The autumn months are when we explore new areas. So I have just returned from a fabulous 8 week trip to the Americas. First off was a 'rock & road' trip to the US where we drove through the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of Utah & Nevada. We rock climbed on what seemed like every sort of rock type, mountain biked amazing single-track trails in Moab & trekked famous 14,000ft peaks.
Next stop was South America; Peru & Bolivia to be precise and the highlight of my trip the Ausangate Range. Flying into Cusco, Peru is a shock to most peoples systems. Sitting at 3399m above sea level means theirs every excuse to take it easy for a few days acclimatising and enjoy one of the world's most up and coming tourist destinations. There's no wonder why either. Cusco has something for everyone plus makes the perfect base for mountain adventures. Many friends said that you'll always want to return to Cusco and now I understand why. You can stroll at leisure whilst absorbing a unique blend of history, art (both Spanish and Inca), first class dining from across the world, mixed with great weather, fine architecture and a warm welcome - all in a mountain setting!
I was travelling with my Mum, Susie (known as My Mum to all we meet!), and as we didn't have any fixed itinerary it's very easy to loose track of time in Cusco. We wanted to have some mountain adventures but also time to stop and enjoy where we were. In Cusco we made plans. We spent time in the Sacred Valley and walked Inca trails around Machu Picchu, mountain biked superb single track to Inca ruins and rode Peruvian horses through Andean villages.
Our next adventures took us on an early morning local bus (complete with baby alpacas on board) 3 hours south east of Cusco to the village of Tinqui where we prepared for our trek around the Cordillera Vilcanota's highest peak, Ausangate 6384m, a holy mountain. Most people when they think of trekking in Peru think of the Inca Trail and rightly so. However, Peru has a lot more to offer trekkers and the Ausangate Circuit in my mind would rate as one of the finest treks in the world. This true 'off the beaten track' hike is perfect for seasoned trekkers wanting an adventure.
Depending on how acclimatised you are the Circuit can be completed in 5-7 days, normally between April and October. The route is remote taking a high trail crossing several passes up to 5200m. You walk through Andean villages untouched by tourism and only accessible on foot, where traditional methods of life are still used. You pass herds of grazing alpacas and shy vicuñas, see birds of prey and find viscachas (a small rodent that has the ears of a hare and tail of a squirrel!) Over every pass there's a new peak and more glaciers to draw your attention. Our evenings were spent camping by turquoise lagoons and under huge tongues of ice. Our final days trekking took us to natural hot springs. The best way to end a superb journey.
On a clear day the white peaks of Ausangate can be seen from Cusco. The newly paved road between Cusco and Tinqui has made this region more accessible. The residents of the area still maintain their Quechua and colonial heritage and customs. From here we had a contact for a local horseman, Florencio, and unless you are fluent in Quechua Spanish is your best bet as it's unlikely to find anyone in these villages who speak English. With Florencio we shopped locally for food and bought gas and rented his stove and pans. As you trek high and camp most nights at 4600m or higher it can be cold so you need to be prepared for all weathers (we had several inches of snow two nights!) with down jackets and 3/4 season sleeping bags. Finding good maps 'off the beaten track' is not always easy or possible so that coupled with the high altitudes make hiring a horse to carry camp gear and a local to aid finding the way much easier and the journey more enjoyable.
On our return to Tinqui we were given a warm welcome by Florencio's family. The scene of his mother, in traditional Quechua dress, talking to my Mum (in Quechua!) whilst guinea pigs scuttled around the kitchen are memories that stay with you. I felt that this relatively short trek had given us everything and more out of a trek in Peru. We met just one other group on the trails and they were on horseback. The fact that no permits or prior booking is necessary makes this region even more accessible to visitors.
The Ausangate Trek now sits in my top ten treks in the world.
If you would like to no more about this trek our how to join an organised group then feel free to get in touch with me. I have also posted some more pictures on our Facebook pages.
Happy travels, Julia