Beyond Machu Picchu - Rainbow Mountain, Peru

At the Peak of Rainbow Mountain with My New Friends

At the Peak of Rainbow Mountain with My New Friends

Beyond Machu Picchu - Rainbow Mountain, Peru

One of the highlights of my recent visit to Peru was no doubt, Rainbow Mountain. Like most visitors, my major must do was to see Machu Picchu, so I thought if I could make it work, I would fit in Rainbow Mountain.

I ended up meeting a friend who called a friend in the tourism industry and got me a spot on a group tour at the last minute. You can also pre-book online but you will likely pay more.

Seeing Rainbow Mountain does require some knowledge and preparation and it definitely had its ups and downs but well worth the trip. So if you plan to go, here’s what you need to know.

About Rainbow Mountain 

There seems to be few places left in the world that haven’t been discovered but once in a while, things shift and new places appear, and that’s kind of how Rainbow Mountain in Peru happened.

Until a few years ago, Rainbow Mountain was hidden underneath a glacier, but because of climate change, the ice melted and exposed the geological wonder. The coloration is a result of weathering and mineralogy and something about oxidation. Science wasn’t my best subject but feel free to read more about the science behind the coloration of the mountain.

Vinicunca, or Montana de Siete Colores (Mountain of 7 colors), or just Rainbow Mountain, is about a 3-hour car ride from Cusco. It is part of the Ausangate Mountains, nestled within the Andes. Cusco has an altitude of about 11,200 feet above sea level. To compare, Machu Picchu has an altitude of about 8,000 feet above sea level.

I did not have problems with altitude in the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu but I definitely felt it when I got to Cusco-a bit of nausea but nothing too serious. Now, the starting altitude at Rainbow Mountain is about 14,200 ft. and at peak of about 17,000 ft.

To put things into perspective, the altitude at the peak at Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), the highest free-standing mountain in the world, is 20,000 ft. above sea level.

I share this because Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a real thing and should be taken seriously. With AMS your level of fitness does not matter. Make sure you prepare as best you can by taking your medication and drink plenty of cocoa leave tea or get some leaves and chew on it.

I walked about half a mile before deciding to take the horse for the remainder of the way up!

I walked about half a mile before deciding to take the horse for the remainder of the way up!

To Hike or Ride

Once you arrive at the starting point of your hike, the distance to the peak is about 4.5 miles. You can hike up or get on a horse. There will be plenty of horses at the starting point which you can hire for about $25 and even if you decide to start with hiking and change your mind, they’ll be one returning from the top with its handler throughout your hike and you can negotiate the price since you’ve already done some walking.

Now very important, you can’t take the horse all the way up to the peak. You will have to hike about half a mile up on your own even if you take the horse. Half a mile doesn’t sound difficult but factor in the altitude and incline, half a mile will feel like walking in knee-deep water or deep sand.

There will be locals selling snacks and drinks along the way and squatty-potties stationed halfway up the route for those emergencies. I powered through without any emergencies but when I got back to my hotel, it was a different story. I did not have medication as I was somewhat ill-prepared and even with lots of cocoa tea (drinking and chewing), I still got sick.

A Typical Itinerary-How to Book the Tour and Expected Costs

If you want to save on cost, avoid booking online. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, ask your host to arrange the tour for you ahead of time. Cost should be about $25, the same for hotels. You can even find tour operators on the street looking for clients so not hard to book this tour even a day before.  If you book online, the cost is approximately $45.

Very important, the tour usually starts at 5 am, so try to avoid a late night activity of drinking unless you want to not make it up the mountain. Again, it’s about a 3-hour ride each way. The tour I took came with breakfast and lunch. We stopped about an hour away from the starting point where they fed us breakfast, briefed us on the hike and let us rent hiking sticks and buy snacks, etc.

The cost for everything is minimal. I got a pair of really cool and colorful leg warmers and gloves there. After the hike, we returned to the same spot where they fed us lunch and returned the hiking sticks. I got dropped off at my hotel around 5 pm.

Going down was a lot easier, so I hiked down instead of taking the horse.

Going down was a lot easier, so I hiked down instead of taking the horse.

Best Time to Go-What to Wear and Bring

Best time to visit Rainbow Mountain is from March-November, during the dry season. High tourist season is June-August. Take a small backpack and bring: sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, gloves, jacket and snack/water. Basic hiking gear is recommended. You’ll start off cold then hot then cold again, so bring clothing for changing temperatures.

Enjoying the views from the peak - breathtaking!

Enjoying the views from the peak - breathtaking!

Your Reward at the Top

While getting there may not be easy, the reward is well worth it. It was crowded when I finally got to the top-lots of other tourists, alpacas and their handlers trying to get you to take pictures with them for donations and local vendors selling snacks.

After a few pictures, I did manage to find a quiet spot to sit and take in the views. The local friend I met ended up traveling with me, and he performed a spiritual ceremony, giving thanks to the gods and the ancestors with a Coke and some cocoa leaves.

While I did not fully understand everything, I felt honored and privileged to have experienced that with him. No pictures of that moment - just memories to take with me forever.

Passion Travel Services is proud to add Peru to our Tours. Our first small group tour is scheduled for August 18-26, 2020. Starting Cost is $2,500 per person including flights, lodging, activities, airport transfers and more. Contact us for the full itinerary. We are also happy to organize and customize a private tour for you and your group at a date that works best for you. We’d love to hear from you.

Phim Gilberry

Travel Director/Founder, Passion Travel Services

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