Rainbow Mountain is truly a sight to behold and I seriously recommend it if you are traveling to Peru and staying anywhere near Cusco or the Sacred Valley. The entire hike up from the trailhead is incredibly picturesque. The mountains are such vibrant colors that the scenery looks surreal. The hike is fairly intense, so it’s a good idea to go into it as prepared as possible. Here are my tips for climbing Rainbow Mountain, including how to pick a tour operator, how to deal with the high altitude and what itinerary you can expect.
Picking a Tour Operator
I’ve read that you can take on the Rainbow Mountain day hike on your own instead of going with a tour company, but you will have to deal with renting a car or hiring your own taxi. I went with a tour through Viajes Cusco and I had an amazing experience. I paid $40 for my tour by going to their location in Cusco. A lot of tours charge more to book online. I would say you should wait until you’re in Cusco to get the cheapest price for the company you have in mind. When picking a tour operator, just keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for.
There are a few reasons I was extremely happy with my decision to go with a tour. For one, the start of the trek is around three hours away from Cusco and the tour packages include transportation. I was picked up from my hotel at 3:45am and I was glad to be able to snooze a bit on my way up.
The tour also included a delicious breakfast and lunch at a small pueblo about 20 minutes away from the trailhead. Breakfast included sweet bread, scrambled eggs, tea and chocolate drink. Lunch was yummy soup, pasta and veggies. The meal stops were nice breaks in the drive and allowed us to eat the local food.
I was also traveling by myself for this one-day trek, as my travel mates opted out. Being able to travel with a group led by two knowledgable guides was valuable to me. For reference, our tour group was sixteen people. Our guides told us tidbits about the land and people that live in the Andes, and also gave us tips for combatting the altitude. They also carried a first aid kit and oxygen tanks in case of emergency. The S/10.00 Soles entrance fee to Rainbow Mountain was also included in my tour price.
Dealing with Altitude on Rainbow Mountain
The start of the hike sits at around 4,200 meters (13,700 feet) and by the time you hike the three hours to see Rainbow Mountain itself, you will be standing at 5,100 meters (16,700 feet). That is really freakin’ high altitude. For reference, the tallest mountain in the continental United States is Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet. It’s a good idea to allow yourself to acclimatize in Cusco (11,000 feet) for at least a full 24 hours before you attempt the Rainbow Mountain hike. Make sure that you are conscious of the signs of altitude sickness and check in with yourself throughout the hike. The only way to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness is to go down in altitude ASAP.
You are able to hire horses to take you up or down the trail to Rainbow Mountain. This alleviates some of the intensity of hiking at such high altitude. The cost is S/40.00 Soles ($12 USD) one way or S/60.00 Soles ($18.50) both ways. The horses appear to be well taken care of and they ask passengers to get off at certain points where the trail is especially steep.
The weather can change very quickly as such high altitude. It’s important to come prepared with layers. I would bring a puffy jacket and a waterproof layer in case of sudden snow or rain. When I was at Rainbow Mountain, it did start to snow lightly (in May!).
It’s also important to bring water and snacks on the trek, so you can keephydrated and keep your energy up. I’d recommend bringing at least one liter. There are also people set up along the trail selling water and other beverages for low prices. There are also porta potties every so often along the trail, which come in handy.
Rainbow Mountain Itinerary and Details
It’s an astoundingly early start to the day, but you can expect to be picked up from your hotel in Cusco between 3-4 a.m. I was picked up from my hotel at 3:45 a.m. and was lucky to be the last one picked up in our 16-person group. We drove 2 hours and 45 minutes to the breakfast stop at a small pueblo along the road and had to wait for around 20 minutes until breakfast was ready.
Once we were done with our delicious egg and bread breakfast, we drove another 20 minutes to the trailhead. We all set out together on the 10-mile roundtrip hike and made it to Rainbow Mountain around 11:30 a.m. Our guide told us that approximately 600 people climbed the mountain the day we did. Rainbow Mountain is definitely becoming more and more of a tourist destination.
We spent around half an hour at the top of Rainbow Mountain before making the
decent back down to the trailhead. The way back down is, of course, much faster and it feels good on the lungs to descend in altitude. We boarded the buses once again and made the drive back to the same pueblo where we enjoyed breakfast so we would get lunch in before the drive home. We ended up arriving back in Cusco around 8 p.m.
Well, that’s all she wrote! I hope you found this guide to Rainbow Mountain helpful. Please let me know what you thought of the post! Are you planning a trip to Rainbow Mountain or have you already been?