lightweight Dry Bags
-Electrolyte Drink Packet
You can checkout some of my gear related articles below that has the gear I use and that is widely used amongst lightweight backpackers today.
Do you actually need a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and tent on this trek? Yes, doing this trek self-guided 100%. For a backpacker with plenty of experience, you might get away without needing a tent, granted you are planning your campsites properly.
There are a couple shelters indicated on maps as lodges along the route like this one.
This trek is much different than others in the area in the sense that finding indoor accommodations with beds and sheets is not the norm and very likely not even possible at any campsite or hut location.
Food and Meals
If I seem to have not answered this earlier, then here it goes, you will need to carry all the food you plan to consume on this trek with you.
You will not have an option to resupply and finding a hut that serves meals will not be available in most or all locations of this trek.
Buying Food in Cusco
The best area for food shopping I found to be at and around the San Pedro Market. I was tipped off by other backpackers that you can get great deals on nuts and dried fruit.
The market also has sections of fresh cheeses that should hold up in the cooler temperatures of this trek. You can also find packaged food in the market including chocolate and granola.
Additionally, coca tea, candies, and leaves are readily available all throughout this market and work well to counteract the effects of altitude that you’ll face on this trek.
Next to the San Pedro Market you can find an Orion which is a South American grocery store. I used this to stockpile my North American favorites including Oreos, Ritz, and Snickers.
The Snickers are only 2.7 Soles a piece coming in for a cool $.66 cents American! A total bargain for anyone who has bought these at a dollar a piece in the U.S.
Trek Expenses - Comprehensive List From My 2021 Trek
Bus to Urcos: 10 Soles
Colectivo to Tinki: 20 Soles
Motorcycle to Upis: 35 Soles
*Private Property Tax: 10 Soles
Shelter Fee: 5 Soles
Vinicunca Entrance Ticket: 20 Soles
Motorcycle back to Tinki: 10 Soles
Bus back to Cusco: 10 Soles
San Pedro Market Supply: 100 Soles
Exito Supply: 55 Soles
Total: 275 Soles ($68.75 USD)
*You can probably replace the words ‘Private Property’ with the word ‘Gringo’. On my way over to Vinicunca I was passing the Anantapata lodge when the worker or owner walked over to chat. I could make out 'privado' and 'diez soles' through a gigantic portion of coca leaves in his mouth. Not worth an argument or trying to find out more so I paid up.
The region is inhabited by herding communities that live in huts along the trail. The families have territorial herding dogs that will usually only give a good barking. Before my trek though, I read about a blogger who had heard of a hiker being attacked.
My experience along the trek was mostly with dogs that were all bark. They would run towards me and then stop to examine me before I could continue hiking.
I did however encounter a hut with three dogs that sprinted towards me barking and got a bad gut feeling. I kept a strong perimeter with my trekking poles as I was circled by these snarling dogs.
It took thirty seconds for their owner to whistle and throw some scraps of meat before they went running back. After that experience, I firmly believe hikers have been attacked in the past and increased caution should be used.
In the mountains weather is always going to be unpredictable and change quickly. Be prepared for rain, snow, sleet, hail, and lighting.
Expect nights that will be well below freezing. Many campsites are located above 16,000 feet of elevation. Remember that the temperature drops 5.4-degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet increased in elevation.
When you can, sleep at the lowest possible campsite. This will also help against altitude sickness.
Altitude is the biggest challenge you'll face on the Ausangate Trek. If you’ve been in Cusco for a day before this trek you may still want to consider climatizing further.
The first day of hiking you’ll be over 15,000 feet consistently and even above 16,000 for some mountain passes, a more than 5,000 increase from Cusco in a day.
To ease into the elevation, consider travel to Tinki or Upis a day early and spending a night before you start off hiking the next day.
This article has everything you need to know about climatization and altitude sickness written by an MD.
The atmosphere is thinner at higher altitudes and the sun can burn you much easier. Take it from someone who never saw the sun and ended up sunburnt that this is not something to brush off.
Not to mention you won’t get any shade while hiking here.
You can grab sunscreen packets from a Botica in Tinki. I recommend buying and bringing your own from home because Peru's sunscreen is garbage that will never run in and stain everything.
You will have no service on this hike and without many other trekkers you could go days without seeing another person in some locations. Make sure you are prepared with a GPS device AND a subscription to send messages, location, and an SOS call if necessary.
Subscriptions start at $15 a month and can be on a monthly basis through Garmin. See here for all plans to Activate.
Itineraries will vary widely based on your strength, desired speed, and whether you wish to include a stop at Vinicunca.
A strong backpacker can do the entire Ausangate Trek including a stop at Vinicunca in three days. Backpackers wishing to go at a more relaxing pace can complete the trek in 5 days comfortably.
The below segment is a brief outline of my trip which is meant to help plan.
Day 1 - 11.1 Miles and 3,739 ft of Ascent
I arrived in Upis around noon and set off in a counter-clockwise direction with the plan to sleep below Vinicunca that night. This was a tough first day with three mountain passes and fighting the effects of altitude.
I arrived at camp shortly before 6 where there were small shelters that could fit two people per shelter.
Day 2 – 23.5 Miles and 5,226 ft of Ascent
I woke up around 6 am and reached the summit of Vinicunca shortly after 7. Rather than backtracking over yesterday's two mountain passes, I headed south and looped back to the Ausangate trail at Laguna Ausangatecocha.
That mileage went by quickly and I was on Abra Palomani around 12:30 pm. I would be hiking out tomorrow and I opted for pushing more mileage today as long as it was doable. There is a stretch of 5 miles around Abra Khampa that doesn’t have campsites and thus camped at the first site past the mountain pass.
On my map, it’s referred to as Campamento Gratis which means free camping, not sure there is a technical name. This campsite was primitive, it had a stream water source, stone-fenced camp area, privy, and an overhanging awning.
Day 3 – 7.14 Miles and 66ft of Ascent
I woke up to three inches of snow this morning and was thankful I completed Abra Khampa last evening. With the snow cover, I missed the trail that would lead back to Upis and discovered the town of Pacchanta.
After a short road walk, I was able to catch a ride to Tinki. Upis would have proved to be a much longer walk, however, there are trails to and from Tinki which you can opt for.
Best Time To Hike
Dry Season: May – October
Wet Season: November - April
The dry season is thought of as the best time to hike in Peru, skies will be clear and precipitation infrequent. July and August lay at the heart of the season and contain some of the best hiking conditions.
At this altitude however you will be dealing with extreme cold at night. Hikers report lows every night around 0-degrees Fahrenheit during these months.
The wet season for an obvious reason poses a different but more dangerous set of challenges. Hiking at altitude with precipitation and storms creates a much higher risk.
Somewhere on the cusp of the dry season may give you the most optimal conditions so if you were looking for the best time to go, have a look at September or October.
I hiked in mid-November 2021 and had temperatures around 25-degrees Fahrenheit at night and mixed spouts of precipitation. My first day had a quick hail storm and my last day I woke up to three inches of snow. Outside of that the weather was generally partly cloudy.
*If you have a local SIM card you should get cell service and internet access standing on top of Vinicunca. Don’t expect service anywhere else along the hike.
*Try and carry small bills for the expenses I mentioned. Frequently, change is not available when needed in the Peruvian backcountry.
*Download GPS maps to your phone ahead of time and make sure you are familiar with the GPS app or handheld unit.
*There will be sections of trail that seem to be herd paths or non-existent, your GPS should guide you through these.
*Your GPS may have trails that simply don’t exist. I found this to be the case looping back to Ausangate after Vinicunca.
*The closer you are to Ausangate, the better quality and more frequent water sources will be. Near Vinicunca the water sources were mostly dry alpine lakes.
*If a dog is running towards you, stop hiking and stay in place. Use your trekking poles to create a perimeter between you and the dog. If you have a bad gut feeling or a dog is extra aggressive don’t hesitate to get the owner's attention.
*Cusco has several gear and camping stores if you require any additional last minute gear. Surrounding Plaza de Armas is a Patagonia, North Face, and Tattoo (Peru brand and most complete gear store).
Like many others say, this trek is simply incredible and usually a favorite among backpackers who have hiked many famous routes in the Andes. The towering glaciers, green valleys filled with alpacas (you will see more here than anywhere else in Peru), and teal colored lakes makes this an always exciting trek.
If you're unsure about your ability start with other popular Peru treks like the Salkantay Trek and Colca Canyon Trek. From here assess your ability and ensure you have the proper gear. A good tent and warm sleeping bag can go a long way when the weather beats you down.
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