Rainbows and mountains are both beautiful. And I’m obsessed with anything colorful/shiny/that sparkles. So when I heard you could hike to a RAINBOW MOUNTAIN (rainbows + mountains = Chelsea’s favorite things) in Peru, I knew I had to go.
Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) is in the Willkanuta Mountain Range, located in the greater Andes Mountains, the mountain is around 3 hours away from Cusco. The altitude STARTS at 4,326 m / 14,189 ft. with the peak of the mountain sitting at 5,200m / 17,060 ft …that is HIGH. And just so happens to be the highest altitude I’ve ever hiked in.
I was nervous for the ascent up rainbow mountain- Instead of acclimating like most people I had been sick for a good majority of the trip from the altitude in Cusco (for whatever reason my body absolutely HATES altitude, and anything over 9,000 ft makes me nauseous and uncomfortable). This trek would be pushing my body to limits i’d never pushed it to before- and I worried these beautiful mountains could very well be the death of me.
The morning of the hike starts EARLY, or late if you want to look at it that way- the van picked us up from our Airbnb in Cusco at 2:30 a.m. We all instantly regretted not bringing a pillow for the 3 hour ride ahead of us. Blankets were provided for us, so we attempted to sleep on each other and catch up on some zzz’s (we didn’t get to sleep till 10 p.m after the Machu Picchu trip ). The rough ride made that difficult, and nobody got much sleep. I’m pretty sure there are more speed bumps in Peru than the entire continent of South America…
We arrived at a village 15 minutes from the trail head where we were fed a light breakfast by the locals. Breakfast consisted of breads, jams/butter, a plate of scrambled eggs, and some tea (it’s highly recommended you drink the coca tea- it will help with the altitude sickness). I was nauseous from the van ride and/or altitude so I skipped breakfast.
When we got to the trail head around 6:30 a.m. we were at 14,000 ft and it was cold! Layers on layers was key to this trek. There were locals selling wool gloves, hats, scarves, parkas and other souvenirs- a couple people from the group bought some hats and gloves. We still had 2000 ft in elevation to gain and it was already cold…
There were horses for rent that you could ride up the mountain for 60 soles (about $18 USD). SOLD. And that was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Half our group decided to rent horses, while the other half decided to brave the mountain on foot.
The horse came with a local guide who led the horse up the mountain for you- these guides were the real heros. They were wearing sandals on their feet- and made the trip up and down the mountain MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY, sometimes running past other hikers… it was impressive and made me feel like a whimp on my horse- but then I’d try to take a deep breath, and considering I was having a hard time breathing just sitting there, I knew the horse was a wise decision. Riding the horse up the mountain allowed me to relax, and enjoy all the incredible views along the way. These views included cuteness overload, with thousands of alpaca, llama, and farm animals.
The horses do not go up the last quarter mile of the hike- the mountain is too steep, and the air is too thin- so you know what that meant? It was up to us to make it through the hardest part of the hike. Since we had left at 2:30 in the morning- we were the first tour group to arrive to the mountain. There was only 4 people in sight, and we had the opportunity to be some of the first people up the mountain that day. So I moved as fast as I could before the other tour groups started arriving to summit. The key was slow and steady, I would take 5 steps and be panting and out of breath.
The photo above doesn’t make it look very daunting, does it? I remember being so frustrated I couldn’t breathe, my stomach was rolling with nausea, and I was in tears just 10 feet away from reaching the top. I didn’t think I was going to make it, I thought for sure I was going to die by asphyxiation right there on that mountain in Peru.
**This hike is extremely difficult regardless of how great of shape you’re in, there was a range from people that never work out to people that compete in fitness competitions – and everyone struggled in the high altitude. It is recommended you not spend more than 30 minutes at the peak (the air is too thin)**
Making it to the top of the peak was a huge accomplishment for me. I fought through physical and mental exhaustion not allowing myself to give up (believe me, I wanted to) Everyone cheers each other on at the top, those that’ve reached it, know that it’s those last few steps where people hit their wall and almost give up, and they NEED that encouragement. When I finally took my last step to the top- I collapsed to the ground, gasping for air, trying to catch my breathe for a couple minutes. I felt like a fish out of water. Finally my breathing slowed- and as I lifted my head to look up at what I had just worked for- a smile of pure joy spread across my face, and I knew instantly it was all worth it.
We were offered the horses again on the way down. I was confident enough that I could make it down on my own, so I declined the assistance. The trip down as always- was easier than the trip up. When we got to the bottom we were served a homemade authentic Peruvian lunch, and I had no issues stuffing my face this time around. It was after all, Thanksgiving 🦃
Our group of 6 did a tour package with Flashpacker Connect- they were awesome, and our guide Johnathon was extremely knowledgeable. Our package was for the 2 day inca trail hike, 1 day Machu Picchu, and 1 day rainbow mountain. They provided transportation to and from each expedition, an over night stay after the inca trail in the town aquas calientes, and a good majority of our meals.
The Rainbow mountain trek takes place above 4000 meters; the terrain is challenging, and weather is unpredictable ranging from hot and humid to rain and wind. Hikers should be in reasonable shape, and healthy. Ensure you have proper gear and be prepared for variable weather conditions throughout the day.
**If you area concerned with the altitude please consult your doctor for proper advice.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
- Day Pack with Rain Cover
- Trekking shoes
- Warm clothes
- Thermal base layer
- Fleece/ Sweater
- Insulated jacket
- Hat, gloves, scarf
- Buff/ Handkerchief
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Sunhat and sunglasses
- Sun cream
- Lip Balm
- 1 Liter of water (per person)
- Personal snacks
- Motion sickness tablets (for van ride)
- Toilet paper
- Camera/ extra battery
- Dry change of clothes, shoes and plastic bag to store wet items