Take a good look at that picture (above). Pretty, isn’t it? And if it wasn’t no one would do the gruelling three-hour hike to reach it.
Only 14 km there and back, but starting at an altitude of 4,400 metres above sea level, the trek to Rainbow Mountain three hours outside of Cuzco was the hardest I have done so far.
To walk to the mountain you pass through a beautiful valley, passing clusters of little communities of 15 or so families who farm llamas. Although the mountain, which is usually visited as part of the longer five day Ausangate trek, has only started gaining popularity as a day trek when we visited there were still lots of tourists on the trail.
I started off enthusiastically enough. However, slowly the lack of oxygen in the air due to altitude zapped away my energy step after uphill step until I no longer cared for the llamas and beautiful mountains around me but wondered how the hell I was going to make it up this bloody mountain.
After about two hours I could see the end – a mere ten minutes’ walk uphill that I would usually do with little trouble at normal altitude. It took me forty minutes to get up there!
When I reached the top I collapsed in a feeble pile of weak body mass as my husband pointed out all the lovely colours and the guide tried to enthusiastically take our picture. Yeah colours, I thought, I’m dying here!
After a little rest I was able to appreciate the natural beauty of Rainbow Mountain. It shines colours of turquoise, red and blues and other colourful hues for miles all created from natural minerals such as iron and magnesium. A little walk further showed even more hues of red, green and blue. It really is a beautiful place unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The walk back should be easy enough, I thought, it’s all downhill after all.
It went on forever. Another two hours at least. Even my husband found it weary. I was just generally feeling shitty; weak and heady from the sun. UV rays are particularly strong that high up. I think the whole group were all feeling a bit shitty at this point.
I eyed the wise people who opted to go to the mountain via horseback, glaring at them with genuine envy and resentment (you can get a horse to take you up and down to the mountain for S70, £14, which I wish I had done on reflection).
Finally, I saw the van that would take us to lunch and then back to Cuzco. To reach it I had to walk 65 steps uphill (I counted) as everyone watched me from the comfort of the vehicle. They were the hardest 65 steps of my life.
‘You look destroyed’ my husband said as I stumbled to the van door. Yeah, thanks.
At lunch I could barely eat and neither could some of the other girls. Then in the car journey back to Cuzco, which takes three hours, a girl was sick all over herself.
I think for me the Rainbow Mountain trek came at the end of a very long week. Two days before we had done the Salkantay Trek – five days of consecutive trekking – and the day before stayed out dancing until 3am.
Although I had a day to rest we were picked up at 3am for the trip which meant I had hardly any sleep so, after all that, I was probably not at my best. But I am very glad I did it as the view was stunning and completely worth the effort. Though next time I’d definitely get a horse.
Tips for fellow travellers: There are other ‘rainbow mountains’ that can be climbed in Argentina and China. For this trip we paid S180 each (£36) but other places such as Alpaca Expeditions, who are very good (we did Salkantay with them) do it for $250. Our guide was very informative and helpful but he didn’t speak English. The food was fine. My biggest complaint is that you had to decide if you wanted a horse before setting off. I think it would be better to be able to decide a bit later on in the trek to see how you cope. You also have to pay a few ‘fees’ here and there amounting to about S15 each. Basically, I think you get what you pay for.
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