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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hiking to the Rainbow Mountain of Peru - Things you should know

Rainbow Mountain Peru- One of the best kept secrets in the world is now *easily* reached in a day trip from Cusco. I use asterisks because this is what many people think when they hear it only takes a few hours by van to get to the trail head and only a few more hours for the hike. 

The trek to Rainbow mountain is not something to take lightly, and because of the many discount operators that now offering this trek, people are becoming injured, overwhelmed and stranded on the mountains because of these operators negligence. Thinking of hiking to Rainbow mountain? You must read this post before booking a tour!

    1. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: Remember the old saying? Well this is 100% true when it comes to the Rainbow mountain trek. Operators in Cusco are charging less than $50 to bring unsuspecting and unprepared guests to the Rainbow mountain, shoving them off the van and pointing in the direction they are supposed to trek- guideless. This is utterly unsafe as the elevation of the trail starts above 14,500 feet. When people are exposed to this high of elevation, a multitude of things could go wrong, and without the proper gear and an experienced guide you could be left in an extremely dangerous situation. This brings me to my next point..

      2. ALTITUDE SICKNESS IS REAL: Don’t under estimate the effects altitude can have on you, even those who are in the best shape and are very athletic. This trek requires you to spend at least 2 days acclimating in Cusco to allow your body to prepare for the elements. Choose an operator that takes only small groups so the guides can make sure you are safe and well taken care of. Also ensure this operator has all the proper safety equipment necessary for a hike like this. Oxygen is extremely important and you may find yourself needing this. Unfortunately many of the operators say they carry oxygen but they do not.. going back to #1- Choose a reputable tour operator!

      3. WHAT TO PACK: I get asked this question a lot from fellow adventure seekers. My advise is pack only what you need, but be prepared for all types of weather and be smart. Mother nature can be very fickle in the mountains and you may experience all 4 seasons of weather in just one day. Here is my suggested packing list:
        • Day Pack with Rain Cover
        • Trekking shoes
        • WARM CLOTHES: Thermal base layer, Fleece, Down jacket, Stocking hat, gloves, scarf, Buff
        • Rain gear
        • Sun protection- Hat, sun glasses and sun cream
        • Lip Balm
        • Snacks- although your operator should be providing snacks if they are a good company..
        • Altitude medication such as Diamox 
        • Motion sickness tablets (for van ride)
        • Toilet paper
        • Camera 
        • Dry change of clothes, shoes and plastic bag to store wet items
        • Pillow and blanket for the van ride
      4. WEATHER: I’ve already touched on this a bit, however weather in the Andes can be crazy and unpredictable. Don’t get caught up on trying to choose the “best weather day” because that is simply impossible to do. Choose a day that works the best for your schedule and hope for the best. You will never outsmart the weather and you’ll stress yourself out worrying! The hike itself is spectacular to the Rainbow mountain, and if you book with a reputable operator they will let you wait out the rain, fog, or snow that may have moved in. They will not rush you once you reach the top and will allow you soak in the vistas and stay as long as you wish. Many budget operators will give you a time limit for the entire trek and some people don't even make it to the top because they run out of time. (Again, you really get what you pay for..) Weather varies from around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (when you arrive very early at the trailhead) to above 40 degrees in the heat of the day. The energy you will use while trekking will make it feel even warmer so it's great to have layers!

      • TEMPERATURE: 20 degrees F (morning) - 40 degrees F (afternoon)

      5. ELEVATION: 
      • Start: 14,600 feet (4450 meters)
      • Top of Rainbow Mountain: 16,520 feet (5035 meters) 
      • Total elevation gain: 2250 feet (685 meters)
      This hike is most certainly a challenging day of hiking. I highly recommend travelers are fit and up for an adventure. Remember it is important to spend at least 2-3 days in Cusco (located at 11,000 feet) to allow your body to properly acclimate. If you can save this trek towards the middle of your trip that would be best. The main reason this trek is hard is because of the elevation. The terrain itself is a gradual climb and you will find yourself walking in a beautiful valley for the majority of the trek. 

      Rainbow Mountain hiking Map (Photo provided by FlashpackerConnect

      6. SAFETY: 
      Safety should be your #1 priority when thinking about taking this trek. The 
      elevation itself can make travelers weak and weary, and while I don’t want to scare you- refer to #2- Altitude sickness is REAL. This is not a tour to save money on and book the cheapest option. A reputable company will create a save trek, while optimizing your experience on the trail. Some companies even specialize in getting you to the top of the mountain first. Don’t you want to get your photos with JUST the mountain in the background and not 198934203 other tourists? I know I would!
        7. CONSIDER A MULTI-DAY TREK: If you have a few extra days in the Cusco region, I highly recommend choosing a multi day trek to Rainbow mountain (which links the Ausangate trek) over the day trek. The experience of sleeping under the stars, getting away from all the tourists, and hiking in the backcountry of the Andes is something that can only be understood once you actually do it. It’s okay if you’ve never been camping before- that’s why you book a tour with a company that knows what they are doing and specializes in high quality experiences. Imagine yourself trekking amidst towering peaks, deep blue lagoons, and only the wildlife to keep you company. On a multi day trek you will experience the beauty of the Andes, while challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone. You may never be back to Peru- go ahead, take a chance and do something you’ve never done before.. I guarantee you won’t regret it! 

        Let the pictures do the talking.....

        8. HORSES: Horses are available to hire at the trail head for around $25 per horse. They are able to be ridden about 70% of the time and a horseman will be leading you the whole time. This will allow you to jump on and off the horse at your leisure and enjoy the trek at your own pace. There are a few sections of the trail that the horseman will ask you to walk to give the horses a break. The most notable section is at the end where you must hike the final stretch to the vantage point of the Rainbow mountain. This section is just over 1/4 miles in length and takes about 25 minutes. It is steep but definitely worth it! Take your time and you will feel very accomplished at the end! The horseman have a 90kg weigh limit for horses.

        9. BOOKING ONLINE VS IN PERSON: Booking prior to when you arrive in Cusco guarantees you will be able to book with the operator of your choice. The quality of the tours sold on the streets in Cusco are not at the level of my recommended minimum requirements (general quality, proper payment of staff, sudden extra costs, unwanted surprises, safety on the trail...). In order to guarantee availability with a reputable company and get one of the best guides it is necessary to book well in advance. Needless to say that left-over guides, cooks, and drivers… are not usually the best. 

        10. LARGE GROUP VS SMALL GROUP: Consider your options when booking your tour. What size group appeals to you? Large group where you have little interaction with the guide and you get more independence? Or small group where your guide is with you every step of the way explaining the culture of the Andean people, the flora and fauna of the mountains, and reason the land is sacred. In addition to that, having a guide nearby in case of an unexpected emergency is extremely important. I've said it before, but please don't underestimate the impact elevation can have on your body. 

        11. BEST TIME TO TREK IN PERU: The best time to trek in Peru is between May through October as it is the driest time of the year. That being said March and November can be excellent times to go as well. There are fewer tourists during this time and weather (while a bit more unpredictable than usual) still tends to be nice. 

        12. TREKKING DURING THE RAINY SEASON: December through February is not an optimal time to be trekking in the Andes as it is the wet season. It is impossible predict if there will be rain, wind or snow, and trips do still depart in these types of weather. The great thing is there are still many sunny days during this time. Find a company that leaves as early as possible to avoid afternoon storms. Of course no one can guarantee what the weather will be like and there is always a possibility that your trip would get canceled or that you are trekking in rain, wind or snow. A reputable company will refund any deposits made or change your tour to a different date if they cancel the tour due to weather. If your tour departs and you find yourself hiking in snow or rain, look on the bright side, and face the adventure with a great attitude!

        13. TIPPING: Tipping is common in Peru and is highly recommended if you feel your guide and crew went above and beyond to make your trip special. A generous tip is 10-15% of your total trip cost. Bring small bills (in either US Dollars or Soles) and distribute among the staff how you see best fit. You will most likely have a lead guide, ( + plus an assistant guide if your group size is more than 5) a chef and his assistant and a driver. It is not necessary to tip the horseman as the full amount you pay for the horse goes directly to them. 

        14. FOOD: Going back to quality, food is extremely important while on the trail. This is what fuels you for the hike ahead of you and recharges you at the end of the trek. Finding an operator that prepares fresh, hearty meals can make or break your experience. You will want to be sure they can cater to your dietary needs if you are vegetarian or vegan, or have any special restrictions such as gluten or lactose free. 

        15: HAVE FUN!: This goes without saying, but this is a trek you will remember for the rest of your lift. The landscape is stunning, and the vistas once at the Rainbow mountain are magical. Have an open mind for adventure when you take the trek and don't forget to take photos!  

        Looking for a reputable operator? We booked a tour with FlashpackerConnect and couldn't have been happier. The service is impeccable, the guides are top notch, and they will get you to the top of the Rainbow Mountain first whether you book a 1 day trek or multi day trek. You can expect a group size of less than 8 people with 2 guides to allow the group to split up into faster and leisurely walkers. Don't waste this once in a lifetime experience! 

        All pictures copyright @theendlessadventures