We’ve finally settled into Peru and made our way towards Cusco, the Ancient Inca Capital and a hotspot for treks and ancient architecture. Cusco as you may know is the main place to stay if you are planning on doing the world famous Machu Picchu trek.
Maddy and I thought we’d warm before the 5 day Salcantay trek to Machu Picchu by doing a one day trek to Rainbow Mountain. A massive tip I can give you for South American treks and tours is to book EVERYTHING when you arrive as paying for it online will cost you an absolute arm and a leg in comparison. There are massive savings to be made especially with Machu Picchu. For Rainbow Mountain we paid s/100 ($30USD) per person. This included the 4-hour mini-bus ride through the mountains and the 4-hour ride home. Breakfast, lunch and your guide, is also included in the price. Can you smell the value?
The two of us are as beginner as trekkers get and we don’t normally come prepared. For Rainbow Mountain you will need about 3 litres of water, some comfortable shoes, snacks, and a pocket full of coca leaves, which I will get to shortly.
Your tour operator will pick you up from your hostel at approx. 3AM in the morning, which might be a bit of a shock if you’re anything like me. You will then spend the next 3-4 hours driving through the outskirts of Cusco and through the Andes, and I must warn you, the drive may not be ideal for the faint of heart. At around 7 in the morning you’ll reach the start of the trek and you’ll be welcomed with a huge breakfast. When you finish up the 8 hours of walking to the mountain and back you’ll walk straight into lunch which consists of some cracking Peruvian meals.
After breakfast you’ll start walking, from an altitude of around 3,500 meters to a maximum of 5,200 meters. Walking becomes very difficult at sea level at times let alone at these altitudes, which is where the Coca leaves come in. This ancient medicine takes care of a lot of effects of the high altitude including headache, shortness of breath, nausea and a few other undesirables. You’ll be given the leaves at the start of the trek and are also available from basically everywhere in Cusco. You can pick the leaves up from any market for about s/1 and also the Lejia, which will make the leaves “work” for around s/1. Pick out around 5-8 leaves and remove the vein of each leaf. Place the leaves between your cheek and your gum and work the leaves into a little ball, don’t chew and just leave it in your mouth while you’re walking. You won’t need to replace them regularly however you might want to after an hour or so. Pick off a piece of Lejia and drop it in your mouth and work it over to your little ball of leaves. This will give you the upper hand in the trek. As great as the leaves can be, if they aren’t for you you’ll still be able to complete the trek relatively easily. If you use the leaves on the way up make sure you have some on the way down or the altitude will smack you in the face, trust me on that one.
When you reach the top words cannot explain the natural beauty of Rainbow Mountain, which up until the last 100 years was kept hidden by a now almost completely receded glacier. Photos won’t do it justice, so you’ll have to check it out yourself.