Have you heard of Rainbow Mountain? Rainbow Mountain is a day hike out of Cusco, Peru, and if you have an extra day up your sleeve, you should not miss this experience! After climbing uphill from 45oom, up to 5100m above sea level, you will be rewarded with a spectacular sight: the rainbow coloured mountains. Here’s some information you should know about climbing Rainbow Mountain.
Day Trip to Rainbow Mountain
The day-trip will start between 3am-4am, being picked up from you hostel in a minivan. The journey to the starting point of Rainbow Mountain takes about 3-4 hours. We arrived there around 8am. Once you arrive, you will have breakfast with your minivan group. The guide will give some advice and guidelines about climbing the mountain.
After breakfast, the group starts the hike up the hill together. However, it does not take long for the group to split and go at their own pace. The guide has a flag, and climbs the mountain with you. There are three stages/landings where you can have rest stops on the mountain, the guide will walk quite slowly and will wait at these landing points for the stragglers.
It is now up to you to walk up the mountain and back again. When you are back down the hill, head back to the tent where you had breakfast and wait for the rest of the group.
Medium difficulty – difficult. It was hard. I really struggled to get one foot in front of the other, and there were many times I wanted to turn back. I admit I wasn’t the most fit person, but I wasn’t unfit either. The thing with hiking at altitude is that everyone is affected differently. Rainbow Mountain is no walk in the park. The hike is 1-2.5 hours of walking uphill, at an altitude of 4450m up to 5100m ASL. It took me and many others the best part of 3 hours to get to the top, at a turtle-like pace. However, many people were able to complete the entire hike in less than 3 hours.
One of my favorite moments is while struggling up the mountain, barely moving, the local ladies with babies on their back, and horses in-hand actually run up the hill!!
Cost of Rainbow Mountain
You do not need to book this trip in advance or online. Book it once you arrive in Cusco! For one thing, the weather can change and you may not be able to hike on the date you booked online. The other reason is cost! I have heard too many times where travellers booked their hikes online before arriving, only to find they could have had the same experience for much, much cheaper.
Do not think you will miss out if you do not book ahead of time. There are countless companies offering this hike, every day of the week. Once you arrive in Cusco, you cannot avoid being hounded by tour providers on the streets, offering you their services.
Make sure when booking your trip to Rainbow Mountain, that the park fee is included in the fee you paid your company. Make sure they write this on your receipt, and take your receipt with you up the hill. Otherwise, you will have to pay another 10 soles part way up the hill to continue the hike.
If you are struggling and need some help up the hill, there are many horses to take you up. This will cost you upwards of 60 soles for a one way journey. Beware though, as the horses do not take you up the steepest parts. It’s simply too steep for them! The steepest part is right near the top of the mountain. Pay this directly to the person with the horse.
I really do not think it matters which company you choose. There are many companies offering the same or similar services. In fact, you are not always guaranteed the package you thought you were signing up for. I booked through Machu Picchu Explorers. They found me in the main plaza, and I got a good vibe from them so thought I’d give them a go. Their price was super cheap at 85 soles.
They picked us up the following morning, with no troubles. However, our guides/van drivers were not from our company. Everyone in that van seemed to have booked through different companies and at different prices. It seems that the different companies must collaborate their lists at the end of the day, and put everyone into one van. Luckily for me, I had paid the least out of everyone, and was getting the exact same experience. The range was 85-250 soles.
Also, I had a friend going the same day as me, but with a different and more expensive company. It turned out that the meals included in my trip were far better than his. The point of this wee ramble is, find the cheapest company, and if you get a good vibe from them, then go for it! Do not think that the more expensive the company is, the better it will be.
When to go
In terms of what time in the day, the tours leave in the morning, as it is a 4 hour drive from Cusco to the start of the Rainbow Mountain hike.
In terms of the season, that depends on what photos you are hoping to get. It also depends on luck with what the weather is doing that day. While snow covered mountains are beautiful, you really want a day that is sunny and warm. This provides that best conditions of getting your perfect ‘rainbow’ pictures at the top of the mountain. I went on a snow day. When I finally got to the top, the snow set in, and I could barely see the rainbow effect. I wanted to cry! Make sure to check the weather. Avoid the colder months if you want to see the rainbow!
What to bring
- Day pack
- Sun screen
- Drinking water
- Sturdy shoes/hiking boots
- Toilet paper
- Rain jacket
- Warm gloves
- Beanie/warm hat
- Poles (optional/company may provide)
Toilet facilities on Rainbow Mountain
There are toilets/long drops/natural toilets along the journey up the hill. Bring your own toilet paper!
How was your Rainbow Mountain experience? Let me know how it went!