What To Expect When Climbing Rainbow Mountain

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Rainbow (Vinicunca) mountain is one of those places that is super famous when you’re in Peru but one you’re unlikely to have heard of if you’re not heading there yourself. It is an instagramer’s heaven - a mountain resembling a rainbow with brightly coloured rocks forming neat patterns on each side. But don’t be fooled by its playful and childish look! Climbing Rainbow Mountain has been one of the most physically challenging things we’ve done to date, not because of its steep accents or the time it took to climb but due to the crippling 5200m altitude you have to reach by the end (over 500m higher than the top of Mont Blanc!) We don’t want to put you off, as we’re glad we did it, despite it’s difficultly, but we thought we’d write a post on our experience to help you decide whether it’s for you!

The day started with a painfully early wake-up at 3:15am in time to be picked up 15 minutes later. We then had about a 2 and a half hour drive to breakfast before continuing on an hour further to the start of the trek. With all the faffing around at the beginning, driving around Cusco picking people up, including about half an hour of a safety talk, we only started trekking at about 9:30 - meaning all the ‘middle of the night’ clothes we’d put on were way to much for the morning sun. 

After taking off a ridiculous amount of layers we began the trek, which was predominantly flat towards the beginning. The altitude was obviously affecting us, forcing us to keep a steady pace, but it wasn’t causing us any headaches or nausea so we were able to continue up the mountain at our own pace.

About half way and an hour in, Lissa started to feel really unwell. We’d heard that at these heights it’s not uncommon to experience bad headaches and start to feel quite sick. To stop it getting too serious we made the decision to pay to put Lissa on the back of a horse which would then carry her up the rest of the way. This cost 20 soles which didn’t seem too bad as it was more than double that price if you took a horse from the start. 

We reached the top about an hour later where we were rewarded with the quite spectacular views of Vinicunca mountain or Rainbow mountain as it’s more often called. About half an hour at the top was plenty, then we started our decent slowly to try to avoid the altitude sickness hitting us hard. Unfortunately it slowly crept back up on Lissa who could only manage part the way down before again feeling really ill and so Lissa took a horse for part the way whilst I walked. 

In my opinion the walk back down from the mountain is perhaps even better then the viewpoint itself. You’ll get bored of a colourful mountain quickly, but the beautiful surrounding scenery with lots of alpacas and llamas was much enjoyable, especially considering the affects of the altitude were significantly less when walking downhill. 

That said, once reaching the car park at the end of the walk I too got a crippling headache, possibly the worst I’d ever had. We’d heard that lots of people got altitude sickness on the way down rather than when ascending but rather naively we didn’t really see how this could be true! 

Luckily there was a doctor on hand who was going around with his special liquid which you sniffed to clear your headache. Sounds weird, but I promise you it worked!

On the journey back we stopped off at a few lagoons adding on about an hour to the journey, meaning we got back to the hostel at around 8:00pm. Pretty much everyone on our minibus were rather nonplussed about the lagoons and to be honest they weren’t anything special, but they were part of the tour and had most likely been added in to make the tour seem better value. We were both incredibly tired by the end, feeling a little bit funny from the changes in altitude and needed a good nights sleep, but on the whole we were pleased we did the tour.

How much should you pay?
As with all tours in and around Cusco the price you pay if you book it the day before or a few days before is much much cheaper than booking online in advance.

Tourist agencies will charge you anything between 50 and 90 soles for the tour. 

We paid 55 soles / $17.50us per person (not including entrance fees)

The entrance fee for the mountain is 10 soles pp, so make sure you check whether this is included in the price. 

Things to consider before trekking Rainbow Mountain

  1. Altitude sickness is real! Make sure you take necessary precautions before doing the trek. By this we mean taking coca leaves or tea (or even coca sweets), having plenty of energy (snacks!) and making sure you are already acclimatised before doing the trek (spend some time in Cusco first which is also at high altitude).

  1. Breakfast is small! They’ll serve you up half of a cold omelet and some bread, which is definitely not enough for the activity you’re about to do. So take snacks! Lunch is much better however.

  1. Horse hire - horses are available all the way up and down if the altitude gets too much for you. Don’t hire one from the start as they’ll charge you a lot, only get one if and when you need it. Be aware that, like most things in Peru, you can bargain for your price!

  1. Walking sticks - lots of people brought along sticks in our group and we felt a little concerned that we didn’t have any! Well you can hire them for 5 soles at the breakfast point and we’d recommend as they came in use for the last leg of the hike.
Hope this was useful,

Thanks for reading!

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