In the department of Cusco – the capital of the Inca Empire – there is an amazing variety of destinations that go beyond the limits of imagination.
One of them is the snowy peak of Ausangate, which stands just below 21,000 feet above sea level. It is the fifth highest mountain in Peru and has a unique beauty that leaves those who visit it speechless.
It is located in the district of Ocongate, in the province of Quispicanchi (about 62 miles southeast of Cusco). The summit of Ausangate can be seen from the fortress of Sacsayhuamán.
The ice formations on this snow-capped mountain melt and supply the basin of the Araza, Malpacho and Vilcanota rivers. The latter alone provides, on average, half of the drinking water for the entire department. It is also a source of energy for Puno and Apurímac, as well as feeding the majestic Lake Sibinacocha
Everyone who has ever visited Ausangate can attest to the powerful energy emanating from this mountain. A religious and cultural connection emerges between the traveler and the natural environment.
The snow-capped peak is the Apu, or god of protection for surrounding communities. The villagers worship it as the creator of the waters. According to the Inca cosmovision, this mountain distilled its masculine energy to fertilize the Pachamama (or Mother Earth). According to legend, its waters even fertilized the Amazon. After that, the Apu Ausangate returned to make the glaciers and lakes thrive, transforming into a river of stars or Willkamayu (the Milky Way for ancient Peruvians).
Space will always be the spiritual realm of the Cusco people. Every year, on the north side of the mountain, the celebration of the Quyllur Rit'i (which in Quechua means 'snow of stars') takes place. In this festivity, the image of Christ painted on a rock of the Qulpipunku mountain is venerated.
The celebration, deemed a Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, takes place between late May and early June, and links Andean beliefs and Catholic religion.
In 2019, the Ausangate Regional Conservation Area (RCA) was created in Cusco to preserve the glacial ecosystems and the Andean grasslands, as is stated by the National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (Sernanp).
The area includes a large part of the snow-capped peak, as well as the Quelccaya area, which has been declared the largest tropical glacier on the planet.
The RCA also seeks to protect the Sibinacocha lake and the high Andean pastures.
Tourism and adventure
Trekking to Ausangate is something all adventure and adrenaline seekers must do, at least once in their lives. The trek starts in the town of Pacchanta, located in the district of Ocongate.
Along the route, trekkers can enjoy the stunning geography and biodiversity of the area. Once there, visitors can choose from a variety of activities, including climbing the majestic glacier. They can also savor some of the area’s delicious cuisine, such as a succulent Pachamanca a la tierra.
If this snowy peak is on your list of future destinations, you should consider booking a tour as this will guarantee the necessary safety for your adventure. In doing this, you will enjoy a trouble-free stay.
Sources: Sernanp/ RPP/ Vamos!/ Red Bus/ Andina/ Turismoi.pe/ Waman Adventure