At 5,200 meters altitude and boasting Instagram-worthy landscapes, Rainbow Mountain (or monte de siete colores) is without a doubt a bucket list item for thousands of people around the globe. The colorful mountain was definitely a must-do item for me during my time in Peru, and boy was it a crazy day! Here are five things every traveler should know before hiking Rainbow Mountain.
As mentioned above, Rainbow Mountain sits at an altitude of over 3 miles above sea-level! Even as a native of Denver, Colorado (mile-high city!) the tremendous altitude had a dizzying affect when hiking the trail. Always remember to drink coca tea throughout your time in Cuzco which is available almost everywhere. The coca leaves help counter symptoms of altitude sickness, as well as drinking plenty of water!
Rainbow Mountain can be a bit of a treacherous hike, but even more so in the rain. The day I went happened to be good weather, and it was still ridiculously cold at the summit so make sure to dress in several warm layers. If it is raining, I DO NOT recommend hiking this trail. Several other articles have been written about the dangers of this hike during rainy weather – mainly addressing the fact that the actual trail turns into a mud slick and hikers get injured. Keep in mind that tour companies do not get paid if tours get canceled, so they will never cancel tours due to weather (even though there are safety concerns).
3. Getting There
How long does a day trip to Rainbow Mountain actually take? To be honest ALL DAY and a very long day at that. Tours generally head out at 3:30 am or 5 am depending on the company and the drive itself is 3 hours of curvaceous mountain roads. When you add in a bathroom stop and a breakfast stop, the journey to the trail head can very well be nearly five hours.
The trail is supposed to take two hours to summit and another hour to get down. Keep in mind that this estimate varies greatly. On my tour, a trio from Mexico had two of their members injured their ankles but they decided to summit anyway which caused the rest of the group to wait in the vans for over an hour. The long road home will land you back in Cusco well after nightfall.
4. The Hike
As I mentioned before, I am from Colorado – a state where natives frequently summit 14,000 ft. peaks just for fun. That being said, I didn’t find the Rainbow Mountain hike to be particularly hard, but I might be alone in that sentiment. A Peruvian friend I made on the bus barely made it to the top, had to make frequent stops, and eventually sequestered me into agreeing to rent horses for the second half.
Yes, you can rent a horse with a guide to lead you up the trail, but keep in mind that they cost more at and around the trailhead than they do further up the way. By the time my friend couldn’t take the hike anymore, we were about halfway up and the horses only cost $10 as opposed to $25. It’s a nice way to switch up the trail if you are feeling winded by the time you really start gaining altitude!
Certain areas of the trail are very slick due to mud, especially if it has rained recently. Keep a close eye out and watch your footing.
There are snacks, drinks, and candy bars for sale at the area just below the summit, but it’s much cheaper to pack your own. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks, extra socks, and gloves. It’s windy at the top!
5. Photo Opps
When I say that Rainbow Mountain has exploded with tourism in the last four years, I mean EXPLODED. This once quiet area of the Andean terrain now welcomes thousands of travelers daily, so don’t be surprised to have to wait your turn to snap your perfect photo. The summit will be quite crowded when you reach it, and it takes a decent amount of trial and error to grab a shot without other people in it. Bear in mind that the summit is icy cold as well, which discourages many trekkers from waiting it out to get the photos they want. Make sure you are warm and ready before you take on that last incline!
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