My Crazy Trip to Rainbow Mountain!

Rainbow Mountain

My and my friend Sarah met for the first time on Tuesday…

Since then:

  • We hitchhiked on a trailer transporting Alpaca
  • We were the first that day to make it to “rainbow” mountain
  • I got lost in the dark in the middle of nowhere being chased by dogs
  • We hiked to an altitude greater than 5200 meters.
  • We traversed the extremely beautiful Red Valley
  • We stayed in an alpaca farm’s cabin overnight.
  • We saw the tallest Glacier in Peru – Ausangate
  • We pieced together public transport to get to Rainbow Mountain between us there 33 sol ($11) and back 12 sol ($4).

Let’s just stop here and let this sync in. The sheer ridiculousness of what happened over my trip to Rainbow Mountain is something that can’t be planned.

This all happened 2 days..... Here’s how it happened:

Getting Introduced/Prepared

Before I can start to begin my tale, I first need to introduce my companion during all of this. We’ll call her Sarah. This tale can’t be shared without telling a little bit about her, because she was such an intricate part of this amazing journey.

Meet Sarah

Before Tuesday I didn’t know Sarah at all. By Thursday, I had gotten to know her a lot better. Sarah is an amazing person. A friend of my sisters, I had only brief contact with her over facebook before she briefly mentioned that she heard about this hike from a person she met near Machu Picchu, and wanted to see if I would join.

For the last 6 months, she’s been rugging it on her own around the world on her own and will soon head back to the USA to begin working.

We met on Tuesday where she outlined the basic logistics of what she was planning to do. She heard about this trip from a person in Machu Picchu, and all she had was a piece of paper with notes. There were no check-ins on the internet, or normal itinerary. This was "real and raw" traveling. We would show up at our destination (an alpaca farm) and ask if we could stay the night. If she said “no” we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere and have no accommodations! We picked up some food from the market and prepared to head out on Wednesday at 12 pm.

Keep in mind this is all from someone who she barely knows. What could possibly go wrong?

Getting to an off the grid Alpaca Farm address.

We managed to get to a custom location roughly 3.5 hours away from Cusco for around 33 sol ($11) a person. To do this, we had to get creative and I had to rely on Sarah’s spanish. Because this is an off-the-grid location that should remain off the webs, I’m going to obscure some of the specifics. If you want to be a detective, you can try to piece things together from my tracker app or email me and I’ll give you the specifics.

Keep in mind: None of this was scheduled with a tour agency or reserved in advance. This was all done on the fly with whatever we could piece together.

Getting to *******:

  1. We found an hour and half peruvian bus to Checacupe. (6 sol or $2).
  2. There we took a small carpool van to to another city Pitomaca (2 sol or 66 cents)
  3. We then had to haggle our way to a destination *****, about an hour long car drive through curvy, unpaved roads. Once there, all we had for information was to look for a small “hut” in an alpaca farm and a general location. Our plan was to see if a room was available and ask the driver to wait in case it was not. That’s all the information we had.

There was no reservations, no phone number, no electricity. This was a true “off the grid” destination. All we knew was that there was an alpaca farm in the general location of this area.

The good news: We found the alpaca farm!

Off in the middle of nowhere, the alpaca farm luckily was distinguishable. When we arrived there, the owner started trying to charge us twice what we were told it was last week ($6.66 vs. $3.33). Once again, Sarah haggled down to 15 sol per person per night ($5). Her spanish/negotiation skills were clutch.

Sarah Negotiated with owner of the ranch
This is Carmen. Sarah negotiating with the owner of the farm to reach a price agreement
No electicity in these accomodations
No electricity in these accommodations

Sleeping in an Alpaca Farm

The Alpaca farm was amazing!!! Alpaca, for one, are hilarious and generally passive animals. Their long necks, small heads, and disproportionate feet make them hilarious to stare at for long periods of time. Since coming to Peru I’ve been trying to figure out which animal is more funny to watch: Sheep or Alpaca? In the battle of sheep vs. alpaca I think I’ve taken the alpaca as the more hilarious of the two.

Here's a sneezing baby alpaca

Outside the farm, you could see Ausangate, the largest glacier in Peru. Elevated at 6,384 meters, it is a beautiful site. Coincidentally, I believe it was the first glacier I have ever seen.

The owner was named Carmen and let us stay in for the night. No power. No service. Check it out:

No electicity in these accomodations
No electricity in these accommodations

At night, the stars were incredible. I couldn’t get them on my little phone camera, but I was able to make some art out of the stars.

Star Art!
Star Art using Light Tracing on my phone!

Lost in Peru in the cold getting chased by dogs

Once I got there, the first thing I noticed besides the alpaca was a giant glacier in the background (turned out to be the largest glacier in Peru: Ausangate). I had to see it for myself. As it was nearly 5:30pm, I decided to immediately head over to the best vantage point of the glacier and see if I could find it before it got dark. I walked for about 30~50 min.

I was enamored by the glacier. I had to see it.
I was enamored by the glacier. I had to go see it at all costs...

The good news: I got a decent view.

Boots from running away from dogs
My boots at the end of the dog running escapade

On the descent down, it started to get dark quicker than I expected. Before I knew it I was in the middle of nowhere and it was pitch black. Trying to find my residence, I walked randomly coming across giant herds of alpaca. Alpaca at night appear as if they are giant moving rocks. About 4 times I was chased by dogs that were protecting the alpaca, and I soon had to give up and head over to the nearest road and retrace my steps.

Ok. Just in case you have never been in this situation: Getting lost in the middle of the dark in the middle of nowhere sucks. This was the second time this happened to me (last time in Tahoe) and it’s a pretty hopeless situation.

After about 1.5 hours of walking around trying to get my bearings, the owners of the farm saw my phone flashlight randomly moving back and forth, and managed to save me from sleeping a night in the cold outside.

Sarah and I had a good laugh as I got back, as Carmen, the owner, humorously started cursing me out in ‎Quechua‎.

Sunrise to start to off to Rainbow Mountain (~5000 m)

As we left the farm there was an amazing view of the sunrise. A 30 min walk and we were one of the first to the base at Rainbow Mountain.

Sunrise with Alpaca
Sunrise with Alpaca

The hike up is really steep, and at 5000 meters it became really hard to breath. We had to take many breaks during the hike, as the elevation was evident from our labored breathing. We pushed ourselves pretty hard, and by 7:50 (approx: 1hr 45 min of hiking), we were the first people to summit to the top of the mountain. This included two women behind us that used horses to summit the mountain.

As we progressed up the mountain, we even had the company of a dog, which was awesome. Because we were there so early, we pretty much had the mountain to ourselves.#CouldBeWorse

At the summit you can also see another view of the glacier Ausangate.

Rainbow Mountain with a dog that traveled with us
Rainbow Mountain with a dog that traveled with us. He wouldn't look at the camera...
Altitude at Rainbow Mountain was no joke at >5200 meters
Color Hills
Stratified hills were stunning

Red Valley!

Rainbow mountain is the more popular of the two tourist destinations, but right behind Rainbow Mountain is Red Valley and Red Valley for me Red Valley is the real highlight of the area.

dog that traveled with us
This dog traveled with us for over 3 hours. I ended up calling him Benjamin

Our beginning was a little rough:

First we start off on the wrong path. Then Sarah’s ticket got picked up by the wind and she ended up chasing it for a while. Finally, on seemingly no observable path we decided to “ski/slide walk” down a large red sand hill.

At the base of the valley, you will be surrounded by crimson hills and lush green plant life. If fairies existed, this would be the place.

Where fairy tales take place

Red Valley is stunning. It’s about a 4 hour walk down, and for about 3 hours we were accompanied by a dog. By the end I had given him a name “Benjamin” and shared with him some of our food.

Red Valley Pictures

red valley 1
red valley 2
red valley 3

Getting Back to Cusco

Four hours later, we were ready to get back to Cusco. The problem was we didn’t have a ride back.

What do you do when you don’t have a ride? At first we thought maybe of picking up a ride with a tour group. Instead, we ended up hitching a ride at the back of the trailer of a car that was transporting alpaca. After such a crazy few days, we couldn’t have been happier for such a fitting end to an amazing experience.

Hitching a ride on a trailer
Hitching a ride on a trailer filled with Alpaca

In Review

I’m not the greatest story teller, so no amount of writing I do will do this story justice. Moreover, I had to omit some of the story for discretionary purposes. I think however, I can safely say this was an adventure and story worth telling. Between getting lost, riding with alpaca, hiking greater than 5000 meters, and seeing the beautiful scenery of Rainbow Mountain, Red Valley, and Ausangate in just 2 days, it was a jam packed and amazing experience. So far it has been the highlight of my travels.

A couple things to remember if you manage to get to Cusco/Rainbow Valley:

  1. If you go to Rainbow Mountain, also go to Red Valley.
  2. Try to get to the mountain early, as it will be flooded with tourists by 9~10 A.M.
  3. Bring an Oxygen tank for extra protection. (You can find them in markets in Cusco)
  4. Enjoy the alpaca.

Additionally, I would have liked one more day to go to the glacier.