Cusco is the starting point not only for Machu Picchu tours but a bunch of other destinations as well, such as the Sacred Valley and Rainbow Mountain. The city, which lies on over 3’400 masl, was also the capital of the Inca empire around 1450 before Quito took its place at the end of the century.
I stayed in Cusco a few days before going on the Salkantay Trekking and inbetween tours. The city centre is a beautiful place with an enormous square and surrounded by colonial style buildings and churches. From the square, dozens of small sidestreets littered with small businesses and tour agencies fan out in all directions. Also, Cusco must be the massage capital of South America; you can’t take a step without being shouted at and a flyer of some masseuse being waved in your face – “masaje, masaje amigo!”. Other street vendors are so diversified they try to sell you everything from chewing gum and weed to paintings and cocaine. While this can get rather annoying after a while, you can also find good food, nice pubs and even party in Cusco.
Besides the Salkantay Trek, which I wrote extensively about in post #30, I decided to check out Vinicunca, also known as Rainbow Mountain. Surely, the actual mountain has been there for some time, but apparently, the attraction is quite new because this part of the Andes used to be permanently covered in snow. Nowadays, hundreds of tour operators offer this day trip. Prices can vary greatly and it is definitely worth shopping around a little since there is no need for a guide and the tour merely consists of transportation, breakfast and a small lunch.
The van picked me up at 3 AM and made its way up the valley in the direction of Ausangate. Three and a half hours later we stopped at a local place to have breakfast. At that point we were already above 4’000 masl. We reached the trailhead after another fifteen minutes in the van.
As I was already well acclimatized, I had no problems with the altitude this time and could keep a steady pace. The first hour or so led me through a green valley with Alpacas and locals looking after them. Later, the surroundings became rockier and it became clear why the place was called Rainbow Mountain: the mountain range in front of me became ever more colourful. The trail kept getting steeper and the wind blew colder as I approached the 360° viewpoint on 5’100 masl. It was really cold up there, but the view was one of the craziest and most beautiful I ever enjoyed.
While I was snapping pictures and taking in the amazing views, more and more hikers made it to the top. It was definitely worth getting to the top as one of the first ones. The clouds started closing in on us and by the time I was descending, it even started to rain. I couldn’t help feeling a little pity and a little schadenfreude for the people just arriving.
Quite happy with the experience of the day I lied down in the grass next to the van and awaited the rest of the group. On the way down we had a nice lunch in the same place we had breakfast. I slept most of the ride back to Cusco…
From Cusco I went on to Puno at Lake Titikaka and entered Bolivia near Copacabana. After a quick stop on Isla del Sol the Peru Hop bus continued to its final stop: La Paz.
More on La Paz and Bolivia in the next posts.