The Stunning Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru
The very early start to the day
We had booked the Rainbow Mountain trek after seeing a photograph on STA’s Instagram account, with limited (read ‘no’) research. But gosh it sure does look preeeddy!
We were collected from the hostel by Flashpackers Connect at 2.15am – yikes! Really sadly for us all, Greg had food poisoning so didn’t make it. We were joined by a Dutch family and advised to sleep on the mini-bus. It seemed some sort of joke as it was the most uncomfortable bus journey I’ve ever been on. We arrived for breakfast at 5am at the base of the Rainbow Mountain and met our two guides, Noah and Alexander. Breakfast was in a local villager’s house and was delicious – tea, coffee, quinoa porridge (delicious), cheese omelette and toast. Noah told us the route and off we set at the small hours of 5.30am.
The total trek to the top of rainbow mountain is around 10 miles and takes you from an altitude of 4,000 metres to 5,400 metres. The hike is through breath taking scenery and we were joined by locals with their horses for hire, local dogs looking for tourist scraps and a lot of alpacas and llamas.
Suffering from the Altitude
The altitude was really difficult though, Danni suffered as soon as we were above 4,000 metres and I followed her shortly afterwards. The whole trek there took us 3 ½ hours, and I must confess there were moments when I didn’t think that I was going to make it. The last couple of hours, Danni had an awful headache and felt sick from altitude and I had the weirdest drunken feeling with no breath at all. Charley coped really well until the trip back down when she also became breathless and got a terrible headache, It’s fair to say that it’s tough going mainly due to the altitude. We managed to gee each other on with a lot of support from Alexander and Noah too and reached the top. Danni and I shuffled there in the end!
I am not sure what you could do to better prepare yourself for the altitude as I’d been in Cusco for 5 days before hand so felt as acclimatised as possible. I guess it’s just luck as to whether you are affected as the Dutch family were not impacted at all.
Hilariously there was a little shop at the top selling beer amongst other things – who in their right minds!?!? We hung around for a little while and shared our snacks with the local dogs, who having sussed out that’s where tourists eat hang around there all day. The walk was absolutely stunning, as I hope you can see from the photographs.
Noah was a great photographer and both he and Alexander were great guides, funny and informative together with being very caring. Noah came and told us off at the summit “the mountain tells me that there has been a lot of swearing going on”, yup the mountain (aka Alexander) was right, but we’d got there………Girl Power as my Mom remarked.
We had a stop and a snack whilst Noah explained all about Rainbow Mountain and the surrounding area. I hadn’t realised that there are small pumas in the area, which is why the locals keep dogs to protect their livestock. I wish we had seen one but no joy, maybe once we get to Argentina as they are more prevalent in Patagonia.
Time to Descend. Phew.
By this time, others had reached the summit and we were glad of the early start to enjoy the views almost alone all the way. Flashpackers Connect do try to get you there first for two reasons, firstly so that you aren’t crowded everywhere – the summit isn’t very big and secondly, because the clouds roll in by late morning so you get better views and hopefully stay dry.
Many of the new comers had hired a horse, which comes with a local owner and costs US$35 for the way up. It doesn’t bring you back down though, you’ve still got to walk that bit. There were times that I wished I’d hired a horse, but with hindsight I’m glad I didn’t. It was such an achievement for us all to make it and I can’t believe how far I’ve come following my surgery 6 months ago. I’m still not back to my peak, but I’m doing good! We heard from some of our fellow hostel’ers that they still suffered with altitude on the horse and that perhaps it was more difficult due to the faster assent (to be fair I think anyone could have beaten Danni and I).
Charley and I took a leisurely pace back down the mountain, chatting to Alexander as we went and Danni got down as quickly as she could to feel better from the lower altitude.
We enjoyed the local sights, particularly the people with their colourful dress, which Alexander said was unique to each village. We also learnt some of the local language, Quechua, so thank you is “sol pikey” (pretty sure that’s not the spelling but is the English pronunciation. We watched a procession of local people heading to the top for music and PR filming for the area. Rainbow Mountain wasn’t a tourist attraction until around 5 years ago, but is now becoming more and more popular with around 500 people a day making the trek.
We also used the only “western” toilet on the mountain, 1 sole for a pee – Danni treated Charley and I. This was lucky as the rest of the toilets were holes in the ground and I had become traumatised by them on the way up so was determined not to use them again on the way down.
Once we reached the bottom we had an enormous and delicious lunch, catering for meat eaters, vegetarians and coeliacs. It was truly tremendous and in my mind thoroughly earned
All in all, an inspiring landscape, a tough trek, great guides and a good cook. I would recommend fitting this in if you can and going with Flashpackers Connect as stories from others didn’t seem quite as good (you get what you pay for!). A much cheaper option is to do the trek yourself, just make sure that you feel happy with the altitude as you won’t have someone with oxygen to help you if you need it.