Our trip to the Rainbow Mountains of Peru was one I simultaneous looked forward to excitedly but also dreaded, ever since we booked it.
The excitement part is easy to understand – it’s the Rainbow Mountains and it looked amazing in the photos I’d seen. The dread part was more due to my sometimes unfounded anxiety whenever it came to doing any physical challenges.
It’s not even that I’m scared of the challenge, I think I just get ‘performance anxiety’ and it’s so unfounded because as most people will have you know, things like hiking pretty much just involve putting one foot in front of the other (once you sort out the logistics and your hiking supplies – the part which never has me nervous).
We booked our trip with FlashpackerConnect – they’d been doing this here long before most people and in fact, when we looked to book back in the UK, they’re the only ones we could find. I’m so glad we did though because they were amazing – they took care of everything and even carried extra oxygen with you, just in case the altitude sickness got too much to handle.
Our day started off very early – we got picked up in Cusco from our hotel at 2am. We then drove 3 hours to get to the base of the trek (we were asleep for pretty much all of this), arriving at the entry to the mountains long before the sun started to shine.
We popped into one of the farmer’s huts here, where FlashpackerConnect had arranged a hearty (mountain-climbers) breakfast for us – with teas and extra treats we might need on our way over to the mountains.
The extra things we brought with us were:
- The waterproof gear we had for hiking Huayna Picchu (the impressive mountain right next to Machu Picchu)
- Our cameras
- Water (2 litres per person)
- Chocolates (and other snacks)
- Winter gear – hats, fleeces, jumpers, gloves…etc (it’s cold in the morning but warms up considerably come afternoon)
- Sunglasses (I didn’t use these though)
- Sunscreen and lip balms
- Toilet paper and wet wipes
- Any personal medications
- Hiking shoes
That yellow thing, by the way, is the toilet here. That’s what a lot of toilets around here are like – hence why you need to bring your own loo roll and wet wipes.
After breakfast, we hit the tracks starting off with a rocky hilly ascent…
…before flattening out.
The walking here truly takes it out of you. You’re over 4,300 metres above sea level – almost half the height of Mount Everest and the oxygen is very thin in the air.
Even when you’re doing nothing, you’re always struggling to catch your breath here. Now imagine that when you’re actually doing strenuous exercise.
The views around here make it so worth it though – you very quickly get distracted by the stunning mountains and their amazing myriad of colours; a small taster of what lay ahead!
That’s another makeshift toilet stall there.
As we went along, I have to admit, I seriously struggled with the hike. As someone who has sickle trait (which is different from yet related to sickle cell disease) I knew from speaking to my GP that I had to be extra careful.
Sickle cell is pretty much what it sounds like – instead of your red blood cells being round, they’re sickle shaped (kinda like a ‘C’) and as such, can’t carry oxygen or function the way they really should.
Someone with sickle cell trait has sickle cell genes and a low portion of sickle shaped red blood cells but usually no symptoms (except perhaps more immunity to malaria – though when they do get malaria, they do get it worse).
The long story short is that at high altitude, with low oxygen in the air, over-exercising can result in sickle cell trait carriers developing sickle cell crisis.
The hike was generally easy if we weren’t at such high altitude but with the lack of oxygen in the air, it was definitely hard for everyone.
About halfway through, I noticed I was struggling to keep up with the rest of the group, I lagged behind and for reasons more than stopping to constantly take photos. Our guide noticed this too and asked if I would like a horse/donkey to help me along the way.
Turns out the locals here hire out their donkeys for people struggling with the hike, to carry you or your stuff, and hence help you get to the rainbow mountains. Needless to say, with my doctor’s warning still very fresh in my mind, he didn’t have to ask me twice! ?
*Heads up though – there are still bits that you have to hike and to make sure I didn’t miss out on the experience, I got off the donkey where possible, to complete certain sections on foot.
Lloyd, Georgia and Chris (and two other tourists – a couple from Italy and Australia) along with our two FlashpackerConnect guides – finished it all on foot with no help from the donkey (which I think was more of a Honkey – a horse cross-bred with a donkey).
Right – back to the actual hike!
For the first stretch, you tend to walk on a fairly flat surface, gradually rising as you approached the Ausangate Mountain range and glacier – a spectacular sight in and of itself!
There are several more toilet stops and even drink stops and for the entire hike, we saw no one else but the locals. There were no other tourists anywhere around and it was just our group and the mountain range.
Every so often, you’d bump into a herd of free range Llamas and Alpaca, mostly minding their business but curiously checking you out once you got closer.
Like I said before, my Honkey could only go so at the final stretch, I had to finish it all on foot. I also had ‘generously’ offered to take everyone else’s bags with me which kinda bit me in the bum as I arrived there a little while ahead of them and so had to haul all their stuff (yes, along with their heavy water bottles) all the way to the top.
Once I saw the mountains at the top though – all thoughts of tiredness disappeared! We were finally here and it was every bit as glorious as I’d been led to believe!
This is one of the hardest things we’d all done in Peru (even with the help of my Honkey) and understandably we all went pretty crazy with the photos and videos!
Those are our guides! (No idea whose phone that is on the floor though! ?)
About an hour after we arrived, more people started to arrive – a total surprise as we hadn’t seen anyone else on our way here. Turns out, the hike was definitely getting more and more popular (good news for Peru – obviously as long as it’s all well managed) and we met even more people on our way back down.
The funny thing is that on our way back down, the scenery looked like it had changed again. Under the clouds of early morning, it looks so different to the deep orange and red hues it exuded in the sunshine.
It also got a lot hotter and layers of clothing had to be shed! (The rainbow mountains had been smack in the middle of the clouds so it was a lot chillier up there).
The walk back took understandably a lot less time. In total, the hike too us 7 hours (back and forth) and so you can pretty much imagine how hungry we were once we got back to the farmer’s hut!
We wolfed through lunch at almost record speed and after relaxing with a few coca teas and taking in the sunshine, we hopped back on our bus for the 3-hour journey back to Cusco.
Oh, one thing I will say though – I am so glad I didn’t see the road when we were driving here in the morning – those roads are high up in the mountain and if you’re not comfortable with heights, you might wanna look away from the windows. ?
I couldn’t get my camera out when we were going through them but once we started to descend a bit more, I got it out as the landscapes we were going through were actually quite beautiful (I kinda wish I’d gotten my camera out earlier to show you what the roads were like though).
Once we hit the main roads, I promptly fell asleep right until we arrived back in Cusco!
Huge HUGE thanks to FlashpackerConnect for showing us such an amazing part of Peru! I definitely would never recommend doing it without a guide (it’s actually dangerous and one of the main reasons people get into trouble here) and, especially after hearing and reading about other people’s experiences, They are definitely one of the best if not THE best out there. Seriously can’t recommend them enough and hugely grateful to them for our amazing experience of getting to see the amazing Rainbow Mountains of Peru.