Classic Treks: Ausangate Circuit, Peru

Peru is an amazing destination for backpackers and trekkers, offering a great mix of culture, ancient history, and breathtaking scenery. The Andes mountains serve as a dramatic backdrop for some of the best hiking anywhere in the world, and although the Inca Trail is probably the best known hike in all of South America, there are other Peruvian treks that are more challenging, longer, and equally rewarding.

Take the Ausangate Circuit for instance, so named for the 20,905 foot tall mountain that dominates the region through which this trek passes. This hike requires roughly five days to complete, covering about 45 miles, most of it at high altitude in a remote area that remains sacred to the local Quechua people who inhabit the area. The trek is well known for stunning views and lots of solitude, as while most backpackers are busy with the crowded Inca Trail, this route remains quietly off the radar for most visitors to Peru.

Unlike the Inca Trail however, the Ausangate Circuit is free from any kind of infrastructure, which means you’ll find no established campsites, no park rangers roaming the trail, and certainly no toilets. This is remote trekking at its finest, without a support structure in place to hinder your exploration or bail you out when you get into trouble. In fact, those adventurous travelers who tackle the Circuit are completely on their own, without any kind of rescue service in place.Located near the mountain town of Cusco, the gateway to the Peruvian Andes, the Ausangate Circuit is a challenging trek meant for experienced backpackers only. The trail is designed for those who are comfortable hiking independently and self sufficiently, and is not recommended for beginners. In addition to the complications that altitude can introduce, the weather is often unpredictable, with snow a possibility year round. Big storms offer the potential to leave hikers confined to their tent for a day or two, and supplies are difficult to come by, with just a few small mountain villages along the route.

Those that do brave the trek however, are treated to some of the best views in the Andes, with the trail taking them well above 16,900 feet. The snow capped peaks will continually give hikers something to gawk at, while massive glaciers dominate the landscape, spilling into tranquil mountain lakes and feeding icy-blue streams. Wide open mountain meadows are filled with herds of alpacas and llamas, with local villagers, dressed in colorful garb, looking on. Best of all, natural hot springs at the beginning and end of the trek, allow backpackers to sooth their tired legs and feet.

For a trek unlike any other, with a high level of challenge, but an equally high level of reward, consider the Ausangate Circuit. It is an inexpensive, little known hike, along remote mountain passes that offer plenty of solitude and views that will remain with you for a lifetime. This amazing trek is just one more reason why Peru remains one of the top adventure travel destinations of all time.

Photo of the Day 8.29.09

Since this is my last weekend in Peru, I felt it would only be appropriate to send along a postcard from this scenic land. And talk about waking up and having this as your morning vista! This gorgeous photo by rickmccharles has a whole slew of beautiful snapshots of Andean Peru. This particular shot was taken on the Ausangate Circuit, which — well — pretty much speaks for itself if you ask me. The Andes sure make for nice photos, don’t you think?

If you have some great travel shots you’d like to share, be sure to upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day!