When we were planning our trip to Peru, my Peruvian friend Jimmy suggested we add Rainbow Mountain to our Peruvian adventure. Given that we only had 4 days in Cusco we toyed with the idea until we arrived in country. We finally made our decision upon arrival to Cusco and booked a tour via Eco Packers Tours, a short walk from our hotel, El Mercado. We booked the tour on a Monday evening and Tuesday morning at 4:30 am we were getting picked up for our tour.
Rainbow Mountain Peru: Booking The Trip
There are plenty of tour operators in Cusco and we decided to Eco Packers as we walked in and the salesperson gave us a good orientation about the tour. We paid 80 soles each ($25). The tour included breakfast, transportation, entrance to the park, and lunch. It was easy booking the Rainbow Mountain tour at short notice but I suspect is because we were traveling in low season (January).
Getting to Rainbow Mountain in Peru is quite the trip! It takes around 4 hours to get there (with breakfast in between). I liked that our tour had a smaller van versus the huge tour buses, making it more comfortable. Once you get over the grogginess of waking up at 4am, I recommend keeping an eye out for the beautiful Andean scenery: the emerald green mountains, the colorful Inca women walking along the road, and the extroverted llamas. The views from the bus were just as impressive as the hike itself.
Arriving at Rainbow Mountain
Compared to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain is still in its infancy when it comes to receiving visitors. The site is pretty basic in terms of facilities. Bathrooms consist of old latrines and port-a-johns. Thankfully my Marine Corps skills came to play on this one. If you are a prissy traveler, the bathroom scenario may be quite traumatizing for you.
We were in a sticky predicament: we only had four days in Cusco and we really wanted to go to Rainbow Mountain. When we started hiking towards the mystical mountain, we only had spent 24 hours in the region. Altitude is real. It really slows you down. The Dutchman and I are used to hiking but we had the wind knocked out of us (literally). Once you reach the top, you are at 5,000 meters above sea level. That’s 3 times what you experience in Denver!
Due to the altitude, it was a really tough hike for both of us. Thankfully our guide was super relaxed and wasn’t rushing us up the hill (we saw other tour companies herding people up the hill). That gave us the opportunity to take it all in, have some snacks, and rest when we were getting beat down by the elements. Our group consisted of around 12 people: a mix of Brazilians, Peruvians, French, Bolivians, and us, the Dutchrican couple. Everybody had a different level of fitness so each did their own thing.
View from the Top
After around two and a half hours and lots of pain, we got to the famous Rainbow Mountain. We were completely beat! To make it worse, once we reached the top we were hit with hail…lots of hail! It was cold, wet, and the worst part is that we didn’t get the epic view we were expecting. We quickly took a few photos and worked our way back. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. However, I got over it 15 minutes later as I hiked down the muddy trail and took in the majestic mountains of the Andes.
There’s an amazing sense of peace there. Once you zone out the tourists and look at the stunning rock formations, the sheep in the distance, and the snow-capped mountains, you know it is all worth it. Being in places of such magnitude also reminds us how we are just a tiny speck in this vast universe.
How to Prepare
If you have the time, I suggest acclimatizing for a few days before heading to Rainbow Mountain. Drink lots of water prior to your trip, upon your arrival in Cusco, and during your trip. Our tour did not provide snacks/water so make sure to ask your tour provider and buy accordingly. You can also find vendors along the trail selling snacks and drinks. Make sure you bring local Peruvian currency (soles) in small change or bills.
Wear comfortable hiking gear and focus on layers. On the way to the top, I got super warm as it was quite the workout. Once I got to the top, we had to put on our hats and windbreakers as the temperature dropped quickly when we got hit by the hail storm. Our guide also recommended wearing a hat that covered the ears as it is supposed to help with altitude sickness. We paid $5 for hand knitted hats from local vendors at the entrance of the trail. We looked silly but our ears were warm and we got a cool souvenir out of it!
I am not going to front: this is a tough hike. I initially thought “perhaps I’m old” but then I saw 20-year-olds gasping for air and I didn’t feel that bad for myself. You can ride horses up to Rainbow Mountain if you know you’re not athletically inclined. However, be prepared to dismount on the steep hills, to include the steepest part of it all: getting to the Rainbow Mountain itself!