Ausangate trek and Rainbow Mountain – the complete guide

The Ausangate hike is a high altitude 70km hike in the Peruvian mountains near Cusco with an average altitude more than 4000m. Unlike most other hikes in the region, Ausangate is not on Inca ruinsit's all about beautiful scenery; snow peaks, glaciers, colorful lakes and Rainbow Mountain. If you like stunning nature, getting off the beaten track and hiking is for you.

Ausangate is one of the most challenging hikes in Cusco, but at the same time one of the most rewarding in terms of scenery. If you have any questions about hiking in Ausangate, read this article. We hope it helps you decide whether you want to take an independent or guided hike. For more information on all of our favorites hiking in Peru.

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Ausangate trek's Overview

  • Total distance – 70 km / 43 miles
  • Required number of days – 4 to 5 days
  • Departure / arrival point – Tinqui (Tinki)
  • Average altitude – above 4000m / 13 123ft
  • Highest points – Arapa Pass – 4850m / 16,000 feet; Palomani Pass – 5165m / 17,000 feet

Information on other hikes in Cusco can be found on our website. Choquequirao trekking guide and Salkantay's Guide to Machu Picchu.

If you are thinking of exploring more of Peru there are several great options for small group tours to participate;

Best time for trekking

There are two main stations in Cusco; dry and rainy season. Dry season; May to September – almost without rain, a bit cold especially at night in the mountains. April and October – chances of rain are taller whatever hotter. Due to the high altitude in the winter months, from June to August, some parts of the hike may be covered with snow. Rainy season; November to March – It is hotter and it rains a lot. The period of December to February it's the worst time for walks in the region.

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Average temperatures in Cusco throughout the year in Celsius
Average daytime and daytime temperatures in Cusco in Fahrenheit
Average minimum and maximum temperatures in Cusco in Fahrenheit
Average monthly rainfall in Cusco
Average rainfall in the Cusco region over the year

Need to know about the walk

It's a good high altitude journey Acclimatization is essential. You may take another hike at lower altitudes to acclimate yourself and see your body's reaction.

Drink a lot of water it is important when walking at high altitudes.

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There are many streams and rivers on the route, but we recommend bringing a Lifestraw Bottle or water purification tablets due to the large number of alpacas walking through the mountains, you don't know how clean the water is. Nothing can be worse than getting sick at high altitudes or making your stomach runny.

has no stores established camps or facilities, you must self sufficient.

A good map or GPS navigation is highly recommended for this hike.

There is very limited /no cell phone reception.

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Your camp gear must be reliable and suitable for Low temperatures, at night it can drop below 0 ° C.

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Wait and see many people on rainbow mountain if you want to keep the walk more authentic, you can skip it and visit it as a day trip from Cusco instead. The mountains add another day to the itinerary, in addition to many tourists, places with decorated alpacas etc. all the normal things you see on the streets of Cusco or around Machu Picchu.

Beautiful Ausangate Lake and Glacier, one of the highlights of the hike
Ausangate Lake and Glacier, Peru

How we classify walking in Ausangate

  • Difficulty level – 5 out of 5; remote, high altitude, several steep climbs and descents.
  • Scenario – 5 out of 5; we absolutely love this hike, the scenery is incredible, one of the most beautiful hikes we've ever done; colorful lakes, snow peaks, rainbow mountains, waterfalls etc.
  • Tourist – 2 out of 5; is one of the least touristy hikes in Cusco, the only part where you can see many tourists is the Rainbow Mountain.

Altitude sickness

Many people who arrive in Cusco by bus from Lima or the Amazon suffer from altitude sickness. It is normal for you to fly or travel by low-altitude bus to a location more than 3000 m above it. Our body needs time to adjust to the decreasing amount of oxygen available due to altitude, the higher you go, the lower the air pressure and less oxygen available to you.

Symptoms

There are three types of altitude sickness; Light altitude sickness, HAPE and HACE – the last two are lethal. Mild disease is the first stage where, if you don't take precautions, it can turn into one of the lethal types. Having a mild altitude sickness is similar to having a hangover; headache, nausea, fatigue. Many people experience this in the first two days in Cusco.

How to prevent

  • First days in Cusco rest and sleep, don't walk a lot and definitely don't exercise.
  • Drink a lot of water. The inhabitants of Peru and Bolivia drink a lot of "coca tea", a hot drink made from leaves – it is considered an aid to acclimatization.
  • Do not consume alcohol.
  • Don't go up anymore if you skip acclimatization at lower altitudes, you won't acclimatize if you go higher.
  • Try it sleep at lower altitudes – "go up high, sleep low".
  • You can take Diamox, this medication accelerates acclimatization, consult your doctor before taking it.

Hiking travel insurance

Walking like any outdoor activity involves the risk of getting hurt, losing or breaking the equipment, canceling the trip due to bad weather etc. The hike in Ausangate is a high altitude route through remote areas of the Andes. We highly recommend have travel insurance that covers you during the walk.

Choosing an insurance company that you can trust in an emergency is very important, we recommend World Nomads. The company focuses on covering outdoor activities, including trekking. Peru is one of the main destinations for hiking, as it has experience working with local companies. The great thing about World Nomads is that you can buy insurance online while traveling, it only takes a few minutes. The insurance policy is very flexible. You can buy insurance to cover the entire period of the trip or just part of the hike, even if it is a day or two. Make a quote right now!

Note! Always read the terms and conditions carefully.

Ausangate trek packing list

As I mentioned above, your equipment must be reliable and suitable for low temperatures, rain and wind.

Tent – a good tent that will not leak if it rains or breaks with a strong wind, lighter and easier to set up. We used to spend as little money as possible on our equipment, but we learned from experience that it doesn't help to buy cheap things that break quickly or cause a lot of problems whenever you use them. Our last camping equipment update was a MSR Tent that we wanted to buy for a long time and finally got it, now we can't wait to walk again. It is lightweight, easy to launch, water and wind resistant.

Sleeping bag – we prefer synthetic bags just because they dry fast and last a long time, bags they are impressive; warm, comfortable and very light, but they become a problem if they get wet and after a year of active use start to lose feathers. A good sleeping bag can go to or below 0 ° C.

Sleeping mat – in the beginning, we used to carry foam mats, but after a month of carrying it in the backpack, they were awful, we decided to move to inflatable mattresses that can be stored in the backpack. We love our rugs; they are small, light, quick to inflate, soft and durable.

You can find more information about the packaging for the walk in our Detailed packing list for hiking and camping in Peru.

Download our complete Ausangate trek packing list.

Guided tour or independent walk

Ausangate is considered the most difficult and one of the most remote hikes in the region. If you are new to hiking, we strongly recommend that you take a hike with a company and let them organize everything and guide you along the way. If you are an experienced climber, you have hiked at high altitudes before and acclimatized yourself properly – go on your own. Here are our pros and cons for an independent, guided hike.

Independent walk

Pros

  • You are very flexible with distances and times; start and finish when you want, stop where you want etc.
  • It is a real adventure that you plan on your own.

Cons

  • You have to carry all your equipment and food.
  • You can only trust yourself, there is no backup.
  • It is not always fun to pitch a tent and make food after a long and difficult day of hiking.

Guided walk

Walking through Ausangate on your own is a real adventure, we didn't see anyone else for a whole week. Being at high altitudes, the walk is quite difficult and, as the route is not always very well marked, navigation can be a challenge.

Many walkers are more comfortable leaving planning and logistics to an experienced company that knows the area. Runnatrip is a group of professional trekkers who can guide you to experience the beauty of this incredible journey! Check them out for an organization Ausangate Trek, all you have to do is reserve your seat!

If you don't have time to complete the route, you can do a day trip from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain and walk to the top where you can see the Ausangate mountain.

Pros

  • It is less stressful, there is no planning or preparation involved, just find a good reliable company and they will provide everything for you.
  • The walk is easier: you only carry your backpack, the rest is transferred by horses.
  • If you travel alone, it is more fun to walk in a group than to walk alone in the mountains (not for everyone).
  • Part of the money you spend goes to the local community; guides, cook, muleteer (although the small part).

Cons

  • It is more expensive, much more actually.
  • You may be unlucky with a group or a guide and it will ruin your walk.
Fantastic landscape on the walk
Beautiful scenery on the last day of the hike in Ausangate, Peru

Cost of walking in Ausangate

Without guide, per person

If you do this independently, it is very cheap, especially if you have your own camping equipment; without paid accommodation, without large entrance fees, the only expenses; transport to get there and back (public bus) and food for the walk.

Transport (bus Cusco – Tinqui – Cusco) – 20 Sol / return of US $ 6.

Shopping (food, gas) – 100 Sol / US $ 30.

Entrance fee – 10 Sol / $ 3 at the exit of Tinqui, there is a small kiosk where you pay the park entrance fee, not sure which park, but it seemed more or less official.

Equipment rental (optional) – depending on the rental amount, the cost will be between 160 Sol / US $ 50 to 260 Sol / US $ 80. If you plan to do several hikes in Peru or South America, we suggest that you bring your own equipment, if there is only one or two hikes instead of renting it there.

Total: 130 Sol / US $ 40 + equipment rental.

With a company, per person

5-day hike in Ausangate costs US $ 550 per person. Includes; guide, cook, horses, transportation, food, tents, mattresses. The rental of extra equipment (sleeping bag, walking sticks, shoes, etc.) is not included and is payable separately.

How to get to Ausangate (Tinqui) from Cusco?

The hike starts in a small town in Tinqui (sometimes spelled Tinki), 100 km from Cusco. It is very easy to get here by public bus from Cusco. Bus leaves from Terminal Paradero Livitaca (easy to find on Google maps), which is close to the Coliseo Cerrado, a modern stadium. Ticket costs 10 Sol / $ 3, takes about 2.5 hours.

Ausangate trek a 6-day itinerary

The walk itself is quite demanding, requires good physical conditions and air conditioning. In fact, the entire route is over 4000m, with two passages over 5000m. Therefore, we recommend taking one of the easiest hikes first, for example, Salkantay or Choquequirao. What we like most about the walk is that there were no tourists, in fact there were no people; some days we met one or two local pastors.

Drinking water is not a problem, once you have purification tablets or a Lifestraw, there are many lakes, rivers and streams. Be aware of alpaca and sheep droppings, because the pills do not help against them.

To avoid getting lost, it is highly recommended to ask like everyone you know and have GPS or compass the old fashioned way. If you find a group with a guide, just follow it, you'll be wandering around a lot easier;)

Map of Ausangate trek
Map of Ausangate trek

Day 1. Bus Cusco – Tinqui, walk Tinqui – Upis, 100 km / 7 km on foot

Cusco (3400m) – Tinki (4000m) – Upis (4100m)

We tried to start the day as early as possible, but we couldn't, we took a bus to Tinqui at 9:30 pm, it took less than we expected to get there, we arrived in Tinqui around 12pm. We didn't stop in the city and went straight to the trail, paid an entrance fee of 10 Sol / US $ 3 and started walking. It was quite difficult to walk due to the altitude, about 4000m, the backpacks seemed heavier than normal. About 3 km before Upis the weather changed, it got windy and it started to rain, we found a nice place and decided to camp there.

lights

  • Ausangate snow peak
  • Hot springs in Upis (we stopped there the next morning, nothing special, but it may be good to relax on the first day)

Challenges

  • Some climbing not too steep, but at altitude, with full backpacks, it was quite difficult.
A Quechua family in Tinque, Ausangate trek, Peru
A local family dressed in traditional Quechua clothing in the village of Tinque, the gateway to the walk in Ausangate

Day 2. Upis – Puca Cocha, 15 km

Upis (4100m) – Passo Arapa (4850m) – Lake Puca Cocha (4600m)

We start at 8:00, in 1 hour we reach Upis, although this part of the route is not the most pleasant walk on the road. After Upis, the path finally departs from the road, so that we can enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the mountains. In this section, the path is quite clear and easy to follow. We reached the Arapa Pass (4850m) in 2 hours. From the top of the pass, descend about 30 to 40 minutes. to the first lake. There is a viewpoint (Mirador) on the lake, a nice place to have lunch.

Around the lake, we saw many vicuñas (similar to llamas and alpacas, but wild and very timid). Puca Cocha (sometimes called Puqa Qocha) is the first lake to follow, after that there will be many different colors and sizes. Near Japu Puqa Qocha lake, a glacier lake, both connected through the waterfall; the water from the glacier falls into the lake, after the first lake through the waterfall falls to the next, etc.

lights

  • Several turquoise-colored lakes; Puca Cocha, Japu Cocha
  • Some waterfalls
  • Hundreds of alpacas
  • Beautiful sunset from the campsite

Challenges

  • Go up to the Arapa Pass de Upis – 700m.
  • Go down to the Puca Cocha lakes – 300m below.
Lake Puca Cocha, turquoise in color, and a waterfall, Ausangate
Stunning Lake Puca Cocha, the first day of the hike in Ausangate

Day 3. Puca Cocha – Ananta, 13 km

Puca Cocha (4600m) – Puca Cocha Pass (5051m) – Ananta (4400m)

Once again climb steep to the Puca Cocha Pass here, you start to see colorful mountains, mainly reddish, around and many viscachas – mountain rabbits, common in Peru and Bolivia, these guys are super fast and very shy, difficult to take a picture and disappear when you approach them. If you arrive at the camp before noon, you can set up a tent. leave your backpack there and go to Rainbow Mountain the same day. It will save you some time in the morning

If you don't plan to hike to Rainbow Mountain, you can skip that day and go to day 4. In Puca Cocha, you don't go to the gorge, you continue walking through the lakes towards Ausangate lake, where you can camp. The landscape in this way is also incredible.

lights

  • Colorful mountains on the way to the Puca Cocha Pass
  • Many viscachas and alpacas
  • Pass view; Ausangate mountain, colorful lakes of Cocha
  • Rainbow Mountain

Challenges

  • Steep climb from Puca Cocha camp to the pass, 500m above
  • Long descent to Ananta camp, 600m
Several alpacas on the way to Rainbow Mountain
There are thousands of alpacas on the hike

Day 4. Ananta – Rainbow Mountain – Ausangate Lake, 15 km

Ananta (4400m) – Ananta Pass (4500m) – Vinicunca Valley (4300m) – Rainbow Mountain (5000m) – Vinicunca Valley (4300m) – Ananta Pass (4500m) – Ananta (4400m) – Ausangate Lake (4300m)

A difficult day of steep climbs and descents, the walk from Ananta to Rainbow Mountain is a walk back where you walk and back in the same way. The good thing is that you can leave your tent and backpacks at camp and pick them up on the way back. We recommend taking your valuable things. You want to get to the mountain early before the main tourist crowds come for a day trip from Cusco, to wake up early. In addition, it will be a long day, keeping all hikes up and down in mind. Rainbow Mountain is spectacular, even if you have seen it in many photos to see it in real life, it is something special. On the way back, we went down mainly, it is not so tiring and it does not take long.

lights

  • Rainbow Mountain
  • Ausangate lake and mountain

Challenges

  • Climb the Ananta Pass from the camp – 100m above
  • Ascend the valley to Rainbow Mountain – 700m above
  • Descend from Rainbow Mountain to the valley – 700m below
  • Climb the valley to the Ananta Pass – 200m above
Colorful rainbow mountain on the Ausangate hike in Peru
The famous Rainbow Mountain, one of the highlights of the hike

Day 5. Lake Ausangate – Jutumpata, 13 km

Ausangate Lake (4300m) – Palomani Pass (5200m) – Jutumpata (4400m)

Right after the camp, you start to climb and descend the Palomani, up to 5200m, the highest point of the hike. From there, you can enjoy incredible views! Every once in a while, be sure to look back and take in the stunning views of the valley and the pink mountains.

The climb is quite difficult due to the high altitude and a heavy backpack. So relax and rest as much as you need. Sooner or later you will reach the top. Fortunately, you have a good excuse to stop a lot on the way to enjoy the scenery. When you finally get to the top and look at the other side of the pass right now, you realize it was worth 100%. The view is incredible; a pink lake, colorful mountains, big glaciers. It is difficult to decide which way to look! We had lunch at the top of the pass and started to descend into the valley. The descent is quite steep, you go all the way to the Jutumpata valley, with the lake and the pink river until you reach the camp.

lights

  • Ausangate Glacier and Lake
  • View from the top of the Palomani Pass
  • Pink lake

Challenges

  • Steep and very long climb from Ausangate lake to the Palomani Pass – 900m above.
  • Steep descent from Palomani Pass into the valley – 800m below.
Colorful mountains on the Ausangate hike, Peru
Breathtaking views from the top of the Palomani Pass

Day 6. Jutumpata – Pacchanta – Tinqui, 17 km

Jutumpata (4400m) – Qampa Pass (5000m) – Pacchanta village (4100m) – Tinqui (4000m)

The previous night was very cold and, when we woke up, everything was covered with snow, including our tent, it was beautiful. We definitely need a hot coffee to warm up!

The last climb on the hike to Qampa passes more colorful lakes, alpacas and chinchillas on the way. From the top, you start to descend into the valley, passing several turquoise lakes; you can cool off in one of them, if you want, the water is freezing! Finally, after about 5 hours, we arrived at the village of Pacchanta. There are hot springs in Pacchanta, if you are tired and don't want to walk anymore, you can stay here, relax in the springs and, the next morning, continue in Tinki. Alternatively, you can take a local bus to Tinki, the trail follows the dirt road to the city. To return to Cusco, take a bus from the main square of Tinqui, the trip takes 2h30m.

lights

  • Colorful lakes
  • Beautiful green valley near Pacchanta

Challenges

  • Steep climb to the Qampa Pass – 600m above
  • Long descent from the Qampa Pass to the valley – 900m
A beautiful green lake on the last day of the hike
Alya in one of the lakes on the last day of the hike in Ausangate, en route to Tinque

Places to stay in Cusco

What can be better than checking into a great hotel after a week of hiking in nature and sleeping in a tent! There are hundreds of accommodation options in Cusco for any budget.

Recommended books and guides

For a self-guided walk, one of the Machu Picchu guides will be very useful, for example, The Machu Picchu guide: a self-guided tour by Alfredo Valencia Zigarra (paper book) or Lonely Planet Peru (paper and Kindle).

If you want to travel back to history and discover more about discovering Machu Picchu, enjoy reading Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham. Kindle and paper book.

Pleasant and fun reading Turn right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the lost city, one step at a time, by Mark Adams, trying to answer a common question; What is Machu Picchu? Kindle and paper book.

If you want to read some local authors Death in the Andes by the most famous Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa is a great option. The novel tells of some mystical events that take place in the Andes, not far from Cusco, when Machu Picchu was still one of the most visited places. Kindle and paper book.

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