The turquoise pools of Millpu in Ayacucho, Peru are a series of small natural lagoons cascading through a steep and narrow gorge. They’re a breathtaking sight. Known locally as Aguas Turquesas Millpu, these beautiful natural pools are a great example of just how awesome nature is. The Pools of Millpu in Ayacucho are one of the best natural wonders in Peru, if not South America.
The Millpu Pools are not located in the usual tourist hubs of Cusco or Huaraz. So, they require a little more of the inner intrepid traveller in you to reach. You’ll need to base yourself in the city of Ayacucho. But, even once in Ayacucho, the natural Pools of Millpu are still a bit of shlep to get to. Still, are they worth a day of your time in Peru? You betcha!
In this guide, we’ll discuss where and what the Pools of Millpu in Peru are. We’ll also review what a day trip to the turquoise pools of Millpu looks like, as well as how to get there and what to take. Lastly, we’ll throw in some other epic things to do in the Ayacucho region, so you get the most out of your stay there.
What Are the Aguas Turquesas of Millpu?
The Aguas Turquesas of Millpu, better known as the Pools of Millpu, is a 20+ set of blue-green ponds, slicing through a narrow gorge, just outside of Ayacucho, Peru. The rimstone pools created by glacial runoff and subsequent mineral deposits create a beautiful puddled staircase of turquoise water. The incredible white colour of the dams created along its rim, look equally as magnificent.
The name Millpu derives from the Quechua meaning ‘throat‘ or ‘swallow‘. Local legend believed the water flowed from the mouth of the devil, and so local people rarely visited out of fear of the devil. It always surprises me how many beautiful natural attractions have connotations with the devil. Anywho.
Visiting the Millpu Pools in Ayacucho
Believe it or not, the natural Pools of Millpu are a relative newbie to the Peru tourism scene. Very similar to Rainbow Mountain in that sense. In 2015, tours began to Millpu, after the local community started to allow visitors to view the natural phenomenon. However, the infrastructure and ease of access for tourists to visit the incredible Aguas Turquesas Millpu were lacking somewhat.
By 2016–17, trails were built to allow safer and easier access to the turquoise waters. And sure enough, the Millpu Lagoons continued to grow in popularity. By 2017, tours to Millpu in Peru were in full swing, with next to nothing off limits. Visitors were able to swim and relax in the many beautiful natural pools and Millpu became a true natural wonder, worldwide.
But, like many delicate natural areas, it didn’t take long for the effects of tourism to take their toll. Especially, given the Pools of Millpu cover a relatively small area and overcrowding is very easy. By 2018, swimming, paddling or walking over the rimstone edges was banned. Our icky human bodies were discolouring the water. Yep, ew! But, the ban worked a treat, because now the Millpu Pools look as splendid as ever, and are perfectly fine to admire from the trail, without the need to jump in.
Where are the Aguas Turquesas Millpu Pools?
The natural pools of Millpu are located in the small town of Circamarca, in the District of Huancaraylla. They are around 125km south of the city of Ayacucho. Although a little off the usual tourist route through Peru, once you’re in Ayacucho, they’re fairly straightforward to visit.
Getting from Ayacucho to the Pools of Millpu
To visit the Pools of Millpu from Ayacucho, you will need to either take a tour, arrange a private driver, or figure out a colectivo to the nearest town of Circamarca.
By far the easiest option is to take a tour. This is because the prices are very reasonable for a full day trip that involves a fair bit of driving on windy, bumpy and unsealed roads. Usually, Dan and I prefer to travel independently where possible, however, on some occasions, it just makes sense to take a tour. Visiting the Pools of Millpu is one such occasion.
As mentioned, the easiest way to visit the Pools at Millpu is with a Millpu tour. The day tour covers all logistics, with prices often including the entrance fee to the turquoise pools of Millpu and lunch. You can opt to take your own lunch and pay a little less. It’s easy to arrange a tour once you arrive in Ayacucho. No need to book in advance. You’ll find most tour companies line the streets on the south side of Plaza de Armas on 9 de Diciembre. Tours cost around S/80-90 ($20-24USD).
Tours typically follow the below itinerary:
- 8am: pick-up from hotel in Ayacucho
- 9:30am: roadside breakfast stop for 45 minutes
- 11:30–12pm: arrive at Circamarca, pay entrance for the pools and explore the turquoise Pools of Millpu
- 2:30pm: lunch
- 3:30–4pm: return to Ayacucho
- 7pm: arrive back in Ayacucho
Whilst staying in Ayacucho, Peru for a couple of days, Dan and I did both a turquoise Pools of Millpu and 7 Qorihuillca Canyons tour. If you book both tours with the same company, it’s fairly easy to negotiate a discount. That’s exactly what we did! We booked both tours with Viajes Mancilla, AKA A & R Tours. The staff at this tour company were very friendly, flexible and professional. Feel free to contact them on Whatsapp (+51 993 458 410) or visit their office in town.
You can also find online tour operators, like Viator, offering tours to the Pools of Millpu.
Aguas Turquesas of Millpu Tour Description
After a rather long and windy 4-hour ride in the minibus, you’ll arrive at Circamarca, the small community that sits at the base of the pools. Here, you’ll find a few restaurants, which are lunch options later on. Then, you’ll embark on the short and easy 4km trek to and from the Pools of Millpu in Ayacucho.
Pools of Millpu Hike Preview
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 4.15km
- Time: 1-2 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 175m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Circamarca
Heading along a dusty track, you’ll gently ascend into the valley and towards the canyon. After passing a trout farm (lunch for later), you’ll get your first glimpse of the incredible pools as they start to tier upstream.
The trail winds higher and steeper with every step. But, with that, the views of this incredible place become even better, and you’ll get a real bird’s eye view of the entire site.
Along the trail, there is the odd side track you can take to get a better view, or picture, but largely the best viewpoints are fenced. Please do not jump the fences.
From the main viewpoint, and what is essentially the highest part of the trail, there is a steep zig-zagging path down to the edges of the pools. The turquoise ponds look incredible, hemmed in by soft white edging, gently allowing the water to cascade over the sides, from one pool to another.
This place is something special. It entices you to explore more. But, this is as far as you can go. The dusty shoreline is where exploration ends. Despite all the photos you’ll have seen, mostly no doubt on Instagram, it’s not permitted to swim, paddle or even walk on the white salt walls between the pools. Don’t even bother. We saw a young lad cheekily running between the pools and he got the bollocking of his life from a local Peruvian lady taking care of the area. Honestly, she didn’t let up for a good 15 minutes! Good for her though, there’s a whopping big sign telling you not to go in, so, no excuses.
I know, I know, seeing pictures of others in the pools can seem a little unfair. But, to preserve the pools, it’s important that no one goes in. Although still a relative newcomer to the Peru tourism scene, the number of people entering the pools was causing discolouration and erosion. Is it really worth destroying something so perfect for a photograph? Didn’t think so. That being said, we did see several people bending the rules somewhat to get as close as possible *rolls eyes*.
A Greener Millpu
You can can enjoy the lower section of the trail when you first arrive or during your return to the trailhead. However, if doing a tour, we recommend visiting when you first arrive, as the lower section gets much busier later on when visitors are returning to the trailhead. Also, given the narrow nature of the gorge, having full sunlight over the turquoise pools of Millpu is a very limited window. Heading there as soon as you arrive will give you the best chance to witness the incredible ponds in all their glory.
After enjoying the Millpu Pools from below, you can then retrace your steps up the steep mountainside and continue along the trail. As you head further along the trail, you’ll notice the water become greener, and you’ll pass some incredible waterfalls and cascades, before reaching a flat and grassy pasture.
Free for some exploration, you’ll find an unusually shaped rock here and some peaceful and scenic places to sit and soak in your surroundings. The hike in total takes between 30–40 minutes, depending on how fast you walk or how often you stop to take photos.
Dan and I usually hike quite quickly, specifically, we love to speed hike. But, given the altitude and natural beauty we kept stopping to take photos of, speed hiking would have to wait for another time.
What’s speed hiking? It’s hiking at a fast pace. Obviously, speed hiking wasn’t appropriate here for many reasons. But, usually, we prefer to speed hike when out on the trails. Find out more about it here.
Returning For Lunch
Once you’ve returned to the trailhead, it’s time for lunch. This can either be your own packed lunch, or a delicious meal at one of the many restaurants fed by the neighbouring trout (trucha) farm. You can either pay independently for lunch, usually, around S/10 ($2.50USD) or lunch may be covered in your tour price.
Visiting Aguas Turquesas Millpu Independently
If you’re not convinced about taking a tour (please, just take a tour), then below we’ll detail how to get to Millpu Pools independently. Did I mention just taking a tour? Anyway.
- By car: the easiest way to get to the natural Pools of Millpu independently is to hire a car. The journey time from Ayacucho to the community of Circamarca is 3-4 hours. Beware the bumpy roads.
- Private transfer: we’ve heard it’s possible to arrange a private driver for the day. The clear disadvantage will be the cost to do so. However, the advantages include arriving in more comfort and at whatever time you like, meaning you can avoid the peak tour arrival times, and thus swarms of people. Hiring a private driver for the day will cost around S/200–300 ($52–78USD).
- Colectivo: the cheapest way to get to the Pools of Millpu is via colectivo. From Terminal Terrestre Sur in Ayacucho, be sure to leave nice and early (around 6am) and head to Circamarca. The cost is around S/20 ($5USD). From here, you can either walk the rest of the distance to the Pools of Millpu, or hire/hitch a ride. The drive time by colectivo to Circamarca is around 4 hours, similar to the tours. But, it comes with the added bonus of arriving earlier than the tours, so a much quieter experience. Be sure to be heading back early afternoon to give yourself plenty of time to return to Ayacucho.
How to Get to Ayacucho For the Natural Pools of Millpu
To visit the Natural Pools of Millpu, you’ll need to get to Ayacucho in Peru in the first place. Most tourists visit Ayacucho from Lima, simply because most tourists initially fly into Lima. So, let’s look at your options for getting to Ayacucho from Lima.
Getting from Lima to Ayacucho
Most tourists visit Ayacucho from Lima, by bus or plane. During our visit, flights from Lima to Ayacucho were around $150USD per person. Not the cheapest for a domestic flight by any stretch of the imagination. However, if you’re after quick and convenient vs cheap and nasty, it’s a great option. The flight time is just one hour. Much quicker than the bus.
Compared with flights, getting a bus from Lima to Ayacucho is much cheaper. The catch is, that only night buses operate the route between Lima and Ayacucho. Also, the bus ride between Lima and Ayacucho is around 10–11 hours each way. It’s a slow and tedious drive. But, at least, you’ll be asleep for most of it.
You’ll find Civa Exclusiva and Cruz del Sur operating the bus service between Lima and Ayacucho, with both offering similar prices and departure times. The Lima to Ayacucho bus is usually around S/100–115 ($25–29USD), departing between 7–10pm. Whilst, the Ayacucho to Lima bus is slightly cheaper, costing around S/90–105 ($22–26USD), departing similarly between 8–10pm.
From our experience, the main difference between these companies is the type of chair. Cruz del Sur only offers a semi-reclining chair. Whereas, Civa Exclusiva offers a fully-reclining chair. It was much easier to sleep on the fully-reclining chair. So, that’s why we recommend Civa Exclusiva. Using Busbud, we were able to book our Lima – Ayacucho bus tickets in advance, at a cheap rate.
FYI – when booking flights, do a quick Skyscanner search to find the cheapest flights. Although, with the pandemic, we have changed tactics and decided it’s safest to book directly with the airlines, instead of through Skyscanner.
Pools of Millpu Entrance Fee
There is an entrance fee of S/5 ($1.30USD) to visit the turquoise pools of Millpu. This is a payment made to the local community and owners of the land who kindly allow access to their sacred site.
The entrance fee is either included in your tour ticket, or it will be paid in person when you arrive.
Best Time to Visit Aguas Turquesas, Ayacucho
The Millpu Pools in Peru change colour depending on the time of year you visit. So, if it’s the famed turquoise you’re after, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Roughly, January to March sees the pools turn a brownish colour. This is caused by the wet season and heavier runoff from the glacier higher up, picking up sediment as it goes. April to October sees the return of the brilliant blue-turquoise colour. And then, by November to December, the water turns green, as the rainy season returns. The green colour is caused by seaweed that grows during the wet season.
Because of the rain, the road leading to the pools has the potential to be extremely muddy, and it will be difficult to reach the area. With that in mind, it’s not unusual for tours to not be offered between January and March.
Can You Swim at the Pools of Millpu, Peru?
No. Swimming is banned at the turquoise Pools of Millpu, Ayacucho. There is a big sign indicating so, as well as local custodians ready to give you the telling off of your life! It’s just not worth it. And, if upsetting the locals doesn’t bother you, just note that human interaction in the pools was causing quick, notable and devastating damage. Let’s keep our natural wonders wonderful eh? They’re still amazing from dry land.
Altitude at Millpu, Ayacucho in Peru
Ayacucho, in Peru, is 2,761m above sea level. Therefore, if you arrive on a bus or flight from Lima (at sea level), you’ll notice the difference straight away. You may find that you’ll be short of breath without exerting yourself too much, or, have a slight headache and general fatigue. These are the immediate effects of high altitude. Given that Ayacucho is a high-altitude destination, you must take measures to avoid altitude sickness.
Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), this illness is commonly experienced by those who reach high altitudes that they’re not used to. The main symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, indigestion and loss of appetite.
There is a considerable height difference between Lima and Ayacucho. So, altitude sickness is a genuine concern if you haven’t acclimatised. Obviously, if you’ve arrived in Lima and gone straight to Ayacucho, whether by plane or bus, you’ll probably just need a day or two to acclimatise before heading off to the natural Pools of Millpu, which sit at 3,600m above sea level.
Luckily, Dan and I had already visited and hiked in high-altitude areas such as Cusco and Huaraz before doing this trip. So, altitude sickness wasn’t an issue for us. If you’ve done the same, you should be fine to crack on with a Millpu Pools day trip straight away. Though, avoiding altitude sickness is never a guarantee.
How to Avoid Altitude Sickness
Thankfully, even if you feel unwell, there are methods for managing and reducing the symptoms of altitude sickness. Firstly, don’t rush around. Secondly, eat light meals and don’t eat them too quickly. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, little and often is a good trick. In addition, you may benefit from coca leaves, tea or sweets. This is what the locals always recommend. Finally, you could use altitude sickness tablets (such as Diamox). But, if you acclimatise properly, you shouldn’t need them.
Recap For the Pools of Millpu
Hopefully, this guide has left you wanting to experience this truly breathtaking natural wonder for yourself. After all, with a tour, it’s very easy to do so. Just be prepared for a long ride in and out and a few other people to share the trail with. Otherwise, the turquoise Pools of Millpu are complete heaven to experience and an absolute highlight of any travel itinerary through Peru.
Most travellers are unlikely to visit Ayacucho if they’ve limited time to spend in Peru. But, you really can squeeze a wealth of activities into a short amount of time since Ayacucho has many things to do. Let’s take a look:
- Cangallo Waterfalls: be sure to visit the incredible waterfalls of Pumapaqcha, Batan and Qorimaqma.
- 7 Cañones de Qorihuillca: a fun half day trip comprising of a 50m rappel into a canyon, and then a 1km walk of dark labyrinth canyon exploration. The 7 Cañones de Qorihuillca was one of our favourite tours in Peru.
- Columpio Extremo: take an extreme swing ride to enjoy amazing views of Ayacucho and the surrounding valley.
- Pachapupum Volcano: relax in the hot springs of this extinct volcano.
- Vilcashuaman archaeological site: explore an Inca settlement that was once home to 40,000 people!
Other Hidden Gems in Peru
There are countless hidden gems in Peru, other than Millpu Pools. Although, anything classed as a ‘gem’ is unlikely to stay hidden for long. Here’s a pick of a few of them:
- Salineras de Maras: perhaps more a gem, rather than hidden, the Salt Pans at Maras are an incredible site of some 3,000 salt wells carved into the mountainside.
- Cañon de Autisha: a real spot for locals, the incredible Cañon de Autisha and its secret cave waterfall is still relatively unknown to the average tourist, but is a worthy day trip from Lima.
- Laguna Shallap: you’ll see plenty of turquoise lagoons in Peru. But, what if we told you of a brilliant green lake. Like, super green! That’s what you’ll find on this incredible day hike to Laguna Shallap from Huaraz.
What to Pack For the Pools of Millpu
Why do you need this?
See it in action
Although not technical or difficult, these hiking boots are a super comfortable and sound choice for the canyon trail
This camera is light and compact, so it's perfect for exploring mountains. The Sony Cybershot RX100 VII takes brilliant photos and 4K videos
It can get really cold at high altitudes. This jacket is compact and doesn't take up much space in your backpack
This neck gaiter is really versatile and was great for keeping the sun off my neck
Always pack a waterproof jacket when out in the mountains of Peru. You just never know
You should also pack water, snacks, lunch (if not sampling the local trout), sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
For a complete gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Ayacucho and Peru, read our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Consider the order of tours if you haven’t acclimatised: if you haven’t acclimatised, consider doing the 7 Cañones de Qorihuillca tour before visiting the turquoise Pools of Millpu in Peru. A day at a lower altitude (the canyon is around 2,761m) will help your body prepare for the higher altitude of the Pools of Millpu (approx. 3,500m).
- Stay at Casa Scure in Ayacucho: Dan and I had a great stay at Casa Scure. It’s centrally located and great value for money.
- Beautiful Peru: of course, there’s a wealth of natural beauty in Peru. Bu,t be sure to check out some of the human-made natural wonders like Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley. Perhaps you’ll even take on the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trail to get there.
- Semuc Champey: if you’re headed to Mexico, or have already been, you’ll find the turquoise Pools of Millpu are like a mini version of Semuc Champey in Guatemala. And both are worth a visit!
The natural beauty in Peru is hard to beat. With coast, desert, mountains and jungle, it truly is a country that has it all. Check out our guides on the Amazon, hiking in Huaraz or exploring the coast at Paracas for some helpful tips on travelling in Peru.
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