Back to Cuzco after the Salkantay and Choquequirao treks, and after some well-deserved rest, it was time to go on the road again, this time to discover the famous Rainbow Mountain and the incredible Red Valley. An excursion that is supposed to be difficult to do without an agency; but as always when making an effort, one can find a solution… and it’s definitely worth it!
Relax, bloggining and turista
From Sunday 11 to Monday 19 November 2018
One week spent in Cuzco, that was the least I needed to edit the 1 600 photos of the treks and to publish the four corresponding posts. It was also the occasion to get some revenge over the food after this time of rice / pasta / tomatoes sauce diet… so much that I even got sick!
Once this was behind me and after so much time spent in front of the computer, it was time to keep on exploring the region. The Rainbow Mountain, which real name is Montaña Winikunka, and its neighbour the Red Valley, have become unmissable spots in the region of Cuzco over the last years. These two places are normally difficult to access without using the services of an agency, but remaining loyal to myself, I had to find a way to go there on my own!
I then left at the end of the afternoon on Monday 19th November, heading to the village of Pitumarca, located about 3h south of Cuzco. Mariano, an Argentinian guy met at the hostel, accompanied me. We arrived at the end of the afternoon in the village and found a nice familial accommodation right before some big shower started. We prepared ourselves a copious dinner and went to bed early, as we would have to get up in the middle of the night.
False start and plan B
Tuesday 20th November 2018
Awaken at 3.30 a.m., we were in the starting-blocks to catch the only transport going to the mountain, supposedly passing at 4 a.m. Unfortunately it looked like it had already left as we arrived in the street. The few people already awaken in the village at this weird hour told us that it actually came around 3 a.m.! They also told us that there was another bus coming at 8 a.m. but that seemed already late to enjoy the mountain in good conditions.
We then back to bed (luckily we were still very close to the hostel), deciding to postpone our visit for the following day. We woke up a few hours later, had a copious breakfast and went on foot to the ruins of Machupitumarca, located around 4 km from the village.
We actually didn’t know about these ruins before arriving in the village; it’s our hostel’s owner that had told us about them the evening before. It would be a perfect stroll for the day!
We went there tranquilly, enjoying the nice views over the valley, as we were getting higher. All the locals we met were extremely nice and friendly, always greeting us with some big smile.
As we arrived at the ruins, we took our time to visit them. The site itself isn’t very big but it is quiet and several parts were recently renovated. We took some time to talk with a shepherd that we met on the ruins, took shelter during some little shower and finished exploring the place up to some little hill topped by a cross and overlooking the ruins.
We went back down in the afternoon and finished the day cooking, still wanting to go to bed early (we indeed would have to wake up even earlier!)
A long waiting time
Wednesday 21st November 2018
Awaken at 2.30 a.m., we were full of hope not to miss the bus! As we went out of the hostel, we met Lucie, a French girl also waiting to go to the mountain; she was then quite relieved not to stay alone in the street, quite uncertain (the precision of the information that the locals give you are not really reassuring).
We then had to wait for a long time… because this damned van only came at 4 a.m. on that morning! But never mind, the essential was not to miss it this time. We then started to climb as the day was slowly rising. The van was getting fuller and fuller as we crossed the hamlets; we reached a moment with 14 people inside (and many huge bags), and it was really packed… but it fit!
Arriving at sunrise
One hour and a half later, we finally arrived as the sun was just rising and lighting up the snowy summits of the Ausangate far away. The view was sublime from the beginning and already a reward for waking up so early!
There are two ways to climb to the Rainbow Mountain: all the agencies and groups go on one side of the mountain, climbing in around 1h30 on a relatively easy path. The side from where we were arriving is supposed to be a little bit harder and can be done in 2 to 3 hours. Nothing undoable though, or it is the benefit of climbing with a light backpack, in comparison with the last treks I have done 😉
The starting point is located 4 500 m above sea level and goes progressively up to 5 036 m high, which is the altitude of the mirador. We then started our walk as the first rays of sun were lighting the mountains and the valley. We were amazed from the beginning and the sun quickly heated up the freezing air.
We had our breakfast a bit later on, enjoying the heat of the sun and admiring these great landscapes. We then went on hiking, climbing through this sublime valley and crossing many alpacas and sheep. They must have quite a good life there!
Some ultimate effort on a quite steeper slope and we were on the top of the mirador. We could already see the Rainbow Mountain on our left side as we were climbing but the view once we arrived was fantastic. More than the Rainbow Mountain itself, it is the 360° view that is impressive: on the one side the Red Valley that can be seen by far, on the other side the snowy summits around the Ausangate.
We had definitely made it on a perfect timing: shortly after started to arrive the groups of tourists, but also some clouds obstructing the view…
We stayed there enough time to take photos and enjoy the scenery and then went on to the Red Valley, located a bit further on. This place isn’t offered by many agencies yet so it is quieter. We were supposed to pay 10 soles again at the entrance of the site but luckily one of the guards had been with us in the van in the morning. He recognized us and accepted to let us enter for half the price, which was already something!
I had read that the Red Valley was absolutely exceptional, and indeed… it is a real slap. A huge and vertiginous valley with an intense red colour, contrasting with the vegetation’s green tones, and on our left side, some rock formations with stunning shapes. Such surrealistic and fascinating landscapes!
We stayed for a while at the main viewpoint despite the cold wind, fully enjoying these breath-taking landscapes. We then went a bit further to see another side of the valley but there was again 5 soles to pay to access to this part… it would be without us for this time!
A stormy return walk
We then turned around and decided to go back down, as the clouds had already turned into a threatening storm. As we came close to the Winikunka Mountain viewpoint, we saw how overcrowded it now was… not only the tourists would have a covered view but most of all, the conditions were far away from the morning tranquillity. We could hear them screaming from far away and could imagine the agitation that there must be on the top… definitely not for us.
We came back down quickly as some light rain had started and the storm was rumbling all around us. The snowy summits were now completely covered by these thick clouds but the mountains around the valley now had other tons and contrasts, reminding a little bit of Scottish of Irish landscapes.
As we arrived back to our starting point, we took shelter where the tickets are being controlled, as it was now empty. We settled there to have our lunch while enjoying the view and being protected from the storm. Or how to end up perfectly this amazing morning!
We went back down with the same driver as in the morning, crossing some great landscapes. There was in particular an impressive canyon that we had not seen in the dark in the morning.
We were with a couple from Ecuador that had been camping the evening before in Winikunka and confirmed us that it was better for us to have gone on that day. Some terrible storms had indeed occurred on the day before and would definitely have offered us other conditions for our visit!
Back to Pitumarca, we appreciated some quiet and relaxing time after this tiring day. A long night sleep and we would be ready to go back to Cuzco on the following morning.
Conclusion about this adventure
Going on its own to the Rainbow Mountain and the Red Valley is not that less expensive than with an agency. However, it enables you to go through a much quieter path (only a few tourists per day), to arrive early before the crowd and to stay as long as you want in each place (how many guides did we hear saying to their group that they had to go down at this or that precise hour). And this freedom of action is priceless!
The landscapes during the whole climb (and going back down) are gorgeous, and your only company are the alpacas and sheep… as for the hike itself, it is not that difficult as the trail is well done. The altitude is the only aspect that could make it harder if you’re not used to it yet.
It then requires a little bit more of energy and organization but it’s definitely worth it. One day more in Pitumarca can also be the occasion to visit the ruins of Machupitumarca, which visit is free and pleasant.
To be continued…
Bus Cuzco – Pitumarca: from 7,50 to 12 soles depending on the companies. Take a bus to Checacupe (3h) and then a transport to Pitumarca (10 min).
Colectivo Pitumarca – Montaña Winikunka: 5 to 10 soles (depending on the client), leaving around 4 a.m.
Hostal Tu Casita in Cuzco: 10 soles per night in a 6-bed dorm. Very close to the Mercado San Pedro but in a small and quiet street, with kitchen available and strong Wi-Fi. Small and pleasant terrace to work and nice atmosphere.
Hospedaje Miski Punuy in Pitumarca : 10 soles per night in a 4-bed room. Kitchen available and very nice owners.
Entry to Montaña Winikunka: 10 soles per person
Entry to Red Valley: 10 soles per person, can be negotiated to 5 soles.