If you’ve never heard of the colourful Rainbow Mountain in cusco before at 5,000 metres above sea level allow me – it is a colorful mountainside in the Andes of Peru. the colors you see were formed by sedimentary mineral layers in the mountain that have been exposed by erosion. It’s truly amazing sight!!
It the toughest & and most rewarding thing we’ve ever done, breathing becomes a challenge once at the top. Your heart start beating quite fast and you find yourself incapable of breathing almost gasping for breath.
Be warned, at 12 kilometres: not an easy task. So how do you get up there to witness this beauty for yourself? We don’t want to discourage you from tackling this particular trip, but be aware of the challenges. And we also manage to fit in the city in the sky: Machu Picchu.
More on this later and how you can be better prepared for this hike.
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We couldn’t come all this way without taking some beautiful photos to share. Please enjoy below.
It’s worth mentioning that flying all the way from UK to that part of the world can be a little bit challenging with all the stop overs including the 15 hours flight journey time in the air from London via Madrid to Lima as there are no direct flights to Cusco . Long haul flights are the only part of a trip I don’t particularly enjoy that much but a window seat usually eases it bit, for me anyway ☺. Our trip consisted of three destination tours of South America. Our other Latin America stopovers were Chile and East Island. This happens to be my first time visit to any part of Latin America so you can imagine the excitement, not so for Ana who’s been to Mexico in the past and now travelling with me. But I digress, on to Cusco.
Something you might not be aware of is that Cusco is a quite small city where the weather changes dramatically: it is a bit chilly in the morning, gets quite hot in the afternoon and goes very cold in the evening, so be prepared for every scenario! both winter and Summer clothes will come handy.
Also, bear in mind that Cusco is 3,400 m (11,200 ft) above Sea level, so you may feel a bit of a headache and general sickness on a first day as was in our own experience and talking to other like minded travellers we meat, don’t be discouraged by this, it is only temporarily, a by product of change in from your natural environment to new, it will go away and the city offers so many activities to enjoy!
We arrived at the Novotel hotel in the morning, our base for the next 6 days. Our prior homework on where to stay was duly rewarded. It’s a what I would call a rather elegant hotel, we fell in love with it straight away with it structure like colonial times design which makes it unique and a stand out from your average city hotels. It’s nice clean, warm and welcoming atmosphere and the personnel are just absolutely wonderful! We were welcomed with a coca leaf tea, highly recommend you to try it by the way, love it! We then checked into our rooms and although it was a long trip, we couldn’t wait to explore the city!
So we made our way to “Plaza de Armas” just 5 minutes away from the hotel. Plaza de Armas is the main square in the city – it is worth mentioning that this is the case in many cities in Latin America. You will still see some inca carvings but it is fair to say that the Square is dominated by colonial buildings: both the Cusco Cathedral and the Compañía de Jesús Church have taken prominence on the main square of the andean city.
Our visit to the square was pretty interesting, very lively atmosphere, always busy with crowd of people tourist and the locals alike trying to sell you all kinds of souvenir at every turn or somebody trying to offer you a tour guide, there was always something going on like a book fair during the day and night, never a dull moment! There are plenty of coffee shops and restaurant around the square and nearby. I could swore I even saw the customary starbuck as well as Irish pub for those who want to feel like there at home. We are or about trying some local. We were more keen to explore the smaller and back end streets, and took a break at Dwasi Cafe . We tried the omelette and their delicious Peruvian coffee! The we make our way up to the Colegio Nacional de Ciencias (National Science School) and all adjacent streets, enjoying every new place we were encountered.
At 3.30 pm, we are back to Plaza de Armas to join a free walking city tour. Our choice of tour guide was Free Walking Tour Cusco to give us an overview of the city of Cusco and from a locals’ viewpoint of the city. Included in the tour was San Blas neighbourhood, we even got to take some photo snaps with the llamas! It is a three hour tour, so comfy clothes, shoes and a jacket for the chilly late afternoon is a must!
After much needed rest from the previous day time for adventure! We embarked on a full day tour which included the Sacred Valley (Valle Sagrado), Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero.
After much research, our preferred tour guide on this occasion was free walking tour cusco also (apart from Machu Picchu) in Cusco and must say that there is a fair relation quality-price.
We started the tour in the Sacred Valley (el Valle Sagrado) formed by a number of valleys and rivers with their beauty and impress archaeological monuments. The Sacred Valley is between Pisac and Ollantantaybo which we also managed to visit on the same day.
Pisac… Charming and fascinating. The inca ruins of Pisac rest on top of a breathtaking valley. Incas respected nature very much. One can appreciate that the incas did not change the landscape, they adapted to it, and so when you arrive at Pisac, you will notice how they used the stone terraces for agricultural purposes which blend with the landscape perfectly giving them a balcony appearance. The panoramic views are absolutely incredible! and you just feel you are on top of the world.
Pisac was a small fortification/village with its houses, squares, crypts, tunnels and even its own irrigation system! Some argued that it was strategically located for military purposes due to its view to the valley. It was definitely an excellent location!
We continued our itinerary to Ollantaytambo. You will hear tones of different stories but here is what the locals told us: the name of the city comes from the word “Ollanta”. An old inca tale says that inca Captain Ollanta had a secret affair with the Monarch’s daughter. He wanted to marry her but his proposal was refused on the basis of social status. Being humiliated and devastated, Ollanta went to the current Ollantaytambo and moved the population to rise against the monarch. This brought a ten year war and was caught by the imperial army. Luckily for him, when he was brought to the monarch, he had died and the new monarch allowed the so awaited marriage.
Extra care is needed climbing up the terraces. It is not particularly hard but remember that Cusco is higher (in terms of sea level) than most of cities around the world, so there is no need to rush really. Take your time and enjoy the experience!
We ended our day tour in the beautiful village of Chinchero, famous for weaving. You will most likely stop at the textile cooperative where you see how local women tint and work its alpaca and sheep wool. It is quite an interesting tradition, a perfect place to get a souvenir to bring back home. Ana got a beautiful scarf!
The BIG one! and the day had arrived! We were going to visit MACHU PICCHU and climb up to the the very top!
I’m thinking of “What can we possibly tell you about Machu Picchu that you haven’t see on a documentary or read in tour guides yet”? Well, well I’m skipping the historical part on this occasion as plenty of documentaries and tour guides can do an excellent job and focussed on the following:
You have a few options. A popular one is to take a late train and sleep in Aguas Calientes to board with the first group passengers if you want to see the “City in the sky” during sunrise.
You can also sleep in Cusco (also happened to be our base) and get the first train which is what we did. Here is what you can do to visit Machu Picchu on your own step by step, taking your time on your preferred spots and enjoy without the rush of a group. We had done our home work including watching lots of documentaries in advance, so we felt confident enough to go through the city without a tour guide.
First of all and most importantly: BUY THE TICKET TO MACHU PICCHU MONTHS IN ADVANCE. I would go as far as check the availability to Machu Picchu before you book your flights. The reason is that they get sold out weeks, even months in advance. We chose to book the tickets through the official government website see bonus section below for link.
Choose the ticket that is suitable for your needs and expectations. You can opt for the general entrance or you can add up hiking to either Machu Picchu or HuaynaPicchu (also referred as Wayna Picchu) mountains. Both have a maximum capacity of 400 people a day on two turns. We chose the entry to the city (cidadela) plus HuaynaPicchu Mountain on the 10.00 am group. If you like a challenge and love hiking, definitely go for this one, but I won’t lie, it is really TOUGH. If you are unfit, have a heart condition or knee problems, you may want to choose the entry to the cidadela only. However, if you hike up the mountain, WOW, the views are absolutely breath-taking. That together with that feeling of accomplishment you have when you finally come down the mountain, it makes for that unique experience.
TIP: Ana believes that some music would make the hiking slightly easier, bring your headphones with you if you like that sort of thing, it is worth trying. Personally, I’m not too sure. I like to have hyper access to all my faculties while climbing up this huge mountain with all it challenges. Last thing I need is to be lost in some latest top ten hit.
Once you have chosen and paid for your tickets, also buy the train ticket in advance. The train is not huge and the places sell out quickly. We chose the INCA RAIL , getting the 05.55 train from Poroy that arrives around 8.50 at Machu Picchu Village (Machu Picchu Pueblo).
Now, you have all your tickets, and the day has arrived! You can take a taxi from Cusco to Poroy to get on your 05.55 train. It takes about 30 minutes and 40 soles ($15 approx). A snack and refreshment is served on the train and the views are quite impressive too.
We got to Machu Picchu Pueblo about 08.50 am. You have to take a bus that takes you to the actual site. You can buy the tickets in Machu Picchu Pueblo (just in front of the bus line) or buy them in advance. We bought them in Cusco. You can ask at your hotel what is the closest selling point. I read that the bus queues were endless and we were a bit worried we might not be able to make it on time for 10.00 am but surprisingly, we didn’t find queues and could get on the bus immediately.
DO NOT FORGET to bring your ticket (and payment confirmation to get into Machu Picchu) and passport! They will ask you to show this before you enter the bus too.
We made to the bus and were at Machu Picchu entrance by 09.20 approx! Finally there! Check out how incredible this place is and the journey to HuaynaPicchu summit!
TIP: I cannot emphasise this enough – BUY WATER BEFORE YOU ENTER THE INCA SITE!! Wished we listened to our own advise, don’t know how we overlooked this obvious little task, but thankfully we survived to tell the tale.
After three intense days, it was very tempting to stay in Cusco relaxing and gorging on the delicious food but you don’t cross the Atlantic with so many plan stopover every day, do you? We were determine to make most of our visit. We decided to keep exploring and booked a tour to Moray and the Salt Mines (Minas de sal) of Maras.
Ours was a half day tour and to be honest we did not have enough time to enjoy it, so we would recommend you to pay for a taxi for half a day and spend the time as you wish.
Moray was our first stop. It’s mysterious circular terraces really impressed us. Many questions remain on their shape and purpose. Something we could appreciate was the temperature difference depending on their depth – this could have been useful to study how temperature was affecting the crops and shows that the Incas were way beyond their time in terms of architectural & science.
We felt we were in a special & spiritual place. Quite windy and a bit cold up here too so don’t forget a jacket if you ever come this way.
We then moved to the Maras (Salt Mines), they are truly impressive. Difficult to describe if you are not there in person to witness it yourself. I had to try the salt myself just to confirm. And guess what? It’s was the really natural salt!
The mines were created by the Incas and are still in use till today.
The water reaches the mines through a canals’ net. Once the water reaches the mines, it evaporates leaving a layer of salt. This is what I tried and what it is taken to be sold or consumed – truly natural organic salt.
Lunch @ Capriccio on our returned to Cusco. Cusco Portions are fairly big both for food and drinks. Also tasty and good quality so you are getting your money’s worth. We love the food so much so that we went back on our last day for breakfast!
Time for some needed relaxation, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, taking pictures and enjoying the incredible capital of the Inca empire!
We were picked up around 5am but some groups leave earlier. I would advise to leave NO LATER than 5am because the weather changes dramatically and you can find yourself in the middle of a snow storm in a matter of minutes.
We had a homemade breakfast on our way – a three hour ride, part of it on a very narrow and steep road, quite scary to be frank! When you are being driven around the edge of mountain cliff on the way to the top and you are looking way down and thinking to yourself the driver of this coach better not put a foot wrong, it is quite something else.
I won’t lie, once you get to the entrance, the hiking to the mountain is very tough. You can rent a horse at nearly any point though, so this is something you can consider if you are out of breath. And guaranteed you will be out of breath in no time due to change in altitude
12 kilometres: not an easy task – It is true that the fitter you are, the easier it will be to hike it up – Ana and I are quite fit. But the problem was the height – at 5,000 metres above sea level, breathing becomes a challenge. Your heart start beating quite fast and you find yourself incapable of breathing almost gasping for breath. We don’t want to discourage you from tackling this particular trip, but be aware of the challenges. And nothing like feeling on top of the world once you complete it.
As obvious as it may sound, try to breath from your nose, don’t forget to take water with you and bring your winter clothes: it is freezing at the top! as a matter of fact, Ana and I made it to the top without the help of a horse. No matter how many times the local tour guide insisted she get a horse, point blank she refused, quite a tough girl I must say. The whole path is beautiful, you can appreciate the different colours of the mountains around on approach. It was a wonderful experience and you have a mixed feeling of pride and accomplishment when you reach to the very top of the mountain.
If you do it on your own, don’t forget that it is advisable not to stay more than 30 minutes on the top as you may experience dizziness or even vomit due to the high altitude.
The way back is much much easier. We flew the drone, took more pictures and hurried up to go back as it started snowing on the way! That was quite an interesting drive back down the mountain.
On the way to Cusco we stopped for our homemade lunch. It was a tiny restaurant at a small village, very authentic!
And as you can imagine, we needed a deserved rest once we arrived back in Cusco.
And our stay at this incredible city had come to an end.
We had our last breakfast in the city @ Capriccio. Their cakes are incredible, so if you are there with a group of friends you may want to share to try as many as possible!
On our last day, Ana wanted to explore San Pedro Market. She wasn’t sure where to find it but did not want to leave the city without buying some Coca leaves and tea from the biggest and most famous market of Cusco.
And the thing is, you can buy all sort of things at San Pedro: souvenirs, freshly made smoothies, flowers and all sort of food: from lunch to fruit, sweets, teas, etc. Food items are quite cheap here compared to the restaurants and many locals come here for lunch. We didn’t have much time as the clock was ticking, we had to rush back to the hotel, we did managed to squeeze in the mango and carrot smoothies, very delicious!
With a heavy heart, it was sad to leave this city, perhaps the melancholia you feel when you don’t know when you are going to visit a place like this again. Everything about Cusco had been incredible: the experience, the atmosphere, the people, the culture, the food… We can’t recommend it strongly enough!
Thanks For Reading.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and it gave you a solid plan and ideas for your next trip.
Don’t forget to drop a comment with your own travel experience or any take away.