Sunday, 3 June 2012 1:17 PM
Peru is home to all manner of wonderful landscapes, including, of course, a stretch of the Andes mountain range. While Machu Picchu is a target for many travellers, there are some equally spectacular natural sights it's well worth checking out.
The Ausangate Circuit is just one option open to you if you want to head into the Andes and discover a bit more of this rugged landscape. It's best to base yourself in Cusco for a few days before setting out on your walk, as this will give you time to acclimatise to the high altitude. You can always fit a trek to Machu Picchu in at the beginning or end of your stay in the city, so you don't miss out on the famous Inca site.
Taking you on a tour of some of the amazing peaks, glaciers and high-altitude lakes in the Andes, the Ausangate Circuit goes around the mountain of the same name. During the course of the six-day trek, you'll camp in some beautiful locations, see unspoilt scenery and have a true wilderness experience.
Here are just a few of the highlights you can look forward to if you tackle this circular route.
Also known as the Big Red Lake, Jatan Pucacocha is a sight to behold, sitting at 4,600 m above sea level with the western icefall of Ausangate directly behind it. The reason for the lake's English nickname is the colour of the water, which is often tinted red by sediment that runs off the mountains with the snowmelt. You'll spend one night camping in this magical location, so you can appreciate the scenery as you put up your tents and see it in all its glory as the sun rises in the morning.
This is one of the first campsites on the trail and is a lovely place to stop for the evening. It is situated near some fresh springs, while on the way to Upis you'll have spotted some of the Andes' native wildlife, such as llamas, alpacas and viscachas – a type of long-tailed rabbit. Look to the skies, meanwhile, and there's a good chance you'll see giant Andean condors circling overhead. Once you've made camp at Upis, your guides will usually perform a brief ceremony to ask for the blessing of the mountain god Apu on the rest of your trek around Ausangate.
You'll cross several mountain passes during this hike, but the contrast between the rock formations around the Arapa Pass and the glistening white of the snow on Ausangate's peak is a particularly striking view.
Palomani is the highest point on your trek, where you will ascend to 5,200 m above sea level. After leaving camp in the morning, you'll first cross the Apuchata Pass before continuing alongside the stunning Ausangatecocha lake, which is a sight to behold with its clear, turquoise water nestled among the lofty Andean peaks. From here, you'll have to make one final push to reach the top of Palomani, but the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the peak are more than worth it.
This stop on the final day of your trip is likely to prove a highlight, simply because you can sit in hot springs here and feel the tension in your muscles ebb away. This naturally-warm spring is the ideal location in which to reflect on your trek before you walk a little further and join your transfer back to Cusco.