How to Hike Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Hiking Rainbow Mountain is one of the most popular day trips from Cusco, Peru. There are countless number of tour agencies offering day trips from Cusco if you want to go with a group. But did you know you can also go on your own?
It’s super easy, so much more convenient, and definitely more comfortable to hike Rainbow Mountain on your own. And if you’re at least 2 people, the price is almost the same. The group tours leave Cusco at 3-4 AM, but you can sleep in, miss the crowds, and have Rainbow Mountain all to yourself. I highly recommend this day trip from Cusco!
If you want to do this hike on your own, you do need to be prepared. Keep reading below for everything you need to know about hiking Rainbow Mountain on your own.
Why Hike Rainbow Mountain On Your Own
Sleep in and start fresh — Group tours to Rainbow Mountain leave Cusco at 3-4 AM. If you’ve ever done a group tour like this, you know they give you a window of time in which you’ll be picked up. So you have to be ready at 3 AM, but you could be waiting until 4 AM while they pick everyone else up… Alternatively you’re in the bus driving around for an hour while you pick everyone else up. It’s not the best way to start the day. This is a challenging hike, you definitely want to be well-rested! If you go on your own, you can start at a decent hour and be picked up on time right from your hotel.
Go at your own pace — Many of the reviews we read about group tours to Rainbow Mountain said they felt rushed. It’s not the easiest hike — you’ll probably need to stop for a few breaks and you’ll definitely want to stop for photos! I really didn’t want to feel rushed or pressured — I much prefer to go on my own and go at my own pace!
Skip the crowds — Everyone else goes to Rainbow Mountain at the same time. That means they’re all up at the top at the same time. There isn’t a lot of space at the top (with the best views), and it wouldn’t be pleasant with a huge crowd of people. If you time it right, you can get there just as they’re all leaving.
Pick the day — You definitely want to do this hike on a nice, sunny day. If you go on your own, you can check the weather and decide the day before you want to go. But even if you go to Rainbow Mountain with a group, you don’t need to book in advance. There are many tour agencies in Cusco and you can just pop in and arrange a tour the day before you want to go. Definitely check the weather and choose the best day!
The drive — The road to Rainbow Mountain is gorgeous. It’s along a canyon rim with beautiful overlooks. You’ll see creeks with rainbow rocks and waterfalls flowing over the road. It’s also steep and narrow. I would not want to do this drive in a giant bus!
How to Get To Rainbow Mountain
Thanks to my friend and fellow travel blogger, TrimmTravels, I learned you can hire a taxi for the day to take you to Rainbow Mountain. They will wait for you while you do the hike, then bring you back to Cusco when you’re done.
Hiring a Taxi
We stayed at the JW Marriott in Cusco and they quoted 300 soles for their taxi service to take us. This gave us a starting point on the price, and we knew could always go that route if we couldn’t find any other way, but we also knew we could most definitely get a better price with a little negotiation.
We hailed a few taxis on the street, talked with them, got their prices, and found one guy that seemed super friendly and happy to take us. He originally quoted 300 soles ($90 USD), but almost immediately went down to 250 soles ($75 USD) when we hesitated on the price. We got his WhatsApp number and booked him for the next day.
In contrast, group tours to Rainbow Mountain are around 80 soles ($25 USD) per person, so the price for a private taxi is not that much more expensive, if you have 2 people. And the added convenience and comfort is a thousand times worth the small extra price.
I am not the best at negotiating, so you might could even get a better price. My advice for negotiating is to not say immediately what hotel you want to be picked up from… Just negotiate a price from the center, then give the hotel name after you’ve agreed on the price.
When to Go
We left Cusco at 7 AM on April 11, 2018. We arrived to the Rainbow Mountain trailhead at 10:30 AM. It took us 2 hours to get to the top. It’s uphill the entire way, but it’s not too steep. However the altitude is very high, and the last 15 minutes were very challenging for me. It only took us about 1 hour to go back down.
This was the perfect timing to miss the crowds. We got up to the top just as everyone else was leaving, and we had the top all to ourselves. Such an awesome experience. However for the weather, I was wishing we had left just 1 hour earlier. There was not a single cloud in the sky the whole day…. until we got to the top, then all of sudden it was complete cloud coverage!! However if we’d been there one hour earlier, there would’ve been lots of people at the top, also. Just something to keep in mind.
After you start the hike, there will be many guides offering to let you hire a horse to ride up the trail. But keep in mind there are many places where you have to get off and walk anyway because the trail is too steep/narrow for you to ride safely. And you have to walk the last 15 minutes or so on your own. The trail is not so difficult that you really need a horse, and I prefer to hike, so we didn’t get one. It’s also not that much faster, because the guide has to walk next to you, and you have to get off and on a bunch of times. But the option is there if you want it. Expect to pay around 80 soles, and make sure that price includes there and back! You could also negotiate for one-way.
Tips for Hiking Rainbow Mountain — What You Need To Know
Bring you own food, snacks, and plenty of water! The good thing about the group tours is they do include breakfast and lunch. If you go on your own, you will have to bring your own food. If you leave later, you can have breakfast at your hotel. But definitely bring something with you to eat right before you start the hike. It’s 3.5 hours to get there, and that’s a long time since breakfast. The hike is 2 hours up and it’s a bit challenging, so you don’t want to attempt it on an empty stomach. Have a few snacks with you in case you need to stop along the way, and pack a sandwich for lunch for when you come down.
Don’t forget water. Drinking lots of water will help with the altitude. I recommend bringing at least 1 liter per person on the hike with you, and have a extra bottle to leave in the car for when you get back.
Wear sunscreen and pack layers. The hike is very pleasant in the sun. I wore 3/4 length yoga pants with a warm long-sleeve shirt that I could push up the sleeves if it got hot. But the very top of the mountain is cold and SUPER windy. You’ll definitely need a warm jacket up there! Also you’ll sunburn much quicker at higher altitude, so wear plenty of sunscreen.
Bring cash. You’ll need to pay 10 soles for the entry fee for the hike. Plus a few coins in case you need to use a bathroom. The port-a-potties at the beginning and end of the trail were free, but it looked like there were some in the middle of the trail that took coins.
Be sure to bring your own toilet paper!!
Once you’re back in the taxi, on the way down the mountain you may see some school children hitch-hiking. We decided to pick one boy up, and asked our driver to stop. He was probably 10 years old. The boy told us he has to walk to the next village over every day back and forth to school. He said it would take him over an hour to walk home. However he was in the car with us for at least 30 minutes before he told our driver to let him out — I don’t think there’s any way he could’ve done that walk in a hour! So if you see any children hitch-hiking and want to help them, let your driver know it’s okay to pick them up.
If you do decide to go with a group to Rainbow Mountain, I recommend Conde Travel Adventures. Their office is on Portal Espinar, one block over from the Plaza De Armas. I booked a different hike with them another day and had a great experience. I didn’t feel rushed at all!
Thanks so much for reading! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.