The Ups and Downs of Rainbow Mountain

Hi peeps, Joe here, my second blog entry. It was my idea to climb Rainbow Mountain, so it’s my turn to tell you all about it.

For those who don’t know, Rainbow Mountain sits at 5200m above sea level, that’s higher than Mont Blanc! It’s fair to say Fran and I were apprehensive about climbing to this altitude. We had heard about others getting altitude sickness and we were feeling pretty nervous.

Anyway, after being told by several other travellers and tourist information people that Colca Canyon was a much harder trek than Rainbow Mountain, we signed up to do it…. the day after climbing Machu Picchu. Not our best decision in hindsight.

We had been up at 3am for Machu Picchu, and got back to our hostel at 9pm. We spent an hour packing our stuff up for Rainbow Mountain which meant we got a measly 4 and a half hours sleep before our alarms went off for our Rainbow Mountain trek.

So we weren’t the happiest people on the bus but we were feeling hopeful that the mountain would be worth the early start:

  • Joe’s happiness level – 7/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – 6/10 (anyone who knows Fran knows she loooves her sleep and does not like to be woken up, especially not two mornings in a row!)

Saying that, we both managed to catch some sleep on the bus on the way there. Pretty soon though, my tummy was starting to make some seriously worrying churning sounds.

I was not feeling well at all.

We tried to work out what I had eaten that Fran hadn’t. Bingo – the sausage sandwich from the petrol station on the way back from Machu Picchu!

  • Joe’s happiness level – 6/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – still 6/10

We were treated to the standard Peruvian breakfast (or so it seems) of bread, butter and jam and coca tea to help with the altitude, before heading to the start of the hike. The hike was 2 and a half hours up and an hour and a half back the same way.

The guides gave us a good pep talk at the start, gave us all wooden walking poles and yellow sashes to distinguish us from other groups. It felt like a right proper school trip. At this point my food poisoning kicked in properly (I’ll spare you the details) and we were told the nice toilets were 1 sole each go, the holes in the ground were free.

Uh oh. I checked my wallet – 3 soles for me and Fran, it was going to be close.

  • Joe’s happiness level – 3/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – still 6/10

The views were incredible, but I have to thank Fran at this point for motivating me to make it up the mountain. About 1km from the top I was done for. I was exhausted, feeling awful, and I just couldn’t go any further.

But there was no way Fran would go on without dragging me up the mountain with her, so she called over one of the locals to hire a horse. Loving a bargain and on finding out that the horse was only 30 soles (£7.50 and half the original price) as I was so close to the top, I took up the offer.

  • Joe’s happiness level – 4/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – 5/10

200m from the top, I had to get off the horse to manage the last (and steepest) bit. After waiting for Fran and taking a few minutes to actually appreciate the views, we tackled the home strait together. We literally had to drag ourselves 10m at a time up that last bit. It was a killer!

We made it! It is honestly the hardest physical challenge I have overcome, I was totally drained at the top, both physically and emotionally.

Ok I admit it, there were a few tears at the top, I couldn’t believe I had made it. If the views looking back were amazing, the views at the top were out of this world. All the different minerals in the rock create so many different colours and bring out a unique, incredible rainbow effect.

  • Joe’s happiness level – 5/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – 7/10

So the actual hiking was probably not as challenging as Colca Canyon, however it’s the lack of oxygen at that altitude that really gets you. We both thought Fran would find the altitude harder, because she got a headache at the Colca Canyon 4900m viewpoint, but I definitely got hit harder this time.

Getting down the mountain was a lot easier than climbing up, although still pretty hard with the food poisoning kicking in. There was also a sneaky steep bit at the end – totally finished us off!

Back on the bus…. and relax!! We could now start to enjoy the fact we’d done the Rainbow Mountain trek!

Or could we?

Soon after we set off, Fran noticed her calves were getting really itchy. We had a closer look and saw redness starting to come out. Turns out she had got a pretty horrific sunburn! We had both put suncream around our necks, faces and shoulders, but whether it was the cold wind or the altitude, Fran forgot to do her calves. She was feeling pretty sorry for herself.

  • Joe’s happiness level – 4/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – 3/10

We really weren’t having a great 24 hours. As you’ll have seen from our previous post we (I) also managed to lose the GoPro between getting on the bus for the Rainbow Mountain Tour and getting to our Hostel in Puno.

All time low.

  • Joe’s happiness level – 1/10
  • Fran’s happiness level – 1/10

That was it, rock bottom. Although it did make for a good test of my Spanish skills at the local police station, with a police officer who spoke no English whatsoever. And by the looks of things had only just been introduced to his computer (I even had to step in to set the printer up and print the police report!)

We both have everything crossed that our fortunes improve from now on! Come on Bolivia, don’t let us down!

Have any of you had really bad luck when travelling? Or have you faced particularly hard challenges? Please leave your comments below! Follow us on Instagram  @pitkinswithpassports for more of our travel photos.


  1. Not sure this was bad luck or good luck, but I can tell you about the time I thought I was going to be a lion’s ready meal!

    3 of us were backpacking in Kenya and Tanzania. Rod had caught malaria months before and as a result developed recurrent malaria. When the malaria recurred ( which it did every month or so), Phil and I would take it in turns to lay with Rod in the mozzie net and stay with him as the fever hallucinations were pretty horrid. His malaria would normally last a few days and then pass. So, we were in Tarangire National Park (Tanzania) in the middle of the night: Rod and I were in one tent, Phil and the guide in another tent. The guard was on a foldy chair equipped only with a ‘panga’ (machete) and his job was to stay awake all-night, keep the fire lit, and look out for predators. I hasten to add, this was in the days before mobile phones and we didn’t even have a radio!

    I was lay with Rod in the tent when I saw the silhouette of a lioness, frankly the height of our tent and nearly as long. I figured the shadow was magnified from the firelight until I heard it breathing and it rubbed itself against the tent poles bending them in inches above my terrified head.. Rod was oblivious cos he had a high fever and was drenched in sweat… I remember not knowing whether to scream to raise the alarm or just stay utterly still. I chose the latter. The bloody thing walked round our tent several times, giving it a good rub and sniff. I’ll never forget the sound of its breathing. Very distinctive. Almost like its hard work to breath out, like a ‘huh huh huh’ sound. I realised there was no way Rod could run away if the lioness decided to trample or rip through our tent, and i didn’t want to be eaten and didnt want to leave him as a ready meal! either…. After a while the lioness beggared off and I waited ages before I poked my head out the tent, only to see the guard fast asleep on the chair on the other side of the fire from us! I didn’t dare leave the tent until daylight and didnt dare shout as i didn’t know if the lioness was still hanging around. At day break i ventured out and the guide showed us the footprints round our tent ( and theirs). Needless to say the guard gave us many ‘pole, pole, pole’ ( sorry in Swahili)…


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