One day hike to the Rainbow Mountain, Peru

When we set off on this trip I knew there were one set of Rainbow mountains in South America, thinking they were located on the northern border of Chile and Argentina. Excitedly, I realised there was also a set just outside of Cusco. Only founded 2 years ago due to the melting glaciers (is global warming not a thing Donald?) it is quite a new attraction and a hell of a long day. Starting at 330am and not returning to Cusco until around 6pm that evening there is a lot of time spent sat on a minibus, however, we set off regardless.

The day started badly, very badly. Our pickup was supposed to be 330am. 4 am came around and given the notoriously late nature of all tour companies we were not panicking. 430 arrived still without a bus in site and we were stressed, shoutout to the legend on reception in the hostel for ringing our tour company. It turned out that the lady who had booked our tour had written the wrong dates and put down we wanted to go on the tour the previous day. Given we had only booked it the previous day it was physically impossible we could have gone on that day. She was currently the most hated woman in Peru! Luckily, the tour company sent a taxi to pick us up and we spent 30 white-knuckled minutes playing catch up with the minibus. I hadn’t seen driving this crazy since, well, South East Asia!

The beginning of hell
The beginning of hell

Eventually catching up we napped for the rest of the journey until breakfast. Filled with the mandatory butter, jam and eggy breakfast we drove the extra hour out to the start of the hike. The hike itself starts at 4450m and goes all the way up to 5100m. By far the highest we have been yet and a true test of our acclimatisation. Coming off the back of Salkantay we both assumed we would be fine. It was predicted to take us 2-3 hours to climb up and the trail started off pretty flat. It quickly became steep and whilst never getting drastically uphill it was just enough combined with the altitude to make it a struggle. Whilst neither of us got sick at all from the altitude, the breathlessness is certainly a kicker.

Eventually, we made it to the top and looked out over the surrounding valleys. We had heard from a number of people that all the photos taken of the mountains are Instagrammed to death and it isn’t actually the crazy colours most people expect. From the first viewpoint it isn’t actually all that impressive but once you hike up a little further (yes I’m sorry you need to go higher) it actually comes into view. You can definitely make out the coloured lines but can also see where Instagram has a field day. At the bottom of the post, I’ve added a un-filtered and Instagrammed version of the same photo to give you an idea of the difference.

Alpaca at Rainbow Mountain
Making friends on route

The hike down was much much easier and we were soon back in the van on the way to lunch. A yummy buffet lunch in which a poor Peruvian woman ended up sat with 3 Brits and couldn’t say a word the whole hour we were there. Sorry lady, Brits will be Brits. After a slight flat tyre drama on the way home, we eventually made it back.

Albeit a long day it is certainly a worthwhile one, and one I would definitely recommend doing from Cusco. The hike is f-in difficult though, there were quite a few people stopping and throwing up to give you a real idea of the difficulty level. You can rent horses at the start of the hike but even these cannot take you all the way and still require a little bit of one foot in front of the other. A reasonable fitness level and a couple of acclimatisation days however and you should be fine! Just don’t expect what you see on Instagram.




backpacking, hiking


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