It felt like I’d been punched in the chest.
I attempted to suck in air, trying my hardest not to panic, as I gingerly sat on a moss-covered rock. I focused on one lone cactus to try and avoid the dizziness and I cursed myself for deciding to come on this trip.
I’d never been so high in altitude before and it was clear my body didn’t like it. 5,000 metres above sea level and there was no escape, I wouldn’t allow it – I needed to see this Rainbow Mountain.
Earlier that morning (very early, we’re talking 4:30am) I was feeling way better and sitting a lot lower on the altitude scale. As I waited for my tour guide to pick me up from my hostel I was excited.
The elusive Vinicunca – or Rainbow Mountain as it’s more commonly known – was finally going to be another crossed off item on my bucket list.
This hike is quite new on the tourist radar and I was eager to be one of the few people who have seen it. Once my guide arrived, we drove three hours into the Peruvian countryside past small villages and huge mountains.
Then the driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, he told us this was the starting point. No official entry, no fees, just field of potatoes and a steep ascent.
Pulling on my backpack, I followed my guide towards the hill and we began our uphill climb. Already at 4,000 metres above sea level, I was short of breath just standing, however within minutes of hiking through the potato crop I felt like my lungs had forgotten how to work. Taking a break every few steps, I was elated to finally reach the first viewpoint. Below us, I could still see our car waiting on the side of the road. We’d barely walked 800 metres and I already felt like dying. Only three hours to go!
We walked on at a steady incline, me stopping every so often to suck in air and try not to faint. Passing through a valley, I was overwhelmed at the silence. After being in chaotic Cusco for the past few weeks, it was so serene to be in the midst of Mother Nature and all her glory. We met two small children from the farm that we were passing through and saw a women sitting out in the sun weaving a blanket the traditional way. It was like taking a step back in time, a far cry from modern day Peru.
After walking for another hour or so I felt like I had acclimatised to the high altitude. Breathing was a little easier and my surroundings were spectacular. We passed herds of alpacas and the snowy-topped mountain of Ausengate came into view on my right, which complemented the left side where the layered colours of Rainbow Mountain were starting to appear.
A forty-five minute uphill walk, which only covered about 700 metres in distance but about 400 metres in altitude, was the ending to this breath-taking hike.
“Just five more minutes” my guide kept saying as I dragged my feet one by one up the never-ending hill.
I made it there step by step, encouraging myself with rewards of chocolate once I reached the top. As soon as I reached the lookout however, all previous thoughts disappeared and I was gobsmacked by the view in front of me. Here was the elusive Rainbow Mountain, the mountain I was certain was photo-shopped to death, in all its glory. Layers of red and cream cascaded down the mountain and glowed brightly under the sun. I was in awe, impossible as it was; it looked way better in real life than in photos.
A new wave of energy came over me and when my guide said we could go higher for a better view, I raced up the hill, forgetting all about my altitude problems. The view at the top was even better - a 360° view of incredible scenery. I spun around and around, undecided on where to cast my eyes.
From the snowy-capped mountains, to the green valleys, to the different hues of red that made up Rainbow Mountain – it was a trifecta of the best of nature.
I couldn’t capture the moment in a photograph, it seemed silly to waste my time behind a lens when the real beauty was right in front of me. I sat down on the dusty ground and just reeled in the experience. Before I knew it, my guide was telling us it was time to leave and I was dusting off my pants and putting my backpack on.
As sad as it was to leave the Rainbow Mountain, the view from the hike back was just as awe-inspiring - it was also easier on the lungs. We passed several people on the way back, all who looked how I had just an hour or so earlier. Heaving for breath and hating life, they asked whether the view was worth it. Fuelled by excitement and adrenaline I could only answer with a massive grin and say ‘Abso-freaking-lutely!’
Jess Buchan is an Aussie travel blogger who is currently travelling through South America. She has crossed 29 countries off her bucket list and has no plans to slow down. Jess loves to share her travel stories on her blog A Blonde And Her Passport Instagram: @ablondeandherpassport Twitter @ablondeandher
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.