I received a one-day tour of the Rainbow Mountain with Flashpacker Connect in exchange for a review post of the tour on adventuresoflilnicki.com.
Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect
Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect was originally written in June 2016
A perfect place hid deep in the longest mountain range on Earth, the Andes. It was so beautiful I almost don’t want to share it with people.
Want to visit a magical place that has been more recently discovered by travelers and doesn’t have quite the mass crowds like other famous Peruvian sites?
A little over a week ago Tay and I visited the Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) in Peru on a day trip with Flashpacker Connect. As I am sitting in the airport waiting to catch a flight to Panama I can say that the 1-day trek to Vinicunca was the highlight of my time in Peru. I now wish we had the time to do their 2-day Rainbow Mountain Trek, or better yet: the full Ausengate Trek.
Vinicunca is in the Willkanuta Mountain Range, which is nestled in the greater Andes Mountains. The closest well-known place is Cusco. Little information is out there on the Rainbow Mountains, in fact, prior to the trek I wasn’t entirely sure where they were even located, aside from being three hours from Cuzco.
The trek begins early, or late depending on how you look at it. Abel, our guide, was outside our Cuzco hotel 2:30 am. We hopped in the van and off we went. Originally the tour that day had filled up, but once we got in we were told to spread out and sleep because it would only be the two of us, as the remainder of our group had missed their flight.
Three sleepy, bumpy hours later we arrived at the start of the trek. As soon as we hopped out of the van we saw the massive nearby Ausangate Mountain towering over us as the sun began to peek above the horizon and as we walked towards the local homes we were surrounded by hundreds of llamas and alpacas!
At arrival you will be served a hot breakfast to get your day started. Flashpacker Connect has arranged with the local families in the area to prepare meals to start and end their hiking trips into the Rainbow Mountain (this helps bring some of the tourism money back into the local community). Our breakfast included coffee, tea, bread, peaches, and scrambled eggs. Once everyone is awake and ready the hike begins.
The start of the hike climbs steadily up until reaching a wide-open green valley. Once you reach the valley the hike eases up a bit and is fairly flat for about the next hour of trekking (which I was okay with, seeing I live at sea level).
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What I didn’t know signing up for this trip was that the entire hike is extremely colorful. Oh, and there are llamas all over! Many of the mountains on the way have splashes of bright reds, greens, teals, oranges, and purples. You’ll have plenty of time to stand around enjoying all the colors as the trek starts and ends at very high altitudes, so it’s a lot more difficult than it appears. By the end of the hike you will climb above 16,500 feet! That’s well over 5,000 meters for you metric users.
To make things even more comfortable, along the trail simple outhouses with squat toilets have been set up every so often. I mean, I didn’t do the Inca trail, but I have heard the horror stories.
Pretty soon the hour (give or take) is up and you begin to gain elevation again, this time non-stop until you reach the top. Pretty soon you’ll be able to make out the sides of the rainbow mountain that you’ll recognize from the pictures.
Staying in Cusco? Don’t miss out on the Tambomachay to Cusco walk
You actually climb the adjacent mountain to the rainbow mountain to take in the wonderful 360º panoramic views. But you’ll notice once you get up there that the mountain range continues on with its rainbowy, bright colors.
And if you manage to summit in good time, you will get to continue to trek a little further to some more incredible views of the range.
After the trek back down you will have lunch at one of the local houses before heading back to Cuzco. Our lunch consisted of soup, quinoa, chicken, and vegetables.
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Reasons to book with Flashpacker Connect versus other companies you will see advertised all over Cusco
- They only take small groups up, no more than 6 people per trek.
- You go with well informed and experienced guides. Not only could Abel sprint this whole trek, he also educated us on what gives the mountains their colors, and if your a geology junkie or chemistry nerd you definitely will love this part.
- You leave horribly early, but you wanna know why? This place isn’t exactly a secret anymore, it’s by no means crowded and crazy, but the secret’s out.. You will summit before others get the chance.
- They are eco-conscious. They aren’t going to let you go walk across the mountain that everyone is going to view. Sadly, with some of these bigger groups of people we saw coming up later after us, the people aren’t all staying on the trail and trying to walk up on the mountain… Don’t be like the morons at Yellowstone and ruin it for everyone else.
What to pack
- Layers! Granted it is winter south of the equator right now as I write this…. due to the altitude, this area isn’t known for being very warm. However, you will warm up as you start moving. I went in a t-shirt, long sleeve, hoodie, and an insulated shell jacket. You can strip and add as you need. A rain jacket was recommended in case of rain, however, I did not bring mine as my shell jacket was waterproof.
- Backpack, because duh. Bring a rain cover, just in case.
- They recommend at least 2 liters of water per person. You may need depending on your water consumption.
- Sunscreen. The atmosphere is thin at these elevations.
- Accessories: sunglasses, hat, gloves.
- Camera, and all the gear that comes along with it.
- Hiking shoes or boots.
Need more inspiration? Check out my 13 favorite photos from Rainbow Mountain
- Make sure to give yourself some time to acclimate at high altitude before attempting this trek. I had been in high altitudes for 13 days prior to the hike (we started in the Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia and made way up toward Cuzco) and I still felt the altitude on this hike… slight dizziness towards the top, little appetite, still sucking wind and having to take frequent breaks. Tay lives at around 10,000 feet in Colorado so she was much faster and she only felt a little head pressure. And no, being in great shape doesn’t help you. Just give it time to adjust.
- Try to book in advance, these treks fill quickly especially in the peak season (June-August).
- The current rate for the 1-day Rainbow Mountains trek is $175 USD per person. If you feel you need it, for an additional $75 USD a horse can be provided to carry gear.
- If you’re interested in longer treks, Flashpacker Connect offers the Rainbow Mountains on a two-day camping trip ($375 USD pp), a shortened 3-4 day Ausengate trek ($575 USD pp), as well as the 6-day Ausengate trek including the Rainbow Mountain.