Reaching New Heights in Peru
I sat there in silence, awestruck by the beauty that appeared right outside the window. It was a little after 5 a.m., and we had been traveling since 2:30. Asleep next to me in the van was my boyfriend, behind me sat our two fellow trekkers, and up front were our tour guide and the driver.
For a few moments, I forgot anyone else was there. I was so consumed by the beauty of nature that time paused. Then, a bump in the road snapped me back to reality and I woke up my boyfriend so he could see what I was seeing. He immediately grabbed his camera and started clicking photos.
Little did we know, this was just the beginning . . .
We were on our way to make the trek up to Rainbow Mountain in Peru. We had looked up images on Google of what the mountain looked like and honestly were a bit concerned. All of the images appeared to be heavily Photoshopped and we thought we may arrive at Rainbow Mountain to find it not as colorful and as stunning in person. However, this thought could not have been further from the reality that we experienced.
I can say that, without a doubt, Rainbow Mountain is the most beautiful place I've seen in my life. And that's coming from someone whose job is to travel. However, the beauty of this place is not all about the mountain itself, but the entire journey to get there. The cliched saying "it's all about the journey, not the destination" has never rung more true in my life than it did when I visited Rainbow Mountain. My boyfriend couldn't take more than three steps during our entire eight hours on the hike without stopping for yet another epic photo. And I couldn't stop saying "wow" and feeling like there was no way this was real life. I felt like I was walking in a dream. (And yes, the colors of the mountain are even more beautiful in real life than you see in the pictures.)
The magical journey we experienced was possible thanks to the company that we did our trek with, Flashpacker Connect. Though a bit more pricey than some of the other Rainbow Mountain trek options, it is well worth the extra spend. The 2:30 a.m. pickup time seemed questionable in the moment (and honestly, brutal), but by the time we arrived at the trailhead for Rainbow Mountain, it all made sense. There was not another tourist anywhere to be seen. It was just the six of us and the locals who lived in the area (most notably the local alpacas).
The trip took us through the most stunning valley I've ever laid eyes on, with colorful mountains on the left and majestic streams, lakes, and glaciers on the right. Add to that the llamas, alpacas, horses, and locals dressed in colorful traditional clothing, and the fact that we had the mountain basically all to ourselves, and you've got all the ingredients for a life-changing experience. Being the only explorers on the mountain made the journey that much more beautiful.
By the time we reached the nearly 17,000-foot summit of our trip, we turned around to see hordes of people the size of ants making their way up the trail. How incredible it was to have Rainbow Mountain all to ourselves and take in the beauty without other tourists in the way.
I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a bit of a physical struggle to get to the top. As an L.A. girl, I live a few blocks from the beach at sea level and 17,000 feet presented quite the challenge to my body. Slow and steady wins the race and thankfully, we had the freedom to be slow and enjoy the journey without a rush from crowds behind us.
We enjoyed our time at the summit, soaked in the glory and the beauty of Pachamama (the Peruvian word for Mother Earth), and by the time the tourists behind us were joining us at the top, we were ready to head back down.
Whereas most people take the same trail down that they took up, our tour guide, Joaquin (if you decide to do this trek, you must request him as your guide) took us on a different route the way down. So, we got an additional experience that we weren't expecting and, like on the way up, we had this trail completely to ourselves. Words can't even describe the feeling I had while looking out and seeing a field full of alpacas munching on grass at the base of a mountain with a river running through it and glaciers behind it. I could have stayed in this valley for hours longer, soaking in all of its grandeur.
This journey up to Rainbow Mountain was one of the best days of my life.
And this experience made me more curious about the story behind Rainbow Mountain, so I did some digging. It turns out that Vinicunca (what the locals call it) wasn't discovered until 2014, when the snow that had been covering it melted, revealing the stunning rainbow of colors underneath. Locals have been living in this area for a long time, and despite the recent addition of over 1,000 tourists a day visiting the area, the local communities are living almost exactly as the same prior to the tourist explosion.
For Peruvians, this is a holy place. They consider Rainbow Mountain to be a symbol of masculinity and the father and believe that the mountain fertilizes Pachamama (Mother Earth).
So how did Rainbow Mountain get its vibrant coloring? From the 14 different minerals that make up the mountain, each showing a different color. A dormant chain of volcanoes exists in this area and when the volcanoes were active, they brought up to the surface minerals that had been laying deep in the Earth. These minerals were then set into place in different layers and environmental conditions caused the colors to change and become more bright. It is likely that this mountain isn't the only one in the area that has this coloring - it's just that Rainbow Mountain's exterior has been melted and wiped away to reveal the magic underneath.
While Rainbow Mountain certainly stole the show in my eyes, we experienced so much beauty in Peru that it was almost overwhelming. From Machu Picchu to the Sacred Valley, from Cusco to Huacachina, Peru is a truly magical country that reignites your soul and your spirit.
When traveling to Rainbow Mountain, the Flashpacker Connect tour and other tours typically leave from Cusco, so that's where you want to stay. Cusco is a city that deserves a few days of adventure on its own, so be sure to book your stay with time to walk around the beautiful streets of this city and experience the delicious food, shopping, markets, culture, and stunning views.
Our favorite place to stay in Cusco was Casa Andina Premium. This five-star hotel provided us with all the comforts of home with a twist of luxury to make our stay truly special. After our 18-hour Rainbow Mountain journey, laying in the soft king-sized hotel bed felt like the greatest luxury of our lives. I'm a sucker for hotel robes and slippers, and the ones here were top-notch. The included breakfast was great too and full of a variety of options for all dietary restrictions. Peru prides itself on fresh, organic food and Casa Andina Premium definitely delivers.
The hotel is centrally located and puts you just steps away from most of the main tourist attractions of Cusco. It is the ideal home base for exploring all this city and its magical surrounding areas have to offer.
Click for more information on Casa Andina Premium.
Click for more information on Flashpacker Connect's Rainbow Mountain Trek and other experiences around the world.