Before I visited Peru I had seen many pictures of Rainbow Mountain and my old guide from my trek to Choquequirao, was now a guide on this trek, and kept posting lots of pictures on facebook and I knew when I returned to Cusco it was a trek I had to do.
When I arrived in Cusco I met with my old guide who told me about the hike to Rainbow Mountain. There are options of 1 or 2 days though the 2 day hike is normally booked as a private trek. His company is more exclusive and takes small groups early in the morning (2am) so that when you get to Rainbow Mountain there is no one else in your pictures. The rest of the companies normally leave between 3.30 and 4 so when you get to the summit there are hundreds of people and that is just in the low season!!
If you want a more private tour then please have a look at his website AB Expeditions.
Unfortunately my budget did not stretch to this and I had to go with one of the other companies in Cusco which charges around 100 soles (USD30), for this you get breakfast, lunch, transport (it’s a 3 hour drive out of Cusco) and a guide. We got picked up at 3.30am and drove around Cusco for another 30 minutes trying to find the hostels of the other people in the group!! Once we had everyone we started the drive to the start of the hike. After 2 hours we left the main road and continued on a dirt road slightly wider than a single track, up the mountains with a sheer drop to one side. I closed the curtain, as to me we seemed to be driving too fast and too near the edge!! As is typical in Peru, everything worth seeing is at the top of a mountain or over a mountain pass!! This part was only 20 or 30 minutes but I still felt I needed to celebrate surviving and still being alive when we got past this part!!
After 3 hours we arrived in at the village of Q’anchipacha where we stopped for a basic breakfast of bread and jam with a tea/coffee and admired the views of the valley. We were then briefed that we would drive a further 20 minutes before getting out of the van and starting the 3 hour hike from 4,530 metres. There is the option of taking a horse if you are struggling with the altitude but this costs extra. We actually had a girl who was sick from the altitude about 5 minutes away from the start of the hike and had to walk back down to the village!! Now that would be gutting after that journey!!
Until you get to this altitude you have no idea how you will deal with it, everyone is different and it has no relation with how fit you are either!! Coca leaves or sweets help, having a coca tea before the hike too which you can have with your breakfast. If you have any of the symptoms you need to tell the guide as they can give you some coca leaves or some altitude sickness tablets (though I have heard mixed reviews about these helping). Luckily I don’t suffer too much from the altitude and have never had to try these, I normally just chew on the coca leaves to give me a bit of extra energy!!.
We got back in the van and set off to the starting point, though at one stage it could not get up the steep bend as it had been raining heavily overnight and all the vans were skidding back down!! We got out and walked up the valley part of the way, where I got a great picture of the view.
Once we arrived at the starting point, our guide gave us our entrance tickets and we started the hike through the valley.
The views are amazing, the tops of the mountains kept peaking out of the clouds. It’s a stunning area.
After about an hour the clouds started to surround us and it started raining, so it was on with the rain jacket and head down to get up there, feeling jealous of all the people going past on the horses, knowing they would be at the summit before me!!
There are a few toilets on the way, though one closest to the summit is about a 45 minute walk from the summit. Also expect to pay as the locals have been building them and are using them as a way of making money.
We had nearly reached the top when it started snowing and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see anything by the time we got there as I had heard a few days earlier that there had been snow at the top and no one could see the mountain!! It would be so disappointing to get there and not see the different colours!!
When we could see Rainbow Mountain, it seemed to take forever to walk that final part but eventually I got to the top. It was full of hundreds of people and as I was walking up I saw my old guide on his way down with his group of 3. They had had the place to themselves and got some great pictures.
To get the best view and the best pictures it’s best to climb a bit higher up to the highest point at 5,040 metres and you can then see the Rainbow Mountain opposite you. The colours are amazing, it’s so beautiful to see. The view from the top is amazing, not just of Rainbow Mountain but the surrounding mountains too.
While at the top the rain and snow kept blowing in, but then it would clear and we would get amazing views.
After about half an hour and eating a milkyway bar (mars bar in the UK) my hands were so cold that I knew it was time to head back down.
It rained most of the hike back down but at times it cleared and we got to enjoy the amazing views and to see a view llamas too.
Once we got back to the van we drove back to where we had breakfast and had lunch of soup and then chicken with rice before starting the 3 hour drive back to Cusco, going back along the terrifying road and arriving back at about 6pm. It was a long day but well worth it.
The Rainbow Mountain is a great trek and if you are in Cusco then one that you must do, it’s not an easy hike but if you aren’t into hiking then you can always rent a horse. It’s only a day trip but it’s a long day at 16 hours.
The rainy season is January to March so at this time of year there is a chance of snow and you will need your waterproofs with you on the trek.
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