Ask anyone what they know about Perú and they will probably tell you some combination of Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, and llamas. Two weeks ago, I was able to see all three. I already have no class on Wednesdays and Fridays, but due to a feriado on November 1 for All Saints Day, I was looking at a five day weekend, perfect for traveling. After class Tuesday, one of my roommates and I boarded a flight to Cusco — which, side note, is spelled Cuzco, Cusco, and Qosqo, depending on the person, although Cusco is the spelling used by the Peruvian government. Many people take a bus to Machu Picchu in order to save money and gradually get acclimated, but that trip takes almost a day and we did not have that kind of time. We had decided to arrive a day and a half early in order to adjust to the change in altitude, and to allow us enough time to get to Machu Picchu without rushing. Once in Cusco, you need to take a bus to Ollantaytambo, then a train to Aguas Calientes, and the next day, you take a bus to Machu Picchu. We were lucky enough to find pretty good prices for all of these tickets, but I would have paid almost any amount to be able to see this incredible place.
We arrived at around 6:30 am, and it was definitely the best choice. I had wanted to arrive early to see the sun rise but did not realize that it actually took place about an hour earlier. Regardless, I appreciated arriving early as there were significantly less people milling about, the temperature was wonderful, and it was quiet, so we were able to really appreciate how beautiful this place is. One of my favorite things was seeing how incredibly well-built the walls were; the rocks were made to fit perfectly together. I cannot describe how it felt to explore the grounds as I end up not doing it any justice. Machu Picchu is just one of those places you have to visit to be able to understand the beauty and history.
After this indescribable experience, we returned to our hotel and napped for a few hours. Our host mom had recommended that we try trucha, or trout, alpaca, and cuy, guinea pig, while we were in Cusco so for dinner we went to one of the dozens of restaurants that catered to tourists and tried alpaca. It was surprisingly tasty!
Save for the alpaca meat, this is a very typical Peruvian plate — rice, some sort of potato product, and cucumbers and tomatoes. We washed it down with Pisco naranja and some té de coca, which is said to help with altitude sickness.
The next day, we headed back to Cusco, again by bus and train. We spent the afternoon walking around the Plaza de Armas and then went to bed early because the next day we would be waking up at 3:00 am to visit the Rainbow Mountain, or la Montaña de Siete Colores.
The next morning we were picked up by a tourist bus at the ungodly hour of 4:00 am only to spend the next hour driving all over the city picking up the other travelers. Finally, we were off! The drive is about three hours in total, with a brief stop in the middle for breakfast. A good part of the trip is spent on dirt mountain roads that are barely wide enough for one bus, but if you can forget about all the danger involved it is a very pretty ride through the Andes. At one point, the bus stopped and we were allowed to get out to take pictures of the llamas and alpacas grazing along the side of the road.
After learning about the difference between the two — the difference lies in the neck, fur, and size — we continued on, finally reaching the foot of the mountain after what felt like forever. Once you reach the foot, you still have about a 1½ to 2 hour hike (uphill, in almost-freezing weather, with a lot less oxygen than one is used to). We were warned not to push ourselves too hard, and to be careful for the freezing rain and ice that we would face on the way up. For those that could not make it up on their own, horses could be purchased, but even those would only take you part of the way. The first hour and a half or so was not difficult if you’re generally in good shape and you’re being safe (the ground was very muddy and slippery in many places, and you had to step gingerly in order to avoid falling down 30 feet below) but people are known to throw up or have to stop midway to purchase a horse to carry them on. I did not feel the effects of the altitude and I pressed on, thinking to myself hey, this is pretty easy! until I reached the hard part, and I started to really feel the lack of oxygen. I pushed on, however, probably harder than I should have, but I did make sure to take some time to take in the views.
Here you can see the horses that many people used to get up the side up the mountain. Most of the Quechua people here were wearing sandals — in near freezing weather.
The minerals that contributed to the iconic Rainbow Mountain colors were not limited to the mountain; they were part of the surrounding land.
I knew it would be cold, I had read reviews of the hike before coming to Cusco. However, for whatever reason, I did not dress to the occasion and was freezing the whole time. I would recommend for future travelers to dress warmly and layer up as the temperature changes along the way.
At the end of it all, although it was not an easy hike, the views were incredible, and I will treasure the photos I took at the top of the Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu forever.
This post was contributed by Elena Pojman, a 2018 Global Ambassador. Elena is studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Elena’s experience in Peru>>