Trekking in the Ausangate range – “Andean Lodges” experience
In the last few years Peru is passing through constant upward trend in their tourist arrivals. Consequently, it has led to higher number in the most popular destinations and overcrowding in some of them. Luckily, there are still various operators that offer activities far from noisy and crowded places of urban districts. “Andean Lodges” from Cusco is one of the few companies that seeks to provide one of a kind experience and chance to meet real rural Peru in the southern Andes. Our journey has brought us to Cusco and we are happy that we had a chance to collaborate with these people.
Principles on which “Andean Lodges” is based quite easily can represent the essence of responsible development of tourism today and guideline for sustainable approach to this industry. Their efforts are spread over all three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental and more details about all of them you can read in a separate article HERE. Operator exists for more than 10 years now and they were one of the pioneers in this approach in the southern Peru. It is a brainchild of Mr. Rogers Valencia, current Minister of International Trade and Tourism and one of the people with highest knowledge about these territories. Core of their business are trekking excursions around Ausangate mountain range and Vinicunca “rainbow mountain”. Their activities are completely organized with local Inca communities of Chillca and Osefina whose existence is directly supported by “Andean Lodges” business.
Our journey started from Cusco at 3400 m above sea level. After passing through villages of Oropeza, Urcos and Chacacupe road took us to the heights above 4200 m where trekking really begins. Passing through Chillca gorge and valley of the same name we arrived to the first lodging facility. Chillca tambo is one three lodges located in the area of Chillca community while the last one belongs to Osefina. Stay in the first lodge made us immediately feel comfortable and welcome, creating from the very beginning intimate atmosphere and a bit nostalgic feeling every time we were sitting in front of the fire. This feeling remained with us throughout the whole trekking enabling us to call home every lodge where we slept. All hotels are beautiful structures built in woods and stone, none of them has electricity, heating or internet as the idea is to pass time in ambience characteristic for these heights.
Continuance of the trekking brings you to Ausangate valley, taking you further away from human contact and communities. In this part your only company are llamas and alpacas as this trek is not easily reachable by tourists. During the second day climbers pass the highest difference between starting and ending point which as a reward has the peak of that day at Mosoq cocha lagoon right under Apu-Ausangate, fifth highest peak of Peru at 6380 m. Another privilege of this day comes with the lodge where we spent the second night – Machuracay tambo is the highest hotel in the world at 4850 m (just for comparison sake Mont Blanc, the highest European peak, is at 4800 m).
Third and fourth day brought us to the highest points we passed over these five days. Steep paths took us into regions where from one side you are surrounded by red sand, green valley and blue sky and from the other by grey rocks, glaciers, snow and high mountain peaks of Ausangate range. After you go over Palomani pass at 5100 m right in front of you, as far as you can see, valley opens with all colors and paysage it has. It is in these days that you feel all the beauty of the environment around you. As the colors of environment change, nature presents all its amazing creations. Unique and different from any other landscape in the rest of the country, you could spend the whole day just enjoying views and your surroundings. Having a chance to live and see these mountains made us privileged, a sort of members of a special club who share one special secret among them. Third night we passed in the lodge constructed but the community which is why it has distinctive structure and shape than the rest.
One of the most spectacular landscapes overall is definitely Vinicunca or Rainbow mountain. “Andean Lodges” were among the first, if not the first, to organize visits to this location and provide to their clients this unique experience. However, due to increased popularity in the last few years mainly thanks to social media this, once sacred, place is now completely overcrowded with tourists. Management of the number of visits practically does not exist so experience is, unfortunately, far from enjoyable. Luckily, trekking continues through the rest of Valle Roja where you are able to witness various combinations of colored sand and rock so you have plenty of options to find quiet and isolated place and enjoy this unforgettable ambience. After more than 50 km of paths, various hills and valleys we ended our excursion close to the place where we started five days before, full of pride, positive spirit and feeling that we have achieved something really big.
Around the trekking
There are few aspects which make strong impact during the walk. First one is acclimatization to the existing conditions and heights. The most of the time during these days we spent on altitudes higher than 4500m. Human organism naturally functions differently when there is lack of oxygen so it was challenging to operate without difficulties during the walk. There are many medicines which help to avoid altitude sickness, but the most efficient and completely natural cure is used in these regions for centuries – coca tea is the best solution to overcome these issues.
Another important subject is diet. It is arranged in a most efficient way for travelers to help them during trekking. Meals are light, portions are not excessive and supplies are fresh and local. They are full of proteins so they provide more than needed support for organism. Some of the recipes are part of Inca culture of this region for centuries and are based on typical products such as quinoa, avocado, papaya, various cereals, different kinds of potato, etc.
Motivation to embark on a journey like this is not the same for every participant. Whether it is something personal or experience-led feeling, it is strong enough to push people through all previously mentioned challenges. Joe and Patricia from Dallas, explain us their motives: “We always hike on our vacations and we prefer point-to-point hikes where someone carries luggage for us. We prefer lodges to camping and with “Andean Lodges” there was all of that combined. We saw on the website that they work with local communities but it wasn’t main driving force. Seeing how communities work and function is an extra thing which enriches the whole experience. Big plus was that they have llamas to carry the luggage as in the most of cases it is either car or mini-van. Furthermore, we prefer hiking in small group. Ausangate trek definitely filled out expectations, landscapes and scenery probably surpassed it as nature is more beautiful than on the pictures we saw. The only thing which could make it perfect is to arrange some kind of heating in the rooms. I understand it is part of an experience but sometimes it is really cold in the morning.”
On the other hand, Jully and Dave from Washington DC, tell us their story: “Initially we were not informed about this trek, but when we started planning our trip to Peru we discovered it and started to research it. We liked it immediately as it was a whole experience of knowing a new place. New food, new culture and nature, which is really important for us. Overall it was full experience. Originally, we were thinking about Inca trail but when we discovered this one, it seemed as an ideal solution since it is less crowded and seems as a more special experience. For us as well involvement of the communities was not an initial motivation but when we learned about it, it was definitely a big plus.
It was better than we expected. We learned much more than we thought about history, nature and culture. We knew nature is fascinating but we couldn’t imagine that it is so beautiful. Physical part was definitely challenging but we probably thought it is going to be even harder due to high altitudes.”
Experience which offers “Andean Lodges” for sure is not typical or modern. It stands opposite from any mass tourism product, operating under its own conditions. It is not something which you consume in one day and then you move on. Ausangate trek presents you reality far from current world and proves that you can function without any particular modern world commodity. It influences your spirituality and makes you wonder about the existence in general. Sometimes referred as a life changing, this type of activity absolutely affects various aspects of your life and, especially, travelling habits.
To us, it showed that tourism activity can be successfully built in its primordial shape, following principles that were once present. Above all, it showed us that travelling and tourism should always represent experience rather than simple act of consumption. Finally, “Andean Lodges” incorporates in its activities all pillars of sustainable tourism and presents this concept in the best way possible to the public.