Mistakes I Made at Rainbow Mountain, Peru So You Don't Have To

If you're planning a trip to Peru, Cusco is probably on your mind as a destination. From Cusco you have tons of options for day trips in the surrounding area. one of those is Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca by locals. 

About Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain is a very particular mountain in the Andes mountain range. it is known for its colorful layers which are created by 14 different sediments. on a dry sunny day, the colors will be very vibrant and it will look like the pictures you see on social media.

To get to Rainbow Mountain, you have to book an official tour through a reputable tour company,  which you can do through sites like get your guide and Viator.

I went to Rainbow Mountain in mid-February which is the rainy season in this area. fortunately for me there was no rain, but there was snow. I like to be prepared for anything when I go hiking, but sometimes you just can't prepare enough.

Here are mistakes I made at Rainbow Mountain in Peru so you don't have to:

1. I went to Rainbow Mountain as my first day trip in the area

Now this may not sound like a mistake but I guarantee you that it is. Out of all the day trips from Cusco, Rainbow Mountain will take you to the highest elevation, to nearly 5,200 meters above sea level. If you're wondering how high that is, that's at about the same height as Everest Base Camp. That is incredibly high up.

Fortunately I had time to acclimate to Cusco's elevation, but there is a significant difference in the two elevations. Cusco is around 3,400 meters above sea level. That’s a difference of 1,800 meters.

Along those lines, my next mistake was…

2. I didn't properly prepare for the altitude 

As you read about coming to Cusco and many of the attractions in the area, you'll read that it's common to chew coca leaves, drink coca tea, or ingest coca in some fashion before completing an activity that has a gain in elevation. Because I had spent about 2 weeks in Cusco before going on my first day trip to somewhere with a higher elevation, I was confident that I would be fine.

I was not. 

I didn't ingest Coca in any form before going to Rainbow Mountain. I had the option to make coca tea or chew coca leaves at home because my Airbnb host left me a welcome pack of coca leaves. I had another opportunity to drink Coca tea at breakfast because the tour company includes a buffet breakfast, and they offer coca tea. I did not drink any.

And that leads me to my next mistake...

3. I tried to hike like normal for a hike that is not normal

At the very beginning of the hike, I went about hiking like I normally would. I'm not a fast hiker but I'm not a slow hiker. I'm somewhere in the middle. so at the beginning of this hike I started to go at my normal pace and very quickly found out that was not going to work here.  the parking lot at Rainbow Mountain is already at 4,800 m above sea level. The beginning of the hike starts out very high up.  I quickly learned that you have to change your breathing pattern when you're up this high. I quickly had shortness of breath because it was difficult to breathe. I had never been this high in elevation before other than being in a plane so I wasn't prepared for how different it is. I had to stop very quickly into the hike to catch my breath and normalize my breathing. after that as I continued on the hike, I took it very slow and took many breaks. I continually repeated the phrase in my head that slow and steady wins the race. and it was no competition to get to the top.

4. I was not prepared for winter weather

Because it was rainy season, I prepared for rain. It never dawned on me that being so high in elevation meant there was a higher likelihood of snow. When we first arrived to hike, it was snowing and very windy. I had enough clothing layers that I was for the most part fine, but I didn't pack gloves and with using a trekking pole, At least one of my hands had to be out of my pocket at all times. I did have the option to buy gloves at the very beginning of the hike but I chose not to because at that time my hands were fine. instead, since I had prepared for rain, I had packed extra hiking socks in case mine got wet. I used those as gloves. Even as silly or dumb as it looked, they got the job done and kept my hands warm when I needed them to.

5. I paid the price for not using proper sun protection

In hindsight, I feel very dumb for not protecting my face from the sun. When we arrived it was cloudy, overcast, snowing, and windy, so I didn't think too much about using sunscreen or wearing a hat. For majority of the hike, it was cloudy and overcast. Only for a brief amount of time at the top while viewing Rainbow Mountain was it actually sunny.

What I learned was that because we were in such high elevation, the sun is more powerful even if it's behind clouds. About 3 hours after leaving the top of the mountain and getting to lunch at about 2:30pm, my face had already begun to show that I was sunburned. at that time all I had packed with me that I could put on my face was my tinted moisturizer with SPF. I put some on because of the moisturization in hopes that would help the early signs of sunburn.

We arrived back in Cusco around 5:30 p.m. and I went straight home because I was very tired from the hike. when I got home I noticed the sunburn was starting to set in even more. By 7pm,  the sunburn had become miserable. from about my eyebrows down, my face began to show signs of water blisters. my eyes became swollen and then started to run and wouldn't stop, and that became even more miserable and unbearable pain. I went to sleep because I couldn't deal with the pain.

The next morning when I woke up my face had only gotten worse. I didn't have aloe with me but I had moisturizer so I constantly reapplied to allow my face to soak in moisture so the sunburn didn't dry out. I looked so awful and scary that I was not willing to go out in public to go get aloe. my face moisturizer would have to do the trick until I felt comfortable going out in public again.

I have never had such severe sunburn in my life. I've had a few bad sunburns in the past.  one time I had sunburn that caused a heat rash. I've also had times in the past where I've blistered and peeled but that process was usually fairly quick.

With this sunburn, it took an entire week for my face to go through the healing process.  it definitely got worse before it got better but majority of my face from my eyebrows down blistered, scabbed, and peeled.  throughout the healing process, my face was stiff and it was hard to open my mouth to eat. I didn't have much of an appetite while healing either.

No matter what the weather is when you go to Rainbow Mountain, make sure that you take the proper precautions to protect any Exposed Skin from the Sun.  you'll thank me for this later.

6. I overpacked my bag for hiking

As an avid hiker, I like to be prepared for anything when I go hiking. you never know what will happen when you're hiking,  and I've read about and watched many horror stories about unprepared hikers.

Because of the nature of this hike and it being with a guided tour, plus the fact that there are hundreds of other guided tours happening at the same time, I don't feel like I needed to be as prepared as I normally would.

We had the option to leave stuff in the van, and I should have left more than I did so that my bag wasn't so heavy. I'm used to it being a little heavier for hikes, but majority of the things in my bag did not come out of my bag and we're not needed.

I do want to add though, that you should prepare your backpack with what you feel is right for you.

7. I left my external battery at home

As a Solo Traveler I try to take my external battery with me everywhere.  I don't want to be left anywhere with a dead phone and no way to charge it. the night before, I ensured while I was packing my bag that I charged my external battery to bring with me. I made the mistake of not putting it directly in my bag once it was charged and instead put it on my nightstand next to my bed. and that's where it stayed.

During the hike, you will be taking lots of pictures and videos which can quickly and drain your phone’s battery.  I left with my phone fully charged and put it into low power mode to conserve energy. what I did not do was put in an airplane mode which would have helped conserve more battery life so that's another mistake. but when we got back on the bus to head to lunch and then head home my phone was down to 9% left. that's when I discovered that I did not have my external battery with me to charge my phone so I ended up turning off my phone for the rest of the trip. from about 1:00 p.m. until we arrived in Cusco at around 5:30 p.m. my phone was off so that I could turn it back on to navigate back to my Airbnb when we got to cusco.  by the time I made it home I had 3% battery left and my phone went directly on the charger. and that's when I discovered that the external battery was next to my bed.


Even with all of these mistakes, I had an incredible time at Rainbow Mountain taking in the beauty of this incredible mountain range. if I were to go again, there's a lot of things I would do differently to make it more enjoyable of a hike that I would actually be prepared for.

When you're planning for your visit to Rainbow Mountain, keep these mistakes in mind so you don't have to make them too.


If Rainbow Mountain, the city of Cusco, or the country of Peru is on your travel bucket list, you can learn more about the area, the culture, day trips, and more here.

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