Ausangate is a stunning mountain located in the Cusco region. Often referred to as an ”Apu”, or Guardian Mountain, it’s one of the brightest and impressive glaciers that you can find in the Peruvian Andes. Near the Ausangate massif is located the world-famous Rainbow Mountain and when we planned our trip to Peru we were so excited to include it in our itinerary.
Before the Trek
We had read about day trips to this place and we were going to book one of those for our last day in Peru. But then we thought that, after all, we might not return to Cusco for the rest of our lives so we decided to make and extra effort to make our trip truly unforgettable. So we opted for a two-day experience, spending the night camping under the stars in the area from where people normally start their trek.
We looked around and browsed a bit looking for the right company that could accommodate our request. When we finally found it, we were so looking forward to it! We were so thrilled and positive that this would be the best way to end our journey.
There were four of us: my wife, my two daughters and I. When we finally arrived in Cusco after 13 days on the road all the way from Lima through Ica, Arequipa and Puno, we were feeling a bit tired and weak due to the 3000+ m altitude of Cusco, but decided not to give up and follow our plan, although we were tempted to spend the last couple of days resting in bed in our cozy hotel.
Luckily we found the strength and motivation to do this overnight adventure to the Rainbow Mountain, and this was in a huge part thanks to our guides and cook who visited us at our accommodation the night before the tour. Everything was explained in details to us and all of our doubts were solved. They told us what to bring, what the weather would be like, and how to best get prepared for this unique adventure. It had been a long long time since I last camped outdoors; for my wife and my two daughters it was their very first time.
Here We Go… Day 1
The day finally arrived. We were picked up at our hotel by our team and boarded on a comfortable 4×4 jeep after packing all our stuff and equipment on top of it. Sun was bright and Cusco streets were loud and full of cars of people rushing to work. We were already happy we were leaving the noise for a couple of days.
We left Cusco behind us and headed south on the Panamericana highway. We gradually immersed ourselves into rural Peru and the landscape changed into a more pristine and untouched one as we continued our journey on the road. Our guides were constantly keeping us entertained and they would tell us anecdotes and curious facts about the villages and localities we were passing by.
Our first stop was a little town named Checacupe. When we booked our tour we were not sure about how interesting this place would be. But it turned out being a wonderful surprise for us. Checacupe is strategically located on the way between Cusco region and southern Peru. Therefore this was an important checkpoint for trading during both Inca and colonial times.
There are two main sites worth a visit in Checacupe: the Three Bridges and the Church of ‘’Inmacolata Concepcion’’. The former consists of three bridges one next to the other, and the interesting thing is that they belong each to a different age. There is a modern bridge, a colonial bridge with the typical round arch structure, and an Inca rope bridge, truly fascinating. It was such a thrill to walk through it!
The second place, the Church, was just as interesting. A young local lady took us around this wonderful building and explained us about its history and facts. Apart from the roof, that fell off during an earthquake a few decades ago and was therefore rebuilt, the entire church still preserves its original structure and paintings. How interesting it was to see how the European art and indigenous elements mixed creating a totally different and unique style! Also, the Statue of the Virgin above the main altar is said to be the oldest in Peru.
After this great stop we jumped back on our car and continued to Pitumarca, where we stopped for lunch in a cozy local restaurant, surrounded by domestic llamas and alpacas. The food was delicious and it helped us get some more energies to continue with our trip. From Pitumarca to Quesiuno it was another three hours through a windy road up through beautiful valleys and up in the mountains.
We arrived at our campsite in mid-afternoon. The sun was still high but we knew it wouldn’t last for much longer. Our guides and cook quickly set up our tents and a kitchen tent as well. We had our tea to warm up a bit and shared stories altogether.
As the sun was setting, our great cook Pablo prepared and served dinner. It was amazing to see him working with such few utensils as those typically used for camping but still managing to prepare really great dishes full of flavor. We were so thankful we could have a great dinner with such good people. After eating and some more leisure time, we went to bed early in order to wake up early the following day. As we slowly made our way to our tents, we stopped for a few minutes contemplating the spectacular starry sky above our heads.
The night was cold, but we survived it! A good sleeping bag and good tents saved us and we managed to get some decent sleep. It was our family’s first time camping outside and at such high altitude (4700 m!). Not sure if we would do this again any sooner but it certainly was a great experience and one more adventure to tell. Thankfully the night passed by quickly anyway, as we couldn’t wait to set off to the Rainbow Mountain in the morning.
Day 2 – A Challenging Hike
When we woke up the sun was not out yet so we made our way to the kitchen tent and had a good ‘’mate de coca’’ to hydrate and warm up ourselves. A good and consistent breakfast followed. At 6 AM we were already on our way.
The trek started flat and but then it was mostly uphill. I won’t lie: it was a pretty challenging trek for us who were not used to such heights. The sun started becoming brighter and brighter so that helped. Luckily though we had sun cream on us or we would have got burnt!
After the first two kilometers (out of five), my younger daughter started feeling a bit sick so we decided to rent a horse for her. The horseman was of the kindest and was of great help. The eight of us continued step by step uphill taking breaks along the way.
When we were more than halfway to the mountain, the Ausangate glacier started being more and more visible. It was such an awesome view that I will never forget. It is not for no reason that mountains are highly revered by locals: they really are a source of great energy that it is impossible to explain. Renewed by this contact with Ausangate, we continued until we reached the foot of the mountain. We were almost there.
The Last Stretch – We Made it!
The very last stretch is quite steep. We could already see some colors from the bottom, and this gave us the right motivation not to stop. After all, we could not give up at this point! We were so close… and then we finally made it!
The views of the Rainbow Mountain left us speechless. What a powerful view. Nature really is capable of amazing things. I hugged my family and felt so happy for what we had achieved. Thanks to such an amazing team we fulfilled one on our main goals of our Peru adventure. All the aching and sweat suddenly didn’t feel as important and a sense of inexplicable lightness pervaded all of us.
We made our way up to a higher viewpoint and we couldn’t stop taking pictures! The colors, the view, the Ausangate standing behind us… it was impossible not trying to capture that moment with our phones. But after a few pics we stopped and simply stood still, one next to the other, taking in the amazing landscape that was surrounding us. We were also so lucky we did not find many people up at the top: that also contributed to an ideal experience.
After spending about 40 minutes at the Rainbow Mountain we slowly started making our way down. This was much easier and in less than two hours we were already at the camp. Our cook prepared our once again amazing lunch while the guides folded the tents and loaded the car for our return.
An Adventure We Will Never Forget
We were tired, I won’t hide it. We were extremely happy though as well. During the whole journey back to Cusco – 3.5 hour-drive – we talked about our tour and how amazing it had been, and we also slept a bit. We really wanted to be back in our cozy hotel at this point and get some rest. But we couldn’t wait to go back home as well to tell about all our friends about this amazing adventure!
We were back in Cusco by 5 PM. The car dropped us off at the door of our hotel. We hugged our team and exchanged contacts so that we can stay in touch. We also tipped them well: they had definitely exceeded our expectations and made a difficult adventure much easier. We will be recommending them to anyone who is going to Peru.
On a final note, I just want to say: when travelling, don’t be afraid. Of heights, altitude, basic conditions, remote places, unknown villages and people. The best memories come from the least expected experiences. Thank you, Peru, for teaching us this.