If there’s a destination in Peru that everyone visits, it’s Cusco, without a doubt. Its tradition, culture, and history make you want to come back time and time and again because every corner of this beautiful city tells a story. For this reason, we’d like to share with you some concepts about the most imposing mountains in Cusco.
To begin with, you should know that the most sacred mountains of Peru are known as Apus, which is a Quechua word that has two meanings:
The first being mountain and the second God. For this reason, the Apus are considered the spirits of the mountains that protect the peoples of the Andes and have done since the time of the Incas. Each Apu has a name and its own history that speak of its power and its spirit.
The most powerful Apus were generally the highest mountains in the region and the way to communicate with them was through rituals, sacred prayers, or offerings, where the people asked for protection and prosperity for the coming year.
Many times we ask ourselves this question: what are the reasons for worshiping mountains?
The answer to this would be the one posed by the chroniclers, who classify the reasons that prompted the Incas to respect the Apus into fifteen.
- The extraordinary nature of the hills.
- Their dominant role in Andean mythology.
- Their transitional role or as a “stepping stone” to the higher gods.
- Their ability to control meteorological phenomena.
- Their association with water.
- Their relation to human health.
- Their association with agricultural production
- Their relationship with travel.
- Their ability to scare or intimidate.
- Their oracular functions.
- Their incorporation and role in the lines of sight.
- Their function as markers of limits and borders.
- Their role as an intermediary in the union of people from different communities.
- Their symbolic function with respect to the welfare of the empire.
- Their manipulation to create and reinforce power relations.
At present, many of the worship traditions are preserved, with August being the best month for performing rituals, since the inhabitants of the communities affirm that, at this time of year, the Pachamama (mother earth) is thirsty and hungry. Therefore, it’s necessary to satisfy, nourish and offer her the best foods to give her strength.
Now, let’s look at the most important mountains (Apus) in the Cusco region, which you’ll be able to see when you visit Peru.
Salkantay, the gigantic and imposing snow-capped mountain that seems to be closer to heaven than earth, is located in the department of Cusco, 60 kilometers northwest of the city of Cusco. It represents one of the highest peaks of the Vilcabamba mountain range and is located 6,271 meters above sea level, on the border of the provinces Anta and La Convencion, in the department of Cusco.
The name Salkantay means “Wild Mountain” in Quechua, and it’s usually called Apu Salkantay, the “protector lord” who looks over and guards the towns of Limatambo, Mollepata, Machu Picchu, and Choquequirao.
In Inca times, the snowy Salkantay was worshipped with offerings in special ceremonies, with the aim of ensuring abundant production in the fields and agricultural spaces, because it was believed that the divinities controlled the climate and the fertility of the lands in the region.
In local Andean beliefs, Salkantay is one of the most powerful and active deities, as he’s considered the father of all mountains. Currently, offerings are made to the Apu Salkantay for different reasons, including against the natural phenomenon of hail and crop diseases, to increase the production and multiplication of the herds, as well as protection in general.
The only way to get to the snowy Salkantay is through hiking. On the way up to this mountain, you’ll be able to observe a series of snow-covered mountain ranges, glacial lagoons, plateaus, rivers, and streams. You’ll also be able to see a large number of flora and fauna; the Andean condor stands out from the latter.
You can see this mountain with a tour operator or on an excursion without a guide, but always adopting all the established security measures. The great thing about this trekking route is that it can be hiked as an alternative to get to Machu Picchu.
To get to the snowy mountain, you must leave Cusco on a bus until you reach Mollepata and from there take another bus to the community of Soraypampa.l, which takes around 3 and a half hours. The walk up to the snowy peak lasts about 3 hours.
The best time to visit this beautiful place is the dry season from April to October. The driest months are June, July, and August.
In the Peruvian Andes, where there’s no havoc from pollution, is the most powerful Apu, Ausangate. It’s the fifth highest peak in Peru, also known as the “creator of the waters,” and which is revered from ancient times to the present.
It’s located in the district of Ocongate, in the province of Quispicanchi, in the department of Cusco. This mountain is part of the Cordillera del Vilcanota and, according to an ancient legend, it was the brother of snowy Salkantay.
Towering Ausangate is located at an altitude of 6,384 meters above sea level, and is the creator of the Willkamayu (Vilcanota river), which runs through Cusco and the Urubamba valley fertilizing mother earth on its way.
It’s believed that a superior spirit lives in Ausangate that protects everyone and gives life by providing water to the Andean people. This Apu, along with other mountains, is the creator of the beautiful lagoons that are home to many species of flora and fauna.
The road to this stunning snowy mountain makes a huge impression on visitors. Its incredible natural formations, extreme climate, glaciers, and its dazzling stone forests make this attraction a paradise on earth. It’s appreciated by national and foreign tourists, especially those who are interested in adventure sports such as rock climbing, ice climbing, and trekking.
This snow-capped mountain is equally important in terms of Andean religion due to the feast of the Lord of Qoyllurit’i, a Christian-Andean celebration, which takes place at the foot of the snow-capped mountain during the months of May to June.
In order to get to this beautiful snow-capped deity, you need to leave Cusco and head to Urcos. This part can be done by bus, the duration of the tour is one hour. Once in Urcos, you continue to Ocongate and from here to Tinke, also by bus, taking three more hours, on average. Once you’re in Tinke you have to pay for the right of entry.
You can also take the service of a tour operator who organizes the whole trip. SThis way, you’d only have to worry about enjoying the tour.
We recommend visiting the mountain between the months of April to November. You’re able to set up camps in the area in order to enjoy more of the beauty of the place and the activities.
In this imposing and sacred place, you’ll forget the daily worries of life, away from noise, pollution, and, above all, from technology.
We’re convinced that the best way to visit the spirit of the Andes is on a walk to Ausangate, which is an unforgettable, powerful, and sacred experience for those who do it.
It doesn’t matter if you plan to visit Ausangate or Salkantay Mountain, both are extremely impressive. We only recommend that you acclimatize for at least two days before starting the trip and plan everything in advance so that you can make the most of your time in Cusco.
Ausangate and Salkantay are two of the most imposing mountains that Cusco offers and seeing them up close, while perceiving their essence and meaning, constitutes a new way of living, here, in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, and today the historical capital of Peru.
Do you dare to take on any of these treks?