When one goes to Peru nowadays, there are two signature photos: Machu Picchu and the Rainbow mountain. We had heard mixed stories about the mountain and were baffled about the high prices some touring companies asked (sometimes as much as 100$). So, we set ourselves a challenge: we would book a low budget Rainbow Mountain Tour.
Admittedly, we were first thinking of only booking transportation but then we came across this tour that offered transport, a guide, breakfast ánd lunch for 50 soles (excluding entrance fees to the rainbow mountain and red valley for 10 soles each).
It sounded like a bargain and we prepared ourselves for the worst. However, the tour was well organized and we had a great day. Not so much because of the Rainbow Mountains tough, it was impossibly crowded there. No, the reason was the Red Valley one of the most beautiful things we had ever seen.
In this post, we will guide you through our experience of our low budget Rainbow Mountain tour and our visit to the Red Valley. If you want to read more about how to get the most out of a visit to the Red Valley, click here!
Where to Book your low budget Rainbow Mountain tour
Unlike the Salkantay trek, this tour would only take one day. There would be no cooks or porters traveling along, no guides responsible for your multiple-day wellbeing, and no horses to carry your stuff. We could not understand why one would pay $100 instead of $20 offered by the low budget Rainbow Mountain tour.
The low prices, however, also makes why more and more people visit the site. Whereas Machu Picchu receives similar amounts of people a day, it is still possible to enjoy the world wonder in peace. For the Rainbow Mountain, this is not the case. Even though Instagram makes you believe you will have the spot all to yourself (#rainbowmountain with more than 100.000 hits at the moment of writing), it was a very frustrating experience to us.
Visiting the Rainbow Mountain super cheap, without a tour, is hardly possible because transportation is impossible to find. Fortunately, there are mulitple tours that offer transport, a guide, breakfast ánd lunch for 50 soles. You would only have to pay the entrances to the rainbow mountain and possibly (but recommended) to the red valley for 10 soles each.
Booking the Rainbow Mountain tour cheap
Accordingly, we decided to book the tour with at Coya Travel, who offer the tour for only 50 soles. It is one of those companies who is only the middle man. All bookings are later combined into one big group.
We had heard that the TRUE HIGHLIGHT IS THE RED VALLEY, not the rainbow mountain. Tour guides prefer you not to go there though because it takes more time. So it is important you inform about this while booking and to remind your guides at breakfast. Check the weather before final booking, walking at 5100 meters in the rain is no fun.
TIP: To prevent a snow-covered Rainbow, you can also check Instagram #rainbowmountain just before booking. Scroll to most recent photos and see the status.
Transport to the Rainbow
The pick-up was planned between 4:30 and 4:50. However, after contacting the booking lady at 5:00 am, a young man in arrived in an old Toyota 15 minutes later. It turned out he would bring us to the bus on the highway out of Cusco. There, at 5:45 am, we met the rest of our tour group for the day and started our drive into the mountains.
In general, the transportation was good. The bus, although without safety belts, was well maintained and felt safe. The driver was super skilled and guided us through the scariest roads without any problem. We had heard horror stories about the way back, that it would take 4 hours instead of 2. Fortunately, this was not the case and all went well.
Breakfast, lunch, and snacks
The food location was at a one-hour distance from the hike and seemed to be in the house of one of the villagers. For the price we paid, we had low expectations. However, breakfast was a decent continental with bread, jam, butter and unlimited coca/bagged tea and even an omelet. Lunch was buffet style, with enough options for various diets (think salads, lomo saltado, rice etc.). Everything was very tasty, so we were positively suprised with the price-quality.
During the hike there were small stores where you could buy snacks and water. These you can find at the parking lot, along the track and even at the top.
The Hike to the rainbow
When we arrived at the playa (parking place) it became very clear we were not the only ones doing the hike: it was packed with vans. This place is a tourist machine, receiving thousands of tourists each day. Before leaving we got a wooden walking stick each and an introduction to the hike. The first part is “Inca-flat”, meaning gradually ascending with some up and downs. On this part, there are be horses. The last part is 30 minutes steep up to 5100 meters.
TIP: Take altitude pills when you wake up at 4:00 am because you are about to reach serious altitude.
The hike is not easy, the altitude makes sure of that, but it really is doable in 1,5 hours. There are two tracks parallel to each other. It is mainly the horses with tourists that use the lower track. If you are a fast walker, that path could be better because there are almost no tourists there, whereas on the higher track it is packed with walkers.
As you start at 4700 meters and walk to about 5100 meters, the hike can be quite tiring (especially when you have just finished for instance the Salkantay trek). In case you cannot make the hike, there are horses to your service.
Different fares apply: return is 80 soles, whereas only uphill will cost you 60 soles and the way back 40 soles. Our guide told us that the service is rotated over the villages: every village gets one week to make the most of it. That is also why they run back after dropping off tourists.
Personally, we are always careful about animals and tourism, as you do not know how the owners treat their animals behind the scenes. So, make sure to check if you feel the animals are well treated.
At the breakfast/lunch place, you can freely use the bathroom. However, there is no toilet paper. During the hike, there are two places to use the toilet. The first on 25 minutes walking from the start, the second just before the steep part begins (so 40 minutes further). They charge you 1 sol if you use toilet paper and only 0,50 soles if you have your own. The toilets are the classic squat toilet and therefore easy to use.
The goal of our budget tour: the Rainbow Mountain
That iconic photo people post on social media with no one in the background? It’s a bit different in reality… It was packed with tourists. This is, of course, a consequence of the increased supply of cheap Rainbow Mountain Tours. Anyways, you will need some proper posing and cutting skills for “the shot”. To take that photo, the idea is the following: you climb the higher mountain and from up high you take the photo with the rainbow in the background.
TIP: Half way you have some spots where you can sit down. If your photographer is willing to lay in the sand, this makes for a good photo.
TIP: When you book a (more expensive) trip that arrives earlier there are fewer tourists.
Patience at 5100 meters… It’s a challenge and we really did not enjoy our time here. In all honesty, it was to be expected when visiting the Rainbow Mountain is this cheap.
The Red Valley = must visit!!
After a traumatizing experience with all the tourists on the mountain, our guide asked us who wanted lunch. This is the moment you need to stay strong and say you really want to go to the Red Valley viewpoint, please do. In this post we tell you all you need to know to get the most out of your visit to the valley, how to get there, including a little map with walking times…
But in short: descent the rainbow mountain and on the left, you will find a path uphill in the direction of red mountains. Keep walking till you find a checkpoint and pay 10 soles. Immediately you are faced by one of the most extraordinary views possible: red mountains with spots of green as far as you can see. Make your way to the viewpoint for an even better view. The biggest benefit: you are almost alone, as the extra effort at 5100 meters scares people off. We shared our view with only 5 others.
Whereas some companies offer hikes through the red valley, we could only do the mirador (viewpoint). Fortunately, people who did the hike through the valley said the viewpoint was the best anyway. When you are done, make your way back to the checkpoint, pass the rocks and use the short cut back to the parking lot. Your group will be waiting there for you.
What to bring
Wear layers, as during the hike it’s quite warm, whereas on the top its super cold. Gloves and heads are not a luxury. Bring sunblock because you burn alive at this altitude. Decent hiking boots are only needed if it has rained. Bring your altitude pills with you, but preferably take one in the morning. Lastly, we advise bringing some small money for tips. With a 10 soles tip, you really make a difference for your driver and your cook, especially because they do not expect it. Big smiles were the result.
The Conclusion: should you book a budget Rainbow Mountain tour?
Yes. In the end, we really enjoyed our day. The mountain is something special, it is just a bit sad it’s so crowded. However, the budget tour to the Rainbow Mountain did allow us to see the beautiful Red Valley. Overall, the tour was really well organized and a good value for money option. By tipping the Cooks and Driver, these people also benefitted a little bit more. Conclusion, a low budget Rainbow Mountain tour is 70 soles well spent!