Whereas most people visit Cusco with the main aim of seeing Machu Picchu, for us it was Rainbow Mountain that topped our list of must see sites. Discovered only 3 years ago (in 2015), it is relatively new as a natural tourist attraction in Peru. It is said that although local villagers had used the route past the mountain for hundreds of years, it was always covered in snow and therefore no one was aware of the beautiful marvel that hid underneath. However, the effects of climate change recently forced the snow to melt and uncovered the amazing Rainbow Mountain, a somewhat bittersweet discovery in my opinion.
Following our tough trek of Colca Canyon, I wasn’t sure whether this was something I would be able to handle as the altitude at the starting point is over 4,000m, reaching over 5,000m when you make it to the top! We checked in with some friends who were also on our Colca tour and had done the Rainbow Mountain trek a couple of weeks earlier, and they reassured us that whereas it was tough, it was much shorter and flatter and therefore quite manageable. To my immense relief there was also the option of a trusty four legged helper to make it up, an opportunity I was not going to pass up after last time.
After signing up to a tour, we found ourselves on a crowded mini bus at a painfully early 2am, trying to catch some sleep on the four-hour ride to the starting point. Easier said than done with winding roads, freezing temperatures and trademark bumpy dir tracks. Getting off the bus we were immediately hit with the familiar disorientation and dizziness that comes with a rapid ascent, it was starting to feel a little too similar to Colca Canyon, but we knew it would be worth it.
The trek started at 4,477m altitude and this is where I picked up my horse and guide, with Jason choosing to walk (like a hero). Unlike the supermules that took me up and down Colca Canyon, these horses were much slower and required us to dismount anytime there was some uneven ground or an uphill stretch – surely this defeats the purpose of using one in the first place?
Although the main attraction of the tour is Winicunca (Rainbow Mountain), the views on the trek there are just as breathtaking with lush green pastures with wild Alpacas grazing on one side, and snow covered mountain slopes on the other.
After two hours the trekkers and horse riders alike made it to the base of the mountain, and of course, from here it’s all on foot. A steep climb up (taken very slow) led to a set of stairs approximately 50m long to the first viewpoint where you get your first glimpses of the coloured bands of the mountain. Although only a few years open, locals had already spotted the retail opportunities and were set up to sell hot coca tea and snacks to the tourists struggling with the altitude and cold. After a quick stop to catch our breath we decided to make the last push to the top to get an unspoilt view before the masses of other tourists arrived. The walk was slow and laborious up a muddy hill with no steps or handrails to help, but we were in Peru after all. Finally making it to the top we were greeted by the amazing views all around. The colourful Rainbow Mountain on one side, the Andes to the other and the valley we had just trekked before us.
Making it to the top of the mountain was a huge accomplishment – even a five-minute walk at 5,000m altitude is very tough to handle. By this point we felt that we could all make the walk back without the aid of the horses, and going down hill it was a much easier journey. As we had chosen to do an early tour we were fortunate to not have too many tourists on the route with us. By the time we left we could see the path taken up by hundred of tourists on foot and horseback, making it near impossible to get a nice clean shot of Rainbow Mountain once at the top. If you ever have the opportunity to visit I would recommend going early and beating the crowds, even if it does mean a painfully early start – it’s worth it.
We made it back to the minibus and by this time Jason was starting to show the obvious signs of suffering from altitude sickness, making the journey back a tough one. By the time we reached the hotel I was also struck down, a cruel price to pay to see such amazing sights. Our trip in Cusco ended with us both being bed ridden, resting until we left for Lima, this last Peruvian adventure really did finish us off!