Day Trip To Rainbow Mountain
This famous “Montaña de Siete Colores”, officially known as Vinicunca is unreal! Being able to see a mountain full of different colors in the Andes is incredible. Although the way it was discovered is not a fun story to tell. The Vinicunca mountain was once covered by snow. Due to climate change, the snow has all melted unveiling the beauty of Rainbow Mountain. Rainbow Mountain is about a 3 hour drive from Cusco. The hike is very challenging. Not due to the path, but more so the altitude. Rainbow Mountain sits at 5,200m (17,060 ft). For this reason, it is very important to acclimate your body before deciding on the visit. Click here to see how we dealt with altitude sickness in Peru. A question we get asked frequently , “Is Rainbow Mountain worth the visit?”. In our opinion…heck yes!
How To Get There
The most common way to reach Rainbow Mountain is via a day tour from Cusco. You will find that all of the agencies in Cusco offer this day trip, since it is one of the most popular, aside from Machu Picchu. Make sure to look for a reputable agency just in case you don’t do well with the altitude. The tours offer a certified guide with a first aid kit including an oxygen tank in case you need it for the way up. (We did see a girl utilizing the oxygen tank). Another girl in our group was unable to make it through the first 5 minutes. She ended up staying in the van the entire time. We can not stress enough the importance of acclimating to the altitude in Peru. Be aware that there are two ways of reaching Rainbow Mountain. One is the short “new” way and the other is the “old” long way. Some agencies offered both routes and a handful only offered the long route. We decided on the short route to save all of our energy for the hike up. The short way will save you a couple hours of walking. The price for both was exactly the same. We payed S/65 ($19.28USD) per person. There was an additional entrance fee of S/10 ($2.97USD) per person once you arrive.
TIP: If you plan on doing several day tours, use that as leverage to negotiate the prices. Never take the first offer. Agencies know competition is tough in Cusco and they are alway willing to negotiate. Make sure you get a fair price.
The tour included the following:
Light, but energetic breakfast before the hike which consisted of tea or coffee, boiled eggs, bananas and granola (buffet style)
Transportation to and from Cusco
Hefty buffet style lunch after the hike which consisted of vegetables, alpaca meat, pasta salad, fruit and lemonade
Get Ready for the Ride
The ride from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain is everything except comfortable. If you are scared of heights, I would probably discourage you from visiting. The roads to this mountain are very narrow, bumpy and with lots of curves. It’s basically a one lane road where on one side you have mountains and on the other you have very very very high cliffs. I was hanging on to my seat as tight as I could. Make sure to bring Dramamine if you tend to get car sick. The ride there is not all bad, since you do pass some beautiful Andean Villages and get to witness the local life.
Hiking Up The Mountain
If you feel the hike is hard, there are donkeys you can rent to help you on your way up. The cost is S/80 ($23.72 USD). We will warn you, they don't take you ALL the way up. You still have to walk up the hardest part of the hike since it is dangerous for the donkeys to go all the way up to the summit. If you’ve never ridden a horse or donkey before, we recommend you simply walk. Parts of the path are very narrow with cliffs to the side. If it’s your first time on a donkey, it can be intimidating. We witnessed a girl get scared and threw herself off the donkey which is very dangerous. The path up to Rainbow Mountain has a slight slope and eventually got very steep. Make sure you walk at your own pace.
What To Bring
Layer up is the best recommendation we can give you. Hiking up was a bit hot, but once we reached the summit it started snowing. It was very windy and very cold. Bring sweaters and a jacket you can easily take off in case the weather changes.
Bring rain gear. It is very hard to know exactly what the weather will be up in the mountains.
Hiking Boots or Sneakers. We hiked with our Nike’s and had no issues, but I am confident hiking boots would have made for a better more comfortable experience.
SPF & Chapstick. The sun is very strong at high altitudes and you would not believe how dry your lips can get too!
Water. Stay hydrated. We brought 2 liters of water for both of us.
Snacks. The day before we stopped by the local market and stacked up on chocolates and peanuts.
Toilet Paper. DO NOT FORGET THIS. There are toilets, but no toilet paper.
Coca Leaves. We chewed on these on the way up and it helped give us energy and alleviate the altitude sickness.
Rainbow Mountain was definitely one of our favorite things to do in Cusco. You will run into hundreds of people trying to do the same thing...get a glimpse of the amazing colors! Take your time going up and rest if you need to. This is not a race and don’t worry if your friends are going to fast. Chances are they will slow down. Make sure you make the best of this experience and enjoy the view once you reach the summit!
In Peru you will find a very small amount of locals that speak English.
Download the XE Currency App to get live exchange rate info anytime, anywhere!
CREDIT CARDS AND BANKS
Cash is best for buying at local markets, street food or small stores as these do not accept credit cards.
ATMs are readily available.
We mostly used Banco De La Nacion while in Peru since this one allows us to take money out with out any fees.
VISA REQUIRED FOR US CITIZENS:
Visas will be given at time of entry into Peru. The length of approved stay will be determined by border officials when you enter the country and can range from 30-183 days. Be aware of the time they allow you to stay in the country. If you overstay, you will be fined and it will be a hassle when you try to cross your next border, specially if traveling by land. (This happened to us!)
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 month and have 2 free pages in the visa section when entering Peru.
(Make sure to check with your local embassy for visa updates.)
We decided to fly to Cusco from Lima since we had a predetermined date to visit Machu Picchu. You can also take a bus into Cusco. We would recommend using Cruz Del Sur for your travels. There are other buses less expensive, but we felt completely safe with them. They are the only ones we saw which go above and beyond to make you feel secure.
Breathalyzer tests are given to their drivers before starting their journey
Always have 2 drivers who must rotate every 4 hours
Video record all passengers traveling
A hostess is available for you 24/7 and attends to your needs on the bus
Meals are included like breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on your time of travel (the food is really good!)
You get a personalized screen to watch movies in Spanish with English subtitles
They can’t drive faster than 90kmph, there will be a screen showing how fast the bus is going (in some cases it even beeps when the driver goes over).
TIP: If you decide to buy your tickets with Cruz Del Sur, their website has the ability to change languages. For us, it defaulted to English, but if you can read Spanish or figure out the steps to book in Spanish, do it! Once their website is changed to Spanish, the cheap tickets will appear. You will have access to some seats being sold at a 50% discount! This obviously depends on demand and some planning on your end.
(In no way, did we get any commission or free rides with Cruz Del Sur to write this piece, we really loved them!)
We had heard mixed opinions about safety in Peru. Some cities seem to have more of a bad rep than others, but through out our stay we always felt safe. Even when riding on night buses. I was mostly concerned about all the road accidents you read about online, but if you book with a good bus company you should not worry. Just like in any other place in the world, use common sense like you would in any country. Make sure to steer clear of the roudy neighborhoods.