Part 3 of Peru Travel Blog Series: Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley Hike in Peru. Everything you need to know, to plan a hiking trip of a lifetime.
In the recent times, you would have seen about a zillion photos of this bright colourful mountain in Peru, all over social media. Famously known as the Rainbow mountain, this place has becomes extremely popular and touristy in the past few years. And why not, the place is stunning and one of the most unique landscape we have ever seen! Especially, if you are lucky with the weather conditions you will be able to witness those incredible rainbow colours making for a super stunning view. To make our trek worthwhile, we decided not to stop just at the rainbow mountain but also explore the nearby super stunning Red Valley as well. Our guide on Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley hike in Peru, will help you plan this memorable hiking trip.
About Rainbow Mountain & Best Time to Visit
Known as Vinicunca in the local language, the Rainbow mountain with its vibrant colours is located in the Peruvian high Andes. The colours are attributed to the mineralogy and may or may not look as striking, depending on the weather. It was discovered in 2015 by two hikers, when the snow covering the mountain melted, revealing the gorgeous colours underneath.
The colours of the mountain might look quite dull, depending on the weather. Truth be told, all the photos you see on the internet are heavily photoshopped to bring out the colours on the mountain. While the tourist season is from May to September, the best time to visit is during the winter months i.e. the dry season, from June to August.
Ideal condition to enjoy stunning colours would be a lite shower the night before and bright shinning sun on the day of your hike. We got really lucky during our hike, as we could see so many vivid colours on the Rainbow Mountain.
Booking a hiking trip to Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley
Since Rainbow Mountain has become extremely touristy in the past few years, you will find it super easy to book a tour online or through one of the tourist operators in Cusco. Our advise would be to:
- Not everyone has the luxury of renting private transportation to and back from the destination. So, booking a tour with the tour operator is the next best option and really convenient.
- Book a tour directly from a tour operator in Cusco, as it would be much cheaper than the online rates. Shop around a bit, ask a few tour operators and see what they are offering before finalising the tour operator.
- Most of tours will offer breakfast and lunch as a part of the package. This makes the experience much more convenient as you have one less thing to worry about and carry with yourself.
- Not all tour operators provide emergency oxygen supply, so we would suggest keeping that as one of the key consideration points, in case there is an emergency and you feel the need for that extra oxygen during the hike!
- Also we highly recommend looking for an tour operator who offers Red Valley tours along with Rainbow mountain. We will provide more details below, and you can make a decision if this additional hike to Red Valley is for you or now.
- Also it’s a bonus, if you are able to find a tour operator that leaves early (around 2am), as that way you will skip most of the crowd at the Rainbow Mountain.
One last piece of advise which we have mentioned in the itinerary as well is to keep the hike to rainbow mountain as your last destination from Cusco, i.e. first get acclimatised in Cusco for a couple of days, do the Inca Trail / Machu Picchu and finally before leaving Cusco, hike to the Rainbow Mountain. You don’t want to miss out on Machu Picchu by falling sick during this hike.
Starting your Hiking trip to Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley
Once booked, the tour company will pick you up at around 3 or 4 AM from your hotel and make more stops in Cusco to pick up other tourists. You will drive through paved and gravel roads, in your half sleepy state while passing through small villages on the way. After about 2 hours drive, the tour will stop for breakfast. Post a hearty meal you will continue the drive on the gravel road. After about one more hour of drive you will finally reach the trail head.
Your hike starts at the car park at the altitude of 4600m and you will be walking until the view point which is at an altitude of 5100m. While the hike itself is relatively short (3km one way), the altitude and the difficult last ascend to reach the mountain makes it very challenging. The Rainbow Mountain will literally take your breath away! Not for the fainthearted or the novice hiker, enjoying this natural marvel does come with its own difficulties.
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The Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley Hike
The initial part of Rainbow Mountain Hike
For the initial part, the trek is lovely and quite straightforward although you are at an altitude of over 4600m. You will get to see the majestic landscape with huge mountains, the green valley with small glacier lakes, alpacas grazing at a distance and many local people. Try to keep up with the group, but if altitude gets on to you and your pace has reduced, make sure that your guide is tagging along with you and the few others who are walking at your pace. We also suggest getting your guides phone number, just in case of an emergency and you are separated from your group.
You will find well maintained toilets along the trail for a very reasonable cost (1 sole). The locals dressed up in their traditional vibrant clothing, minding their alpacas in the backdrop of a beautiful scenery is definitely a sight for the sore eyes. You will also find the locals selling food (fruits, biscuits and chocolates), water and souvenirs, again at a reasonable price. The people here are quite friendly and not greedy.
The difficult part of Rainbow Mountain Hike
The difficult part of the trek starts when you reach the first ascending slope. After you cross this slope, a second sharply ascending slope would welcome you. This stretch makes it really challenging to trek to the Rainbow Mountain. To do this trek, reasonable fitness is definitely required. You can also hire a horse for 60 Soles from the start of the trek until the end of the first uphill. This would save you some breaths but still you will need to climb the last slope by yourself.
Once you are at the top, due to the popularity of this mountain, you will see tens of people already occupying the space and taking numerous photos and selfies. The guide would allow 30 or 40 minutes on top to take photos and rest. Post that, you will either proceed to Red valley or return to car park, based on your preference. Keep in mind, if you have been walking at a slower pace, you will get less time on the Rainbow Mountain to take photos.
Red Valley Hike
While Rainbow Mountain is extremely popular, it’s nearby Red Valley is not that well known. But, this additional hike completely made our trip. Instead of walking the same path back to the car park, we highly recommend taking this 2.5 hours detour though Red Valley. You will be blown away by the 50 shades of red, stunning landscape and freely running alpacas that your eyes would witness in this hike.
However a word of caution. The hiking trail of Red Valley crosses the highest point in this region. So, you will be hiking at much higher altitude as compared to Rainbow Mountain. Also the trail is not as well maintained and easy to hike, as the Rainbow Mountain. There are so many places were the trail was missing, and we were hiking through loose gravel and difficult landscape. A couple of times the guide had to hold my hand to help me cross a few difficult terrain on the mountain. But with the right gear, and ability to manage a high altitude hike this region was the most memorable part of my hike.
How to Dress for Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley Hike:
Dressing for this trek is quite difficult since the weather constantly changes here. Our recommendation would be to:
- Dress in layers and wear lite garments which you can easily pack in your backpack when it gets warmer.
- Get a lite rain jacket or poncho, in case the weather decides to change and it starts raining.
- A cap that covers your whole head would be very handy.
- Do not forget to carry gloves as it will get very cold on the top (especially due to wind).
- Hiking boots are a must. Please don’t hike the terrain in sneakers or flip-flops as you are at a risk of slipping and falling.
- Carry hiking poles to navigate those steep hills. Usually your tour company should provide you these, but worth being prepared and taking your own poles.
- Sunscreen is also a must, as you are at high risk of getting sun burnt at such high altitude.
Precautions to take during the hike:
Altitude sickness is real so take utmost care to handle it. This typically occurs after 2500m and it can affect anyone, no matter your fitness level, gender or age. Higher altitudes affect different people in a different way. Some show signs of lightheadedness, some with pounding headache, some with difficulty breathing and some feeling nauseated. Ignoring the symptoms and not taking care of them right away can escalate very quickly and become very risky. Getting stuck in this remote part of the mountain with no nearby medical facilities is a nightmare.
The below list will help you with hand this high altitude trek in a more practical and enjoyable way.
- Coca leaves: These leaves are very sacred for the indigenous people and chewing them would help with altitude sickness. You can buy these leaves on the trail as well, in one of the stalls set-up by the locals. However, be prepared and bring a handful of leaves from Cusco.
- Medicine: Carry altitude sickness medicines (by consulting with a pharmacy in Cusco) and paracetamol tablets. Our advise is to take one of the medicines before starting the journey itself. It will relieve a bit of sickness when you reach the destination.
- Food and water: Eat a good breakfast and do not trek empty stomach. You will need good energy to complete this trek so carry some protein bars along with you. Water is extremely important since it helps with keeping you hydrated and also helps in coping with the altitude.
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Oh, also sharing some Alpaca photos we clicked during the hike