What You Need To Know Before You Hike Rainbow Mountain Peru
Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain is a recent addition to the sites to see in Cusco. The mountainside lined with different colored sediment is a natural wonder that is now the second most visited attraction to visit in Cusco, after Machu Picchu of course. Vinicunca or Montagna de Colores (colored mountain) or Montaña de Siete Colores (mountain of seven colors) is definitely worth a visit.
But this area of Peru has a high altitude so you may experience altitude sickness during your visit.
The good news is that even if you do get altitude sickness while you visit Rainbow Mountain you can still see the magical mountain and wonder at its natural beauty.
In this post, I write about my experience with altitude sickness and give you tips before you book your trip to Peru.
What to know before going to Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain Peru is located outside Cusco in the Ausangate Mountains. Visiting Rainbow Mountain should definitely be part of any bucket list adventure or trip itinerary to Cusco. Years ago the rainbow mountains were covered in snow but because of climate change, the snow covering melted, and the colorful mountain was exposed. Some of the surrounding mountains are still covered in ice so you can imagine what the area looked like before.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the colors are not as vivid as in the photos you have seen on Instagram. Those photos have gone through filters! Nonetheless, it is still gorgeous and you will end up taking tons of photos of the summit and the surrounding rainbow mountains!
Any Rainbow Mountain experience will most likely start in Cusco. Most package tours also depart from the city. Frankly, you should book a tour to visit Rainbow Mountain because it is the easiest and most convenient way to get to Rainbow Mountain. (We know of a good Rainbow Mountain Tour *wink*)
There is no direct way to get to Rainbow Mountain. A hike along the scenic countryside is par for the course. The trailhead is about four hours away from Cusco and for most people, the trek is around two hours but that would depend on how fast you walk. And if you have altitude sickness, it will take a lot longer for you to reach the viewpoint of Rainbow Mountain.
- How to get there: The designated route to Rainbow Mountain for tourists is from Cusco through Checaupe. Checaupe is about two hours away from Cusco. There are a number of ways to get there.
- By public transportation – You can go out on your own trip and ride public transportation from Avenida Tomasa Tito Condemayta to Ocongate, it should cost 10 soles and take 2 hours. Then, you have to hire a taxi to take you to the trailhead of Rainbow Mountain. It will cost around 100 soles and it will be another two hours of travel. The taxi will wait for you to bring you back to Checaupe. On the way back ask the driver to take you to the bus drop off for the return trip to Cusco. Taxis are harder to come by at night so your best bet is to take a bus.
- By taxi – You can hire a car for the day to take you to and from Rainbow Mountain which could cost around 200 soles. This can be a cost-effective way for groups to get to Rainbow Mountain.
- Group tours – by far this is the most recommended way to travel, especially for solo travelers. It is affordable and convenient, plus it’s nice to have a tour guide to talk to. They carry oxygen tanks with them and in case an emergency arises, they can help you out. Usually, meals like breakfast and lunch are included with a tour. There are numerous tour operators that organize rainbow mountain tours so you can book a tour when you get to Cusco. You can also book online in advance if you want to. Most tours leave early so expect a van to pick you up at your hotel at three am. And you’ll get back to Cusco at around five in the afternoon.
- When to go: The best time to go to Rainbow Mountain is during the dry season. Worth noting is that there is a 2-hour hike involved so you don’t want to do that in the rain and mud! The dry season happens to be in the wintertime, that is May to September in Peru.
- What to pack: A lot of travelers mistakenly think that winters in Peru are warm since it is in South America but you have to factor in the altitude! Rainbow Mountain’s altitude is 16,535 feet above sea level, and in the winter it gets pretty cold. The weather in the morning can go as low as the 30s. So, for the hike to Rainbow mountain, it is best to wear layers, a hat, gloves, and a scarf. You should bring water and snacks, but you could also get those along the way from local people who set up shop along the trail.
- Fees: there are two separate fees that visitors have to pay that are paid directly to the local government and neighborhood association. These will not be included in a tour price so make sure to bring cash with you.
Whether you are going on the Inca Trail Hike or the Cordillera Huayhuash hike one of the things to think about is altitude sickness. Usually, it is recommended to arrive a couple of days before the scheduled hike so that your body can adjust to the altitude of Cusco. Because, even with the best planning, it can all go out the window if altitude sickness hits you hard.
What happens when you get altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is when your body cannot acclimate to a location. This happens when you are in a place that is above 8,000 feet. The air is much thinner up there and the thin air affects your body, it doesn’t get as much oxygen as it needs. There is no telling how someone will be affected by high altitudes or even if they will experience it at all!
I had altitude sickness while traveling through Peru and Bolivia recently. I felt nauseous, had a constant bad headache, and it was hard for me to walk around. I couldn’t walk fast and I had a hard time breathing whenever I had to go uphill. Luckily, I went to Bolivia before going to Peru. Bolivia has a higher altitude so by the time I got down to Cusco, the worst of the altitude sickness was over. Though I did have some headaches from time to time.
In the beginning, I would end up taking a nap to manage my symptoms. I also took painkillers, soroche pills, a Peruvian medication for altitude sickness, and drank a lot of coca tea. Coca leaves are a local remedy for altitude sickness. One of my tour guides recommended chewing coca leaves with a little bit of ash paste that is supposed to activate the healing properties of the coca leaves. It had some mint mixed in it so the taste was quite pleasant. There are a bunch of coca hard candy that you can try and even chocolates too to help manage your symptoms.
An American traveler that I met along the way said that she got a prescription from her doctor that she had to take before her flight and throughout her weeklong trip to Peru.
At one point, a woman that was part of my tour group couldn’t breathe at all and had to use an oxygen mask to help her. That was one of the most extreme reactions to altitude sickness that I saw while in Peru.
How I was able to see Rainbow Mountain even with altitude sickness
I heard about ATV tours to Rainbow Mountain from fellow travelers and decided that would be my best bet to see the Montagna de Colores. I found a tour that was $70 and had a later pick-up time, 8:30 in the morning. I booked it when I got to Cusco.
The route for an ATV tour is different and it doesn’t share the road with the hiking trail from Checaupe. Instead, you travel through a mix of rough mountain roads and paved streets. Though it is still as magical as you see hundreds of alpacas and llamas grazing on the wayside and the quiet and idyllic Peruvian mountains.
But you cannot drive all the way to the lookout point. A couple of miles before there is a pit stop where you have to leave the ATVs behind. The local community offers horseback rides and motorcycle rides for a small fee to the lookout point. And then the final stretch is a 10-minute walk by foot along a flat trail to the viewing point. You can also hike to the lookout point if you have the energy to do so, that will take about an hour or so.
Rainbow Mountain was one of the highlights of my trip. It was magical! There was even a dog that followed us from the pitstop up the mountain and back. It was so cool watching him run beside us and keep us company.
Peru According to Explorer Chicks
Explorer Chick has various trips to Peru that include hiking Rainbow Mountain, read more about the trips on EC’s Facebook page. Also in the FB group are personal experiences and recommendations on how to deal with altitude sickness. What I found interesting was a recommendation for an altitude training mask that Michelle Seifert used while on walks and hikes to train for the Inca Trail hike. Check out the FB group for any questions you may have on EC’s trips.
Ready to Explore Peru?
There are so many things to consider and try to prepare for when it comes to traveling. But no matter what happens and even if unforeseen things occur, a trip to Peru is incredible with its culture, beautiful vistas, and amazing food. So, we hope to see you on one of our trips to check off one of your bucket list trips and to experience all that Peru has to offer.
Meet the Writer
Bernadette is a firm believer that women should go on at least one solo adventure a year, whether it is hiking a nearby trail or going abroad and visiting a foreign land. When she isn’t traveling, she can be found at home researching where to travel, taking care of her plants, and figuring out what to eat next.
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