Wanting to be the first atop the astonishing Rainbow Mountain in Peru? It’s not as easy as you’d think, but we tell you about how we managed to do it, and how you can do it too!
They always say there’s a difference between real life and Instagram, and Rainbow Mountain is one of those places that really puts that to the test. Don’t get me wrong.. it’s amazingly beautiful, but the experience can be completely different based on when you actually get there due to the huge amount of people flocking over each day. We wanted the chance to get to see it, but without dealing with the crowds (especially with the drone) and that’s when we discovered how to GET THERE FIRST! We went ahead and booked a 2-Day/1-Night Rainbow Mountain tour with FlashpackerConnect and I am so so glad we did.
Not only were there some breathtaking views you wouldn’t have seen on the day trip to rainbow mountain, but we camped in their campground (the only company that has one), and because of that, we were able to make it FIRST to the mountain that next morning.
We arrived to the summit at about 7:30am and it was empty, except for a local and his adorable dog. We took the next few minutes to enjoy this moment, as we could see down the trail the flocks of people about to make their journey up. By 7:45am, the top of the mountain was full, and only more and more people were coming. At this point, we personally didn’t take any more photos since there were so many people, and decided to head down. If it wasn’t for getting there so early, I honestly don’t think it would have been worth going on the day trip most others sign up for.
I’ve never done an overnight hike before and was a little nervous, but our guides Freddy and Rosbel were absolutely amazing. The day before the trip you have a briefing, where they go through everything from what you should bring and what to expect. But most importantly, get a good night’s sleep because you’ll be waking up pretty early the next few days.
So what was it like exactly?
DAY 1 – Ausangate Mountain
They pick you up right from your hotel/hostel at 4am and give you blankets so that you can continue sleeping for the rest of the 3.5 hour drive (I was EXTREMELY grateful for this). If you can’t sleep though, the views heading in are absolutely amazing.
Upon arrival, we have breakfast right down the path from an amazing waterfall. Right away, I knew this trip would be amazing. There are two chefs that come with you, and take care of all of the food (and a LOT of GOOD food). Also joining the trip are the driver, and 1-2 horsemen to help carry all of your things. They transport everything for you, and even set up camp, so the only things you hike with are what you need for the actual hike.
For breakfast on the first day we had a light breakfast consisting of eggs, bread, fruit, coffee, and COCA TEA (you’ll want to take this as much as you can to help with the altitude!). We then start the hike! 5 minutes in, you see a hundreds of ALPACA! You’ll spot them pretty often during the whole hike.
The valley itself is beautiful. You can see all the peaks and the colors are beautiful. After a few hours, we got to the AMAZING viewpoint of the Ausangate mountain. It is the 6th highest mountain in Peru, and the highest in the Cusco Region. We participated in a local offering to the mountain, and got extremely lucky with weather because right as we were about to leave, the mountain top was covered in clouds and it started to snow! The peak was windy and at a height of 5,000meters I’m not sure if it was the views or the lack of oxygen that took my breathe away, but either way it was worth it!
About 2 hours later, we arrived to our campsite. Flashpacker Connect is the only company that has an established site there, so the tents are all placed under permanent wooden structures that block out the wind and rain. There is a cabin with the kitchen and small living room, equipped with a heater (and my best friend). We had a HUGE lunch at around 3pm. After that, almost everyone was tired and took a nap. We then had dinner at 7pm (SO MUCH FOOD), and were treated with an amazing clear night sky. The stars were amazing, and you had an amazing view of Ausangate right from the campsite. The moon was bright and lit the mountain up beautifully.
All of the camping gear was set up by the horsemen, and kept us nice and warm the entire night. The next day we awoke at 3:15am for a 3:30 breakfast, and left at 4am in order to be the first on Rainbow Mountain (if you decide to do their day tour, they pick you up at 2:15 to try and accomplish the same thing!).
Day 2 - Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)
It was still dark when we left. The moonlight was strong, and in addition with the head lamps we were able to see just fine. The walk up was a little bit easier on your feet since any wet mud from the day before had frozen over. We reached “the pass” at 5,000 meters just in time for sunrise. We then continued to rainbow mountain.
After about 2 more hours we finally reached the top!! (You can’t climb onto the mountain itself, but there is a smaller hill right next to it where everyone gets their photos and best views of the mountain). We arrived at around 7:30am and were the first ones there, except for a local and his adorable dog. All of this had definitely been worth it. We didn’t realize just how quickly the mountain would fill up though, as just 10 minutes later it was impossible to get a photo without anyone in it (or have someone ask for you to take one of them). As we descended, we saw the giant herds of people heading to the mountain, and I have never been so glad I decided to not do the day trip.
Then there was an extra! Right next to Rainbow Mountain exists red valley, and it is MUCH quieter. FlashpackerConnect is one of the only companies that visits this, and for that reason you basically have it to yourself. Our guide explained the minerals and the formations of the mountains here. AND WE GOT TSHIRTS!
After that, a calm 1 hour walk to the parking lot was all that was left. We headed off and stopped for lunch halfway, and then we were home by 4pm.
It was an action packed 36-hours and one I’ll never forget. The views were amazing, the staff was great, and it was a trip I’ll honestly never forget. It was a challenge for sure, hiking at that altitude was extremely rewarding afterwards. Getting to the mountain first is something that is priceless. When I say it got packed, it was PACKED. Like… enough to make me not want to visit otherwise to avoid the mob of people coming in and that experience in general.
I honestly can’t think of any other way I would’ve wanted to do this, and hope to shed some light on how to still visit this beautiful place in the most enjoyable way possible.
Things to Bring
If you do decide to go, don’t forget these essentials! Tom and I were very underprepared, and bringing the following will ensure you have an amazing time:
- Rain Poncho (the weather in the mountains in UNPREDICTABLE! One minute it was sunny and warm, the next it was rainy and then snowing!)
- Trekking/hiking Shoes (I somehow managed to do this in sneakers, but DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT. Within 5 minutes I had slipped on mud, and soaked my shoes and socks. My feet were probably the coldest parts of my body the entire time. So be sure to bring WATERPROOF trekking shoes. They will get muddy.)
- Extra Pair of Shoes for Camp (You’re hiking shoes will get muddy. It’s really nice to be able to slip something a little more comfortable on).
- Headlamp (You start the hike while it is still dark on the second day. You’ll need this.)
- Gloves (You’ll thank me later. If you forget, there is a lady selling Alpaca gloves at the beginning of the hike for about 3$USD)
- Sunscreen (we both got sunburnt)
And some extra tips we have for the hike are:
– Spend a few days in Cusco first to get used to the high altitude
– Take DEEP breathes when possible
– Pack LIGHT. You have horsemen to carry your clothes and tent, but your actual daybag can make or break your hike. Only bring with you the absolute essentials. Every pound/kilo matters at 5,000 meters (about 16,000 feet).
Overall, this might have been my favorite trip ever. I’ve never gone overnight hiking and this might have opened the door for me into this new world, although I honestly can’t think of how it could be any better than this past trip with FlashpackerConnect.
There’s so much negativity out there right now about Rainbow Mountain, mainly because of the chaos of most day tours and I completely understand where they’re coming from. If I had done the mountain that way I probably would say the visit isn’t worth it. HOWEVER, BY DOING IT THIS WAY IT IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND 100% WORTH IT. Getting there early is key, but the additional landscapes that we got to see by doing the 2-Day trek brought it to another level. Camping underneath the stars and surrounded by amazing peaks is something I’ll never forget. (And for those of you who have never seen the southern sky it’s really fun to see new constellations, especially the southern cross!). We were able to spot the milky way before the moon came up, and there were multiple shooting stars. My wish must have worked because we got extremely lucky with weather and this was by far one of my favorite trips ever.
Hopefully you get to experience the same thing! Let me know what you think in the comments!
For a full list of the camera gear and equipment used to capture all of these photos and videos check out our Travel Gear Page.
**Disclaimer- we were hosted by FlashpackerConnect and received this trip complementary. However, all thoughts, opinions, and photos are our own.