Hiking Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)

Peru is internationally known for its World Wonder, Machu Picchu, and less known for the incredible Rainbow Mountain. The mountain gets its unique colors from a mix of natural minerals and weathering. It’s incredible in photos, and even more breathtaking in real life. So, if you’re planning a trip to Peru, and visiting Vinicunca, here are some tips for the hike.

It’s No Easy Feat

Starting at the entrance and ending at the ultimate view point takes anywhere from 2-3 hours hiking. It’s a rough, dirt road with beautiful scenery–rivers, mountains, and flat land. You start at about 4,100 feet above sea level, and hike up to 5,200 feet above sea level, just to give you an idea. The wind gets cold, but the sun is beaming, so come prepared to endure a variety of temperatures, all while possibly burning in the sun. Note: bring sunscreen, and gloves.

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But You Can Take a Horse…

Indigenous locals dressed in traditional clothing live in the area. They work hard to make a living, hiking the mountain everyday with their horses, prepared to offer you a ride to the top for something like 50 soles; or about $15. While you sit on the horse, the workers WALK the horse just meters away from the absolute top, in sandals, so you don’t have to. I’m torn between telling you to hike your lazy, able ass to the top, or to support the local community. Then again, you can always do both…

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Altitude Sickness

This didn’t happen for me, but for some, altitude is a real problem. Even adjusting to Cusco can cause some people to feel dizzy or nauseous. The higher the altitude, the thinner the air, therefore less oxygen to your blood cells. Cusquenos swear by coca leaves, tea, or candy to curb your symptoms. I can’t speak on this per say, but I do love me some coca tea.

Hiking Gear

Though not necessary, I found myself truly appreciating my walking stick. After an hour and a half of hiking, I found myself unable to keep my balance. Every step I swayed a bit more, but I put lots of weight on the stick which helped me not to fall over.

It should go without saying that you should wear comfortable, closed-toe sneakers, but even better would be hiking shoes. I stubbed my toe a frustrating amount of times on hidden rocks, especially hiking back down. Specific hiking shoes might’ve prevented that.

Multiple Tour Groups

If you opt for a cheaper tour like me, you’ll find yourself hiking with a shit ton of people who also booked on the cheap. Which is totally cool, until you actually get to the mountain. It’s nearly impossible to get a decent pic without hundred of other people in it. However, I can’t say I’ll do it any differently. As long as I get to witness and experience, I’m a satisfied customer.

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Additional Info:

I booked through a small travel agency in Cusco. For 80 soles, a little over $20, I got round-trip transportation from Cusco, breakfast, lunch, and the entrance covered. Breakfast and lunch were had in a small town, a short drive from the mountain, with very basic amenities. The town goes without electricity or hot water, so you can imagine. And yet, even with all these restrictions, we were served hot eggs for breakfast, bread, coffee, tea, and a banana. Lunch consisted of the delicious, traditional lomo saltado (beef, onions and potatoes), rice, noodles, and salad.

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