When I was in India , I did a trek into the Himalayas that took us to the foot of the world's 3rd tallest mountain: Kanchenjunga. A few days in we passed through a little village called Dzongri which had a weathered sign that stated simply in block letters, "Dzongri: Meeting place of man and mountain gods." On that hike I truly felt as though you could feel the power of the mountains pulsing through the air. I never thought I would experience that same sensation again. Recently, I had the opportunity to explore Ausangate, the highest mountain in the Cuzco region (6372m). It is steeped not only in glaciers but in mythology as well. A trek to Ausangate is one of those special experiences where you really feel as though you are in the presence of mountain gods or Apus as they are referred to in the Quechua language.
The high mountains are the most revered of the apus in the southern Peruvian Andes. One of the largest pilgrimages in Peru happens every May on the flanks of Ausangate when people bring offerings in return for continued prosperity. According to lore, Ausangate has a daughter who takes care of the llamas and alpacas of the world. She allowed them to come forth from the springs and lakes of Ausangate in order to serve the humans. In turn, Ausangate insists that these animals be treated like humans rather than animals, a relationship you can see among the Quechua communities of Ausangate and their animals every day of the trek.There are many ways to explore Ausangate but our preferred method is through Andean Lodges. A series of 4 lodges are set around the mountain, offering a comfortable retreat after a hard days trek. The trek itself is approximately 26 miles long. You cross major passes, the highest of which is at 16,896ft. A typical day can begin in the pampa, take you to lunch on the side of an alpine lake then up and over a high mountain pass to finally arrive to one of the breathtaking lodges. This stunning scenery mixes with traditional lifestyle as the area surrounding the mountain is home to a number of small and isolated Quechua communities that continue to herd alpacas and llamas in the shadow of the great apu.
Andean Lodges was founded in 2006 in association with the people of the communities of Chillca and Osefina. Their goal is to offer unique trekking and lodging experiences on the Apu Ausangate Route, with a focus on community-based rural tourism, and to promote the development of these communities. Each of their lodges is owned by the community although Andean Lodges financed the building of the lodges. The fact that these lodges exist where they do is truly astounding – miles from any road these beautiful structures are bursting with natural light from their many windows by day and warmed by fire and lit by candles by night. You travel with members of the community – there are over 80 members that rotate – including a chef, llama master, and lodge keeper. The lodges themselves are staffed by people who live nearby, you'll often wake up to see herds of their alpacas wandering off to pasture.Using the llamas as transport animals of the team, your trek helps to guarantee the continuation of an ancestral activity at risk of losing its utility and validity. In this way the trek promotes the preservation of biodiversity and generates new sources of work.
Up until now, you may have noticed that I didn't even mention one of Ausangate's most famous landmarks – Vinicunca Pass or Rainbow Mountain. This pass, while beautiful, pales in comparison to the natural and spiritual beauty of doing the full Ausangate trek. If you're wondering whether you'll get to see Rainbow Mountain on this trek, the answer is yes, and you will enjoy it before the hordes of tourists exhibiting signs of altitude sickness arrive. That being said, I can guarantee that unlike the multitude of day trippers that make a one day trip from Cuzco to visit Rainbow Mountain, it won't be what you remember most about your trip to the Ausangate region.
There are dozens of treks in Peru and, having lived there, I know many of them. Ausangate was the one trek that I knew I would do again when I returned to Peru. It's the one trek that I will do every time I come to Peru. It's a special place where you can connect with the Pachamama below you, the people and animals on the Earth around you, and stand in the shadow of the great mountain apu rising above you connecting . In my opinion, traveling this region by staying at the Andean Lodges on our Ausangate trek is the best way to experience this region's natural and cultural beauty. What are you waiting for?