Making the decision to quit on a hike is one of the hardest things you may face on the trail. The last time I bailed on a backpacking trip was in the inhospitable landscape underneath the Peruvian mountain of Ausangate. I came down with a cold or sinus infection of some sort making it hard to breath without coughing heavily. The lack of ability for me to breath with the high attitudes that demanded me to breathe harder during the uphills forced me to recognize the fact that I couldn’t complete the circuit at that time.
When it comes to quitting, the biggest opponent was my own ego. Part of that ego preventing me from making the best decision for myself regarding quitting may be the desire to accomplish something for completeness sake. Perhaps the reason for such as desire is rooted in the fear of missing out, in that I know I didn’t miss anything if I complete it. In a sense, that completeness attitude may actually miss the real reason we head into nature, which is to experience nature. For me, hiking is about the means just as much or even greater than the ends. If it truly the experience and enjoyment of nature we are after, then there is no shame in quitting and returning to experience it when we are in a better situation.
Of course I was disappointed that I couldn’t compete the Ausangate Circuit. What helped was looking back at the experience we did have of climbing the grassy pass around Ausangate before navigating ourselves off the Ausangate Circuit to find our way to the Rainbow mountains off trail and realizing how great that was. It wasn’t the experience I was expecting, but it was amazing nonetheless. Secondly, I knew that I’d return someday and finish the hike for a brand new experience of the Ausangate Circuit. That day came two years later when I found a business class fare sale back to Peru.
The decision for this trip started with a business class fare sale on Avianca. The deal was from New York John F Kennedy (JFK) to different places in the northern part of South America including to Lima (LIM) for around USD$650 (Secret Flying). Since I had wanted to return to Peru to finish the Ausangate Circuit, it became our end of the summer plans.
Whenever it comes to flight deals originating from the United States, it’s best to always book it first since you have 24 hours to think about it (Scott’s Cheap Flights). So, the Avianca business class deal was the first thing I booked. The deal was actually widely available, even through the Chase Ultimate Points Portal. This allowed me to use our Ultimate Points at a value of USD$0.015 per point with Meg’s Chase Sapphire Reserve. The 87,774 Ultimate Points we used for two USD$658.31 roundtrip tickets were not the most optimal redemption value (see View from the Wing), but it was worth not spending USD$1,316.61. A typical economy ticket might even be more than the price we paid for business tickets here.
The actual fare details for this flight is actually a flight from JFK connecting through Bogata, Columbia (BOG) to Quito, Ecuador with a stop over in Lima (LIM). It just happened that our stop over was much longer than the actual destination. Some form (The Flight Deal) of this Avianca business class fare is still around at the time that I’m writing this in June 2019. The word about the business class treatment isn’t the best and you have to make sure the main leg to BOG is on the Airbus A330 to make it worth it.
For our flight within Peru from LIM to Cusco (CUS), I had planned to transfer 18,000 Chase Ultimate Points to British Airways Avios, where I could book 500 or under mile flights for 4500 Avios each way (now devalued – The Points Guy). However, when I compared the monetary price of USD$319.34 for two roundtrip tickets to the value of the Ultimate Points I would have to transfer to British Airways and the fees for the award ticket, the cash option became a better deal. Furthermore, I had air travel credit I needed to use on my Citi Prestige Card. On the topic of the “gringo tax” or extra fees for foreigners on domestic flights in Peru, the information out there is unclear (Tripadvisor). However, I don’t recall having too much trouble when I bought the tickets from LATAM’s website.
Lastly, I had to reposition to JFK to catch our flights. Before this trip, I just finished my spur of the moment acclimatization hike of the John Muir Trail (JMT). Meg and I would fly in from Las Vegas (LAS) to New York LaGuardia (LGA) on Southwest Airlines with our companion pass – this flight was included and discussed at part of my JMT trip report. To travel from LGA to JFK, we planned to take the airport to airport shuttle.
On our return reposition, we would have to stay a night in New York since our flight would arrive late into the night. So I opted for us to stay in Manhattan and take the Megabus back to Washington D.C. instead of flying. Since we booked early enough, it was only USD$28.99 to reposition us back to D.C.
Below is our flight itinerary for the trip:
The Ausangate Circuit is a 3-5 day loop that circles the mountain Ausangate located west of Cusco. It is a snow capped mountain with multiple glaciers and alpine lakes surrounding it. It is also a key mountain in Incan mythology as the “origin of llamas and alpacas and controls the health of fertility of these animals (Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes – Amazon affiliate link).” It has 4 main passes with the highest point being Palomani Pass at 5164m or 16,945.54 ft with the majority of the hike is above 4000m. The best hiking season are during the Peruvian winter or dry season from May to September.
Our main plan was to hike the Ausangate Circuit and planning for it the second time around was much easier as I knew what to expect. In our previous hike, we started on the Ausangate Circuit and navigated successfully to the Rainbow Mountains leaving the circuit. However due a cold or sinus infection, we bailed on day 4 before returning to and finishing the Ausangate Circuit.
So, much of my planning for the hike was already done. The main guide book with a great description of the hike is the old Lonely Planet’s 2003 guidebook “Trekking in the Central Andes” (Amazon affiliate link). Rick from Best Hike has a detailed information page I used in my original preparation and Cam from the Hiking Life has a 2017 report on it.
As for navigation tools, the most up to date OpenStreetMap (OSM) gps has the entirety of the trail labeled. You can download it for free at alternativaslibres.es for your Garmin devices or in many of the phone applications out there such as MAPS.ME, wikiloc, and etc. Alltrails even has the full track listed. There is even a shorter version of the hike starting from the town of Pacchanta as detailed on a alltrails track by Benji Morin.
The current OSM version is so detailed, it includes all the trails to reach the Rainbow Mountains (Vinicunca) and the Red Valley to the south. For details of how to include the Rainbow Mountains in your hike, see my previous trip report, which now include additional notes based on new information.
All of this is very doable without a guide, but there are plenty out there that will accommodate you. We inquired at a random place around Plaza De Armas in Cusco and was quoted for USD$480 per person for 4 days and 3 nights trip or USD$220 per person for 2 days and 1 night trip. There also seems to be options for local guides in both Tinke for the 4 day hike and Pacchanta for the 3 day hike, but conversation spanish is recommended (see best hike for more details on guides).
One aspect of the trail that I’ll discuss in my impressions is the amount of trail degradation since the first time we hiked in Ausangate. That includes the amount of trash left behind and the wear on the trail from heavy pack animal use, especially in the remote sections of the trail. So if you do go with a guided trip, perhaps open the discussion of leave no trace principles and whether the locals benefiting from guiding would consider spending some earnings on trail infrastructure. Otherwise, some of the mystic of this hike will surely be lost.
Since we had about two weeks in Cusco, I did some research into other hiking options in the area for our post Ausangate planning. Even though unforeseen events prevented us from reporting on future hikes this time around, I’m looking forward to returning and doing them at some point.
Of course the main draw of Cusco is heading to Machu Picchu, which we did in 2016 via a shuttle to Hidroelectrica and a short hike along the railroad track. You can read my full report and preparations in the link above.
However, some of the other options (National Geographic) to reach Machu Picchu was of interest to us. Specifically, we were interested in the sister ruins of Choquequirao (Stingy Nomads’ guide; wikiloc track by oscarmiguelchumpitazramirez) and the alpine route of Salcantay (The Hiking Life’s guide; wikiloc track by Roger Cashew). If you were to take either toward Machu Picchu, they would connect at Colpapampa before continuing onto the Hidroelectrica station. This is the point, the trail would follow our hike to visit Machu Picchu discussed in our previous trip.
Since both of these trails connect, we liked the idea of hiking in via the Choquequirao trail and out via the Salkantay trail. Wbeimar MG posted his hike on wikiloc doing just that. If you were looking for a grand hike, you could add the side trip into Machu Picchu as well, perhaps a future adventure for us.
Outside of Machu Picchu, there are plenty of day hikes and backpacking routes. I found the Cicerone Guide Book (Amazon affiliate link) very informative of the many trails around Cusco, including our previous visit out to the Moray ruins and salt mines of Maras. Ofcourse, exploring on wikiloc is a great way to find many of the hikes in the area as well.
Below is a listing of our updated gear loadout for Meg and I with some comments below:
- The MVP gear of our trip was our long gaiters. Since our last time at Ausangate, the conditions of the trails have degraded tremendously from the large number of pack animals used by guided groups and the heavier traffic in general. While the easier accessed portions of the trail has seen trail work done, majority of the trail was a muddy mess. Our long gaiters we amazing in keeping our legs dry and preventing mud from getting all over us.
- We had to buy a new 3 season tent at the last minute for this trip, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 3. I was skeptical that it would hold up, but it did very well even through a hailstorm.
- TSA had issues with us carrying on our hiking sticks at JFK, so we ended buying them in Cusco. There are plenty of outfitters that carries all last minute camping supplies. We bought a gas canister, a pair of sunglasses, and 2 sets of the nicer aluminum hiking sticks with the flick locks for about USD$40 (S/. 130). Definitely ask around to price compare for the best deals.
- Dealing with the cold of the high altitude and Peruvian winter is one of the more challenging options.
- My sleeping bag for this trip (Kelty Cosmic Down 20) was a bit under rated for the below freezing temperatures, but I was fine after laying up with my fleece, down jacket, extra pair of pants, and wool socks. Meg was fine using my winter bag (Sierra Designs Zissou 6) and she was fine using her own (Therm-a-rest 0F Adara Down) last time around.
- We brought hand warmers to help warm up our sleeping bags. They were clutch and especially helpful for warming up my feet. An alternative is to boil water and keep them in a water bottle, but it is very important that you have the bottle sealed tight as water leaking out would be disastrous.
- Our sleeping pads (Klymit Insulated Static V & Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite) were adequate in preventing heat from escaping through the ground. However, I wouldn’t have complained about an additional foam pad underneath.
- Make sure you sleep with your water filters, they will freeze and not function correctly if you leave them out. We may have ran into that issue on our hike. Last time around, we were using a Steripen (Amazon affiliate link) so we didn’t have to worry as much, though it was still recommended to sleep with all your batteries to keep them longer lasting.
- We did encounter some snow, but mountaineering gear or microspikes isn’t needed for this hike typically.
- With it being so cold, you may not feel the need the drink water. It is very important that you do.
- A filter is a must now days with the amount of traffic the trail sees and the amount of grazing animals along the trail.
We went with a combination of online booking site such Hotels.com and Airbnbs when looking for accommodations around Cusco. With Hotels.com, I was able to stack savings between purchasing their gift cards at a 15-20% discount whenever they were on sale, credit card bonuses, shopping portals (see Frequent Miler overview), and Hotels.com’s own reward system of providing 10% back. Airbnb from my previous searches have always turns up the same hotels and such in Peru. However, with a more detailed search this time around, we were able to find more local’s owners that renting out apartments with kitchens allowing us the option to cook our own food.
When it comes to Cusco hotels during the dry and cold winter month for the southern hemisphere, I was looking for heated rooms or a heater in the room, hot water for showers, preferably including breakfast, and reliable internet. At the time of our trip in 2018 hotels that might meet those criterias and had a decent rating online, the cheapest ones were typically around USD$35; the slightly better, modern, and smaller operation ones were around USD$50; the more bigger operation modern hotels similar to the Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inns were around USD$90; and the fancier ones with 4 stars are over USD$100. These prices were slightly higher than when we visited in 2016.
If you were really looking to splurge, there are resorts such as the few in the Marriott portfolio over USD$250 or a category 5 award night. Even though there are hotels we could have used our points for free stays such as Marriott and Hilton, the hotel redemption rates were not comparable to the cost of locally ran hotels and airbnbs. However, if you are looking for fancier lodging, they might be worth it.
In Cusco and throughout most the sacred valley, you eat out well for very low costs such as less than USD$10 a day. However, there are also restaurants of many different levels to cater to the ambiance you are looking for. I will discuss the many dining options we experienced in my Cusco trip report.
phone and internet service
My Google Fi plan (referral link) work well once again. Of Course once we on our hike around Ausangate, I didn’t have service as expected. However, I was surprised in the amount of service I did have on the way to Tinke.
cash vs credit card
Cash is still the preferred method of payment for many places in Cusco. This is especially true for smaller vendors, buses, collectivos, taxis, and places further from Cusco. Some smaller housing options that you book on Hotels.com or Bookings.com will require you to pay in cash. However, plenty of places do accept credit cards such as grocery stores and the bigger restaurants.
As always, ATM is still the best way to get cash, especially with bank accounts that will reimburse you ATM fees such as the Charles Schwab High Yield checking account (nerdwallet; see Doctor of Credit for US$100 sign up offer)
The beginning of this trip started as we landed in New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in the afternoon coming in from the end of my John Muir Trail hike. Can’t get better acclimatization pre-trip than that. From LGA we needed to shuttle over to New York John F. Kennedy airport (JFK). The airport express bus was the cheapest option at USD$17 per person over rideshares and only took about a half hour even during rush hour.
Our first leg of our Avianca ticket was scheduled in the middle of the night at 1:10am out of terminal 4. Typically, our Priority Pass from our credit cards (details at Dr of Credit) would allow us into the Wingtip Lounge (Renes Points review), but it was closed to Priority Pass members due to capacity constraints. However we saw there was a Swiss Business Class Lounge (travelsort review) also in terminal 4 and our Avianca business class tickets would allow us entry since it was part of Star Alliance. So we were able to have free dinner and they remained open even though our flight leaves after the lounge hours. We found the quiet room also a nice place to get some sleep.
The flight itself was an Airbus A330 with a 2-2-2 configuration for business class with lay flat seats, which was nice for the 5.5 hour red eye flight. After a short but restiful flight, breakfast was served to conclude our uneventful flight.
The flight schedule gave us just under 12 hours explore Bogota, Columbia if we wished, but we were still sleepy and wanted a day to just relax. Bogata airport (BOG) was very modern. Our tickets gave us access to the Avianca Lounges and we headed for the first one we saw (OMAAT review) after an easy international transfer. We both zonked out pretty quickly on the couches for a few hours. After waking up and picking the mediocre food at the Avianca Lounge, we decided to check on the Sala VIP LATAM lounge (OMAAT review) instead, which we had access through our Priority Pass. It turned out to be the right decision as the food was much better including ice cream and we were able to take a nice shower.
After a relaxing day in the lounge, our evening flight from BOG to Lima (LIM) was on older Airbus A320 with lounge seats in a 2-2 configuration for business class, but there was no entertainment system. The dinner was surprisingly good though.
We landed pretty late at night and we had to go through customs before going over the domestic side for our last leg of flight from LIM to Cusco (CUZ), which I scheduled the 4:30am flight rather than the 1am flight in case of delays. Unfortunately at LIM, they didn’t allow domestic flights to go airside until the night staff cleaned airside, a couple hours before the flight. This explained the crowded landside terminal. We hung out in the food court area for a few hours before finally being able to go airside. We grabbed a little bit of sleep here and there, but were out pretty quickly once we board our LATAM A320 flight, even in economy class.
Before we knew it, we were in Cusco and it was 7am in the morning. I was pretty acclimatized already having spend the previous 3 weeks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the John Muir Trail, but Meg had only had 3 days since she could only join me for the end of my hike. So, I had planned to play it by ear in terms of our exact starting date by booking accommodations for just the first night we were in Cusco and we would play it day by day. We ended up staying in Cusco for three nights bouncing around different hotels before we finally headed out for Ausangate. Meg was feeling the altitude or was a little sick, so we took our time.
During our three days in Cusco, we were able to get most of the things we need for our backpacking trip accomplished. We didn’t need to buy too much additional meals for dinners from the Orion Supermarket since we still had left overs from the end of our JMT hike. We estimated the hike would take us 4 days but had enough for last 5 if needed. My eating habit was a warm meal for breakfast and dinner excluding a breakfast for the 1st day and a dinner for the last day, so that was 6 meals with 1 extra. Meg preferred only a warm meal for dinner so that would be 3 meals with 1 extra. She preferred Cliff bars for breakfast and we had plenty still from our last trip.
For lunch and to supplement our meals, we bought 2 packages of deli meat, 1 package of cheese, a couple slices of flatbread pizza, and 8 empanadas. We bought our empanadas from the cafe Eusebio & Manolo (tripadvisor), empanadas are always the best in South America for backpacking and we enjoyed the ones from these guys. Lastly, we had some energy chews, gummies, and a couple packs of instant coffee all left over from our the JMT.
To rounded out our equipment, we bought a gas canister, 2 pairs of aluminum hiking sticks, and sunglasses from a local outfitter after asking around several for price comparison. We also bought a 3 one liter water bottles for our hike. We didn’t end up buying a pocket knife since we didn’t have food that really required cutting up.
In efforts to help acclimatization, we tried to walk around the town everyday.
Majority of it might have been to find different places to eat, but it was still walking around. I’ll get to the different foods we tried in the Cusco trip report section.
- Ausangate Circuit
- distance: 35.5 miles (excluding distance from Pacchanta to Tinke)
- elevation change: 8581 ft ascent & 6804 ft descent
- time: 4 days & 3 nights (est 20 hours moving time)
- location: Tinke, Ocongate, Peru (trailhead directions; bus from Cusco directions)
For our hike this time around, stuck to the main Ausantage Circuit. See Ausangate Circuit trekking research section earlier for alternatives and rainbow mountain additions.
On the fourth morning since we landed in Cusco, Meg was feeling well enough to start out hike. So after the great breakfast included at LP Los Portales Hotel (hotels.com), we took a taxi to the Tinke/Ocongate bus stop for S/. 4. This isn’t the main bus station in Cusco, but rather a small bus courtyard at roughly Tomasa Titto Condemayta 1614, next to the Coliseo Cerrado – Casa de la juventud (google map directions). The bus may only say Ocongate, the region and the major city, but the driver will confirm to you that it will go to Tinke once you tell them.
There isn’t a specific bus schedule that I know of, but I don’t speak spanish to ask and it seem to leave pretty often. We got there shortly after 7:30am and were on our way by 8am. The cost of the bus was S/.10 per person. The ride takes about 3 hours and will head east on 3S making many stops along the way to pick up passengers before turning onto the winding 30S to climb over Abra Cuyuni at 4185m before dropping into Ocongate and then to Tinke. You can see Ausangate once you reach Abra Cuyuni.
At 11am, we reached the town of Tinke and it seems unchanged since 2016. There are vendors here should you need last minute supplies and a bathroom. If you have issues acclimatization to altitude, an extra night here in Tinke might help you adjust as Tinke is at a higher altitude than Cusco. There are couple of local hostels in Tinke. There are also taxis and motorbikes that can save you a few miles and a couple hours for S/.40 by taking you as close to Upis campsite as possible or to the alternative start at Pacchanta. Pacchanta seems to have become quite a large town to several hostels, stores, and restaurants. It may also be a good place to take an extra day to acclimatize. Our minimal spanish and brief charades failed us when the taxi driver tried to talk to us, so we decided to just start walking.
- Tinke to Upis campgrounds
- distance: 8.0 miles
- elevation change: 2271 ft ascent & 237 ft descent
- time: 4:26 hours (est 3:40 moving time)
The beginning of the hike is just east of the main square at the intersection with a dirt road called Avenida Ausangate heading south. There is a little stand here that seems to be a place where they may collect a fee and register you name. For us, this stand was unmanned but the one further on up the trail was not.
We followed the road over a river
and turned right at split in the road following the Rio Pinchomuro Mayo upstream. Shortly, there is another split in the road and we stayed to the right to continue along the river before crossing it. There is then a trail that turns and cuts up the hill to met the road once again. For there we stayed on the road ascending slowly until the intersection of CU-1401 and CU-1399. There is another stand here to collect the S/.10 per person fee and for you to register your name in the log book.
We continued straight on CU-1401 toward Upis, while CU-1399 is the direction toward Pacchanta and the direction the loop will return from.
For the first 5 miles of the hike from Tinke, it was mostly on a dirt road that gains elevation at roughly 7% grade. However, the attitude can make it seem much steeper than it is. A break from the climb is the crossing of a stream. Looking back, you can see a huge glacial erratic or boulder dropped by an ancient glacier.
After 2 hours of hiking, we could see menacing clouds start to form as we enter the official town named Upis. This isn’t the camp Upis we are looking for yet. At this first split, it doesn’t matter which on you take as they will coverage further ahead.
A few steps further, we reached the point next to the school where we started our hike in 2016, the place the taxi dropped us off at. It started to hail on and off on us, so we sheltered ourselves under the awning of the houses during the worst parts. A local grandma took the opportunity to try to sell some of her handmade goods while we were waiting out the storm. We ended up with a new alpaca scarf for PEN S/. 20.
We took cover until the worst of the hail passed before continuing on. The road converged with the other branch shortly after we started again. However, we came to another fork in the road in a few more steps, this was where got lost our first time in 2016. The correct way is to take the left fork and the direction to go was labeled with arrows this time around. Another difference is that the road on this portion was in better condition since last time we were here, most likely due to all construction that has taken place in the valley since.
You can indeed follow this road now to the Upis campsite, but we opted to take the trail in. The trail will branch off to the right marked by cairns as the road turns to the left five miles from Tinke.
The trail will start to drop off to the right to the marshy drainage.
The trail mainly remains to the left of the marshy area passing a few stone houses used by the local herders. There are white arrows to indicate the direction you should take through this area.
However, there are points where the trail might be wiped out by the marsh or a stream flowing into the marsh, so pay attention to your gps or map. In the dry seasons, you may be able to cut across the marsh directly toward the Upis camping area. In fact, we saw local children playing in the marsh. However, it’s easier to stay to the left for us and there really isn’t much elevation change. The trail will continue to cut left through the field of alpacas toward the foot of the hill to the left of the valley.
Once you are at the foot of the valley, the trail is more pronounced and it will start to gain a little more elevation toward the campsite. Just before the campsite, you’ll see the hot spring here at Upis Campsite. It is just a concrete pool built you can see below and not the most picturesque. We skipped this one.
We reached the Upis campsite shortly after 3:35pm.
Our total for the day was 8.0 miles with 2271 ft elevation gain and 237 ft elevation loss. We started at about 12,400 ft above sea level and ended at about 14,435 ft. For perspective, we would sleep at an altitude near the top of Mt. Whitney. This is usually a good warm up day to get use to the high altitude with more to come in the following days.
There were two guided groups already camped at Upis when we arrived, so we had to look around for an area not covered with horse poop. There are vault toilets/hole in the ground and a faucet, though you can also get water from the river here upriver of the other campers. After setting up camp, we had dinner and turned in for the night. We kept our stuff in our vestibules as there was said to be possible thieves that will steal your shoes here in the past, but that might be dated information. We remembered to try to drink as much water as possible to help acclimate and because it’s hard to remember to do so when it’s cold. Meg felt the altitude a little more than me this time since she didn’t spent as much time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains before this trip as I, so ibuprofen was helpful. So was the handwarmer she used to make her bag nice and cozy.
We were up pretty early the next day just after 6:30am since the nights are a bit too long during the Peruvian winter. As you can see below, we got a bit of snow overnight and it was a cold night. This made getting up to pee that much more difficult, but it was needed after drinking so much water. I rather endure that though.
We have found the mornings here are always beautiful, clear, and sunny. However, the valley that Upis campsite stayed in the shadows the longest. This would delay our starting time as we waited for some sunshine to dry out our tent and the condensation that formed on our sleeping bags. This allowed time to cook a breakfast and take care of some other business while we had access to a vault toilet. A bonus was that since it was so cold, everything in there was frozen and it didn’t smell.
By the time it was 7:40am (about an hour after we woke), we were packed and were on the trail. Guess I can’t break camp ever in less than an hour, just like the JMT.
- Upis to Laguna Ausangatecocha
- distance: 9.4 miles
- elevation change: 2491 ft ascent & 1743 ft descent
- time: 7:01 hours with breaks (5:40 hours moving time)
We started the day by crossing the river we were camped next before the trail started to follow the foot of the hill south toward the snow capped Ausangate mountains.
About 2/3 miles in, we saw some newly constructed aqueducts drawing the water from what we assumed to be the glacial lake further up the drainage. It was around here that the trail starts the first major elevation gain of the day up curving to the right and toward Abra la Arapa leaving the rushing river.
For the next 1.5 miles until the pass, the trail ascends at about a 11.8% grade. The trail here was decent with plenty of arrows to indicate the direction to go.
Pretty soon, we were on the final uphill push toward our first pass on the hike as we started see the rounded bluffs that describe Abra la Arapa. In the meantime, a group of wild llamas.
After 1.5 hours, we reached Abra la Arapa at about 15,498 ft.
We continued on the mound to the left of the pass to get a few pictures of the drainage that we came up through and of the peaks including Cerro Cayco Orjo and Senal Nevado Extremo Ausangate.
Looking back toward the pass, the roundhills and Nevado Queullachocha makes up the mountain chain on the other side of the valley.
The trail leaves the pass to the left here crossing a relatively flat marshy bench.
It is at this point the wear on the trail due to the many pack horses used by guides and, to a lesser extent, hikers become apparent. The difference from just 2 years ago is astounding. There really isn’t a trail but rather large splotches of mud that will eat your shoes if you are not careful. I can see a small attempt at some trail construction here, but much more is needed. This was just the beginning of a very messy and worn down trail.
Past the marshy bench, the trail starts to directly curve around the contour of the mountain at a slight decline coming to a mound about a mile from the pass. The Lonely Planet guide suggests a possible view southeast of the trail over the rocky mound for a good view of the valley below.
With the clouds starting to form rapidly, we decided to start our descent turning left to head into the valley below.
This next section is probably the worst and most dangerous section on this hike. While there was snow on the initial portions of the downhill, it was actually better than the muddy worn trail itself. I would have more traction going through the snow. Similar to the earlier section, it was very evident of the series effects that pack animals carrying heavy equipment of the guided tours have had here in the just in the last couple of years. For now, I will save this specific discussion for the impression section of this report.
Past initial steep down hill and largest snow field after the trail turned left into the valley, the elevation change wasn’t bad as the trail undulated gently on a bench of sorts. However, the muddy trail made it a difficult balancing act that we proceed slowly through. At the end of the bench is a picturesque pond. We met few people of a guided group here heading the opposite direction.
Over the next half mile, the trail drops at a steep -15.7% grade. After a careful and tiring descent through the mud, we were looking forward to lunch.
That would come another a mild half mile more at a viewpoint on top of a moraine overlooking Laguna Uchuy Pucacocha. Unfortunately for us and future hikers, it seems tour guide company(ies) have sealed off the shelter here and set up permanent tents in it preventing anyone else from using it. More appalling was the amount of trash left behind here. There is an actual garbage can here, yet it seem to miss the can more times than not.
My mood at this point wasn’t the best as you can imagine, but I took the advice of those Snicker commercials (youtube) and had some pizza and chocolate for lunch on a rock looking up at Senal Nevado Extremo Ausangate and its hanging glacier. We still didn’t stay very long continuing on after a 20 minute lunch break at 11:10am.
We retraced our steps down the moraine that the view point is on continued on the trail heading up on the opposite side of the lake for a quarter of a mile at about 12.1% grade. Last time we were here, we had to cross the creek draining the Laguna Uchuy Pucacocha before ascending, but it was dry this time around.
As we climb up the bluff overlooking Laguna Uchuy Pucacocha, we were greeted by a couple dogs belonging to a local herder just as the sun make an appearance again. Playing with them with the background of Ausangate put me in a better mood.
I would definitely recommend this area for a lunch break rather than designated viewpoint we stopped at earlier.
The trail drops back down from the bluff into a field over the next quarter of a mile at about a -9.2% grade. We passed the alpaca herd that the dogs were looking over on the way. The next 1/3 of a mile gains elevation again at about 11.4% grade heading between a mound to the north and the jagged mountain chain with the peak Takusiri to the south.
After cresting again, the trail drops to a small set of ponds at the 6 mile mark for the day. The giant glacier hanging off Ausangate makes its size known.
If you are interested in adding on the Rainbow Mountains (Vinicunca or Colorado), this is where I would recommend for you to leave the Ausangate Circuit (see our 2016 trip report). There is a trail here, now indicated on OSM, that branches off here and heads over the first of 2 passes to reach the Rainbow Mountains. Once you reached the Rainbow Mountains, I would recommend rejoining the Ausangate Circuit at Laguna Ausangatecocha or continue south through the Red Valley and exiting out of Pitumarca.
We decided against heading to the Rainbow Mountains on this hike because we have done it already and because of how crowded the viewpoint has become. It is much easier to join a tour group from Cusco rather than navigating off the Ausangate circuit.
The trail continued to contour along the side of the mountain for about the next mile while slightly increasing in elevation. Laguna Jata Pucacocha makes its appearance under Ausangate making this stretch one of the most memorable on the Ausangate circuit. There are plenty places here you can camp at, but we still had plenty in us since it was only noon.
As we circled around Laguna Jata Pucacocha, a smaller and more brilliantly turquoise lake draining into Laguan Jata Pucacocha makes its appearance. It was hard not to stop and take many pictures here.
To break up the views, there was a major obstacle on the trail as we neared the end of the valley at the 7 mile mark on the day. A large crevice had opened up in the ground possibly due to a landslide. It took a bit of effort to find the best point to climb down into the crevice and out the other side. The loose ground made any footing difficult and stepping on a rock wasn’t necessary safe either as the ground might give away. That wasn’t limited to the crevice itself, but on the ground pass it. Meg stepped on a rock and the ground gave away sending the rock tumbling downhills, luckily Meg’s fall wasn’t serious. It did fluster her a little bit so we took a twenty minute break once we were on firm grounds to compose ourselves after the scare.
After our break, we started up toward our second pass of the day, Abra Apuchata. It isn’t a steep hike toward the pass, starting at about a 8.5% grade for the first mile, but with the wind starting to pick up and fatigue from the second climb at this altitude slowed our pace. We took a short break just before reaching another alpine lake. Exploring the area, I found a few possible camping spots with rock walls built up on the bluff/moraine and plenty of nice places around the lake itself.
The final push to the pass was at a slightly steeper 11.3% grade for about half of a mile. We first hiked above what turned out to be two glacial lakes.
We started to get pelted with small hail whipped up by the wind as we reached Abra Apuchata, which was rounded and not very pronounced. It sat at about 15,917 ft. It was just after 2pm and the afternoon Ausangate hail felt familiar at this point. Needless to say, we didn’t stop and continued downhills.
The drop was a steep -19.2% grade over 2/3 of a mile to the outlet of Laguna Ausangatecocha with plenty of loose dirt and muddy areas. The trail actually splits here with multiple options of descending down to Laguna Ausangatecocha. A trail branches off to the left, gaining some altitude and heading closer to the glacier. Based on my gps, I saw that it reached a small alpine pond before dropping down. Based on the snow patches built up along the trail, it also looked to be the trail less taken. I was very tempted to head that way, but better assessment of the weather and the hail smacking me in the face lead me to correct decision of heading down the well worn trail downhills.
The views along the well worn trail was still spectacular with Laguna Ausangatecocha nestled within the lateral moraines under the hanging glacier. Across the way, I could guess at where Palomani Pass was.
Further along, we could see a small structure come into view. We decided that would be a good place to stop at.
One we reached valley, we crossed the stream and were at the hut 2:45pm. Our total for the day was 9.4 miles with 2491 ft elevation gain and 1743 ft loss going over two passes. The maximum elevation we hit on the day was 15,917 ft at Abra Apuchata. The total for our hike so far was 17.4 miles with 4763 ft elevation gain and 1981 ft loss.
The hut itself was mainly a big bathroom with multiple toilets with side room accessible by a separate door. Both had doors and locks, but were unlocked when we arrived. After using the bathroom, the hail started to come down hard and we hid in the sideroom. Even though there was a roof over our heads, it wasn’t the most sealed off roof and hail found its way through here and there.
There was no one around so we decided we might as well just stay indoors in the side room. The room was separated very well from the bathroom by a solid concrete wall with no airflow between them. We decided to set up our tent indoors anyways since the roof leaked. There were faucets at the hut and we followed the piping upstream to the outlet of the lake when the hail finally stop after an hour.
While we were cooking dinner, a guide group came up from the Quebrada Surapamap valley. This was one of the ways you could connect the Ausangate Circuit with the Rainbow Mountains and it was indeed where they came from. They were guiding a couple Canadians who were the trek for free in exchange of videos and photos they were making for the guides. The guides didn’t have a problem with us camped out in the hut and they seem to find it entertaining. My guess was they would have used this area for their kitchen and sleeping area if we weren’t here, but they didn’t have an issue setting up their tent for that.
We turned in pretty early again for the night with earbuds to block out the sound from others. Meg took another ibuprofen to help with her headache from the altitude and we both drank plenty of water. It was still overcast when we went to bed, but when I gave in to my bladder to pee in the middle of the night, the skies were clear. It was definitely worth it to brave the freezing night to see the stars, unfamiliar as they were for us northern hemisphere folks.
We woke up early at 6am with the first light the next day. There was a layer of frost on the ground, none on us since we were indoors. With the clear skies in the mornings here, it was a good idea to hike early. Packing up camp was very without have to dry anything out. I settled for breakfast empanadas instead of a hot meal to save time.
This morning was also where I first encountered our problem with our water filter. We hadn’t slept with it and the flow was slow, possibly due to ice that formed in the tubes. So, let that be a lesson to always sleep with your filter here. We would have to be more careful with the water we filter from and risk possible filter leakage.
We cameled up here with the good water source and were on our way by the time it was 6:40am.
As we were walking out, a local women that just came up from the valley ran after us to collect fees for the camp. The camping fee was PEN S/. 20, perhaps 10 a person. I had no problem paying especially if it meant more future infrastructure work at the campsite or especially on the trail.
- Laguna Ausangatecocha to Upper Campamento Otorongo
- distance: 12.8 miles
- elevation change: 3208 ft ascent & 3021 ft descent
- time: 9:38 hours with breaks (7:45 hours moving time)
Leaving the camp, our first goal of the day was to hike to the highest point on the circuit, Abra Palomani. The initial half a mile wasn’t too bad by first crossing the camp site and then slowly work up behind the moraine wall. I took the the opportunity to climb to the top of the moraine for shot while there.
The elevation profile picks up afterwards with about 20.2% grade over the next mile, kind of makes me miss the switchbacks of California just a little. The initial climb was mostly in the shadows, so we were bundled up even with the climb. A bonus of the cold mornings and below frozen temperature was that the muddy ground was frozen solid. This made more much easier hiking, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be going through that slippery mess. So hike early for sure. Otherwise, it was slow going with the heavy incline and high altitude.
While there was snow on the ground as we neared the top, there were plenty of foot prints that worn a path through. Again, we were glad we where up early in the morning and both the snow and mud were very well frozen still.
The final push to the pass was all in snow. The exact route to take here is to go straight and cut left up that chute. For some reason, perhaps the altitude got to me, I decided to go right on the dirt before cutting left and postholing through the virgin snow. I regretted it immediately once we saw we had to go through the snow regardless, but was too stubborn to go back down.
It was a little bit more work and took a little longer to reach the pass at 9:00am, just a bit down from Abra Palomani. We topped out here at 16,636 ft, the highest altitude I’d ever hiked to.
The peak of Ausangate is hidden from this vantage point however.
We made our way over to the pass itself, this is the correct way to navigate the final snow field. I might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure you can see the Rainbow Mountains from here.
After hanging around for a few minutes, we started to head down the otherside and side goodbye to our snowman friend standing guard over the pass.
Over the next two miles, the trail drops steeply into the valley below. The initial 2/3 of a mile wasn’t too bad cutting across loose and muddy mountainside at about -10.8% grade. There seem to be volcanic activity here as we saw steam rising out of the dirt along the trail. During this initial section, there is another trail that splits off to the left somewhere that drops steeply to the Machuraccay Lodge or Ausangate basecamp. This is where mountaineers would stay for their attempt to climb Ausangate.
At this point, we could see a snow covered glacial alpine lake. The color of this lake is suppose to be red. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t see it, but the snow motif was still impressive.
The next mile is the steepest drop drop at about -19.2% grade even with switchbacks. Along the way, there are a couple bluffs you can hike onto for more views of the frozen lake and Ausangate Basecamp comes into view. There are a couple spots you may be able to camp at on the bluffs themselves as indicated by the constructed stone walls. You’d have to bring your own water here however.
Pretty soon we were dropped below the lake and the trail that thawed to a muddy mess. A group of llama we crossed path with seemed to take the down hills much easier than us. The last mile into the valley descended at an easier -8.4% grade. We descended through a meadow crossing a couple streams including a sulfurous smelling one before following the stream down to our lowest point for the day.
When reached a ranch among a large meadow about 4.5 miles from Laguna Ausangatecocha camp and just over 2.7 miles from Abra Palomani. The trail splits here with the trail to the left continuing down the valley toward the small town of Chillca, where we spent a night in a school last time. To continue on the Ausangate circuit, we turned left and crossed the stream and coming to a camping area at 11:10am. We took a 10 minute break here to eat another empanada as our stomachs were telling us it was lunch time.
The next section was probably the least clear in terms of navigation for the circuit. We had quick for steps to climb up to the next bench before contouring around mountain on a ledge above the marsh area below. There was a clear trail until we reached the stream flowing out from a waterfall.
However, the land after the stream became a marsh as well and the trails became washed out. We follow any many rock cairns as we could, but they were sporadic and were gone after a few. I knew we had to head up the hill in front of us to gain the next bench, so we just cut through and headed up until we found something that resembled a trail. It was slow going through the marshy ground, trying to avoid the marshy ground, and trying to locate any indication of the trail.
Eventually, we were able to run into the trail again to continue up the a gully with a cascading stream on the right. The climb was about 0.7 miles at about a 8.2% grade
ending at a large meadows full of grazing alpacas and sheep.
The valley stretches about 1.5 mile with a slow elevation gain at 2.4% grade. About half way through the meadows, there is a lodge and campgrounds. We thought about camping here but it was still 12:30pm. The weather looked decent at this point, we had decent amount of legs, and Meg liked the idea of an easy last day. So we continued on.
Near the end of the valley, there were some stream crossings and more marsh areas that made the trail a little difficult to pick up. Don’t be mislead by a dirt trail that head toward some houses, instead branch off to the left or have to find your way back on trail like we did.
Once the climb starts, it isn’t too steep curving to the left (north) and contouring around the mountain. For the first 1.5 miles the grade is about 8.3% increasing gradually as we gained more elevation. We passed stone huts that looked like possible good camping areas, but a couple of dogs barked at us when we walked by. I didn’t know I smelled that bad.
Pretty soon, the clouds started to build again and we had a couple of snow patches as we continued to curve around to the pass. The long ascend seemed more tiring especially with the pass completely out of view. However, the snow covered peaks of Pachanta on the right and Puka Punta on the left kept us entertained. On the map, these are the start of another long chain of snow covered mountains without much trail information on them. Knowing the area, I’m sure there are plenty of herd trails around them and I would love to come back to explore that area more with more means.
As the trail turns left, we come to the final mile long push to the pass at a steeper 13.0% grade.
We reached Pass Campa/Jampa shortly after 3pm under interesting clouds and partially blue skies contrasting the red dirt of the pass and white mountains across the way.
The pass itself actually stretches across a mile with different sections with many stone cairns. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, they are here to ward off evil spirits. We also saw the only other self guided backpacker from the Netherlands at the pass here.
The tallest point of the pass itself was after all the cairns as the trail climbs up and contouring around the side of the mountain reaching 16,608 ft
before unceremoniously descending under the Campo peak for the 2/3 mile at -14.0% grade.
In the distance we could see some rain clouds continue to contrast the blue skies.
After the initial downhill, the trail starts to flatten out as it continues to the right of a large moraine at a -6.2% grade for another half a mile before reaching a split in the trail. Both trails will lead you to the right direction going around an unnamed glacial carved ridge. We were pretty tired at this point and I saw there was a campsite for the left direction, so we decided to head that way.
Plus it got onto the ancient moraine a bit more giving us a nice viewpoint. With the peaks Puka Punta, Campa, Huayuropunco, and Mariposa making up the view from left to right.
A quarter of a mile later we arrived at a campsite just before 4:30pm. The water source wasn’t great here and I saw there was the main Campamento Otorongo a mile away. However, a rumble of thunder determined our fate and we made the choice quickly to make camp here.
For the day, we hiked 12.8 miles with 3208 ft elevation gain and 3021 ft loss. Our highest point was around Abra Palomani at 16,636 ft. Our total for the trip was 30.2 miles with 7971 ft elevation gain and 5002 ft loss.
Just as we put up the tent and before I had a chance to finish staking in the vestibules, the skies opened up with lightning and the subsequent hail turned the campsite white.
I had to hold onto the edge of the door to insure tent stability through the first berage of hail before finishing staking it down. At least we put the tent in the correct direction to battle the wind gusts. Being in an open field at high altitude was the scariest part with the lightning crashing above us. I kept checking our hair to make sure it wasn’t standing up. All in all, the worst part of the storm lasted about an hour, but continued into the night. I was pleasantly surprised that our tent did well in the face of wind and hail.
With efforts to conserve water and since were a day from civilization, we ate the rest of our lunch meat and empanadas. The second double pass day was a tough one and I think the lightning made me quiet antsy, so I took a ibuprofen with Meg. It was a cold night, but our hand warmers were clutch in heating our sleeping bags. Again we went to bed early, this time with the sounds of the storm around us.
We woke up early again around 6:30 am and were packed by the time the sun was shining down on us around 7:15 am. Since it was our last day, we didn’t care to dry our tent out. We’d do it in the comfort of a hotel room.
- Upper Campamento Otorongo to Pacchanta
- distance: 5.3 miles
- elevation change: 188 ft ascent & 1656 ft descent
- time: 2:28 hours (est 2:05 moving time)
Our day started as we continued down the valley by first walking around a marshy area before coming to an overlook of Laguna Pucacocha.
We needed water badly at this point and there was a stream here that look ok. Again, we were suspicious of our filter.
The trail descended steeply in the next quarter mile down to the lakes and the main Campamento Otorongo at a -19% grade. There are some marshy areas here and a stream crossing at the outlet of a lake.
From here, the trail will undulate moderately up and down. After a small climb upon a hill, we came to Laguna Ulurungococha. Along the banks of the lake, we find many Viscacha running around. They are rodents, but are not related to rabbits even though they have long ears.
Turning around, we came to the money shot of our hike. Ausangate reflected in the clear blue waters of Laguna Ulurungococha.
After following the shore of lake for a few steps, the trail turns away south before a slight uphill to a viewpoint of sorts 2.77 miles from our campsite. There were many many stone cairns here and it would be a last look at Ausangate in its completeness.
From here, the trail becomes very wide and it wasn’t long before we meet the first of the day hikers or backpacker tour groups on their way in. The 2.5 miles down to Pacchanta at a mild -5.9% grade took longer because the among of time we stopped to let the horde of day hikers go by. It was such a contrast to our first 3 days on the trail.
We reached the town of Pacchanta at 9:50 am and saw a sign to inquire about a taxi to Tinke. So we decided to save ourselves the roadwalk and ask for a taxi. The local at the hostal understood us through our broken spanish.
While we waited, he showed us to the hot springs as it would take a while for a taxi to arrive from Tinke. It cost PEN S/. 5 per person. I was surprised by how nice it felt.
On our short and last day on the Ausangate Circuit, we covered 5.3 miles with 188 ft elevation gain & 1656 ft loss. Our highest point was our campsite and it was mostly down hills from there. Our total Ausangate Circuit was 35.5 miles with 8159 ft elevation gain and 6658 elevation loss.
After what seemed like an hour, out taxi was here and it was a bumpy ride back down to Tinke for PEN S/. 40. Along the way, a local grandma tried to sell us more scarfs.
We weren’t in Tinke for 5 minutes before a bus arrived and we jumped on. It did stop in the bigger town of Ocongate for about a half hour. That actually worked out for us as we were getting plenty hungry. These food stands were super cheap in offering chicken, fries, and rice for PEN S/. 3. The rest of our ride back to Cusco was uneventful bring our Ausangate hike to an end.
Ausangate is well worth the hike and difficulties that comes with high altitude hiking. As such it has grown in popularity, which is great that others can enjoy the views of this mountain. As with anything that becomes popular, increased attention and care is needed to insure that Ausagate will remain pristine.
That attention and care needs to come in the form of practicing leave no trace, trail maintenance, and infrastructure. While there are some of this work being put in such as toilets for campgrounds and trail work on the north side, a large portion of the trail in the harder to reach areas on the backside/south side of the mountain is falling into disrepair. I am not an expert in erosion, but much of churned up muddy trails seem to be an effect of the pack animals carrying heavy loads as part of the guided groups. Foot traffic just doesn’t have the same wear on the trail there isn’t any digging into the ground.
I am not blind to the fact that the guides and porters need to make a living and they are the locals that need to benefit from the increase tourism, but trail maintenance and infrastructure are needed to insure the continued prosperity based on the tourism. Not only that, it will allow others to experience Ausangate as the way it’s meant to be.
So if you are planning to hire a guide or pack animal to take you on the Ausangate Circuit, please let your money do the talking and hire local groups that prioritize good conservation practices such as leave no trace and are willing use their profits to better the infrastructure. Even more, start the conversation with your guides on the benefits of putting money back into the trail for prolonged success of their business and natural aura of Ausangate.
views: 4.5. Ausangate is amazing. Between colorful glacial lakes, snow capped peaks, and red mountains, it is all sorts of aesthetically pleasing. It is so amazing, that I returned for the sole purpose to experience the full circuit despite the difficulties I during my failure of my last hike. However, I have to lower the views score for this hike from 5 based on my first time to 4.5 now because I cannot overstate enough how much the lack of care for the trail and this environment is taking away from the experience of this hike. It is frustrating when you see trash spewed across a view point when there is even a trash can there or when you are sliding off the trail from all the churned up mud. Based on what I have seen take place between the times I have hiked this trail, it will trend lower going forward.
difficulty: 5. The combination of high altitude, afternoon storms and hail, long and cold nights, and the increasingly decrepit conditions of the trail makes this one of toughest challenges for hikers. Acclimatization for this hike is a must and having spent a month working up to the highest point in the continental USA make a huge difference in how I felt on the hike. As I’ve mentioned, the trail is starting to fall in disrepair due to heavy traffic. It was the most difficult aspect of the trail for us and will only get more so going forward. A good way to avoid the worst of it is hike early in the morning when the mud freezes giving you better traction. I would recommend hiking sticks for the purpose of dealing with the slick mud.
technical: 3. The main technical skills needed for the Ausangate are navigation related. A map and/or a GPS is a must on this trail. Not only that, you have to have previously studied the actual directions you will be traveling through. Again, the current version of Open Street Map (OSM) Peru Map (alternativaslibres.es) is very complete with the Ausangate Circuit and variantes marked including the many possible ways you can make it to the Rainbow Mountains. However, there are many branching trails used my local herders that are not marked, so you still should know where you need to go. While with increased traffic, more markers are added but that cannot be relied on, especially on the backside. There are also sections that the trail will get washed out in the marsh or where you need to reroute due to landslides or crevices.
There isn’t much technical skills needed beyond general cold weather backpacking skills. We did encounter snow on our hike, but it was minimal and well worn. With increased precipitation, perhaps more snow skills are needed.
When we returned to Cusco, we had about a week left in our trip. We retrieved our luggage and planned to relax for a few days. However, stomach issues started to pop for us. I won’t get into the details of it, just that we had no problems keeping food down, but needed to be near a toilet majority of the time. I suspected part of it might have been because of ice forming in our water filter preventing it from doing its job.
What we had planned to be a few days break, ended up just being the rest of our week in Cusco. Even though we would have liked to get out more, we didn’t mind the down time either. Netflix outside of the United States always provides for a bigger variety of binging options.
Within the proximity of Cusco itself, there are Incan ruins that you can walk to. They are located on the mountain north of the city and the site is called Sacsayhuamán (wikipedia). We walked out there on one of our last days.
A ticket is required to access the inside of the sites. However, if you are walking up toward the ruins, be vigilant of the taxi drivers waiting at the initial entrance.
What they will do is to drive you past Sacsayhuamán to Templeo de la Luna (temple of the moon – google maps) and drop you off there and you can walk back from there for PEN S/. 40. You could save yourself the money and just take the bus or colletivo if you want to replicate this. Not only that, you could get further out to Puka Pukara (google maps) or Tambomachay (google maps) for a longer walk back (wikiloc example by dessers).
There is no fee at Templeo de la Luna, but you would still have to pay to enter Sacsayhuamán if you want to enter it. As you can tell, we fell for the taxi trap. After walking around there, we made our way back toward Sacsayhuamán. The exact route isn’t clear, but we had OSM on my phone to help with the navigation. Looking back on my phone, there was another ruin called Chukimarka (google maps)
Along the way, we passed Kusilluchayoc, El templo de los monos (temple of the monkeys; also free) and Q’enco Archaeological Complex (seemed to have an entrance fee).
Next comes a visit with Jesus overlooking Cusco.
Then we were back at Sacsayhuamán, though we opted to just walk back to town at that point since we didn’t want to buy tickets just for Sacsayhuamán. However, if you do the entire walk from Tambomachay, then it would be worth it to buy the tickets that cover all these ruins.
Since we were relaxing in Cusco for a week, we ended up eating at a lot of different places. You can find good food in all different price ranges and here are our experiences this time around. You can also read about our previous food experiences from our 2016 trip.
dirt cheap eats (less than USD$5 for 2 per meal)
I am pretty sure this is how they the typical Cusco local actually eats here. As with any cheap eat tactics, this involves some aspect of cooking things yourself and utilizing local markets, grocery stores, and bakeries. Furthermore, you can probably include street food in this categorization. For example, we picked up some chichurro (deep fried pork) with rice and onions, bread, quail eggs, oranges, and churros walking around for less than PEN S/. 16, that’s for more than a meal for 2. Even for prepared food, you can keep it under that amount by buy food at these food stands in the market. Mainly, just see where the locals are eating.
cheap eats (between USD$5-15 for 2 per meal)
The simple way of describing these would be hole in the wall places. Most of these places serve sandwich like foods or burgers, such as the 3rd ranked Chakruna native Burgers (tripadvisor). A decent burger with fries and a drink was around PEN S/. 15. Our favorite sandwich place was Chola Soy (tripadvisor).
A more traditional Peruvian meal can be found at Chalca restaurant (tripadvisor), which as set meals for PEN S/. 15. Peruvian chicken is another common meal, we opted for the slightly fancier meals from Don Bigote moustached guy (tripadvisor) this time around, but you can find cheaper options.
Lastly, we found cafes to have decently priced food, including waffles and empanadas that we took on our backpacking trip from Eusebio & Manolo (tripadvisor), churros from The Churro Bar (tripadvisor), big Bagel breakfasts from the Bagel Café (tripadvisor), and americanized breakfasts with large portions from Jack’s Café (tripadvisor) and its sister restaurant in Paddy’s Irish bar (tripadvisor).
fancier eats (above USD$20 per meal)
When in Cusco, Meg looks to each all the ceviche. It’s no surprise that our favorite restaurant this time around is a little place called Cultura Paraiso (tripadvisor), owned by a couple that moved from Lima. They stood out in terms of using food available locally, their use of spices, and their creativity in blending the local flavor with different techniques. And ofcourse, they had Meg’s favorite ceviche. I would recommend going there at time other than the dinner rush or be patient since they are located in a very small place that can only accommodate a couple groups at a time.
Ceviche would drive the theme of our other fancier restaurant visits as well. We enjoyed Barrio Ceviche (tripadvisor) located right on the Plaza De Armas. This place is the sister restaurant of Meg’s favorite place last time in Morena Peruvian Kitchen (tripadvisor), where she got the Lomo Saltado. Our airbnb hostess recommended El Muelle de Tono (tripadvisor) for ceviche, but we thought it was good but didn’t stand out. And lastly we had to check out the number 1 rated tripadvisor place at the time, that was Hanz Craft Beer (tripadvisor). Their beer was decent and they made a good burger, but I wouldn’t say it stood out. I think it just matched hit the spot for a lot of travelers. They have since moved to a larger place on the Plaza de Armas since I visited their small restaurant.
After our lazy week in Cusco, we were ready to head home. Our flight was during the middle of the day on LATAM to Lima. Surprisingly, there was a small Hanaq lounge in the Cusco airport (prioritypass) we were able to access with our Priority Pass (details at Dr of Credit) . It was very small, but had some snacks and wifi for us to use.
We would have a night in Lima before our return flight on Avianca. Rather than staying at the busy Lima Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM), we decided to head downtown and walk around. From the airport, we went with standard Taxi Green for S/. 60 (see options listed by newperuvian). I don’t know we concluded on going to a buffet, but we ended up at Puro Peru (tripadvisor). They had absolutely everything and it worked since we were starving by the time we got there. My favorite about the place was the grill station and that they had lucuma ice cream (wikipedia). Afterwards, we took our time and walk around the Miraflores for the rest of the day before heading back to our hotel.
We had an early flight out of LIM and our hotel offered a free transport to the airport. We were able to have breakfast in the airport after going through security at the La Bonbonniere restaurant (tripadvisor) for minimal cost using our Priority Pass (details at Dr of Credit). Our short Avianca flight from LIM to Quito, Ecuador (UIO) was on an Airbus 320 and the business class seats were large commander seats in a 2-2 configuration. Since we had just under 24 hour layover in UIO, we were able to check most of our stuff all the way to New York John F Kennedy (JFK) include a couple bottles of Pisco. The flight itself was uneventful, but the flight path had us flying over the Cordillera Blanca (wikipedia), which I hope to visit the next time I am back in Peru.
We arrive at UIO around noon and the security was very quick. Ecuador is a country that uses the dollar as it’s, so it was strange withdrawing US currency from a foreign ATM. With about 24 hours in Quito, we decided to leave the airport. Taxis from UIO to Quito itself is pretty long ride and fairly expensive, USD$30. We took a nap after we arrived at the hotel before starting to walk around the city. Meg had read the street food was excellent in Quito, so we ended up at Parque Navarro for dinner. While the taxi from the airport was expensive, everything within Quito was not. For USD$10, we had a fresh deep fried fish and a stewed pork dish. The fish was delicious. Afterwards, we walked over to the old city before calling for a taxi and turning in for the night.
We returned to UIO the next morning with another USD$25 taxi ride. Before our flight, we visited the Sala VIP Internacional lounge (OMMAT review) and it was one of the fanciest lounges we’ve visited. We even had a longer stay than anticipated as our next flight was delayed for an hour.
Our flight from UIO to Bogata (BOG) was uneventful other than making us nervous because of the delay. It was again a Airbus A320 with a 2-2 business class configuration. We were able to transit through quickly at BOG and make our flight to JFK. Our flight into JFK was an evening flight on the wide bodied Airbus A330 with a 2-2-2 business class configuration. It was also an uneventful flight filled with some movie watching.
The flight arriving late at night around 11pm. Regardless of how we reposition back from New York City, we would have to wait til the next day. The cheapest way was actually to take the Megabus from Manhattan to Washington D.C.. So we would take a Lyft into Manhattan that night, where I booked us a stay at the Wingate by Wyndham Manhattan hotel with 15000 Wyndham Points. Meg opted for the free breakfast option at the Wingate over a stay at The New Yorker Hotel without breakfast since we were just traveling through.
After a restful sleep and breakfast, we walk over to the Megabus stop and road down to D.C. to conclude our trip.
The bases of this trip was the Avianca business class fare that is still available at a slightly higher cost a year later. While it might be too much flying to enjoy business class, it would worth it should you want to visit multiple cities. My hope for a future trip would involve this flight to allow us to visit Peru once again to hike the Cordillera Blanca and then actually stay a while in Ecuador to visit and dive at the Galapagos Islands.
From a hiking standpoint, I was glad to return to Ausangate and complete the full loop. However, I wished we didn’t get sick and were able to explore somewhere new around Cusco as well. We did make up for it by exploring the Cusco food scene more in depth and to actually relax on a trip.
Our total out of pocket cost was $1880.53 for the both of us. We were able to redeem Chase Ultimate Points to cover our business class flight from New York to Lima, Peru. Food was our highest expense, mainly because we tend to save money in our everyday lives to eat out when we travel. We did save some money in that regards by staying at places with kitchens, allowing us to make some of our meals. Housing was our other major expense, but it’s not hard to find cheap hotels and airbnbs in Cusco that met our basic needs. We did stay a couple night at nicer hotels, but I’m not sure they are worth it in a place at Cusco.
For a point perspective, we earned 7378 United Miles for both of us based on our Avianca Flights (14756 United Miles total) and 10% back on our Hotels.com stays.
Compete detailed budget: