Checkfront Travels is a new series on the blog where our team members tell stories about their various adventures abroad. In this article, Scott shares with you his experience trekking Rainbow Mountain. If you want to see more of Scott’s journey in Peru, check out his post, A Culinary Experience in Machu Picchu.
Only twelve hours after landing in Peru, my friends and I found ourselves 4,325 meters above sea level at the Rainbow Mountain Basecamp. Of course, that’s a big no-no when it comes to high altitude safety. Not surprisingly, one of us required oxygen to complete the hike. But thankfully, we had a competent and attentive guide that kept us safe while giving us one of the most positive and memorable experiences of the trip. Here’s my trekking story with Rainbow Mountain Expeditions:
A premium tour experience of the Rainbow Mountains
Let’s start at the beginning. Before reaching Rainbow Mountain, my friends and I had spent hours on planes, buses and cabs to get to Cusco. We were tired and still catching up on life since we hadn’t seen each other in over a year and a half.
I had arrived from Victoria, and they came from Ottawa — where I first met them back when I lived there for eight months a few years ago. Now that we’re on opposite sides of Canada, travel is the primary way we continue our friendship today.
Unfortunately, Mackenzie and I made an error in planning: we had pre-booked the Rainbow Mountain trek not realizing we’d only be arriving in Cusco just twelve hours before and there wouldn’t be any time to acclimatize. So that morning, we woke up in our hostel at 3 am and struggled to get ready in the dark for a day-long hike while fourteen other backpackers slept.
Somehow, we made it to the van to meet our guide, Rolando. After a short briefing, we were finally able to sleep during the ride — that is until my friend, Nik, woke me up with, “Guys, wake up! This is really worth looking at.” Seeing that we were essentially still on day one, it was the first time we registered where we were and what we were doing.
As soon as we opened the van door at base camp, we viscerally felt the thinness of the air. Just walking thirty steps in the parking lot winded us. And I could hear my heart pound after climbing a few stairs. What would typically be a casual and pleasant walk at sea level was quickly turning into a terrible death grind. The panic started to set in.
Approximately twenty minutes into the hike, Mackenzie was forced to take a break and rest. She was feeling quite nauseous — which is a sure sign of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Worried about her safety, Rolando measured her blood pressure and blood oxygen, as well as Nik’s and my own. Since her oxygen level was at 65% of normal, he decided to give her pure oxygen. Thankfully, Nik and I were at 85%, so we were okay.
During the trek, we passed a large group of people that we recognized from our hostel earlier. There wasn’t a guide in sight, and their group consisted of twenty or more hikers. Now, we had pre-booked and paid a premium for our tour. Although they spent less on the experience, there’s no way they were getting the same attentiveness from their guides. Imagine if someone showed signs of sickness on their trek — like Mackenzie. Would their guide notice while trying to lead the rest of the group?
That’s why I was happy to pay more; I wanted a high quality and safe tour experience. Even though they might’ve adequately acclimatized in that group, there was still a risk of something happening on a dangerous trek such as this one. And I wasn’t willing to take that risk — despite initially neglecting altitude sickness prevention.
Eventually, we made it up the mountain, saw some llamas, and learned about the surrounding Andes from a guy that lived and worked there for eighteen years. Then, as we made our way back down, Rolando surprised us with a unique experience. Unlike everyone else who had to return to base camp the same way they came, we got to try out an unknown trail.
As ominous gray clouds filled the sky, we walked back through rolling green hills dotted with grazing alpaca. Don’t worry, we made it back to the van before the hail started pounding down. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
How to make a premium booking experience, too
Aside from our poor planning skills at the start, our tour experience with Rainbow Mountain Expeditions was top-notch. However, I must admit that the initial booking process didn’t meet the same premium standards. With a broken booking form and Paypal processing, I had to communicate via email regarding payment — which turned out to be asynchronous and frustrating. It looked a little something like this:
In my opinion, it’s worth it to book the premium tour experience — especially when safety is a concern. While Rainbow Mountain Expeditions delivered on my expectations for an exceptional trek, I think the booking experience could use a premium makeover. After all, a tour starts with the booking, so it should be top-quality as well. And the best way to make that happen is to enhance the online experience with a simple, fast, and secure booking flow.