This summer has been extremely busy. Between our vacations , IN-laws visiting from India and work trip to Vegas , I found less time to share everything I experienced in Peru. Yes , I visited Peru in May , and it has taken me a while to get to share with you , my favorite part of Peru – time spent in Cuzco and visiting Rainbow Mountains. If you wondering about my Peru trip as what all did I visit , you can catch my complete itinerary here. From hiking capital of Peru , Huaraz , when we made our way to Cuzco , I was really excited. You ask why? For starters I think I was ready to get to the Urban side of Peru. I was looking to have nice culinary experience. Cuzco was the Incan capital, so I was ready to get taste of it. We had only 3 days in Cuzco and had a tough choice to make – Machu Pichu or Rainbow Mountain. I would get to the reason of why Rainbow mountain in a little while but all I can say right now is , if you really want to enjoy anything in Peru ( like anything) bring strong legs and even stronger lungs. So lets get started – How to visit Rainbow Mountain.
Why Rainbow Mountain ?
I can tell for myself as in what made me visit the Rainbow Mountain. One word – INSTAGRAM. Yes, the day I saw that colorful photo of this mountain with hues of red , blue and every possible color of the rainbow in my insta feed , I knew it – I had to see it to believe it. Also I wanted to report back to you guys , is it really worth visiting the Rainbow Mountains. So if you plan to keep Rainbow mountain in your itinerary , do it for the experience not solely for pretty mountains. To get those colors pop in your photo without any people will take quite a lot photo editing skills :). What you experience on Rainbow Mountain is largely dependent on when you visit it , what time of the year and mostly the weather the day you visit it.
Things you must know about Rainbow Mountain
I am writing this , specially to set the expectations right – Rainbow mountain does not look the same as it is shown in pictures. If you walk around Cuzco and pick up a brochure from any group tour company, it shows Rainbow Mountain with extra bright colors and a car parked right at the top. Its laughable because it is wrong at so many levels . So let me clear few things here :
1) The colors you see in brochures or may be Instagram are over enhanced, photo-shopped and over saturated. The vibrance of the color on the mountain is totally dependent on the kind of weather you will get on the day. If it is sunny , yes the color will be seen but again not to a level where it looks like a Disney rainbow.
2)Secondly no vehicle can reach the actual Rainbow mountain. The tours will only get you to the parking lot but from there you must hike. Yes you will have the option to rent a horse but the final ,
the most steep ascent of the mountain has to be done on foot. In nutshell , you just cannot avoid hiking.
3) Unless your tour company starts the tour at about 2 am from Cuzco, there is no way you can beat the crowds. I was astonished to see the number of tourist buses in the parking lot of Rainbow mountains. So be ready to share the space with hundreds if not thousands of people as you make your way up to the top.
4) There are no real flush-able toilets , anywhere around Rainbow Mountain area. Not even in parking lot. The only thing close to toilets to give you a little privacy while you do your “Business” are little sheds covered with tarps with no water , no wipes , no toilet rolls, nothing. So my biggest piece of advice is – carry wipes , toilet roll and hand-sanitizer with you. You will thank me later.
5) I mentioned earlier that to see the rainbow mountain you will have to hike. What I forgot to mention was the altitude. Yes you would start your trek at about 4400 mts and have to go all the way up to 5200 mts above the sea level. This means less oxygen and altitude sickness. So do not jump on this hike the day you reach Cuzco. Give yourself some time to acclimatize.
6) The tours to rainbow mountains occur rain or shine. But I will highly advise not to attempt the hike if it is rainy or snowy. We went to the hike on a clear sunny day but i can imagine the risk of attempting the hike on a rainy day. Make sure you clear up with your tour company about cancellation due to bad weather. 99.9% they will say no , things would be fine on top but we had heard the horror stories from the people in our hotel who attempted this or I should say were forced to attempt it. I can assure you , if you get injured , there is no hospital for miles. The tour companies do provide first aid but if you need anything more than that , you would have to drive back to Cuzco ( 3 hrs) to get any good medical attention.
Where is Rainbow Mountain and how to get there?
Rainbow Mountain is located in Ausangate Mountain. Even though it is only 50 miles away from Cuzco , the terrain between these two points is what makes it so hard to get to! Rainbow Mountain is only accessible by automobile and takes 2.5-3 hours to get there. You will visit Rainbow Mountain with a tour operator and most tour operators include the round-trip transportation in the price of their tour.
Group Tour Vs On your own and how much does it cost ?
I am sure if you are adventurous kinds, you could attempt this hike on your own but I was told by our tour guide , its better to come with a guide. Reason – the weather in these mountain ranges is very unpredictable. I mean you are going to climb something which is as high as Mount Everest base camp , so you need someone experienced and prepared. However with a tour guide also, you have 2 options :
1) Private Tour – A lot of tour companies offer private tours which means your own car , your own flexibility, your personal guide ( often multi-lingual) breakfast and lunch included and total cost between 100-150 USD. In Peru terms this is expensive.
2) Group Tour – This refers to 20-30 people , in a bus on a fixed schedule , breakfast and lunch included and total cost between 50 – 70 USD.
My tour recommendation : If you are looking for any kind of tour to Rainbow mountain , please reach out to Paragliding Cusco. Even though paragliding is what they advertise with , they arrange for group and private tours for areas around Cusco like Rainbow Mountain , Maras Moray, Machu Pichu and Lake Titicaca. Its a local company with multi-lingual guides and they make their mission that you totally enjoy the experience you seek. You can reach out to their tour coordinator Johanna on +4915156164809
Things to bring to the Day trip to Rainbow Mountain
- The waterproof gear as the weather is very unpredictable.
- Water (2 litres per person)
- Chocolates (and other snacks) for instant energy
- Winter gear – hats, fleeces, jumpers, gloves…etc (it’s cold in the morning and a lot windy at the top)
- Sunscreen and lip balms
- Toilet paper and wet wipes
- Any personal medications
- Hiking shoes
- Cash in Peruvian Sols – You will need that to buy refreshments , photo op with alpacas and even to use toilets.
Your day will look something like this
A day trip to rainbow mountain will start from Cuzco as early as 3-4 am with a pick-up at your hostel/hotel. If you are taking a private tour, you might ask if the tour can start even earlier than 3 am , so that you may get some exclusivity at the mountain. But for majority of group tours , the buses leave Cuzco between 3- 4 am. It will take about 3 hours of bumpy and winding ride to reach the parking lot near the mountain. Because it is wee more bumpy than winding , i will suggest to keep your stomach light or carry Dramamine with you. Generally all tours offer breakfast in the day trip package , so you wud make a pit stop for breakfast in a restaurant in a nearby village. From here stock up energy bars and coca leaves if you don’t have already. Once you reach the control booth in the Pampachiri community ( a local community that takes care of tourism on rain bow mountain), you will have to pay about 10 soles for the entry. Next you will stop at the parking lot , from where you can either rent a mule or a horse that could assist you in reaching the top or start the 4 hour hike which at such a high altitude is quite challenging. Once you reach the top , you will have plenty of time to take selfies. Taking photos without people can be a bit challenging – but try making most out of it. You will be asked to return to the parking lot at about 3 pm from where you will start your journey back to Cuzco returning at about 6 pm.
What to do once you reach
So you have reached the top and now what . Well the answer is simple , enjoy this moment. Take as many photos as you want. Catch your breath. You will find some locals locals sitting with their tarps offering water , chocolates, chips, coca leaves and candy to buy. YOu can buy refreshments at the top , they are limited but after 4 hrs of trek you will love to have some. AT the top you will also find locals with their baby alpacas offering photo ops with them. Pay them and have a peruvian photo with Alpacas with Rainbow mountain at the back. After you have got your perfect shot , start descending. As you get down a little,less than a mile, there is a hiking path to the viewpoint of entire valley. Take that path. Not many people go to this viewpoint because it takes another 35 mins to reach this viewpoint, but it is totally worth it. The whole scenery with a view of entire valley is beautiful and photos come out phenomenal. This piece of hike , you will have to hike yourself as locals do not offer horses to reach to the viewpoint. Once you have spent some time on this viewpoint , head back to the parking lot.
What did we do?
We took a private tour to Rainbow Mountain. The reason was , we were exhausted from multiple hikes we did in Huaraz and so wanted something which we could do at our own pace, without feeling rushed.
Our tour guide Mike , was amazing. He took time to meet us a day before and explain to us all about the hike. What to expect , what to carry and basically went over the entire schedule. He even offered us to leave at about 2 am so that we may have mountain to ourselves, but we were fine leaving at original time of 4 am. Pick up was at our hotel. The tour company had arranged for a hearty breakfast in a village near rainbow mountain. Also since we had mentioned to our tour guide a day before that we were vegetarians , he made sure we had ample options. Once we reached the parking lot , they tour guide offered us to carry our stuff but we were fine carrying it ourselves. He told us that anytime we felt too tired , we could hire horses – but we were fine walking up. After spending 7 hours ( climbing up n down) , we started our journey back to Cuzco. We were back in town of Cuzco at about 6 pm.
I just want to give a big disclaimer that all the pics that you see above in which I seem to be alone on the mountain , are edited and it has taken me quite a lot of time . Let me know in comments below , if Rainbow Mountain is in your bucket-list. If you have been there , I will love to know about your experience. Thank you so much for stopping by.
PhotoCredits : PHOTOSTAINS