RAINBOW MOUNTAIN, CUSCO, PERU
One item on my bucket list in Peru was to check out the famous Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca). You might have heard of it or seen photos on social media, and you might also have heard about how crowded this place is getting right now. After doing some research, I was actually getting a bit nervous about this day trip, as I do not particularly like tours with too many tourists. Be warned: I heard something like 2500 people per day visit the trail, so you can be sure that you will be hit by a selfie stick at least once during the tour! I was actually considering looking at a different tour, a bit less crowded, of the Red Valley and an area called Palccoyo. However, my mom was really excited about the idea of Rainbow Mountain, and so we decided to go ahead and book this tour. We booked with a company called Machu Picchu Reservations (through a seller from Puma Trek/Tour Agency), as it was recommended to us by someone at our hostel.
Our tour was planned to pick us up from our hostel at 530am, which is considered a bit of a late departure for this tour. Due to the amount of visitors, agencies started offering very early morning tours (3am departure) to beat the crowds. In my honest opinion, that’s a bit insane and they should limit the number of visitors before the place becomes completely overrun. Moreover, depending on the season, some people who arrived very early to the mountain couldn’t see any of the colors due to the frost and sometimes thin layer of snow covering the mountain during the night. Arriving around 9-10am means that the heat is up again, the sun is shining and the frost/snow has time to melt. Check with your travel agency about the current weather forecast and conditions.
Our pick up turned out to be about 45min late that morning, which wasn’t too much of a big deal until we realized that this meant we would have about 45min less to hike once at the mountain. So far in Peru, I have been pleasantly surprised about the punctuality of most tours and companies – however, know that if you start late, they might just speed up your tour to make sure you come back at the planned time, instead of giving you that time you deserved and paid for on site of the visit! This tour was 70 soles, plus 10 soles for the park entrance and another optional 10 soles to hike towards the Red Valley.
Our tour included transportation, breakfast and lunch in a restaurant on the way, the hike to Rainbow Mountain and time to do a detour to the Red Valley viewpoint on the way back to the parking lot from the mountain. The breakfast stop was great. The food was yummy and warm, and I filled my tummy with 2 great bowls of chicken noodle soup. It might be quite difficult to decide what to wear that day – just be ready for anything. Our breakfast stop was freezing cold, as the sun was just up and the temperature didn’t quite warm up yet. As soon as we started the hike (probably around 10AM), the sun was warm and I was happy with my leggings, boots and long sleeve layer going uphill. At the top though, tuque mits and warm jacket to fight the wind were quite appreciated! After our breakfast stop, we drove up this crazy dirt road next to a cliff (gotta get used to this, this seems to be a trend in Peru…) to the main parking lot. You will also have access to restrooms for a small fee in the parking lot and 2 spots on the trail. There are also a bunch of locals selling water bottles and candies/chocolate along the trail, which is great if you forgot something. We had people in tour group who didn’t carry a water bottle with them (…?), and it always make me wonder what are people thinking?!
My first concern was the altitude – the information we got while booking was slightly different from the one we got with our guide on the day of the tour. I was told we would hike from 4700 to 5100m or so, however, turned out to be more of a 4500 to 5200m hike over 2hrs of uphill on about 5km one-way, if you hike up the last bit to have the best view. If you are worried about this too, know that you can also rent a horse to help you up the hill. However, the horses don’t ride all the way up, and drop their passengers just before the real uphill section starts. The price also varies depending on how long you will be on the horse for. Our guide was really friendly and told us we would have about 3hrs in total to do the hike. He would hike along with the slowest person of the group til the viewpoint, and then hike up to the Red Valley for those who wanted to make it. Usually, people take about 1h30-2hrs to get to Rainbow Mountain, hang out a bit to take some photos and hike back down. Our tour included the option to do the detour to the Red Valley for an additional 10 soles. We wanted to do the entire thing, however it took me about 2h15 to reach the top of the viewpoint, which meant we barely had 1h to come back to the car without rushing.
Unfortunately, because our tour started late, I think our time was cut a little bit and I decided not to try to hike back up to the Red Valley. The altitude really takes my breath away, and I decided to soak in the views a bit longer and enjoy our way back down instead of pushing it again for another 40min of uphill to the Red Valley. By the way, our guide did NOT stay with the slowest person of our group. It was actually confusing, because we saw him pass us soon after we started, and we thought we were the last ones in the group. Eventually, about 6-7 other hikers from our van reached us, and at that point we understood that our guide was following the fasters of our group to be able to head with them to the Red Valley. Be warned – if any of us had real trouble with altitude sickness at this point, our guide was way out of reach and we would have had to rely on other tourists, locals and other guides to help us back down (I’m sure you could have gotten a horse down pretty quickly as needed, though). Thankfully, none of us got sick and the worst for me was shortness of breath and a small headache on the way down. Keep in mind that I was also hiking this trail less than 48hrs after spending the day in bed with traveler’s diahrrea, and I was still finishing my antiobitcs… just saying. I bought a Snickers for 3 soles and treated my headache with sugar and chocolate.
From the top of the viewpoint, you will get a pretty amazing 360 degrees view of the Red Valley, Rainbow Mountain and other higher peaks in the area (plus tons of tourists in your way). Take time to enjoy the view and try to take your photos without adding a filter on them. When the sun is shining, the colors are vibrant and I feel like adding too many filters on your photos will take away from the authenticity of this place. The minerals coloring the ground here do justice to the landscape, and it reminded me a lot of Northern Argentina, with the mountain de los 7 colores and de los 14 colores. This is not something we see very often in Canada, and it is really mind-blowing!
After hiking back down to the parking lot, we took a few minutes for a restrooms break (I should have mentioned this before… but always carry your own toilet paper, just in case!) before driving back down towards the restaurant for our late lunch. There was plenty of food and it was great after hiking in altitude. The restaurant is only at 3500m or so, so any problems with the altitude should be going away by then.
We drove back down to town and arrived before sunset (which was at 6PM). The guide dropped us off near the monastery on Avenida del Sol, not at our specific hostel. This came a bit as a surprise to us, so we had to find our way back to our hostel which was about a 20min walk (not too bad, just tiring after all the bus ride and altitude hiking we had done that day!).
Overall, my impressions of Rainbow Mountain were great – the landscape is absolutely amazing, however the amount of people for me is insane. I really hope the locals and agencies are going to start to limit the tourists to a maximum per day, as I fear the roads and the trails will damage the area otherwise. To be fair, the trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, and no one is really going off trail, which is good. I just generally dislike hiking on a trail that feels like a highway (like the Chief in Squamish on a sunny August Saturday morning!).
That night we went for a pizza dinner near our hostel, and got a nice vegetarian oven pizza made from scratch. The altitude definitely increased my carbs craving!