Every day spent traveling through Peru was magical. However, hiking Ausangate, the Rainbow Mountain was by far my most treasured memory. It was a challenging hike, and I genuinely feared for my life at times when I saw lightening crash right above my head and rain soaked me to the bone before turning to snow, but this was the most rewarding vista worth all the effort. Interested? Tour companies leave from Cusco, it’s a long day – three hours of driving each way and a 9+ mile hike, but absolutely worth it.
Which tour company
I chose to go with a tour bus because I only had one day slotted for the hike, couldn’t make any mistakes. You can definitely find your own transportation for a more affordable price, the hike is easy to follow. You could even book your tour when you get to Peru in town, but I wanted everything squared away as not to waste any time. There are a lot of companies out there, I weighed their prices and reviews and went with Viajes Cusco. Their office is located a block away from Plaza de Armas where you can pick up your voucher. It is $50 per person for the transportation, entrance fee, a sparse breakfast, and a feast of a post-hike lunch.
Bring a rain jacket and as waterproof clothing as you can. Bring WARM clothing, gloves and earmuffs. Wear layers, put on sunscreen and a hat even if its not sunny, sun is stronger at this elevation (16,466 feet). Have enough water and bring some snacks. If you are not a hiker and you still want to experience the mountain, you can rent a horse.
Pick up is from 3-3:30AM, so it was dark and I slept for most of the ride there, but as the sun came up and we drew closer to breakfast I realized we were in a very special place. Our driver was a lunatic, and I mean that in the best way possible. He careened around the precarious narrow mountain roads constantly beeping at children, traditional women, dogs, and corners. No one was getting run over on his watch. We made it to the trailhead and had a safety talk…but my eyes wandered into the lush, dreamy valley,
and over to the cutest mountain pup.
It was a big group, but you’re able to go completely at your own pace. The trail is unmistakable, there are check points and bathrooms along the way. You’ll see llama, alpaca, interesting flora, and locals actually live right along the trail.
Right off the bat the colors are mesmerizing red,
and constantly mixed hues. The hike starts off pretty relaxed, but it’s long (9 ¼ miles) and if you’re not entirely acclimated it’s extra brutal. The elevation gain is over 2,000 feet which is challenging on its own, but at this extremely high elevation is downright devious. You have to stop and catch your breath even if you are in excellent hiking shape. But the views are beautiful. As the hike goes on the elevation picks up speed. Things really start to get whacky looking, and it’s not just the dizzying elevation, I have picture proof. The final push to the summit my head was swimming, but something just pushed my feet and I kept flying up. This is what was waiting for us.
It was the single most rewarding sight I’ve ever witnessed, truly sacred and life changing. But you can see that a nasty storm was rolling in. We didn’t waste much time at the summit, our guide told us to fly back to the bus and we did. The hike took us 3 ½ hours total, but most people do it in 5-6 hours. We had a long time of waiting on the bus. We were thankful to have finished early because the storm did catch up to us. We were completely alone and ahead of the group, the tallest things on the land with no trees as lightening was crashing in front of us. I’ve never seen lightening strike so close, I really was scared for my life – but what a place to go if I had to! The rain, hail, and eventually snow completely soaked us, but we made it back to the warm bus and thawed out. Wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. Once everyone made it back we headed to lunch, the mountains freshly powdered.
Lunch was family style with the most welcomed bowl of hot soup, best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, tons of veggies, rice, and lomo saltado. I went with the vegetarian meal and it was really yummy eggplant.
We hiked, we ate, and we were ready to completely veg out on the ride home. The crazy ride home where once again I was actually terrified because it was raining so hard I thought there was going to be a landslide and we had a plane to catch the next morning. No such catastrophe, and the rain dissipated. We really enjoyed our driver and the group leader a lot, sat with them and chatted the whole ride. The mid-drive bathroom break occurred and they went out to the square to drink Chicha de jora (made of yellow corn). This town was in the middle of nowhere. There was an ancient lady sitting and all of the old men had their mugs of chicha. It felt like a locals only club, so when they invited Jeff and I over I was ecstatic.
The lady fed us all sorts of beans with our glass of chicha, couldn’t understand a word she was saying, but I loved every second of it. After loading back on the bus and driving a bit, I noticed out the window there was an Inca rope bridge!
There are very few of these left and our driver actually stopped for us to take a good look. Can’t believe the world is filled with enchanting places like this…can’t wait to see what other wonders exist if any, that can top the Rainbow Mountain!