Oh these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God---John Muir
The Rainbow Mountain of Peru has gained so much popularity in the recent past. This was one of our must see pillars during our travel to Peru. But after our grueling Machu Picchu hiking days, we truly did not think we were up for it (it's very rare for me to let go of a bucket list item like that! Lol!). But Yang was determined to make it happen and so we did make it happen!
The scenic landscape was nothing short of surreal! Imagine being surrounded by a 360 degree view of towering mountains, glaciers, and vast valleys. But this view comes with a price- a tough physical experience. During our travels, not all experiences are pleasant. Some of them take a real toll on the body. And this one was definitely one for the records. But when you taste that sweet smell of success after putting yourself through the toughest challenges, you crave that adrenaline rush, that fatigue, and those unparalleled views! This is definitely not for the faint hearted!
(Nerd Zone Alert)
- The rainbow colored Vinicunca mountain of the Peruvian Andes is 5,200 m / 17,100 ft. in height.
- During your visit to the area, you will have magnificent views of the Ausangate Glacier (6,385 m / 20,945 ft), which is the highest mountain in the Cusco region.
- Over the last two years, the Rainbow mountain has become a major touristic attraction. This is especially because the government has opened up a new road which makes a one day trip to these mountains possible. Traditionally a longer hike to see these stunning vistas would take six to seven days of climbing a very difficult altitude, while dealing with the acclimatization.
- Significant volcanic activity and environmental conditions introduced a rare minerology to this region, giving the mountains their vibrant hues. If you look carefully at these mountains, you can see so many beautiful shades of nature. The red comes from iron oxide. Oxidized limonite gives the brown tone, while the yellow may be attributed to iron sulphide. The blue/green coloration suggests traces of chlorite.
- Altitude & Acclimatization: We cannot emphasize enough about how important it is to take acclimatization into consideration before heading to the Rainbow Mountain. If you do your research before you visit Cusco and the surrounding areas in general, the big theme is to give yourself time to acclimatize. I was personally a little anxious about how my body would react to such high altitudes. For a person that has horrible motion sickness on theme park rides and for someone that feels sea sick by the rocking back and forth motion of the strong water currents, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. So I went well prepared with all the little tricks and hacks I could add to my knapsack. I did great in Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. And then came the Rainbow Mountain :(
To put this in context, I know we were quite exhausted from the two day Machu Picchu trek. Our legs were giving way and we had this newly acquired phobia for stairs...lol! When we learned that we had the option of taking horses up to see the Rainbow Mountain, we jumped on the opportunity to somehow squeeze this into our itinerary on the day after returning from Machu Picchu! Bad idea! In hind sight, I would have liked to give our bodies some downtime in Cusco before taking on Vinicunca.
We climbed really quickly with our horses and it was a comfortable ride on our way up. My breathing was normal and I was able to really enjoy the vistas around me. When we made it to the top of the mountain, the air was thin and my breathing slightly shallow. I didn't have any apparent issues overall and I was still doing great. And then started my woes as I began climbing back down!
Note: Our guides insisted that we not spend too much time at the top of the mountain, although the view was breathtaking and it was so hard to leave! The more you hang around in the low oxygen altitude, the greater the impact of acclimatization and diffiuclty with breathing.
I started experiencing a pounding headache with a pressure pushing down on my head. After a while, I felt a little nauseous and uneasy. For someone that rarely gets headaches, this feeling was very uncomfortable. I took an Advil or two and that didn't seem to help! Our guides were supportive and helped us with their herbal remedies. They offered to give me some oxygen through a tank to help with my symptoms. But of course, I was too proud to accept help because I did not want to be the weakling on the hike. I could have also taken the horse on my way back to make it back faster to the base camp. I refused this as well because my pride was on the line and I had to endure this and complete the promise I had made to myself! Oh well- can I have my bragging rights now please? Lol! Once we got to the base camp, it took an hour or two for me to get back to normal and for the uneasy feeling to subside.
- Large Crowds: If you visit during peak hours, you can expect large crowds during your trek. Because of the vastness of the area, this didn't bother us while we were making our way up on our horses. It was actually quite fun to wave to passing travelers and the locals, while making small talk with them However, when we got to the top of the Rainbow Mountain, it became a little challenging to manage the number of people. Everyone was trying to get their iconic photos with the beautiful mountains, so someone was always invariably photo bombing our pictures! That aside, I felt like there were way too many people up on the mountain, and we didn't quite get our 'me' time with nature, although we tried hard to focus on the unmatched beauty that surrounded us!
Look how tiny everyone looks compared to mother nature's extravagant display!
- Toilets: I wasn't quite expecting to find toilet stalls on our hike. With the way my body was dealing with the altitude, I was pleasantly surprised to see some basic porta pottys along the way. However, they were quite nasty and I hope I never have to go into one of those again! Lol!
Travel and Itinerary
- Day trip from Cusco: We booked our trip to Vinicunca with Marvelous Peru, a local tour operator. They came recommended to us by our Air BnB host. They were a reliable tour operator with friendly guides.
Note: Do your booking for your trip to Vinicunca with a local tour company after you land in Cusco. There is a significant cost difference between booking ahead of time online and booking locally. The cost is more than double when you book online. More details under the cost section below.
- We started our morning super early with a 4 am pick up from our accommodation.
- We took a three hour bus ride from Cusco. We stopped at a local village for breakfast and a restroom break. We had just finished our Machu Picchu trek the day before. I cannot begin to explain the horror of trying to use a porta potty when you can barely feel your legs and every muscle in your leg is aching to death! I feared that my worst nightmare of falling into a porta potty would actually come true! lol!
- After breakfast, we drove to the base camp to begin our ascent of the Rainbow Mountain. We tried to take in the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. We enjoyed watching the llama and alpaca herds and interacting with the local folk. Their stamina will truly stun you. While we were huffing and puffing, the local horsemen casually walked alongside, keeping pace with their horses, having a smile on their faces. Very impressive!
Check out a video compilation of all our Rainbow Mountain shenanigans!
- Marvelous Peru: We spent about 30 USD per head for our booking. This was significantly cheaper than the online booking rate of 150 to 200 USD per head. Our group had about 25-30 people. There wasn't much of a guided itinerary on this tour so the group size didn't matter much to us. The cost included the travel back and forth from Cusco and two meals. There was an additional cost to take the horses.
- Horses: To catch a two way ride up and down the mountain, you will need to pay 90 Peruvian Soles. If you want to do a one way ride up and walk back down, this will cost you about 60 soles. If you are a big built heavier person, the horsemen may charge you more than 60 soles for your one way ride. You can additionally tip your horsemen. If you don't catch one of those horses right at the start of your travels and find yourself struggling along the way, don't sweat it. You will have the option of catching a horse at several points along your trek.
Do you want to visit the Rainbow Mountain? Are you up for this amazing challenge?
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