Peru's Rainbow Mountain; a true gem in the Andes

Gonzalo Loayza | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Ready to discover an impressive and colorful rock formation a few hours from Cusco city? Just let your imagination immerse into a mosaic of shifting colors, green and pink, purple, grey, and yellow stripes decorating a large surreal blanket.

Cusco region, in southeast Peru, must be one of the few places in the world containing such a long list of natural, historical and archeological attractions in one single area, due to its more than a thousand years of history. For example, it is on this region where Machu Picchu, the universally reputed Peruvian icon, is located. In 2015, a new destination for the public opened in this area- the path towards the « Rainbow Mountain.» Since that moment, its popularity has been increasing more and more. In fact, nowadays almost all the travelers in Cusco devote one day of their program to visit it.

Its original name is Vinicunca mountain, but everybody calls it just the Rainbow Mountain or « the seven colors mountain.» It’s located very far from Cusco city, in the Andes Cordillera. More precisely, next to the Ausangate Mountain, the fifth highest mountain of Peru and one of the most important "Apus (Gods)" in the Andean religion. It is a beautiful mountain whose main feature is the variety of colors on its surface due to minerals and different kind of rocks. Its beauty is on the surface, and this is why it is not allowed to walk on it to preserve it. So, if you want to appreciate all its splendor, then you must hike to the mountain in front of the Rainbow Mountain. From the top of the hill, you can admire the whole scenery, the Ausangate Apu, and all the surroundings of the valley. But how to get there? It is effortless to organize a trip to the Rainbow Mountain, but being able to trek till the mountain itself is another thing. Let’s go step by step. 

Once in Cusco city, you need to go to any travel agency in the downtown, make a deal with them, pay and wait for your transfer the next day at your lodging. It is essential to say that there is only one road to this place, and there are travel agencies for different budgets. Maybe with the expensive ones, you are going to have better food or a better bus, but in the end, everybody takes the same road in the same conditions. You can also book a guided tour and trekking up to the Rainbow Mountain in advance to minimize the hassle during your trip. They are going to pick you up by 3.30 am. Traveling in the Peruvian Andes is fantastic, but some people could suffer because of the many bends and altitude -if this is your case you better take a high altitude illness pill-. After overcoming the ledges of the mountains for almost three hours, the bus arrives at the small community of Quesino for breakfast. At that point, the altitude is already 4300 meters above sea level. And there is still more than 700 meters of ascent. 

© iStock/reisegraf

The begining of the ascent trek

After breakfast, you are going to start an 11 km hiking. It is possible to rent a horse or a mule, but honestly, these animals are grown in adverse conditions, so it’s better to avoid the promotion of this activity. The first part of the trek is relatively easy, the body needs to get used to the weather conditions, and it needs to get warm. It is at the end of the trek when the finals hills seem to be endless. After 45 minutes, you'll find the control point where it is mandatory to pay an entrance fee. In this place, you are already at 4930 meters above sea level, and you may think « the worse part is done.» But it is not, unfortunately. 

© iStock/jtinjaca
© iStock/Matthias Kestel

The mortal last meters

The worse part is about to start. Those last 100 meters of the "gap" can be a nightmare for some people. It is going to be very windy and extremely cold. From the entrance until the last stop, the viewpoint, there are two hours and half of hiking. Yes, as you read, more than two hours for only 100 meters. To be clearer, a "gap" does not mean the same thing as distance. You are going to climb 100 meters, but you are still going to walk some kilometers. It really seems to be endless. It is necessary to take many breaks and tread softly, otherwise might suffer a lack of oxygen. 

Finally (thank God), there it is: the Rainbow mountain

After overcoming that tough hill, you finally arrive at the Rainbow Mountain, and from there you're just thirty meters until the viewpoint. If you achieved that hard summit, then you can not fail those last thirty meters. Please, wrap up well with gloves and trekking caps. On one side, the famous Rainbow Mountain, on the other side, the magnificent and holy Ausangate. You can not ask for more. Probably you are going to be shocked at this point. 

To sum up, Rainbow mountain is one of the best things you can do around Cusco. The sooner you can get to the top, the better as clouds can set in by lunchtime which obstructs the view. On a clear day, the view is incredible and unforgettable. Some people can struggle with its more than 5200 meters above sea level; chewing coca leaves can help. Make sure you are adequately hydrated and rest well the night before. This hike can be one of your best souvenirs, not only in Peru but in your South American experience. It’s truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I promise, you will not regret your body pain at all. 

© IStock/Juan Jose Napuri

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