By Sara Kramer
The essence of Peru is inextricably linked to its natural beauty. People flock from all over the world to experience their renaissance and reconnection with the Earth. Don't we all feel it? A deeper desire to connect with our surroundings and to learn about where we come from and the environment in which we live—how it is all interconnected.
Here in Peru I unlocked a piece of my personal quest, amid its mysterious mountains and timeless traditions. Before arriving in Peru, my knowledge of the country was limited to Machu Picchu; however, the voyage to uncover both Peru's essence and my own identity unfolded miles from Peru's most iconic site on a remote lodge-to-lodge trek in the Andean Mountains.
The Journey's Ascent
About three hours from Cusco, we began our trek through the Andean highlands. We headed off into the unknown with only Mount Ausangate as our guide. Mount Ausangate soars almost 21,000 feet (about 6.4 km) above sea level. It also holds dual significance as the country's fifth highest peak and a revered guardian deity known as Apu, protecting life, water, and the Andean people.
This remote region also encompasses ancestral highland communities committed to preserving their cultural heritage. It is also home to the only few remaining llama and alpaca herders in Peru. As such, the Ausangate Route provides an ideal backdrop for me to explore unique native wildlife and plants of the region. Alpacas dot the mountainside here. Additionally, I am able to deeply engage with the time-honored traditions of the local people.
In the Cordillera Vilcanota, we stayed at two of the Andean Lodges properties. The Chillca and Osefina communities co-own these properties. Our goal? A 3-day hike between these remarkable eco-lodges, culminating in a 17,000-foot summit achievement at Palomani Pass. The journey from lodge to lodge was going to take us through canyons, open highlands, and steep mountainsides. Along the way, the elevation and difficulty would steadily rise.
Before beginning any high-altitude trek in Peru, stay first in the Sacred Valley to acclimate.
The distinctiveness of this expedition lay in the profound connection between Andean Lodges and the Chillca and Osefina communities residing in the vicinity. Through Andean Lodges' community-centered approach, they empower all community members with diverse skills, even ownership of one of the lodges. Llamas shoulder the responsibility of transporting all provisions. Meanwhile, lodge keepers and chefs traverse the rugged terrain to arrange, establish, and graciously accommodate travelers as they move. This collaborative effort harmoniously weaves together a remarkable journey and a deeper appreciation for the region's intertwined human and natural landscapes.
The lodges sit strategically positioned at impressive altitudes, making them among the highest on Earth. Yet that does not deter their warmth and welcome. At the end of each day's adventures, we relaxed beneath the starry night sky. The lodges are also thoughtfully designed with understated luxuries, such as gifts of alpaca-lined slippers upon arrival and water bottles placed carefully under soft sheets at night. Additionally, the absence of electricity enhances the charm of crafting exquisite meals and warming up by a crackling fire.
Reaching New Heights while Hiking in Peru
After completing our lodge-to-lodge trek, we finally made our way up to the Palomani Pass. Starting our ascent early in the morning, we embarked upon the trail. Despite the short distance, the increasing 17,000-foot altitude posed a challenge, even for seasoned hikers. However, upon finally reaching Palomani Pass, our efforts were rewarded not only with awe-inspiring vistas of the glaciated south face of the sacred "Apu" and the red sandstone shapes of "Nevado del Inca," but also with a profound insight into the significance of these landscapes to the local inhabitants. These terrains hold a vital role, nurturing life itself as water courses generously through their expanse. As we stood there, the connection between nature and culture became vividly clear, solidifying an indelible memory of our journey.
My trek through the Andean highlands transformed me, weaving a profound connection with both the land and its people—a bond as deep as the valleys and as lofty as the peaks. As I delved into the lives of those whose ways varied from my own, whose existence depended wholeheartedly on the land's provisions, and as I traversed the awe-inspiring path framed by the majestic Andes, a new chapter unfolded in my relationship with the world around me. We are born from the earth and return to it; recognizing how we can nurture bonds with those different from us and learning to coexist harmoniously with the land fosters an intangible link with Pachamama, our "Mother Earth.”
As you step into the embrace of the Andean wilderness, keep in mind that your journey is more than an exploration of a nation; it is a voyage that will etch itself into the very fabric of your heart.
Hiking in Peru with Ker & Downey
Ready for your own adventure hiking in Peru? Contact a Ker & Downey designer. We can tailor your hike to your fitness level. Our team of designers are at their best when creating a journey unique to you. In the meantime, for daily travel inspiration, follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
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