What would you do if you could chase a rainbow? Would you be more of a destination person, or would you instead immerse yourself in the experience of the journey?
Erica Young is a rebellious young woman dedicated to caring for people. Erica decided to check off a few items on her bucket list to take care of herself for a change. Her fifth stop in her tour of South America was a box she was excited to check off, Rainbow Mountain.
Rainbow Mountain is a Peruvian Andean peak that rises 5,200 meters (17,100 feet) above sea level. The Mountain used to be covered with ice caps like many of its surrounding mountains, leaving it as a forgotten marvel until it was rediscovered in 2017. With the help of social media, the breathtaking Mountain grew in popularity and now gives thousands of its visitors one wild ride.
The seven colors of Rainbow Mountain are due to its mineral makeup, according to the Cultural Landscape Office of the Decentralization of the City of Cuzco:
- The pink color is caused by red clay, mud, and sand.
- The red color is caused by claystone (iron), and clays from the Upper Tertiary period. The whitish color is caused by quartzose, sandstone, and marls, rich in calcium carbonate.
However, the colors are supposedly a different hue than illustrated through social media, “While the mountain is undoubtedly beautiful, it probably won’t match what you see online. Be aware that the colors will be much softer than what you see online, but that they are still worth viewing in person,” said Erica.
Erica was a solo traveler and said that this hike would be a worthwhile experience if done solo, but it wouldn’t have lost any of its sheen if someone had accompanied her. She booked a tour with Conde Travel Adventures after researching and learning it was safest and cheapest to go with a tour group. The fee is about 27 USD per person, with the only additional charge being an entrance fee that costs 6 USD and an additional fee of 20 USD if a visitor prefers to take a horse up the Mountain.
While conducting her research, Erica learned that while using a horse sounded nice, she would be asked to jump off during the more challenging parts of the hike and when the path was too narrow for a horse to carry a person along.
As Erica arrived in Cusco, she got to experience a few hours of its saturated and natural culture. She was notified the day before her excavation via text message that she would be picked up between 3 and 4 AM. As she woke for her trip, Erica was left waiting outside in the thick of the night for a shuttle to pick her up and start her adventurous journey amid Rainbow Mountain.
Erica said that during her 2019 visit, there were no direct ways to visit Rainbow Mountain due to visitors having to go through a valley; Erica described her shuttle ride as “long a grueling.” From Cusco, the tourist entrance to the Mountain requires a two-hour drive and a 5-kilometer hike (3.1 mi).
As they inched closer to the entrance, about an hour from the Mountain, her tour group stopped in Cusipata to grab a light breakfast. Her tour guides specifically instructed their group to eat as light as possible due to slowing digestive rates as the visitors hiked to higher altitudes.
Finally arriving at the Mountain, Erica got out of the shuttle and saw what looked like an overcrowded parking lot. Paying no mind to the crowds, she focused on the bitterly cold air and her guide’s instructions. Her guide handed out face masks and suggested the group wear them when they go to higher altitudes to breathe in warmer air.
After being warned of potential dangers, including how to avoid asphyxiation best, visitors were advised to bring cocoa leaves if they were to get lightheaded, “I’m so glad I had a group with me. I felt so much safer. All of the guides are certified to use a mix of methods to help with altitude sickness,” Erica added, “With me, I got lightheaded at what felt like the hardest part. My guide administered his first method for altitude sickness. He rubbed something in my hands, put it close to my nose, and instructed me to inhale–like smelling salt.”
The higher the group got, the more saturated the colors of the Mountain were, the lower the temperatures fell, and the more wildlife she got to see. The Mountain was filled with animals at one point, but as more traffic poured into the Mountain after its rediscovery, fewer wild animals and more domesticated animals such as sheep, alpacas, and dogs could be found.
As they reached the peak, Erica experienced a loss of words for the first time in her life. Over the crowded peak was a landscape that only her wildest dreams could imagine. Erica had little time to take in the beauty. She only had 20 minutes to take it all in on the peak of Rainbow Mountain. A friendly neighbor to the mountain top is the Asongate Mountain, a glacier that is an additional 6,500 meters higher than where she stood.
After experiencing the views, Erica realized she’d lost all feeling in her fingers and toes. She pulled out a chocolate bar she had packed in her bag in case she got hungry during the trek. Once she bit into it, she realized that the chocolate had frozen as the altitude increased and temperatures decreased.
As she returned from the Mountain, Erica felt more alive than ever. With only 43 minutes left until her group headed back to Cusco, she sped her way down as fast as possible, but she said it oddly felt longer going down than it did going up. She blamed the expedited speed of her going up the Mountain on her excitement and absorption of her surroundings.
Once she arrived back at the meeting spot, Erica and her group returned to the same place for lunch that they had breakfast at earlier. The group laughed and bonded over the wondrous marvel they’d just witnessed, clamoring about how unique their experiences were.
If you or a loved one are interested in visiting this seemingly wonderous place, Erica wanted to give readers some advice: “It’s vital to remember that your experience at Rainbow Mountain will depend greatly on the weather. Since rain and snow will make the trail more difficult to hike and will dull the colors, it is advisable to schedule your trip for the warmer months when it is unlikely that either would occur.”