Greetings everyone! Today I’m going to run you guys through my trip to Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever written a purely “story time” type blog post before, so I decided to try it out. I’m by no means a professional travel blogger, but I feel like everyone experiences every adventure differently and wanted to walk you guys through my adventure the way that I saw it. I hope doing so will allow you guys to be more prepared for this mountain than I was.
I was set to arrive in Cuzco from Lima on November 21st 2019, I decided to fly straight in from Lima instead of rising steadily on land like a lot of other people do to avoid being hit by the altitude sickness as hard. A friend that I had made at my first hostel in Lima told me about how hard the altitude sickness had hit him and how he was pretty much bed ridden with a terrible head and stomach ache for a couple days despite the fact that he’d chewed coca leaves and taken other precautions to combat the altitude sickness. He told me that it would be in my best interests to start preparing a couple days before flying to the city. I’d read that coca leaves caused extreme diarrhea and vomiting in some people, so I decided to avoid taking them. I also didn’t have any altitude pills to take, so I was going to be jumping right into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim on this one.
The flight was pretty short and I arrived in the city after what didn’t feel like too much time at all. I was pretty nervous going into this because I knew that the altitude effected everyone differently and didn’t know what to expect. The seatbelt sign turned off shortly after landing and everyone began exiting the plane. I got up and began walking. I exited the plane and took a couple steps and a couple breaths and it felt like my body had gotten heavier. It felt like somebody had put a weight suit on me. I don’t know if all this was just in my head or if it was the actual altitude sickness hitting me. I walked to the baggage claim belt and grabbed my bags. The bag felt a lot heavier and walking with it was a lot more difficult than it was when I was at sea level.
I ubered to my hostel and checked in. It had gotten harder and harder to breathe by this point. Walking up the three flights of stairs that led to my dorm room was the most physically demanding thing I’d done all week, but I made it.
I had talked to a lot of travellers in Lima about their experiences with the altitude and how long it took them to acclimatize. The general consensus seemed to be between 3 and 7 days. A lot of people told me that I should spend the first couple days relaxing and allowing my body to adjust to the altitude. I kind of sort of…. didn’t do any of that… at all… Before I knew it, we were out walking around the city the first night to have dinner. Going down the steps into town was no joke!
By the second day, we were out walking quite a bit trying to find cheap tours to Machu Picchu. This also included a lot of stairs. To make matters worse, I’d also read that one should avoid drinking alcohol and strenuous exercise until acclimatized. Despite that, we decided to drink and dance later on that night. I hardly ever really drank in Canada, so my body gets hit by alcohol pretty hard and pretty quickly. I got back from the club at 5:00 AM…
I was up the next day at 9 AM to go on a walking tour that included even more stairs… and llamas and alpacas! The animals were cool, but the stairs weren’t. I don’t understand the obsession the locals have with altitude and stairs… Despite the suffering, the walking tour was still super interesting… I was hunched over gasping for air more than I was enjoying the historical monuments we were walking by… but it was still interesting nonetheless!
The tour guide told us about a place called Cristo Blanco and how there was allegedly a very cool view of the whole city from there. We decided to go and check it out. Guess what we found first? Did you guess stairs? Yup, you’re right… Even more damn stairs! We walked all the way up the stairs and after stopping at least ten times to catch our breath, we finally made it to the top. The view was amazing, but we were all exhausted and dying of fatigue. We did a couple more hours of walking before returning to the hostel which is when the plan to go to Palccoyo started to take form.
The Plan began to form…
If you’ve already read, this post, then you probably know the story about how this whole idea came into fruition. Instead of rewriting the whole thing, I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote into this post, but I’m also going to elaborate a bit more.
We all got back to the hostel after the gruelling walking tour, the hike up the stairs to Cristo Blanco and the cheap meal we had afterwards to refuel. I was tired at this point and didn’t really feel like going back out. I saw a group of people that I knew and went to sit with them. They were discussing going to Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. I wanted to visit both of these sites, but hadn’t been able to push myself to finally just do it. The one American guy in the group got up and said he was going to go book his tour at the tourist office around the corner and asked if I’d like to join. I thought about it briefly, but was still on the fence. I still needed a bit more convincing for some reason. “You wanna come or not?” He asked. “Alright, I’ll come!” I responded. I guess I didn’t need as much convincing as I’d originally thought. He went out to go book his ticket and I ran back to my dorm room to get some cash, so that I could book mine too. After getting kind of lost, I found the tourist office and booked my ticket too. We’d learned earlier that day that there are two sides to Rainbow Mountain that are accessible for tourists. The touristy side that everyone visits and another, less touristy side called Palccoyo. We decided to go to Palccoyo because it was cheaper and because a lot of people had said that it was more aesthetically pleasing. This was it, there was no backing out now. In less than 24 hours, I’d be 5000 meters above sea level. I really didn’t feel ready… especially given the fact that I had been struggling with everything else in Cuzco so much. Despite this, I set my alarm for 5:30 A.M… I was happy and mad at the same time, but eventually went to bed.
The Road to Polccoyo Rainbow Mountain
5:30 came a lot faster than I thought and I was jolted out of my dreams and back into reality by my alarm. I hesitantly got ready and prepared my daypack and got ready to go. I made my way down the stairs where I joined the American guy and a few other guys that had also decided to go to this mountain. We waited for the bus together and some ate bread. I wish I’d eaten something too in hindsight, because there would be no proper meal until 3 PM.
The bus ride was scary and there were a couple times where I was certain the bus would fall off the edges of the cliffs that we were driving so close to. We eventually made it to a city called Checacupe. This was the first bathroom stop. The guide explained that we’d have 20 minutes to use the bathroom and to explore the city.
Random side notes!
***Bring change and small bills if you end up going the same route as us because using the bathroom cost 1 Sol and the people working the bathrooms didn’t seem to have change. The toilets also don’t have seats and the workers only give you three squares of toilet paper. It’s expected that you bring your own. This didn’t seem to effect anybody in our group, but I’m sure you can imagine how this could have easily turned into a very “shitty” situation. Pun totally intended!***.
I went into a store to try and get change and quickly discovered that they didn’t have change for large bills either. I was very surprised by this. Luckily I was able to find 1 Sol deep inside one of my pockets and paid to use the bathroom.
After using the bathroom, I decided to explore the city and see if I could find a place that had more change and something for me to eat. I asked around and I found that some people in the village seemed to only speak Quechua. I remember one instance where I asked a lady if she knew where I could buy cooked chicken and she turned to the lady beside her who answered in Quechua and then she relayed the message back to me in Spanish. I found that so fascinating because I naively believed that everyone in Peru was fluent in Spanish. I took the lady’s advice and walked, until I found the food she was talking about, but it was street food, so I decided to opt out just in case it would end up unsettling my stomach. I decided to keep searching until I found a store that had change and bought some plantain chips and also some dried corn just so that I’d have a little bit of food in my stomach. The twenty minutes was running out, so I made my way back to the bus. On the way to the bus, I remembered that I had screenshotted a list of Quechua phrases the day before and tried to use them on some of the people to test out my pronunciation. The people seemed to understand what I was saying and one lady corrected my pronunciation which was nice. The town seemed very business orientated and most of the people I talked to seemed more interested in me buying things than me trying to speak to them in Quechua, but understandably so. I ended up buying a bracelet from one of the people I talked to and then got back on the bus.
Getting closer to Palccoyo
We were on the road again. The road got extremely bumpy as we got closer to the mountain. I recommend sitting at the front of the bus if you have motion sickness. I sat near the front and STILL felt like I was going to puke. Despite this the landscape going in was breathtaking.
There seemed to be more and more llamas as we got closer to the mountain, too. This trip really made me love llamas.
We neared the entrance. The guide warned us that there would be one last bathroom break and that this would be it until we got back down from the mountain. We got off and we all went to use the bathroom. Surprise! We had to pay 1 Sol again and surprise! They only gave everyone three squares of toilet paper again. I was prepared this time because I’d gotten change from one of the vendors in Checacupe. It was still weird for me because I don’t normally carry any cash or change on me at all in Canada, but I was slowly getting used to doing it in Peru. I decided to try using more of the Quechua phrases that I’d screenshotted on some of the people working near the entrance and bathrooms. My pronunciation was better thanks to the people in Checacupe. I got mixed reviews. Everyone responded in Quechua( I didn’t really understand the responses), but some people seemed happy and some people seemed indifferent. Can you blame them though? I was blatantly reading off of a list of phrases. Anyway, it was still practice!
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
After we’d all finished using the bathrooms, we began the trek. We were given walking sticks when we entered. The guide told us that the entire trek would take about an hour and a half if I remember correctly. I don’t think he took into account how out of shape most of us were. I was now nearly 5000 meters above sea level and the oxygen was so thin. If you struggled in Cuzco, I guarantee you’ll struggle on the mountain too, so prepare yourself for that. Some people drank coca tea and some people chewed coca leaves. I did neither and the first ten steps felt like a I’d just jogged for 20 minutes. The guide had no problem with any of this. He was clearly very acclimatized and jogged and laughed a couple of times. I still think he’s secretly Marvel’s new Peruvian super hero because that air was THIN and it didn’t seem to effect him at all. The first ten minutes of the ascent were somehow the hardest and then it seemed to smooth out a little bit afterwards. I found that I kept wanting to try and walk as fast as I would at sea level, but I’d end up out of breath and clenching my chest while gasping for air. You have to walk extremely slowly and keep a slow and steady pace. We stopped and took a lot of pictures because the landscape was just so magical. The original group kind of split up into smaller groups at one point because everyone moved at different speeds and the number of photos that people took also varied. The number of photos that people took really effected their speed. It ended up being just me and the American guy from my hostel for most of the hike because everyone else had gotten ahead of us. We eventually caught up to the guide and talked to him for a while. He showed us some cool vantage points and then pointed to this area that was allegedly “the top” from my understanding. I saw that a few people had already gone up there and were on their way back down. I decided to try it out. The path up there kind of zig zags up to the top. The guide said we had a couple more minutes before we’d have to go back to the bus, so I decided to try it. This would have been tiring at sea level, so imagine doing this 5000 meters above sea level. That didn’t cross my mind for some reason, so I decided to just try it anyway while completely forgetting the fact that it would take significantly longer because I wouldn’t be able to walk nearly as fast as I could at sea level. Once again, I’m going to just copy and paste from my last blog post while elaborating a bit more.
I began walking. My Apple Watch claims that I was at about 4900 meters above sea level at this point. I pushed and pushed and got half way and needed to sit down. I couldn’t breathe and was panting aggressively. I really wasn’t feeling good at this point and I kind of felt like I was going to lose consciousness which would NOT have been good because that would mean my limp, unconscious body would be rolling down the side of a mountain. I waited a couple minutes until my heart rate slowed and then tried to keep pushing. I’m pretty sure I got 80-90% of the way and the end was in sight. The guide was yelling “Vamos Vamos Vamos” to the people at the top at this point, but I stupidly ignored him and tried to keep going. I pushed and pushed and pushed but eventually had to give up. It didn’t matter how much I set my mind to it, my body wouldn’t let me go on. I decided to give up and just go back down. A cool view wasn’t worth my life. It didn’t matter how much I set my mind to it or pushed myself, I just couldn’t do it. Was I disappointed? Of course! Was it the end of the world? No! My cardio is not the greatest at sea level, so imagine trying to push my body hard at 5000 meters above sea level! I respected my weakness. I could always try again another time after a bit of training. It wasn’t the end of the world and I still had a great time at the site anyway.
I ended up with a really bad headache. It reminded me of the headaches we’d get when we’d try to see who could hold their breath the longest as children. In hindsight, I’m still happy I didn’t try to keep pushing onwards because I was so close to losing consciousness and I WOULD have fallen off.
The road back
We all used the bathrooms again and then got back on the bus. The road back was a lot harder than the road going in because my body was finally starting to process the fact that I had hardly eaten anything and that I had also just gone on a long hike at such a high altitude. Hunger and thirst definitely effect you differently at high altitudes, so be careful and make sure you eat and drink enough water. A lot of other people in the group shared this sentiment. I was still at the front of the bus, but my motion sickness effected me a lot more on the way back.
As promised, we stopped about half way to have a meal which was buffet style which was cool. The guide had asked if anyone had any allergies when we’d originally left Cuzco and also if there were any vegans or vegetarians in the group, but the meal did seem to be more catered towards meat eaters. I don’t know if all the tours are like that, but ours was definitely more on the meaty side. There were a few vegetable dishes though. All the the dishes were Peruvian dishes and that included the dessert. That was cool. It was a cool gateway into authentic Peruvian cuisine. The meal was pretty satisfying and afterwards we continued on to make one more stop and then we arrived in Cuzco. I still struggled to breathe, but it was definitely a lot easier than when I was on the mountain.
Overall, it was a great trip and I would totally do it again with a bit more preparation. The entire trip including the bus, the guide and the meal cost 70 Soles which is 27.445 dollars Canadian and 20.679 dollars American at the time of this posting. We did a lot for under 30 dollars when you think about it! The price goes up a bit if I add personal items that were purchased, but that would vary from person to person. My only advice for people who decide to attempt this is to make sure that you eat breakfast and drink lots of water beforehand. I also urge you to bring toilet paper because you don’t want to be stuck on the bus to or from Rainbow mountain with colourful underwear. The mountains are colourful enough. No extra colours are needed. Like I said earlier, we were all lucky enough to not have had any problems as a result of this, but we weren’t warned, so I’m taking it upon myself to warn you! Also make sure that your squat game is on point because there are no toilet seats. Carry change because nobody seemed to have change for anything bigger than a 50 Sol note. Other than that, enjoy the trip as it is BREATH taking (literally AND figuratively)! I would definitely do it again!
If you enjoyed this style of blog post, please let me know in the comments and I’ll gladly write about my trip to Machu Picchu!
Thanks for reading and I hope this blog post is able to help at least one person out!