IS RAINBOW MOUNTAIN WORTH IT?
Is it worth your time and money? $30 to see such an incredible natural wonder seems worth it to us. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the experience.
The panoramic views and the intense colours of all the mountains in the region, not just Rainbow mountain are sublime. On top of this, the challenge of reaching 5,200m and conquering another high-altitude mountain can only make you feel good.
The only reason for skipping it should be if you suffer from altitude sickness and/or hate trekking – the hike up to the summit is tough.
HOW TO GET TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
Most trips set off from Cusco which is in the south-east of Peru. The actual mountain is located 100 km (62 mi) south-east of Cusco.
The easiest way to get there is a single day tour.
We don’t recommend driving there yourself as the final section of the drive up through the valley is not for the faint-hearted. There aren’t many buses which can take you to the nearest town of Cusipata either and even if there were you’d have to walk up the valley which would take a few hours itself, so we don’t recommend trying to do it yourself.
WHICH IS THE BEST RAINBOW MOUNTAIN TOUR?
There are hundreds of companies in Cusco selling tours to Rainbow Mountain.
It can be a little daunting trying to sort through them all to see how they differ. While we only went with one company, we will safely say that there won’t be much difference between them all. We’ve compared three different priced tours for you to have a look at here. But out of those three we chose Rainbow Mountain Travels (RMT).
To summarise most tours; a minibus will pick you up in the morning, take you to the mountain and then take you back.
One of the main reasons we paid a little extra for our tour was the pick-up time. We wanted to get out as early as possible to beat the crowds and RMT leave at 3:30 AM in the morning. Most tours will pick you up at around 5 AM so you probably won’t beat the crowds.
HOW MUCH IS A RAINBOW MOUNTAIN TOUR?
Tours typically cost 50-150 soles (£11-£35 or $15-$45). ‘Rainbow Mountain Travels’ cost £22 ($30).
We were impressed with the tour guides, breakfast and lunch were excellent, and they even give you blankets in the morning so you can sleep on the minibus.
You will also have to pay 10 soles (£2.30/$3) entrance which your tour guide will likely collect from you en-route.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
The first section of the tour is a 1.5-hour drive to Cusipata, a town at the foot of the mountain.
Here we had a buffet breakfast of bananas, bread, yoghurt, cereal, fruit, coffee and teas. Use this time to fill up on coca tea to help you with the altitude.
Following breakfast, we hopped back on the bus, and it was another 1.5 hours up a narrow winding dirt road to the carpark.
We recommend finding a tour which sets off at 3 AM or latest 4 AM but only if you want to experience a less crowded mountain. This is an extremely popular tourist destination with approximately 1,500 people visiting a day.
The viewpoint at the top of the mountain isn’t that wide, so it feels very cramped when you’re up there and trying to take little baby steps up a mountain, not being able to breathe and with hundreds of people in your way isn’t our idea of fun.
You also have a chance to see the mountain covered in snow the earlier you go. As the sun rises through the day, it starts to melt the snow on the east-facing side of the mountain leading to a beautiful contrast between the white snow and the rainbow colours. The later you arrive in the day, the more likely it is that all the snow will have melted. But if you aren’t bothered by crowds or snow then feel free to book one that picks you up later.
After you arrive and a quick briefing from your tour guide, you are free to start the hike. RMT gave us roughly 3 hours – 1 hour to the top of rainbow mountain, 1 hour down and to get to the red valley and then another 45 minutes getting back down to the bus. We will cover this in more detail below when discussing the difficulty of the trek.
After you finish the trek, the bus will take you back to the place you had breakfast to have lunch, and then after that its back to Cusco for around 6-7PM
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
We would recommend visiting Rainbow Mountain during Peru’s dry season to avoid rain ruining your mood and clouds ruining your views.
The dry season in Peru is from May to October and November to April is the rainy season.
Be sure to check the weather forecast before you go however. The whole point of this day trip is to see the colours in all their glory. This is only possible if the weather is nice with the sun beaming down on the mountain. However, as I’m sure you are aware, these are not strict rules, and mother nature can surprise us.
We were there during the rainy season and got lucky with the weather in the morning, which was mostly clear. Rain or overcast conditions will impact your 360 views of the beautiful Andean mountains, so don’t let this be a negative on the trip. Furthermore, if it is raining this can make the trekking element more difficult, especially the final ascent which can be quite muddy and slippery.
If you want to see the mountain with snow on it, then you need to take an early tour (3-4AM leaving time) as the snow will have melted by around midday.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT?
You will be spending the whole time on this tour above 5,000m (16,400 ft). Once you step out of the van, you will feel it instantly.
You will have obviously experienced the high altitude in Cusco, but at this height, it’s even harder to breathe. Even taking the smallest steps will have you panting and it’s much colder too.
The viewpoint is 5,200m (17,060 ft) above sea level, so the climb to the top is challenging. Everest base camp is 5,380m (17,600 ft) above sea level to give you some perspective of how high this is.
The first section of the trek takes 1-1.5 hours on a mostly flat path. After this, you reach the bottom of Vinicunca. This is your last chance to use the bathroom, which costs 1 sole (£0.50/$60). After that short break, you are ready to climb to the viewpoint.
Due to the altitude and incline, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to make it to the top. Take it slow and make sure to take breaks if you’re feeling ill or even descend if illness persists. Small baby steps are essential here at this final part as you will barely be able to breathe.
If you are struggling with the walk, it’s possible to take a horse for 80 soles (£18/$24). This will take you all the way to the bottom of the mountain where the toilet is, but you will still need to climb the hardest bit as the horses cannot go up to the viewpoint.
If you are concerned about the difficulty of this trek then there is a second, easier Rainbow Mountain to visit in the region. Check out our comparison of the two mountains to see if it’s for you.
VISITING THE RED VALLEY
Depending on how you found the climb to the viewpoint, you can visit the Red Valley for another spectacular view. This costs another 10 soles (£2.30/$3) and is collected just before you reach the summit by a local guide.
To get there, you need to head back to the foot of the mountain you just climbed, where the toilet is. Once there you will follow the mountain pass to the left up to the ridge. The climb is not as steep as it is to Rainbow Mountain but is still challenging due to the altitude. The ascent will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
The views again are spectacular, the colour this time is an incredible deep red mixed with beautiful greens from the flora and white from the snow. We would highly recommend the trip if you’re feeling up to it. Of course, this will heavily depend on how you felt getting to the top of Rainbow Mountain. Listen to your body.
There is a final climb up some wooden stairs to get the panoramic view from the highest point. Going upstairs is the last thing you’ll want to do, but you’ve come this far so you might as well.
The climb down was a bit more treacherous, walking on a narrow path of soft soil. Be careful if the conditions are icy or there’s snow as this can make it extra slippery, especially if not wearing walking boots. It took us about an hour to get back to the carpark, but you can probably get down in 45 minutes.
Be mindful of the time. You need to leave a minimum of 2 hours between leaving the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint and returning the meeting point for the bus.
WHAT TO PACK FOR RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
Packing for Rainbow mountain is straightforward, especially if you’ve been trekking in the Andes before. Wearing layers of clothes is key.
Getting off the bus will be cold, once you start trekking you will be warm and then once you reach the summit and stop again, the cold will creep back in. Our 5 essential items we recommend for the Salkantay Trek apply for Rainbow Mountain as well.
- Warm clothes – long trousers, waterproof jacket, jumper, gloves if you really feel the cold
- Snood, hat or scarf – the wind is strong so keep your ears protected
- Sunscreen – the sun is stronger the higher up you are so get it on the parts of your face not protected by hats and glasses
- 1L of water -although there are people selling things en-route, this will cost you more
- Snacks – although we were well fed so didn’t feel the need, snacks are available to buy at certain places from locals
- Hiking boots – recommended as the walking conditions can be icy and muddy
- Walking sticks – if you like to use them or have bad knees
If you are interest in the different Rainbow Mountain tours and their prices then we’ve compared them here for you.
And if you haven’t planned Cusco yet then our city guide will help you get started.