Long before I read that the National Geographic ranked this colourful breathtaking place as one of the 100 places to visit before you die, I knew that such a unique mountain was to be part of my lifetime memories of places seen but never forgotten.
The first time I came across a picture of the “Rainbow Mountain” in the Peruvian Andes, also called “Vinicunca Mountain”, “Cerro Colorado” or “7 Color Mountain” I knew I was going to make all sort of sacrifices to reach a mountain so far away from home and yet I could feel it already close to my heart. There and then, a picture of a random stranger already set me up for my next adventure; Peru.
SOME INTERESTING GEOGRAPHICAL FACTS
- Ausangate is a mountain of the Willkanuta mountain range in the Andes of Peru.
- The Ausangante Mountain itself is considered a holy mountain by local Peruvians and is the deity of Cusco. Since pre-Inca times the mountain has been a place of worship and offerings and this tradition still continues today!
- The Ausangate local community is one of the only few shepherding communities left in the world. Amazingly, this agricultural communities still trade with animals and local products. The region is inhabited by llama and alpaca
- Vinicunca is considered one of the most spectacular places in the Cordillera Vilcanota, as it keeps a natural color that is given by the presence of sedimentary rocks that are eroding. The stones have been formed to create a set of 7 colors, also known as “Cerro Colorado”
The best months to visit the Rainbow Mountain are considered between March to November (dry months are between May and September) however is important that you are aware that the weather conditions change constantly even more so combined with the high altitude.
Nowadays we’re just so lucky as up to very recently most trips that allowed to see the Rainbow Mountain required a trek of at least 6 days! Thankfully, these days a new option has open up for many travellers; the chance to trek to the Rainbow Mountain in just one day. Many comments on the Internet consider this one day trek to be too hard to be done in one day. I, however, disagree with this statement if you take a few relevant precautions and steps prior doing the trek that I will explain later on the post so keep reading!
HOW AND WHERE TO BOOK THE TREK
I’m going to start by telling you how NOT to book the trek. Don’t even think to pre-book it online with any local Tour Operators before arriving to Peru, most specifically before you arrive and get settle in Cusco as this is the place where all the treks depart from, given that Cusco is just about 3 hours drive away from the starting points of the trek.
Around the centre of Cusco and most specifically Plaza de Armas, you’ll find in almost every corner Tour Agencies all offering the “One Day Rainbow Mountain Trek” at similar prices, which are 100 soles (£25.00 / $30.00 / €29.00).
This price includes everything; transportation, a guide, breakfast and lunch.
The pick up time from your hostel or hotel is around 3.30am, latest 4am. The transportation is a minivan and the ride takes 3 hours each way to reach the feet of the starting point of the trek.
- The distance hike is 15km
- The starting minimum altitude is 4.326 metres (14.189 ft)
- The maximum altitude reaching the summit is 5.020 metres (17.060 ft)
- The overall trek difficulty is challenging
Unlike the Inca Trail, no permits are needed for the Ausangate Trek as is one of the quietest in the region HOWEVER you will have to pay 10 soles at the entrance of the National Park which is a little ticket house to be found right in the middle of the trek.
Make sure you carry with you some spare soles as I was not advised of this extra charge by the agency in Cusco I booked the trek from. Luckily I was carrying some money with me.
Don’t forget to bring with you the following IMPORTANT items that you’ll be glad to carry in your backpack; water, snacks to re-charge your energy on the way up or when you reach the top, solar cream (!!!), warm polar, warm hat, a windproof jacket, a raincoat and ideally good hiking shoes.
During my trek the weather conditions changed drastically in just a matter of hours; I went from shivering of cold, to sweating profusely burning my face and lips badly, to extreme icy wind on the top of the mountain to snow and heavy rain on the way down. All in all, I suffered all the weather seasons in just a few hours! Absolutely madness hence why you will be glad to have in your backpack everything you need and more.
The altitude is paramount and never to be taken lightly regardless whether you are an experience trekker or not. Consider that Cusco is already on an altitude of 3.399 metres and for that reason; you should consider staying at least two or three days in Cusco prior taking the trek to give time to your body to settle to the altitude. Nevertheless to say, don’t go from sea level to this trek in one day!
In Peru they highly advise you to chew or drink coca leaves to combat the high altitude. You can easily buy candy made of coca or coca leaves in every shop in Cusco and take it with you.
HOW THE TREK LOOKS LIKE
It’s a very early start for everyone as a minivan picks you up from your hostel at approximately 3.30am and also other trekkers on the way out of Cusco. Once the whole group and the guide are in, the drive will take up to 3hrs to reach the community of Hanchipata-Quesuno where the trek starts. The community area is very small and it feels that you are in a different planet due to the vast beauty of the landscape surrounded by majestic mountains. You have not even started your trek and yet the beauty of the mountains and landscape that surrounds this community is unreal. As I was following my group to a little hut where we would have a solid breakfast prepared by locals and our guide, I was looking around and already felt in love with this magnificent place in the world, so peaceful, so hidden…a community of local people that hardly keeps any communication with the exterior world still surviving by trading food and local goods with their closest villages.
During a very hearty and delicious breakfast, we were offered to drink coca leaves to minimize the effects of the high altitude. I can only advice you to drink it without hesitation and to eat everything you are offered at breakfast because you’ll definitely need energy and strength to reach the top.
You trek at your own pace as the guide doesn’t pressure anyone to keep up but overall for a reasonably fit person, it takes up to 3hrs to reach the top and between 2-3hrs to return to the community starting point of the trek.
For those people that feel the trek can be too challenging, there are horses just a few metres away from the community that you can rent to take you for the entire way up for 75 soles. Many horsemen walk the trail along the hikers. If you choose this option, be aware that certain sections of the trail are very steep and you’ll need to get off and walk beside your horse and the last section of the trek where you walk a very steep way to reach the top, regardless of the horse, you must walk it.
Being a trekker and mountain lover I decided to walk back and forth but not having slept even an hour the previous night (my hostel decided to host the mother of all parties in Cusco) I found this trekking challenging as I was physically exhausted. Nevertheless to say, it is not an easy trek and being physically fit is a great point on your side.
The closer you get to the Rainbow Mountain, the most unbelievable the landscape becomes. You really feel you are walking on a rainbow curtain. The expression “taking the breath away” had to be born in here!
The weather changes drastically along the hike specially when reaching the very top, becoming very cold and windy! I recorded a video for my family from the top and I had tears in my eyes…such is the beauty of this place.
A quick note to mention that along the hike you’ll find several small wooden huts that contain squat toilets that come really handy.
The way back is hard as you can already start feeling the tiredness taking over your body and pain in the muscles of your legs due to the efforts of the hike up. Nevertheless, the pain is worth it every minute of it.
Upon arrival to the community, you must return to the same hut assigned to your group for breakfast and wait while your guide and other locals cook you a delicious lunch that, I promise you, it will taste like the best food you’d ever had! Happy trekking.