What to pack for the Rainbow Mountain?
On a 1 day trip to the Rainbow Mountain packing the right gear is essential to enjoying your visit to this magnificent mountain. Located in a remote region 3 hours from Cusco by car, it is necessary to bring all the right things. The hike has become a bucket list item for travelers from around the world. The hike itself will take you from Cusco city with an elevation of (11,152 ft or 3,400m) to the top of the Rainbow Mountain at (17,060ft or 5,200 meters) above sea level. From a hiking perspective that is nearly the same altitude as Everest Base Camp in Nepal (17,598 feet, 5,364 meters). For these reasons you must come prepared. First off before you start packing, making sure you are properly acclimated is key. Altitude sickness happens often to those who don't properly prepare for this. We always suggest that you schedule this hike at the very end of your time in Cusco. Spend your initial days visiting Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, or taking on the lower elevations hikes and adventures in the surrounding area. This will allow your body to acclimate properly, setting you up for a successful hike to the Rainbow Mountain.
Now what to pack for the 1 Day Rainbow Mountain Hike?
ITEMS TO BRING:
1st Layer: Underware
- Long sleeved Thermal Shirt
- Thermal form- fitting pants
2nd Layer: Polar Fleece
- Trekking pants
- Thick socks
- Waterproof Jacket
- Waterproof pants (optional)
- Insulated Jacket
- Cold weather Hat
- Buff/ handkerchief
- Sun hat
- Backpack 20-30 L
- Waterproof cover for backpack
- 1 Liter of Water (per person, minimum)
- Trekking shoes (waterproof and firm)
- Trekking poles Headlamp
- Sunscreen (SPF 50+ recommended)
- Sunscreen lip protector
- Personal Medications
- Motion sickness tablets for van ride
- Camera/ Extra battery
- Personal snacks
- Toilet paper
- Dry change of clothes, shoes and plastic bag to store wet items
- Pillow/ Blanket for van ride (can be left in van while you hike)
- When to go: Best Months are April - October
- Distance: 10 km/6.2 miles
- Difficulty: Challenging
- Hiking Time: 4-5 Hours round trip
- Elevation: Trailhead at Alqatari (4326m/14,189ft) to Rainbow Mountain viewpoint (5050m/16,568ft) - Approx + (725m/2,379ft) elevation gain.
- Highlights: Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley
This trek takes place above 5000 meters; the terrain is challenging, and weather is unpredictable ranging from hot and sunny to rain and wind. Hikers should be in reasonable shape, and healthy. A minimum stay of 2 days in Cusco or the surrounding area is required prior to your hike. Ensure you have proper gear and be prepared for variable weather conditions throughout the day.
All weather conditions are possible any time of year. Temperatures can range from 20-60°F (-6° to 15° C) throughout the year. Afternoon storms are common, which is why on our guided trips we depart very early, ensuring we are down from the mountain before a strong storm rolls in. Seasons also vary weather patterns in these mountains, but the trail can be hiked year round. The best hiking season is April - September as it is the dry season, December - February is considered the rainy season and the weather can be more temperamental.
Now that you are prepared and acclimated we strongly suggest hiring a local guide. Our company offers small group and private treks to the Rainbow Mountain daily. We were the first company to offer trips to this mountain and our guides are extremely knowledgeable and are equipped with 1st aid kits and training & supplemental oxygen tanks along with emergency protocols if a traveler were to get injured or fall ill.
The day hike to the Rainbow Mountain is great if you are short on time. However if you are adventurous and have extra time we strongly suggest booking a multi day hike linking in the Ausangate trail. We offer 2 - 6 day hikes in the region, and it is considered one of the most beautiful multi day hikes in the world. On the multi day trips you ditch the crowds and become immersed in true nature and untouched beauty, think hanging glaciers, remote landscapes, zero people, wild animals (Vicuñas, Andean Geese, condors, hummingbirds, pumas, vizcachas, fox….).
Guided hiking tours to the Rainbow Mountain:
When planning a trip to Rainbow Mountain in Peru, you'll likely come across two main types of tours: budget tours and small group tours. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it's essential to consider your preferences and travel style before making a decision. Here's a general overview of what to expect from each type:
- Cost: Budget tours are generally more affordable compared to small group tours. They often cater to budget-conscious travelers who are looking for a more economical option.
- Group Size: Budget tours tend to have larger group sizes, typically 30+ participants all jammed into a large scale tour bus = mass tourism (we dont recommend this). This means you'll be traveling with a larger group of people.
- Inclusions: While the cost may be lower, budget tours may offer fewer inclusions. Meals, entrance fees, and hiking equipment might not always be included in the tour price, leading to potential additional expenses during the trip.
- Comfort: Accommodations and transportation on budget tours may be more basic compared to small group tours.
- Experience: The overall experience on a budget tour can be more fast-paced, with less personal attention from guides due to the larger group size. You also will get to the mountain later in the day typically the same time as other busses arrive, so everything in crowded.
Small Group & Private Tours:
- Cost: Small group or private tours are generally more expensive than budget tours due to the smaller group size and higher level of service.
- Group Size: As the name suggests, small group tours typically consist of a limited number of participants, often around 2-8 people. This smaller group size allows for a more intimate and personalized experience.
- Inclusions: Small group tours include more services in the package, such as meals, entrance fees, and better-quality hiking equipment, professional guides and safety.
- Comfort: Accommodations and transportation on small group tours are more comfortable and cater to a higher standard. Small vans with lots of leg room, air-conditioning, lay back seats for the 3+ hour drive (one-way). Exceptional guides, and safe drivers.
- Experience: With a smaller group and more attentive guides, the overall experience on a small group tour can be more relaxed and immersive. You will be able to arrive to the mountain before the big busses, and experience the mountain in solitude before the crowds arrive.
Ultimately, the choice between a budget tour and a small group tour depends on your priorities, preferences, and budget. If you are seeking a more economical option and don't mind being part of a large tour group, a budget tour might be suitable. On the other hand, if you prefer a more personalized experience and are willing to pay a bit more for added comfort and inclusions, a small group tour is the better choice.
How to acclimate for the rainbow mountain hike
Acclimating to the high altitude is crucial before embarking on the Rainbow Mountain hike, as the trek reaches altitudes above 5,000 meters (16,400 feet). Altitude sickness can be a serious concern at such elevations, so it's essential to take the necessary precautions. Here are some tips to help you acclimate effectively:
- Spend Time in Cusco: Cusco is the starting point for most Rainbow Mountain treks, and it sits at an elevation of around 3,400 meters (11,150 feet). Arrive in Cusco at least 2-3 days before the trek to give your body time to adjust to the altitude.
- Hydrate: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Proper hydration helps your body adjust to the altitude and can prevent altitude sickness.
- Avoid Alcohol and Smoking: Alcohol and smoking can worsen the effects of high altitude. It's best to avoid them during your acclimation period.
- Eat Light Meals: While acclimating, stick to light and easily digestible meals. Heavy or greasy foods can make altitude adjustment more challenging.
- Use Medication (Consult a Doctor): Some travelers find it helpful to take medication to prevent or alleviate altitude sickness. Acetazolamide (Diamox) is a common prescription drug for this purpose. Consult your doctor before taking any medication and follow their recommendations.
- Gradual Ascent: If you have the time, consider a gradual ascent to higher elevations in the region before attempting the Rainbow Mountain trek. This could involve visiting other sites around Cusco that are at slightly higher altitudes.
- Walk at a Steady Pace: During the trek, maintain a steady and slow pace. Avoid overexertion, as pushing yourself too hard can increase the risk of altitude sickness.
- Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how you feel during the acclimation period and the trek. If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness (such as headache, dizziness, nausea, or shortness of breath), descend to a lower altitude immediately.
- Hire a Local Guide: Hiring a local guide who is familiar with the region and altitude-related issues can be beneficial. They can provide valuable advice and support during the trek. They also carry the necessary first aid and safety equipment needed at high elevations such as an oxygen tank.
Remember that everyone's body reacts differently to high altitude, and even the fittest individuals can experience altitude sickness. Taking the acclimation process seriously will significantly increase your chances of having an enjoyable and safe experience on the Rainbow Mountain hike.
When is the best time to hike the Rainbow Mountain?
The best time to hike Rainbow Mountain in Peru is during the dry season, which typically runs from May to September. This period offers the most favorable weather conditions and makes the trek more enjoyable and safer. Here's why the dry season is preferred:
- Weather: The dry season is characterized by minimal rainfall and generally clear skies. This reduces the chances of encountering heavy rains, mudslides, or difficult weather conditions during the hike, making it more pleasant and allowing for better views of the colorful landscape.
- Trekking Conditions: The trail and terrain are in better condition during the dry season. In contrast, the rainy season (from October to April) can make the path muddy and slippery, potentially making the hike more challenging and hazardous.
- Accessibility: Some parts of the trail may become inaccessible or impassable during the rainy season due to landslides or flooding. The dry season ensures that the trail is open and safer for hikers.
- Visibility: The clear skies in the dry season offer better visibility, allowing hikers to fully appreciate the stunning scenery, including the vibrant colors of Rainbow Mountain.
- Temperature: While the high altitude means cooler temperatures year-round, the dry season tends to have more stable and comfortable temperatures during the day for trekking.
However, keep in mind that even during the dry season, weather conditions in the Andean region can be unpredictable, and temperatures can vary significantly between day and night due to the high altitude. It's essential to be prepared with appropriate clothing and gear for varying weather conditions.
If you plan to hike Rainbow Mountain during the dry season, it's a good idea to book your tour or accommodation in advance, as this is the peak tourist season, and availability can be limited.
Ultimately, the best time to hike Rainbow Mountain is a personal preference based on your tolerance for crowds, weather conditions, and the experience you seek. If you prefer fewer crowds, you might consider hiking in the shoulder seasons of May and September when the weather can still be relatively dry, but the number of visitors is lower.