My Thoughts on Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, Peru

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Traveling to the Peruvian mountains was an amazing experience. I traveled with the Under 30 Experiences (U30X) tour group and I had a great time. In part one, I talk more about U30X and what we did the first few days in Peru. I wanted to write a completely separate post on just Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain because it felt like I wasn’t doing it justice cramming it into one post.  

I don’t know about you but I don’t like reading long posts so I thought splitting it up would be more beneficial. Sorry to those who had to wait two weeks to read this but I appreciate you coming back for more! Here’s my post on Lima, Peru if you want to check out this city in your Peruvian travels.

Let me know in the comments if you like these longer posts split up (even though these are still a long post, #sorrynotsorry) or if you’d rather just have one super long post and knock it out. After all, this blog is more about you than me. But anyhoo, back to Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. 

Machu Picchu

The day has finally arrived. We were going to Machu Picchu. Admittedly, we were going earlier than I would have liked at 5 am but this was to avoid the crowds so it was okay and definitely worth it. When we were leaving for the day, it was PACKED

But even so at 5 am, the line to get on the bus to Machu Picchu was SUPER long! So much for avoiding the crowds I thought to myself while I was still waking up. The bus is about a 30 minutes ride up the mountain but we probably waited about an hour for the bus. 

This bus was a scary experience! The road to get up to Machu Picchu is a thin mountain road. It twisted up the side of a cliff and when another bus was coming down, it looked like we were going to run into each other but we made it up alive.  

Once at the top, there was a place to stamp your passport which was fun! So I have a Machu Picchu stamp in my passport! 

This was before the actual entrance into the ruins so after that we headed into the ruins. Let me tell you guys, this is a trip for young people. The steps around Machu Picchu are intense. They are steep and small. There were older people with walking sticks doing it but man it was hard. I’m not quite sure how they were able to do it. 

The viewpoint from above the ruins of Machu Picchu was a great photo opportunity.

Some of the steps were quite a big drop that I had to jump down from. Maybe this is just a short person problem… 

The views from Machu Picchu are like no other.

It was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. The pictures definitely DO NOT do it justice. I felt like I was on a different planet up in those mountains. 

We lucked out. It was a beautiful day. Not a single cloud blocking our view even though Machu Picchu is in the cloud forest. 

They had points that lead you above the ruins so you were looking down at them. Those were the best picture moments like the picture above. There’s a path at the beginning that leads you above the ruins and I recommend doing that. 

We also did a little hike that is off these trails above Machu Picchu that leads you to the Inca Bridge. This is a separate trail so you can totally skip over it if you aren’t feeling it. The trail was fun to do though and it was more of a hiking experience than walking around the Machu Picchu ruins. This use to connect to the Inca trail but due to the lack of government funds, they do not keep the connecting section maintained. 

For those that don’t know, the Inca Trail is a hiking experience that you can do while in Peru that will lead you to Machu Picchu.

From the sounds of it, the best part of doing the Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu is that you arrived at Machu Picchu at sunrise and I can only imagine how beautiful that is. If you want to learn more about this experience, you can check out this website about it.

U30X does have an Inca Trail Hiking trip if you’re interested. I personally didn’t do this option because I wanted to see Rainbow Mountain and I didn’t want to hike for four days straight since I haven’t camped since I was a kid.

But back to the trail that use to connect to the Inca Trail…

The trail is a little scary for those that are faint of heart. You’re hiking on the side of cliffs, so they have you sign in and out in front of the trail. That way, they know if you don’t make it back, which is a little nerve-wracking. As you can imagine from the sign-in sheet, you were literally walking on the side of a very steep cliff with very few barriers. 

The Inca Bridge was just two pieces of wood. You can’t walk on it because I can assume from looking at it, it is extremely unsafe. The bridge is the only part of the trail made of wood because in the ancient Inca times if they were being invaded, they could remove those logs and the invaders could not easily pass. 

We were also told these trails were made from following llamas up the mountain! Someone with a machete would just follow the llama up the mountain and wherever the llama walked, that’s how the trail was paved. 

They were llama walking around the Machu Picchu ruins. Apparently llamas are what paved the way for the Incas to create trails to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is really breathtaking and the history is pretty neat.

The ruins are still basically almost all in tack because the majority of them are underground. We couldn’t see that part but it was cool to walk through the ruins. I don’t know how the ancient people built this place. It was a village of about 300 people but they used their hands and carried heavy rocks around the mountain to Machu Picchu. People spent their whole life building it. Some of these people never saw the completed project.  

We walked around the ruins all morning. There was so much to see. The Incas built Machu Picchu here because it could catch the sun just right for the summer and winter solaces. It’s crazy to think they walked all the way up those mountains because they are steep. I guess that’s where the llamas come in handy. They had llamas and alpacas running around the ruins of Machu Picchu. Their water source came from another mountain and it was still flowing through the ruins today. 

After Machu Picchu, we started our trek back to Cusco.

What was nice about traveling with U30X was that they kept our large bags at the original hotel so we only had to pack an overnight back to go to Machu Picchu. Don’t worry, they gave us a little bag to bring our stuff in so you don’t have to bring an extra bag. 

Once we arrived back at the same hotel in Cusco, the staff made us a delicious dinner of chicken kabobs and potatoes. They made us mozzarella sticks out of won-tons too which was interesting. 

Peru isn’t huge on cheese from what we have learned so the mozzarella sticks only had a little amount of cheese in them. Most likely a more reasonable serving size of cheese. They gave us a ton of food for dinner so we were definitely full. Our tour guide, Roland told us this was a light dinner and we got two pounds of potatoes so that was misleading. It was so much food, no one could finish. 

But I would definitely recommend Machu Picchu to anyone that is interested. The ruins and views were amazing, I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world like it. 

Rainbow Mountain

The next attraction on our trip was Rainbow Mountain. I hadn’t heard about Rainbow mountain before I started researching Peru but it quickly got on the to-do list. I’m glad U30X included this trek. 

Rainbow mountain is a relatively new attraction. It didn’t start offering guided tours until January 2016. Why you may ask? Well, this is because it was buried under ice and snow before that. (thank you, climate change). 

As high up as you can go to see Rainbow Mountain from above
Viewpoint for Rainbow Mountain (unfiltered), you can see how steep the final parts of this journey are!

To avoid the crowds (common theme here) of Rainbow Mountain, our tour guide, Roland informed us that we had to leave Cusco at 3:30 am!! The drive to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco is about 3 hours so after a long day at Machu Picchu yesterday, this was going to be rough. The hotel was nice enough to pack us breakfast-to-go and away we went. That is why I think U30x was smart in splitting these days up so they are no longer back to back. 

Rainbow mountain is in the middle of nowhere.

Roland said we were driving through some of the poorest areas of Peru. Since the elevation is so high, farming isn’t really an option so the locals love that people are driving from all over to see Rainbow Mountain. They charge a toll for tourists to pass through on their way to Rainbow Mountain. That’s basically their only source of income which is crazy. That and feeding tourists. 

The last hour to Rainbow Mountain the roads are not paved so they are extremely bumpy. We were driving right on the side of a cliff so that was scary. Sometimes it felt like we were going to bounce right off the side of the mountain. 

A local family made us breakfast which was really good. They made eggs with vegetables, bread, tea, hot chocolate, and fruit. We were all still half asleep but it was good to get some food in our stomachs before the hike we were about to do. 

This is the trail leading to Rainbow Mountain

So Rainbow Mountain … it’s a tough hike. It is incredibly tough because of how high Rainbow Mountain is in elevation. The top of it is almost at 17,000 feet elevation so breathing is definitely harder. If you didn’t read my previous article, 26,000 feet elevation is considered the Death Zone so it’s getting up there. 

The hike to Rainbow Mountain is about 2 and a half hours and those were one of the hardest two hours of my life. 

Let me back up. 

When you get to the start of the trail there is a bathroom but it’s literally just a hole in the ground covered by a tent. You’re hiking, remember so there aren’t that many opportunities to use the bathroom. Also, there aren’t trees for you hid behind (we’re so high up that trees can’t survive) so I recommend trying to go. You had to pay to use it too so bring a few sols (Peru’s currency)!

You have to hike up this really steep hill to where there are people with horses that will take you almost to the top. I think they do this on purpose because those first five minutes, the hill is really steep and you’re dying and out of breath. It’s about 100 soles to ride (about $35 US dollars). 

We were determined to hike this mountain without this though so we kept going. Two people in our tour group decided to take the horse route and it’s debatable if that was the better choice.

The trail is on the side of a cliff and there isn’t anything but the dirt since we’re too high up for things to grow.

It was cold, about 40 degrees but when the sun hit you, it felt hot. Definitely wear sunscreen.

It was really confusing on what to wear because if the sun went behind the clouds it was absolutely freezing but then it was super hot when the sun was beaming down on you. We were surrounded by mountains so it was a really beautiful scenic hike. 

Peru is close to the equator so it doesn’t snow in cities like Cusco (even at 11,000 feet) but there were snowcaps around Rainbow Mountain. These glaciers are there all year long and luckily there wasn’t any frost or snow on the ground for us since sometimes there is. 

See those little black dots? Those are people on the trail to Rainbow Mountain. The red dotted line is roughly the trail, it’s just a tad curvier.

Since there wasn’t much blocking the views, you could see the top of Rainbow Mountain and how high and far away it was. It looked so far away since we could see it for the majority of the hike. We were all huffing and puffing and we’d ask Roland how much longer and he would say an hour. This will probably be the hardest hike I will ever do in my life. I can’t even put into words how hard it was because it was hard to breathe but on paper, it didn’t look hard. 

You start walking and immediately be out of breath. Not running, WALKING

Altitude sickness is no joke.

I honestly didn’t feel great during the majority of this hike. This was the first time we ever experienced true altitude sickness. I felt like my head was about to explode on the way back down. The hardest part of the whole hike is probably the last 20-30 minutes. At least for me, so close yet so far and I was ready to pass out but I digress.

Once you got to Rainbow Mountain, there was a very steep hill so you could get above Rainbow Mountain for a great picture opportunity. They made bumps on the side of the mountain, sort of like steps to make it easier to walk up the mountain. It’s definitely the steepest part of the whole trek and you’re already tired from all that walking but the top of it makes it all worth it. 

To get to the viewpoint for Rainbow Mountain, the walk up was quite steep especially after the journey to get there.
to the viewpoint

Rainbow Mountain is really vibrant and it’s the top of a mountain so the colors are on both sides which makes it look like a rainbow (hence the name).

Directly across from Rainbow Mountain, you get a really good view of the snow caps. On the other side of the snow cap mountains is the Amazon. 

It’s wild because on one side are snowy mountains and the other side looks like a dessert. It was really beautiful and really cold up there but that hike is definitely not for everyone. Definitely go when you’re in shape! 

However, what comes up must come down

So even though we were all EXHAUSTED from the hike up, we had to walk down. The hike down was easier, I wasn’t out of breath but the altitude sickness was really kicking in. It felt so long and by the end, I was so dead.

Roland knew what he was talking about though because by the time we were making our descend there were so many people getting to Rainbow Mountain. You could just see the crowds of people making their way to the viewpoint from miles away.

I’m glad we were there before the crowds, I could see someone easily being shoved off the mountain by accident. 

This is what you see if you look the other way from Rainbow Mountain

As soon as I got to the bus my head hurt so badly I immediately went to sleep. Remember earlier when I said the roads were unpaved and really bumpy. Nope, didn’t matter I slept like a rock until we got to the paved roads basically. I had a bruise on my forehead and I’m really wondering if I hit the window hard enough to knock myself out. The same family that made us breakfast made us lunch but everyone was pretty exhausted so no one could eat much. 

They made some kind of brothy vegetable soup, chicken, home fries, salad, cucumber/tomato mix, chicken, spaghetti. So much food. After lunch, we got on the bus back to Cusco where we all showered and napped before dinner. 

Dinner was good but it was definitely the smallest dinner we had all week. It was very Asian-inspired. It was quinoa-crusted Asian-style chicken as an appetizer than sesame chicken and quinoa as the main course. After dinner, we said goodbye to our new friends because tomorrow everyone goes their separate ways. 

Final Thoughts

I think Rainbow Mountain is worth the tiring trek because the views on the top were amazing. It’s also something that you can’t see anywhere else. I also felt so accomplished once I finished since there were so many times I wanted to stop. I’m glad we had Roland helping us up the mountains and we all felt like friends on the tour group at this point. I didn’t have to slowly die in front of strangers on the trek to the top of Rainbow Mountain. 

If you’re in Peru, you have to see Machu Picchu. After all, it is one of the seven new wonders of the world. The views were incredible and walking around the ruins was really interesting.

U30X was a great experience and I thought this trip was very well thought out. They jam-pack your days but that’s how I like to travel since I don’t get nearly as many vacation days as I would like. We were able to do everything we wanted to do in the Peruvian mountains and more. 

The final part of my Peru Series is going to be about my time in Lima, Peru. We did this without the tour group and it was an experience, to say the least. We were definitely spoiled with U30x so stay tuned.

Until Next Time,

My Thoughts on Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, Peru

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