None of the pictures featured in this post have been edited in any way.
Having read some pretty rubbish reviews for the rainbow mountain tours we opted to do the alternative rainbow mountains instead. The alternative tour boasted not one but three stripy mountains, more time to appreciate them, smaller groups and less of a walk to get there. That last bit really sold it to me, it did still mean an early start though. So at quarter to four in the am we were picked up by Carlos, our guide for the day. We pick up five more people and then hit the road.
Our first stop was a little restaurant for some breakfast. It’s was still dark when we arrive but we were very warmly greeted by a very large, super friendly and excitable dog. As everyone else filtered into the restaurant, I hung around outside to have a smoke. I was fussing the dog and he was getting more and more excitable, he got a little snappy so I ignored him in the hope he calmed down. He didn’t, instead he jumped up and knocked me straight into the flowerbed behind me. As I fell I hit something on my way down and I heard it tumble and smash. I couldn’t see much and worse than that I couldn’t get up! My backpack was pretty full and I’d landed in a small hole. I must have looked ridiculous, flailing around in the dirt like an upturned tortoise. Luckily one of the ladies, also on our tour, came out and offered to give me a hand getting up. I wanted the hole I was in to get bigger and swallow me up, I was so embarrassed. It was still dark so I couldn’t see the fallout from my bum in flower bed debacle. I did manage to see the cleaned up version later on when we returned to the same place for lunch. It was quite an introduction to the group though, that’s for sure. I headed in for breakfast rather red faced.
After a very hearty breakfast of pancakes, fruit, yoghurt, bread, eggs and lots of coffee, we’re on the road again. Our next stop is the small village of Checacupe, which boasts three bridges from three different centuries all crossing the Urubamba river. A republican one built in the 19th century, a colonial one built in the 18th century and a replica 15th century Inca bridge. The republican one is made of metal and cars can cross it, the colonial one is made of stone and the Inca one is a rope bridge which has to be rebuilt every year.
We both had a little walk over the Inca bridge…
then jumped back in the van and continued our drive to the Bosque de Piedras and Montaña de Colores, Palccoyo. We were warned the journey would become a bit more uncomfortable as we turned onto an unsealed, narrow road. We passed through a few small villages and past four or five school buses full, way beyond capacity, of children. Very soon we were winding our way through deep valleys seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We crossed a few very narrow bridges over a very fast flowing river.
Carlos informed us that the area we were going to had recently had a lot of rain and therefore all the sediment had been churned up causing the river to turn red.
As we drove further into the valley we saw herds, upon herds of llamas and alpacas. Carlos explained that many of the people living in the village nearest to the mountains were llama and alpaca farmers. The animals certainly have a great life, they are free to roam wherever they please and then every fourteen months or so are rounded up and given a hair cut. We made a quick stop to watch a nearby heard.
During our stop Carlos picked some of my new favourite herb, Muña.
Our last stop before our trek was at the Museo de Papa. Yep, that’s right, the museum of potatoes. The people of the village, who aren’t llama or alpaca farmers, are potato growers and the head of the village has made a museum dedicated to the humble spud.
I know what you’re thinking because we were thinking the same thing but the little museum was a complete labour of love. The head of the village was so enthusiastic and proud of his little museum, it was impossible not to love it. He showed us various varieties of potato, many unique to this region and explained to us some of the propagating methods. It was very interesting and he was so welcoming. We even had a chance to dress up as potato farmers!
After paying our national park entrance fees, we continued our drive up through the gorgeous valley. The scenery was pretty spectacular.
As we drive higher, the mountains along the edge of the road have vivid colours striped though them. Sea foam greens, lilacs, reds, yellows and oranges. We pull into a small car park and Carlos gives us a ‘walking pole’ each. Essentially they are plastic broom handles but we were warned before coming not to bring any metal with us. We’re going to be 5,000 metres above sea level and there is always a risk of lightening this high up. As we begin our walk we meet a local lady, her daughter, Fleur and their three month old baby llama. Fleur is super cute, she is four years old, her and the little llama had a real bond, they were very sweet together. They agree to join us on our walk.
The views are stunning. The weather is bright and reasonably clear and we can see for miles. Mountains, upon mountains, upon mountains. The mountains are green and bright red and when the sun hits them they are so intense.
We continued to climb higher and at every turn we were treated to more stunning views and scenery.
As the path began to level out we could see our first glimpse of some of the rainbow mountains.
To our right we had the views of the stunning rainbow mountains and to our left the dramatic view of Bosque de Piedras, the stone forest.
Very soon there were more rainbow mountains directly in front of us. Honestly, the pictures really do not do it justice, in real life the colours were so clear and bright. It really was an incredible sight.
The colours in the mountains are caused by different mineral rich layers of sediment which have risen up due to the movements of the South American and Nazca plates. These layers are once likely to have been below a body of salt water and now they have been exposed to the elements, especially at altitude, the minerals contained within the various sedimentary layers have reacted to the erosion and created the colours. For example the red colour could indicate a high content of iron oxide, the yellow iron sulphide and the turquoise chlorite.
Every time the light changed or the clouds moved, the colours of the mountains changed. They became so vibrant when the sun was directly on them and you could see even more different shades.
When we reached the second of the rainbow mountains, we stopped for a snack and a small cup of Muña tea.
While we were stopped the sun broke through the clouds and really brought the colours out even more.
After our snack stop Carlos pointed out the third of the rainbow mountains. When we first saw them they were almost completely in the shade so didn’t look quite as special as the others had. The snow capped mountains behind them however were breathtaking. The day had started a little cloudy but the clouds were clearing revealing more and more spectacular scenery.
Then the sun came out again and the colours of the third mountain were lit up.
All around us was bathed in sunlight and it really was one of the most incredibly gorgeous thing I have ever seen.
As we climbed higher towards the bosque de piedras, we started to get a bird’s eye view of the area and it was something else.
We reach the stone forest and appreciate the views from the highest point, 5,000 metres above sea level. Our ascent has been nice and slow, at this height there’s about 30% less oxygen than at sea level.
After spending a good half an hour taking it all in, we started to make our descent. I attempted to slalom down but just ended up looking like I’d had an accident!
We made the bumpy journey back to the restaurant for a very generously sized lunch and then on to Cusco for the evening.
I really can not say enough how truly stunning this place was, it really was incredible and totally gorgeous.