Though I would normally recommend planning ahead of time, I’ve found that in my travels this summer, doing things last minute gets you both a better experience and a better deal. My most recent trip to Vinicunca (otherwise known as Rainbow Mountain or Montaña de Colores) is a prime example of this. I knew what weekend I wanted to go, but hadn’t made any other plans for the hike. Travel companies are a dime a dozen in Cusco, and I figured that all I needed to do was get there.
Friday morning we started our day by walking into the plaza to look for a ride. Locals travel by taking a combi, which is a white van that looks like one of those shuttle buses that hotels have. The ride to Cusco from Ollanta is only 10 soles if you travel this way, but because there were six of us (enough to fill a van), we were able to take a private collectivo for the same price! Note to travelers: do NOT pay more than this for the journey unless you’re taking a taxi; even then it should only be 15 soles for the drive.
Though I don’t speak Spanish, two of the volunteers with me, Joe and Val, are native speakers and struck up a conversation with our driver. He told us that he had friends in Cusco that could give us a better deal on the Rainbow Mountain package AND a hostel nearby. We couldn’t have done it better if we had tried. The reality is that things in Peru are a lot less expensive than in the U.S. If you book from the States, you could pay around 100+ (about 300 soles) for the same excursion we paid 55 soles for (18 dollars).
With the package, we received a ride to and from the mountain, breakfast and lunch, and a guide to make sure nothing happened to us during the experience. I will say that the hike is difficult. Though there is only an incline during a few parts of the climb, the altitude is so high that even walking is significantly harder–especially for tourists that haven’t had the time to acclimate. About a month prior to going to Vinicunca, I did a hike with my group in Patacancha that ended at 14,000 feet (about 3,000 lower than Vinicunca) and that was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. Knowing that, my friends and I decided to pay for the horse so that we could enjoy the experience more.
For those of you who feel that riding a horse is a cop out and that you’d want to do the hike, let me clarify that the ride was no easy thing (unless you’re an equestrian; in that case ignore me). I was terrified for the first 20 minutes because my guide thought it would be fun to run the whole time. However, if you still want to do the walk, it’s very doable! Two of my companions decided they didn’t want to pay for a horse, and they managed the whole hike in about an hour (give or take). So bring your sunscreen, keep your expectations low and your awareness high, and you’ll have a great time.
Feel free to message me if you have any questions about stuff to pack/paying for the hike, etc. xoxo.