Provider: Andean Treks
Length: Five days
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the quintessential Peruvian trek. Consequently, it comes with all the trappings of a popular travel route, good and bad: amazing views, ancient wonders, and physical challenge along with crowded trails, soft-drink stands, and, sadly, some environmental and cultural degradation. For those who'd prefer just the first part of the package, a new trekking route in the Andes, christened in 2007 as "El Camino del Apu Ausangate," promises high-altitude trekking, mountain vistas, interactions with indigenous llama and alpaca shepherds, and comfortable, eco-friendly accommodations. No tents, no trash, no tourists.
There aren't any mysterious ruins at the end of El Camino, but the few travelers who have completed it claim the whole journey is magical. "El Camino del Apu Ausangate took me closer to heaven than anything else I had previously experienced," says Piero Morosini, a professor of business management and Peruvian and Italian national.
"Words fail to express my experience," says Blake Caldwell, who completed the trek with her stepson. "The gorgeous country, isolation, and indigenous culture were astonishing and well worth the cold and heart pounding."
Andean Lodges, a joint venture between long-time Peruvian guide and entrepreneur Roger Valencia and the native Osefina and Chillca communities, established the route and its four mountain lodges as a sustainable business to help the local people improve their standard of living while maintaining their traditional pastoralist culture. On the trek, Valencia or another guide will take you from Cuzco to the Cordillera Vilcanota mountains, where you'll spend five days hiking six to 11 miles per day at altitudes ranging from 13,200 feet to 16,700 feet. It's a challenge, but llamas will carry most of your belongings.
Along the way you'll pass by the snow-capped, glaciated Ausangate (20,945 feet), climb hills striated with red, ochre, and green sediments, and meet locals going about their everyday life. Nights are spent at lodges (including the world's highest) which were designed to minimize impact on the environment and employ mostly locals. The lodges offer private bedrooms, warm water, and freshly prepared meals made from local ingredients, like quinoa soup and alpaca tenderloin.
Trips are scheduled April through October and sold in the U.S. through Andean Treks. The price includes four nights' accommodations, ground transportation from Cuzco, guides, pack animals, all meals, and safety equipment. Round-trip airfare in August from Miami to Cuzco starts at $809, including all taxes, on LAN Peru. You should plan on acclimatizing in Cuzco for at least two days in advance of the trek.