sacred valley peru

Discovering Peru's Sacred Valley goes beyond Machu Picchu. Here is Part Two of the list of must-see wonders on your trek. If you missed Part One, catch up here.

Trek out to Vinicunca, The Rainbow Mountain

I discovered this place via a photo on Pinterest one day.  Having been to the Sacred Valley multiple times, I was shocked that I had never heard of this place before and surprised that there are still hidden secrets like this in the Sacred Valley. Vinicunca Mountain (Rainbow Mountain) in Peru is one of these places where travelers have yet to discover. A secret that has been kept so well there is no information about it.

llamas peru

The journey will take you minimum 6 days to complete. A high altitude adventure that will keep you begging for oxygen as you walk above a constant 14,000 feet. You will cross 5 passes ranging between 15,000 and 17,000 feet. You will pass thousands of roaming alpaca and llama as you walk through a beautifully diverse landscape that changes daily from snow capped peaks, to neon red desert mountains, to marshy meadows. The real reward, however, is when you arrive at the painted hills hidden deep in the Andes. Resembling a rainbow, this mountain will require extreme route finding, harsh camping conditions, and a strong determination, but it will not leave you disappointed.  The best part is at the end of the hike you are rewarded with a soak in natural hot springs. This is a destination not to be missed for any adventure seeker.

On the first two days of our journey, we passed deep blue lakes and then trekked through the landscape as it turned into a desert. Day 3 was the day we were to find the rainbow mountain. This day involved a steep climb up a daunting 16,000-foot pass, over 1500 feet of elevation gain in less than a half a mile. Passing herds of alpaca along the way, we started to walk over lavender colored sand under our feet and it was already it feeling as though we were in a different world.

rainbow mountain peru Vinicunca

When we finally arrived at Vinicunca I was again overwhelmed with emotions. It was better than I could have ever imagined and it was just us and the Andes. Surrounded by a splattering of neon reds, electric yellows, and soft blues. It was surreal that these colors actually exist in nature! We sat there in silence awed by the beauty that exists in this world, and stunned that so few travelers have ever been here.

rainbow mountain panorama Vinicunca

The rest of the trek was nothing short of a backpackers dream. We crossed four more passes, slept under a sky crowded with stars and colors from the milky way, swam in some beautiful lagoons, and didn't see another trekker until the last day where we rested our muscles in natural hot springs.

Take this tour with Flash Packer Connect.

Hike the highest peak of Huayna Picchu from Machu Picchu

Huayna Machu Picchu Alpaca

Even though I have been to 66 countries in my life and many unique places on this planet, Machu Picchu still reigns as my "Favorite place on Earth."  I cannot even begin to describe the feelings I had on the entire journey to get there and I tried to capture the beauty and grandeur with my camera, but it is almost impossible to do so. There is just an incredible energy and wonder and awe-inspiring beauty associated with these ruins.  Even though there are a lot of tourists, you can still have moments of solitude early in the morning where you are one of the only people there and it feels like you have been transported back in time...

The site of the historic Incan civilization rests on a mountain ridge almost 8,000 feet above sea level and Sacred Valley, and loosely translated, Machu Picchu means “old pyramid.” The Incans supposedly began construction of the site around 1450 AD as a tribute to the Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Once you’re actually there, it is nearly impossible to believe that the whole site was built by hand over a mile up in the mountains when most people (myself included) struggle to merely walk up the stairs carrying only a camera and a water bottle.

Huayna Picchu Macchu Picchu

The construction of the temples and city is impeccable; the Incas were known for their use of polished dry-stone, a technique in which the stones fit together seamlessly without mortar. The Incas refined this technique so well that some sections of the site’s walls do not even allow for a blade of grass to fit through. Also, each sun temple and Intihuantana ritual stone line up perfectly with the sun for their corresponding solstices. Aside from the impressive stonework and calendar-like symmetry of the temples, there are also natural irrigation and drainage systems that ran throughout the site and are still functioning today, as well as the whole site is in the shape of a Condor (the Incan God of the Heavens) when seen from the air. The list of the site’s mind-blowing facts goes on and on, but the real power of Machu Picchu is the energy that radiates from the ancient stones and ripples through the entire site. To be in a place of complete wonder that is an unbelievable testament to human capability is awe-inspiring, and a destination that should definitely be on everybody’s “To-Go” list.

Hike Huayna Picchu Peru

But what I didn’t realize the FIRST time I went to Machu Pichu, is that you could do an early morning hike up to the neighboring peak of Huayna Picchu.  You have to sign up in advance for this hike because they only allow 200 people up there a day. Huayna Picchu is the towering mountain behind the actual site of Machu Picchu. From a distance, the mountain looks impossible to climb without the necessary tools but even though it is a strenuous climb with some parts which you will actually need both your hands and feet, the climb is quite possible for all averagely fit visitors. For many people, including myself, climbing Huayna Picchu is one of the highlights when visiting Machu Picchu. The climb itself is interesting as you will see how the Inca cut out some steps out of the rocks and as you wind around the side of a mountain will see Machu Picchu from different angles.

Hike Huayna Picchu

Machu Picchu Laura Grier

Before you reach the top you will also have to go through a tunnel carved in the rocks and the higher you get the more structures you will recognize on the top of the mountain. Some ruins are built in seemingly impossible places that really speak to your imagination. There are structures that appear almost glued to the mountain side with a sheer drop of a couple of hundred meters on the other side.

Huayna Picchu Ruins

The views on a clear day or when the morning mist has burned off of Machu Picchu seen from the peak of Huayna Picchu are breathtaking and do really give you an impression of the magnitude of the site. From up there you can actually see how Machu Picchu is in the shape of a condor! Out of the 200 people that are allowed to hike up there every day, I was number 3 to make it up there....This was PERFECT because number 1 and 2 were able to take photos of us and then we all chilled and enjoyed the solitude before the rest of the hikers caught up.  It pays to be in shape for this hike!

Huayna Picchu View

You can take this tour through Enrique at Mystery Peru.