Most of the people in our group were still shaking as others were wiping tears from their eyes. No one spoke a single word during the 20-minute van ride from the Rainbow Mountain trailhead to our lunch stop. All we could hear was the chattering of teeth. We sat in silence for minutes waiting for something warm. That’s when someone finally said something.
This was the worst trek ever.”
He was right. The supposedly magical Rainbow Mountain was the worst trek we’ve ever set out on. Everyone in our day trip group had agreed.
Rainbow Mountain Peru turned out not to be the beautiful natural wonder that’s seen on the tourism posters in Cusco. It was quite the opposite. But we’ve made it back in one piece to now provide a warning to other travelers considering a Rainbow Mountain day tour.
What Is Rainbow Mountain Peru (Vinicunca)?
Rainbow Mountain is a colorful mountainside in the high Andes of Peru. In short, the mountain’s colors were formed by sedimentary mineral layers in the mountain that have been exposed by erosion. The Rainbow Mountain trailhead is located a 3-hour drive from Cusco, where day trips have recently grown quite popular.
Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca Mountain, has quickly risen to become a major touristic attraction for the country after being discovered for tourism only a few years ago. What was simply a tranquil mountain in the Andes, is now inundated every day with hundreds (thousands?) of tourists. They ascend in droves from Cusco to get their Instagramable shot of the colorful mountain. So we joined the masses in Cusco on a quest to reach Rainbow Mountain. The experience was not at all pretty like the pictures.
Instead, it was more like a war zone. Never have I been on a trek where so many people were returning, not only shivering and covered in mud, but crying, limping, and bleeding! We had journeyed to Rainbow Mountain in the pouring rain, which transitioned to sleet and then snow, the higher we climbed.
While Rainbow Mountain may look beautiful in the photos, we recommend not to pursue this hike if it’s been raining and/or until trail improvements are made. It’s not just a strenuous trek. It can be downright dangerous, as evidenced by the many people we witnessed hobbling back to their tourist shuttle.But it wasn’t just the weather conditions that made it such a horrible hike. It was the bad weather combined with irresponsible guides, unprepared hikers, and horrendous trail conditions that made this one of the worst treks we’ve ever been on. Rainbow Mountain may have quickly shot to fame, but it’s just as quickly succumbing to overtourism.
The beautiful and fragile alpine environment is getting completely demolished by the hordes of eager hikers who make the journey to Rainbow Mountain. I’m ashamed at the fact that we too personally destroyed a bit of the Andes during our trek to Rainbow Mountain while attempting to not become the mountain’s latest casualty.
We wrote this post in an effort to expose the less glamorous side of Rainbow Mountain Peru and to give caution to anyone considering trekking in the rain. In our opinion, a rainy or snowy trek to Rainbow Mountain is not worth pursuing.
Have Realistic Expectations About Rainbow Mountain
First, it should be understood that seeing Rainbow Mountain in person is NOT like the tourism brochures handed out in Cusco. Those are blatant lies.
Rainbow Mountain Peru may look amazing on those tourism posters, but realize those pictures have been photoshopped so heavily to enhance the colors that they have become completely unrealistic. Here’s a good one we picked up in Cusco.
This brochure not only enhanced the colors, but it also misleads tourists with a photoshopped van onto the mountain. In reality, there is (thankfully) no way for vehicles to reach Rainbow Mountain. The van only goes to a trailhead, where a 3-hour hike is pursued to actually get to the Rainbow Mountains. So don’t expect any vehicle to drive right up to the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint as this picture infers. It takes a trek to get there, of course.
Meanwhile, many of the Rainbow Mountain pictures posted on Instagram have been heavily filtered, saturated, and greatly manipulated. Yes, there is most definitely some color to these mountains when visiting them in person. There’s no denying that. Many visitors do find Rainbow Mountain to be an amazing sight under good weather conditions. You should just have realistic expectations that the colors may be more subdued than what you see in most photos. Don’t expect a cartoon-like mountain bursting with color. That simply does not exist here.
You can actually play a fun game on Instagram by searching the hashtag #RainbowMountain to find those who have done the most ridiculous editing to their photos. Some pics add an unrealistic amount of saturation to give the colors a nice pop. Others compose downright laughable edits of the Rainbow Mountain they encountered. This is one of the better ones I saw posted.
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Rainbow mountain in Cusco, Peru. ▪ Not for the faint of heart, this journey is a dangerous and treacherous day trip – Are you up for the challenge? After driving through one of the world's deadliest roads, you will arrive at the beginning of your trek. Good hiking gear and adjusting to the climate before the hike is a good start! ▪ ℹ Turn Notifications ON & Follow us for more ✔ ▪ #TravelWagon | @Travel.Wagon | Follow Us 📍 @earthofficial @beautifuldestinations @earthfocus @earth_wanderers @natgeotravel @natgeo
But the above image and many of the pics out there is a complete lie that we want to expose! The above picture is not only over-photoshopped, but that’s not even Rainbow Mountain Peru. It is a different Rainbow Mountain located in China and the Instagram curator has even mislabeled after all their misleading edits.
We can honestly tell you that this is the Rainbow Mountain Peru we encountered, during a break in the snow, and without any editing:
Not so colorful, huh?
Now, someone could argue that the colors were dull during our visit due to the snowy and overcast conditions. Yet our guide claimed that such grey conditions actually make for better photos. He went on to explain that the colors of Rainbow Mountain aren’t as pronounced on a bright sunny day and the mountain’s colors will pop more under these grey conditions. I’m not so sure that’s true. Falling snow most certainly did help to obscure what was to be a colorful view.
But check out how some creative editing can enhance that photo, even during the snowy conditions. I paid a photoshop expert $5 on fiverr to demonstrate just how easily these Rainbow Mountain photos are manipulated. Below is the exact same photo as posted above, only this time with professional editing to enhance the colors.
Now that’s a Rainbow Mountain! But the above edited photo is a complete lie that we’re only showing to prove a point. The image shown above is not the Rainbow Mountain we saw with our own eyes.
So many people are photoshopping images of Rainbow Mountain to make it look like this colorful wonderland. While the mountain may indeed be more vibrant on a clear day, the images often being shared on social media are misrepresentations of what you will see with your own eyes.
Instead of the bright and colorful mountain, below is the Rainbow Mountain we encountered, which in our opinion is not worth pursuing under such rainy and snowy conditions.
Don’t Trek Rainbow Mountain In the Rain or Snow
The thought of seeing a Rainbow Mountain may sound like something imaginable only in a dream. But trekking to Rainbow Mountain in the rain was a nightmare!
We’re experienced hikers and have done lots of trekking through most of the major mountain ranges across six continents. We’ve been caught in torrential downpours and snowstorms on numerous occasions throughout the high Andes and elsewhere. It happens and you just gotta take the good with the bad. That’s all part of the adventure!
Sure, trekking in cold rain anywhere in the world is never much fun, but Rainbow Mountain is different. Why? Because of the risk of severe injury due to a combination of horrible trail conditions, inexperienced guides, hundreds of unprepared tourists, and the 5,200-meter altitude.
When it rains on Rainbow Mountain, the trail transforms into a river. Even worse, the trail and the surrounding areas turn into one big slippery mud pit. It becomes nearly impossible to walk on. Even the most surefooted hiker will ultimately fall at some point.
Ending up on your ass in the mud is virtually unavoidable on Rainbow Mountain during and even after heavy rains. We witnessed everyone who was trekking under the bad weather conditions fall many, many times. And actually going up was much easier to traverse. It was while trekking down from Rainbow Mountain that led to most falls. It’s almost impossible to maintain footing on the slippery terrain.
This leaves you covered in mud from head to toe. But of greater concern are the rocks under the mud that break the repeated falls. Thankfully, we left Rainbow Mountain with only a few bruises.
Others weren’t so lucky. We saw numerous trekkers limping off the trail with what looked like some pretty serious injuries. There were a few people that ended their day in the hospital, with group efforts carrying these unfortunate trekkers back to the tour vans. Those particular Rainbow Mountain tour groups went directly back to Cusco to get them to the hospital. There are no ambulances way out here, of course.
Rainbow Mountain Tours Occur Rain or Shine
The tour agencies and guides don’t seem to care much either. The tour agencies want to get paid. If a trip is canceled due to bad weather, the agencies won’t get paid. As a result, excursions to Rainbow Mountain occur rain or shine. Agencies won’t mention the horrors of attempting this trek in the rain because they want your money. It’s simple economics.
In our case, it was raining so hard in Cusco that the sewers were all overflowing and the city was even starting to flood a little. We thought for sure our trip was surely going to be canceled. But instead, the Rainbow Mountain tour operators take a more irresponsible approach of loading everyone up in the tourist vans to pursue this treacherous trek under inclement weather conditions.
We quickly questioned the guide upon pick-up with concerns about the inclement weather conditions. He assured us that all would be fine on Rainbow Mountain and hurried us into the van. Naively, we took his word and figured how bad could it be. Even if Rainbow Mountain wasn’t shining bright colors, we wanted to check it out and figured it would make for a more challenging hike.
Ultimately we found the short 15-km Rainbow Mountain hike itself to only be moderately challenging, even in the rain. But it was the conditions that made this trip risky to pursue.
Lack of Preparation Leads To Injury
Being wet from the rain, hypothermia becomes a possibility here in the temperatures that hover around freezing. Many day-trippers were only prepared with a thin poncho and a long sleeve shirt. That is simply not going to cut it during a rainy Rainbow Mountain trek.
We witnessed so many people on this Rainbow Mountain tour that were absolutely drenched and completely freezing due to not having the appropriate rainwear and cold-weather gear. To be soaking wet in sub-zero temperatures is not just miserable, it’s dangerous! Not to mention the risk of injury when inevitably falling down the steep mud slicks that are ever-present throughout the trek.
In fairness, many of the tour agency representatives do indeed provide ample warning to Rainbow Mountain tour passengers on dressing warmly and bringing proper rain gear. Yet such warnings did not seem to be heeded by some.
The Rainbow Mountain Trail Badly Needs Repair
During our Rainbow Mountain trek, the trail was a complete mess. When hundreds of hikers scramble up this terrain each day, combined with the natural elements, it’s bound to be destroyed. And conditions only seem to be getting worse every day.
The pristine alpine environment leading up to the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint is getting demolished. It’s sad.
Parts of the “trail” have been eroded to more than twenty meters wide during many stretches. During or after rain, it’s difficult to walk in the wide trail area since it is either a “river” or slippery mud.
So hikers must choose to either get injured in the slippery mud or trample the safer tundra on the outskirts of what’s left of the trail. Doing the latter destroys the fragile tundra and makes the trail an even wider muddy mess. Yet trekkers are all but forced to trample on this tundra in an effort to more safely get down the mountain.
If this eroding trail issue is not remedied, we can easily foresee the side of Rainbow Mountain becoming one big mud slick within a few years.
During the month of February, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is closed every year for repairs from eleven months worth of ware it receives as people hike to Machu Picchu each year. Why hasn’t anyone thought to do this with the Rainbow Mountain? It seems necessary in order to preserve the mountains.
There is a separate 10 sole (~$3) entrance fee that visitors are required to pay to access Rainbow Mountain, so that adds up to thousands of dollars each day. That money should be spent on trail repairs or else there may no longer be a way to reach Rainbow Mountain a few years from now.
Don’t Underestimate The Altitude of Rainbow Mountain
Hiking up Rainbow Mountain brings visitors to an elevation of 5,200 meters! (That’s 3.2 miles high in altitude.)
For perspective, this is higher than any mountain in the Continental US (Mount Whitney is 4,421 meters). Rainbow Mountain is higher than any mountain in the Alps (the highest being Mount Blanc, 4,810 meters), and is nearly as high as Everest Base Camp (5,389 meters).
Table: Rainbow Mountain Altitude Comparison for Perspective
A trek at 5,200 meters is no joke. People begin to feel symptoms of altitude sickness at about 2,400 meters. Rainbow Mountain is more than double that! Severe altitude sickness can become a likely reality here. Bad headaches and nausea are both possibilities. Some passengers began vomiting just on the drive up to the trailhead before the hike to Rainbow Mountain even began.
At the very least, breathing and walking will be more difficult as the air is thin at this elevation. It’s very important to go at a pace you’re comfortable with. So this makes for a fun time when the guides try and rush everyone in an effort to speed up the whole ordeal. Yes, they do that.
The Rainbow Mountain Tour Guides
All guides to Rainbow Mountain are different and I’m sure there are some great guides out there. But our guide to Rainbow Mountain was the worst guide we had in Peru and actually during the entire half year we spent roaming around South America. While that may be a one-off instance, we witnessed most other guides exhibiting the same uncaring behavior and simply not being a guide at all.
Rainbow Mountain trekkers are rushed up the slippery mountainside, which can be difficult on its own during a rainy high altitude trek. The Rainbow Mountain guides all have a long 15 hour+ day, so it’s in his personal interest to get hikers up and down that mountain as quickly as possible. It’s not an easy job.
During these Rainbow Mountain tours from Cusco, hikers are allotted three hours to complete the 15-kilometer round-trip trek. That breaks down to about 2-hours hiking up Rainbow Mountain and 1 hour getting down.
We were proud to have completed the trek up in less time than we were allocated. After about an hour and forty minutes, we had reached the colorful mountaintop ready to take some memorable pictures. Even as the rain transitioned to snow, we were happy to have summited the viewpoint for a chance to have a little rest and gaze upon the natural splendor of the dulled rainbow mountains.
But our guide chastised us and said we were “too slow.” He barked at us to turn back immediately after snapping a quick picture of us grouped together with some random strangers. Then he demanded we go down right away.
We saw other guides giving similar messages to their groups. The guides are cold and wet up at the top of the rainbow mountain viewpoint. They don’t want to be up on this high altitude mountain peak in the snow and rain. Can you blame them? So they try to rush their tour groups back down the mountain instead of giving them time to enjoy the view.
And they don’t really “guide” at all. Tour groups are let loose to hike the trail on their own, which could be fine. It’s not a difficult trail to find the way. Just follow the giant mud slick!
But under bad weather conditions where people are being injured, a proper guide may be nice to have nearby. As the main trail becomes a muddy river, several false trails are formed. Some of these side trails eventually lead off in other directions, which is the wrong way.
As visibility turned poor, we saw some trekkers who incorrectly followed a horse trail up an adjacent hill. It had looked as though it could be a short cut. It was not.
Once they had realized their mistake and not wanting to backtrack through the bad weather, they attempted to make their way down the steep terrain back to the correct trail. Instead, they were sent on a scary trajectory tumbling down the slippery mountainside. Sure, perhaps it was a careless move on their part. But a guide may have been nice to prevent what turned into a serious injury and a trip to the hospital.
The Long & Treacherous Road to Rainbow Mountain
When attempting a harrowing trek, it’s nice to be well rested.
But for Rainbow Mountain, day trippers must awake around 2:30 in the morning for the 3:00 am departure. Then they get to have the pleasure of sitting in a van for the next 3+ hours. The mountain roads eventually become twisty and bumpy, making any sleeping while in transit even more difficult to accomplish than the trek itself.
There are a few tour groups that depart Cusco closer to 5:00 am, but those later tours tend to rush travelers through the experience at an even more accelerated pace.
During the drive to the Rainbow Mountain trailhead, as daylight begins to peek, the awful road conditions are revealed. After enough rain, the rough dirt road on the side of a cliff is bound to give way one day sending a tourist van flying down. This is a serious safety concern.
But get comfy, because Rainbow Mountain day-trippers from Cusco spend a total of about 7 hours sitting that van. It takes about 3.5 hours, each way, to get from Cusco to the Rainbow Mountain trailhead. So 7 hours is spent sitting in the van for what ultimately amounts to only 3 hours of actual hiking, and perhaps as little as 5 minutes or less at Rainbow Mountain. Also, know that most of those vans are not heated, so dress warmly.
What To Expect Beginning the Rainbow Mountain Trek
Before the Rainbow Mountain hike begins, tour groups are treated to a breakfast to fuel themselves for the challenge ahead. This power breakfast consists of as many hard and stale bread rolls as you’re able to stomach. You’re also allotted a single pancake. The pancake is actually delicious, but the small size only acts as a big tease to your appetite.
Then you finally arrive at the Rainbow Mountain trailhead. That’s where you reach a parking lot filled with tour vans and potentially over a thousand sleepy-yet-eager tourists gearing up to go out and get their Instagram shot. Dozens of entrepreneurial vendors wisely set-up stands all around that lot to hawk last-minute purchases. This beautiful spot in the high Andes has now become a flattened parking lot to accommodate the influx of vehicles and the outdoor gift shop that has quickly sprouted up.
Gloves and ponchos are snapped up at inflated prices by hikers who arrive unprepared. Only after making it through that gauntlet of soft-spoken sales pitches and heartfelt pleas, do you begin the hike to Rainbow Mountain among the multitudes of others that will join you for the trek up the quickly eroding trail.
Anticipate Hordes of People on Rainbow Mountain Peru
As recently as a few years ago, Rainbow Mountain was a little-known-about trek to a magical place in the Andes. There are tales of a serene hike on a lightly-trodden path where you’d see more alpacas than you would people. Unfortunately, things have changed. The secret’s out.
Tackling Rainbow Mountain has become a cluster. This tourist attraction has shot to popularity very quickly and now hordes of people flock from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain in the many tourist vans that arrive at Vinicunca Mountain each and every morning. Even under the poor weather conditions we experienced, there were still several hundred people attempting the hike. And as social media continues to spread beautiful photoshopped images of Rainbow Mountain, this rugged touristic site only continues to increase in popularity.
On a nice day, it’s possible to find thousands of people attempting the Rainbow Mountain hike. There seems to be no shortage of tours heading to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco. And to our knowledge, there are no limits imposed on the number of people hiking up Rainbow Mountain each day. It’s clear to us that Rainbow Mountain’s social media success is now threatening its demise due to overtourism.
Good luck getting that awesome shot at the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint. You may find hundreds of people in the background trying to do the same thing. Don’t be surprised to ultimately end up with a rainbow of people in colorful jackets in your shot, rather than a rainbow mountain.
Can You Go To Rainbow Mountain On Your Own From Cusco?
If you want to try to go to Rainbow Mountain on your own in a grand attempt to avoid the tourist crowds, it is likely not worth the effort. We often prefer independent travel to have more freedom, connect with locals, cut costs, and not be forced into a crowded environment.
Yet once examining the logistics of attempting Rainbow Mountain on your own, we soon realized that the extra efforts would not pay off. Access the drop-down below if you’re curious about the logistics involved:
The problem with attempting a trip to Rainbow Mountain on your own isn’t just the logistics involved with the three transfers. It’s the fact that even if you take the earliest bus from Cusco, you’ll still arrive to Rainbow Mountain at the same time (or later) as all of the direct day tours from Cusco. So you’ll have done all that extra work and still be right in the midst of the crowds and will have paid even more than a tour.
Using public transport to get from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain may give ardent backpackers something to boast about over a beer back at their hostel. But ultimately a DIY trip to Rainbow Mountain will end up costing more using public transportation + taxi than a Rainbow Mountain day tour from Cusco. When comparing an independent effort to the prices of joining a day tour, it’s one of those rare instances in which a tour actually costs less once factoring in all transportation, fees, and meals.
Considering that it’s (1) quicker, (2) way more efficient, and (3) even cheaper to take a Rainbow Mountain tour from Cusco; it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion of joining a Rainbow Mountain tour instead of attempting to reach Rainbow Mountain independently using public transport. There will be crowds either way.
Know the Price of a Rainbow Mountain Tour
If you Google “Rainbow Mountain Tour,” you’ll come across companies offering the 1-day Rainbow Mountain tour for $200 and up. In Cusco, just about every agency currently sells that same 1-day tour for 70 soles (~$21.50 USD) plus the 10 sole (~$3) entrance fee.
The ~$25 price point is actually a fantastic value for the money, if for nothing else, the lengthy journey it takes to get to Rainbow Mountain and back.
Yet we spoke to many people on our exact same tour who paid upwards of $100 per person for this miserable experience. So know the real price. Don’t pay the inflated prices that online agencies offer.
The Poor Horses on Rainbow Mountain
There are many locals at the trailhead offering a horse to help people ride up the mountain instead of trekking. Many inexperienced hikers and those suffering from altitude sickness use the horses so they can get their Instagram pic of the colorful hills. But you may want to think twice about doing that.
We were pleased to see that many horses did look fairly healthy. But others didn’t appear to be in the best condition. Each horse’s care is dependent on their handler and caretaker. If the horse does not appear healthy, we suggest not contributing to their demise.
To ride a horse up to the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint, it costs an additional 80 soles (~$25). That can be as much as the cost of the entire Rainbow Mountain tour itself.
Many people paid the hefty charge in an effort to avoid the mud, and make the horse do the hard work up Rainbow Mountain instead. But the horses’ handlers have the passengers dismount the horse to walk up the steepest and muddiest parts of the trail. While this is great for the horse’s wellbeing, those who paid their 80 soles may have been irritated by the fact that they ended up falling in mud anyways, even though they paid a hefty sum to take a horse.
Bottom Line: Should You Go To Rainbow Mountain Peru?
Travelers planning a trip to Peru often ask “Is Rainbow Mountain worth it?” After reading this Rainbow Mountain review, you may assume that our answer would be a hard “no.” Yet, here’s a more balanced look to help answer that question.
While we had a bad experience on Rainbow Mountain in the rain, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. Under good weather conditions, Rainbow Mountain can be a nice yet challenging trek to see those pastel colors in the high Andes. If you’re acclimated to the altitude, well-prepared, and are okay with waking up early to spend 6-7 hours in a van to see Rainbow Mountain, we say go for it. We know many people who have completed the Rainbow Mountain trek under better weather conditions, had a great experience and highly recommend it. We simply cannot disagree with that.
You can find tons of articles, social media posts, and personal recommendations raving about how amazing Rainbow Mountain is. It is possible to have a good experience. Again, we don’t argue with that. We simply want this article to serve as an alternative look at this tourist attraction that’s suddenly been thrust into popularity.
We absolutely do NOT recommend pursuing Rainbow Mountain if it is raining, or even if it has been raining during the past few days. You almost certainly will not have an enjoyable experience on the muddy terrain and will further erode the mountain. Additionally, during rainy conditions, you will likely not get the colorful payoff you may be expecting and embarking on the Rainbow Mountain trek in the rain could even prove to be an unsafe proposition. A rainy Rainbow Mountain hike simply isn’t worth it and we strongly disagree with any tour operator (or anyone) who claims otherwise.
But if the weather is decent, you’re acclimatized, in good physical condition, and prepared for the elements, then go ahead and consider the Rainbow Mountain trek. If you have realistic expectations about how colorful the mountain actually is, perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you arrive to the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint.
So don’t necessarily let our dismal tale completely dissuade you from pursuing this hike under good weather conditions. After all, you may not have a chance to see Rainbow Mountain in the future if the trail leading there continues to undergo the damage we witnessed.
So if you do decide to trek Rainbow Mountain in good weather conditions, just be prepared and try to be a responsible hiker. The following Rainbow Mountain tips are to help make the best of a day trip to see Peru’s colorful mountains.
Tips If You Do Go To Rainbow Mountain Peru
🌧️ Do not go in the rain.
🌧️ Do not go in the rain.
🌧️ Seriously, don’t go in the rain! (We can’t overstate that enough.)
📅 When To Go to Rainbow Mountain: The wet season in the Peruvian Andes around Cusco is roughly November through March. Treks to Rainbow Mountain should be generally avoided during this time. But do know that rain can and does happen outside these months too. Meanwhile, it may be possible to have a nice sunny stretch even during the rainy season, when you could encounter favorable conditions to trek Rainbow Mountain.
🌤️ Check Rainbow Mountain Weather: There aren’t any weather forecasts specifically for Vinicunca Mountain, but the nearest town to Rainbow Mountain you can check is: Pitumarca, Peru. Check the 10-day forecast for Pitumarca on weather.com here. But only use that forecast to give you some rough idea of what conditions may be like. Weather forecasts in the high Andes are notoriously unreliable. Additionally, Pitumarca is 16 kilometers away and 1,600 meters lower in elevation than Rainbow Mountain. So temperatures will certainly be colder up in those mountains compared to what is forecasted for Pitumarca. More importantly than temps, use that Pitumarca forecast to look at the PRECIP % to gain some idea of the chance of rain or snow.
🤳 Ask Around Cusco About Current Conditions: There are many people who embark on the Rainbow Mountain tour in Cusco every day, so be sure to ask around to find someone who has been in the last day or two. Check around your hostel, hotel, or even the pub. Ask them about current trail conditions they experienced. Ask to see some of the pics they’ve inevitably snapped on their phone. This will give you a realistic idea of the current conditions of Rainbow Mountain so you can know what to expect. Pictures of Rainbow Mountain you find here, on Instagram, Tripadvisor or anywhere else may be outdated and not reflective of current conditions. It’s best to ask fellow travelers on the ground in Cusco to better understand what Rainbow Mountain conditions are like right now.
🎒 Pack Plenty of Snacks: The breakfast doesn’t consist of much. Meanwhile, lunch doesn’t occur until way later in the afternoon, after the Rainbow Mountain trek. (It’s not a very good lunch either.) So bring some high-energy snacks to help fuel you up Rainbow Mountain. There are plenty of convenience stores around Cusco to stock up the night before your hike.
⛰️ Acclimatize First: It’s a very wise idea to have been in Cusco (or other high altitude locations) for at least a few days before you attempt the Rainbow Mountain hike. You’ve likely come to Cusco primarily to go to Machu Picchu. So we strongly suggest pursuing Rainbow Mountain after your trip to Machu Picchu, not before. This will give your body a chance to adjust to the altitude better. You may also want to consider bringing this natural altitude medication that seems to be well worth it from all the great reviews.
💦 Keep hydrated: Bring a minimum of a 1.5-liter bottle of water, if not more. Extra hydration will not only be good for the hike itself, but it also can help with the altitude on Rainbow Mountain.
🚽 Where to go?: After drinking all that water, you’ll need to relieve yourself. There are actually a few outhouses along the Rainbow Mountain trail route. Ladies, bring your own toilet paper.
🍃 Know the Coca Is Your Friend: Another way to help with altitude is the tried-and-true Inca remedy of coca leaves. In Cusco, they sell coca candies and coca cookies in most stores. Stock up. We found it really does help with the altitude and gives a little energy kick too. If you didn’t prepare in advance, there’s often a guy atop Rainbow Mountain selling warm coca tea.
🚶 Try Not To Damage The Trail: If you go to Rainbow Mountain during good weather conditions, be sure to try to use the trail as much as you safely can, in an effort to further prevent damage to the fragile alpine environment.
🧥 Dress for the Weather: Layering is important on any high mountain trek. Be sure to dress for cold weather with the ability to shed layers if working up a sweat. It’s normal to experience below freezing temperatures on Rainbow Mountain, so warm trekking gear is essential. We’d also suggest proper rain gear (rain pants, rain jacket), but it would ultimately be wiser to postpone a Rainbow Mountain trek altogether if rain is expected.
👟 Wear Hiking Boots or Trail Running Shoes: It is best to tackle Rainbow Mountain in proper hiking boots that have full ankle support. You may be able to get away with wearing trail running shoes that have great traction in good weather conditions. Don’t even consider a Rainbow Mountain trek using shoes without good traction.
😎 Have Sun Protection: The sun can be super intense at this altitude, even if it’s cloudy. Protect your skin and don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and lip balm either. Sunscreen in Cusco is actually really expensive. So stock up before you go to Peru and remember to pack this liquid in your checked luggage. Amazon has great prices on Banana Boat sunscreen.
⚠️ Be Sure To Have Travel Insurance: Don’t consider this trek without having travel insurance. We use World Nomads as we find it to have the best coverage and price combination. Let them cover your Peruvian hospital bill if anything bad happens. More importantly, their coverage includes emergency evac, should something really awful happen. But another reason why we like World Nomads is, unlike most other travel insurances, you can actually start a policy if you’re in the middle of your trip. So even if you’re reading this from Peru, get a quick quote here (takes 1 minute), and you can have a policy starting tomorrow. Get covered before you embark on the Rainbow Mountain trek.
Where To Stay in Cusco
Cusco is where to base yourself for a Rainbow Mountain day tour. Here are some suggestions for where to stay while you’re in town.
Where To Next?
We want to leave you on a more positive note. There are plenty of adventures throughout Peru and the surrounding area that we absolutely loved. So let’s close this Rainbow Mountain blog post with a more optimistic tone. Check out these awesome experiences, in the places you may be roaming around on your way to or from Cusco:
🌎 Making the Trek to Machu Picchu? We absolutely loved the Inca Jungle Trek and found it not only be the most adventure-packed way to reach Machu Picchu, but the best value too!
🌎 Heading to Lima? Check out where you can go Swimming with Wild Sea Lions! So much fun!
🌎 Going to Lake Titicaca? Our highlight of the famed lake was chilling out on an overnight trip to Isla del Sol.
🌎 Want to Know How to Actually Afford a Galapagos Trip? We spill all in: Galapagos on a Budget
Buen viaje amigos! 🙂