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Updated: Apr 23, 2023

An honest account of visiting this incredible wonder and embarking on this hike up to the mountain of seven colours

We awoke in the early hours at our hotel in Cusco to head off to Rainbow Mountain. We booked to visit Rainbow Mountain with Rainbow Mountain Travels who are recommended by Peru Hop and we couldn’t fault them (apart from making us get us in the middle of the night!) Our incredibly helpful hotel staff at Illa’s Inn offered to call our room when our bus arrived so we didn’t have to wait in the cold lobby. This was extremely thoughtful and definitely taking their service that extra mile. The temperature can range from around 25 degrees in the day to -1 degree at night so if you’re out in Cusco for the day you’ll need to have a range of attire in your daypack.

We were collected from our hotel at 3am and drove to a breakfast spot around 1000m above Cusco which sits at 3999m above sea level. Although we didn’t feel like eating much at 4:30am we managed some bread, jam and Coca tea in an attempt to store some energy and counteract any altitude sickness we might experience. We then drove higher into the mountains and arrived between 6am and 6:30am to start our hike.

The hike is not guided and you are free to walk at your own pace. The guide will give you a meeting point and approximate time to be back at the coach before setting off but there is plenty of time to explore.

At risk of sounding arrogant and annoying James and I are pretty fit. We run, hike and exercise regularly so we thought this hike would be a breeze. How wrong we were! We had researched this hike and watched videos of others tackling it but nothing, not even the tour company we went with, prepared us for the real thing. The terrain and the gradient are manageable but the altitude means you can only take shallow breaths and lots of rest stops are needed. Close to the top we could not take 4 steps without stopping for a rest. If you are really struggling you can ride a horse/donkey to the top for

After around 1 hour and 30 minutes we reached the top. The struggle was well worth it. The mountains looked like nothing I had ever seen and it is impossible to take a bad photo. Head to the top viewpoint to snap the best pictures but it is advised not to stay up there too long and return to the lower ledge as many can feel light headed and woozy higher up. At the top we felt great and thought we’d escaped any effects of the altitude so we headed across to the second attraction in the vicinity, the Red Valley. This took around 30 minutes to reach and we were presented with some more amazing views which stretched for miles.

Once we’d soaked up all of the scenery we made our way down to the coach and unfortunately this is when we started to suffer from the altitude. Neither of us had altitude sickness but both had strong headaches. The only way I can describe it is it felt like my brain was too big for my skull. It felt like there was an enormous amount of pressure around my head and it hurt a lot. We jumped on the coach and our guide handed us some paracetamol. Unfortunately they didn’t do a lot but he assured us our headaches would ease as we made our way back down to where we had breakfast for lunch. He was right and after some food and as much water as we had available to drink, we started feeling better. I am blaming the altitude but I’m sure getting up at 2:30am plus hunger and dehydration played a part too.

This was a rather negative account of Rainbow Mountain and I wouldn’t want to put anyone off as it was an incredible experience. However, I thought it would be beneficial to offer an honest account so that people are aware that it isn’t all just instagram-worthy photos, it’s tough.

Top Tips:

- Book the earliest excursion you can to avoid the crowds (3am/4am and 5am are available)

- Get an early night the night before as you'll need to be up at 2:30am

- Don't drink alcohol the night before and drink lots of water to stay hydrated

- Eat at 4am at the breakfast stop although you won't feel like doing so

- Take some protein bars/energy tablets and try to eat little and often

- Take it easy, your guide will give you more than enough time to hike there and back

- Go over to the Red Valley if you feel up to it. It's likely you'll only visit once so don't miss out


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