Day Trip from Cusco:
I admit I may be an obsessive compulsive planner when it comes to my travels. I spend hours researching every detail – itinerary, logistics, activities, accommodation and best eating spots before I decide. With the Rainbow Mountain was different. After reading very bad reviews, I didn’t decide in advance. The reviews that I read said that it’s really hard, dangerous and not worth it because all IG photos are photo shopped and in reality the famous mountain is nowhere near as colourful!
While in Cusco, it turned out that we do have a spare day and the feeling of missing out resurfaced so we braved it and booked the trek.
The next day, we got picked up in the middle of the night by a very old, rusty van with no heating. It was freezing even wearing all my thermal layers. I wondered whether heating was broken or it was turned off not to exacerbate the altitude sickness. I suppose I will never find out.
The ride was very bumpy, to say the least, mainly on unpaved, bendy roads. After 2 hours we stopped for breakfast at a local village. We all tried to eat as much as possible – bread with jam and drink coca tea in hope that it will help us conquer the mountain. Another half an hour or so and we were above the clouds and above other mountain picks. Then there was a ferocious stream that we crossed practically on a couple of wood logs.
Finally, we arrived at the car park at over 4,000 m altitude. It was a crispy, sunny morning. We used the toilet for the last time and started our hike. Then I realised that everything is covered in snow and I started to worry that I won’t be able to see the rainbow effect! The hike supposed to take about 2 hours up and 2 hours down.
Also, it soon turned out that I’m the slowest in our group! I exercise at least 3 times a week, I am fairly fit and young, yet this was the most challenging hike I’ve ever done! Especially at the last stretch. I had to stop every few steps because my heart wanted to jump out of my chest. I was walking slowly but my heart behaved like I was sprinting! And I saw the snow and thought there is no point climbing if it’s white everywhere, I was angry and exhausted.
With a ‘gentle’ encouragement from my other half and after many accelerated heartbeats later I got to the crossing where the Rainbow Mountain meets the mountain that you climb to get the pictures. I looked with no expectations and saw that the snow on the other side melted away and I could see the colours! The surge of energy filled my body and I literally sprinted up to the full 5,200 m.
At the peak we took our photos and admired the rainbow. Thanks to the fact that we started so early we were practically on our own (you can only see few locals with llamas on my picture). And now I knew that those that say ohhh it’s not that colourful, are so wrong!
It is an astonishing place! No photos do it justice because human eye is so much more sophisticated. There is only 3 places like that in the world this one, in China and Argentina. The Rainbow Mountain is second, after the glorious Machu Picchu, most visited place in Peru!
On the way back there was an option to walk a bit further to the Red Valley. There were only 5 of us that went so we had the whole place to ourselves. And what a place that was – out of this world – the play of colours was incredible – fierce red, juicy green and icy white. We sat down there, sharing few energy bars and taking in the view. United with complete strangers in this beautiful experience.
On the way back we saw crowds walking up, breathing hard. There were donkeys carrying those that couldn’t walk on their own feet. It was so worth it waking up so early, I thought. In the van I slept like baby disregarding all the bumpiness of the way back and an enormous headache that was drilling through my skull. I had a big grim on my face- yes I’ve done it!
In a nutshell:
– The Rainbow Mountain tour can be once in a lifetime experience, however there is no guarantees with weather. It could rain and be very muddy or it can snow and all you see it’s a snowy pick! It’s up to you to take this risk.
– You need to be fairly fit. It’s not a Sunday walk, if you’re unable to run 5 km without stopping, I’ll say you won’t be able to do this trek. But prove me wrong!
– Choose a reputable company. Don’t go for the cheapest one. Ensure that your guide carries a first aid kit and an oxygen tank!
– Don’t forget to visit the Red Valley. There is a small entrance fee to access it but it’s so worth it and it is not a big detour from the trail back.
– Choose a trek that goes early to avoid crowds and unwanted background noise on your IG photos!
Vinicunca Trek Packing List:
– Rain gear- both jacket and rain over trousers
– Comfortable, rain proof trekking boots. If it rains there, it will be very muddy. You need proper shoes to survive that
– Plenty of water and snacks
– Paracetamol for this nasty altitude headache
– high UV sun cream. At 5,000 m you will burn even on a cloudy day. You will need at least 30-50 UV
– Warm but light jacket and fleece
– Gloves and hut- it’s really cold in the morning but warms up in the afternoon
– Optional walking polls. I didn’t have them, but I could see they would be useful