WHAT IS THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN TREK?
The best day trekking tour Rainbow Mountain Trek was opened in 2015. It is a very popular tourist destination in the city of Cusco, you will undoubtedly enjoy the wonderful hill of colors. The Apu Ausangate is very close to the 5th highest snowfall in Peru, to see this attraction it is good to acclimatize at least one day, because it rises to 5200 meters high. On the road you can see llamas, alpacas, vicuñas. Native peoples who speak Quechua.
WHERE IS THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN TREK LOCATED?
Located in the Peruvian Andes in Cusco just 3 hours away from the historical center, Rainbow Mountain is becoming the main attraction to see after or before Machu Picchu. As you could guess, the mountain is famed for its natural, multi-colored beauty at a staggering 5,200m above sea level. This rainbow-like appearance is created by the sediment of minerals throughout the area giving the mountain the turquoise, lavendar, gold and other colors.
It was only recently discovered due to the snow melting revealing the hidden gem that’s still considered holy by many until this day. Since its discovery, Rainbow Mountain as slowly started gaining popularity and has even been listed in National Geographic’s “Top 100 Places To Visit Before You Die”.
HOW TO GET TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN VINICUNCA?
All tours to Rainbow Mountain leave from the city of Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire and the closest major city to Machu Picchu and many of Peru’s most famous attractions. After departing from Cusco your tour will take you on a 2-hour drive south of the city to the town of Cusipata. Not far from here is where you’ll find the Rainbow Mountain trailhead to start your hike.
GETTING FROM CUSCO TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
Although Rainbow Mountain is only 3 hours away from the City of Cusco, there is no public transport to this attraction. Therefore it is advisable to take a guided tour to visit the Vinicunca Mountain.
In Cusco, you’ll find different tour operators that could take you on a day trip to the Rainbow Mountain. Keep in mind that not all the tour operators are reliable since in the past many tourists have been scammed.
If it is too cheap, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Most cheap tour operators don’t mention what they include in the package, and you could end up paying more than you’d want.
Andean Great Treks is one of the recommended companies for visiting this astonishing natural wonder. Besides offering an early start in the morning, this company guarantees the arrival before the crowds, breakfast, lunch, an optional visit to the Red Valley, and assistance along the way. Make sure to know everything about the best Rainbow Mountain trek in Cusco while you’re here!
HOW DID RAINBOW MOUNTAIN BECOME SO POPULAR?
Once the mountain’s existence was known outside of the local communities, it started attracting locals and travelers alike, first having a couple of dozen of people to now taking in hundreds of visitors a day. The first thing that caught everyone’s attention was, you guessed it again, the colors seen nowhere else. But that wasn’t the only thing. It’s one of those places where the whole journey is as amazing as the destination. Llamas, horses, and alpacas are dispersed all over the range, with local communities still living almost the same life as before but now also helping visitors discover the colored mountain. The scenery along the trek is just like the pictures and even they don’t do it justice sometimes. Add to this the geological and local history and it’s no wonder why it’s gaining popularity!
WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE IN THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
The climate in the mountain of 7 colors is generally frigid due to the height at which it is located. However, being part of Cusco, the Mountain of Colors also has two defined seasons during the year.
Rainy season: between the months of November to the beginning of March. During this season there are frequent rains at various levels that can vary between drizzles to torrential rains, depending on the month of the year.
Dry season: starts approximately in March and ends in October. During this season, you can enjoy sunny days with the presence of a blue Cusco sky; In addition, in some months of the year cold winds are felt and even frost falls in the mornings and at night. Definitely, in the dry season, the rains are minimal, which favors tourism in Cusco.
WHAT IS THE BEST SEASON TO KNOW THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
The dry season includes the months of May to September and is characterized as high season in Cusco. During these months the landscape and the view are illuminated by the sun and adorned by a blue sky, accompanied by clouds that make the ideal place to take spectacular photos. These months are of greater influx of local and foreign tourists, and the trekking is of less risk since the road will not be covered by mud or puddles of water.
Taking into account the landscape of this time, you can immortalize your visit with the best photos in the mountain of colors since the sky is clear (with blue skies). The perfect months to make your visit are:
These being the months of greatest visit to the mountain of colors. The only negative thing that we can find is that this means that many tourists are visiting the Mountain during this time. And many times, it is very difficult to take photos of yourself without people.
The low season or rainy season runs from October to March.
It is more than clear that you can reach the mountain of seven colors almost every day of the year. The difference with the high season is that the presence of casual rains can influence your trip and you may not be able to see the mountain of seven colors at its best.
The months that have the presence of rains, is where route closures occur more frequently since landslides can occur on the route, and there is also the possibility that you will have a cloudy or snowy day.
For many travelers these months are the least recommended.
A point in favor of your visit at this time is that there are not many tourists. On days when there is no rain you can take incredible photos, because if it rains it is usually for a few hours and many times, you can find moments of sunshine, accompanied by melting snow and showing the fantastic colors of Vinicunca.
DOES IT ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE THE PICTURES?
Yes! And it’s definitely what makes the trek much more gratifying. There are unlucky days where the weather does ruin a little bit of the beauty but it adds a mystical effect.
HOW LONG IS THE HIKE TO VINICUNCA RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
The walking time depends on your physical condition. If you go through Cusipata you will have to walk 1 hour and a half uphill from the parking lot to the Mountain of 7 colors. You must consider the same time of descent.
CAN I GET SOROCHE OR ALTITUDE SICKNESS IN VINICUNCA RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
Remember that the height of Vinicunca is 5,200 meters above sea level, so it is very likely that you will suffer from altitude sickness. Symptoms are headache, dizziness, insomnia, loss of appetite, and loss of energy. It is advisable to leave this tour for the end of your stay while your body acclimatizes to the altitude.
The biggest mistake anyone will make for Rainbow Mountain, is to underestimate the altitude and its impact. If you’ve heard anyone else say how much they struggled on the walk or how terrible they felt, then it’s almost certainly because they didn’t understand or prepare correctly for altitude sickness.
The entire walk to Rainbow Mountain’s main summit viewpoint takes place at high altitude (starting at around 4,600 metres) and its summit is at 5,200 metres above sea level – this level of altitude is no joke, is significantly higher than the highest altitude of the Inca Trail hike, and is the main reason that you’re only allowed to hang out at the summit for 10-20 minutes. If you have just arrived in Peru or have travelled directly from Lima to Cusco the day before, then your body will not be used to these conditions (namely the thin air and lack of oxygen this high up).
WHAT DOES VINICUNCA MEAN?
We are sure that many travelers heard that the mountain of colors was also called Winikunka Mountain, “Winikunca” is the original name of two Quechua words “Wini” “Kunca”, where “Wini” comes from “Wini rumi” “black stone”. ” because of the black stones that abound in the area, “Kunca” means Neck, because of the narrowness of the hill that resembles a neck.
THE COLOR OF VINICUNCA MOUNTAIN VARIES ACCORDING TO THE WEATHER
Interesting fact, right? The colors of the Vinicunca Mountain change according to the weather. Let us remember that the province where the mountain is located has two defined seasons during the year: dry season and rainy season. Each one with opposite characteristics, being the dry season the best time for tourism in Cusco.
Next, the colors that you will be able to distinguish in Vinicunca:
- Pink color: product of red clay, fangolitas (mud) and arilitas (sand).
- Whitish color: due to the quartz sandstone and marl, rich in calcium carbonate.
- Red: for composed of claystones (iron) and clays belonging to the upper tertiary.
- Green: is due to the compound of phyllites and clays rich in ferromagnesia.
- The earthy brown: is the product of a fanglomerate composed of rock with magnesium belonging to the Quaternary era.
- Mustard yellow color: due to the calcareous sandstones rich in sulphide minerals.
WAS RAINBOW MOUNTAIN ALWAYS THERE?
Yes, she was always there, but covered in ice. As the years go by as a result of Global Warming, the presence and peculiarity of this beautiful mountain is discovered, which at the beginning was only appreciated by the inhabitants of the area who, with a lot of work and enthusiasm, managed to make this mountain one of the routes most famous tourist attractions in Cusco.
WHAT IS THE DIFFICULTY OF THE TREKKING TO THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
The trekking difficulty for the ascent is MODERATE, with a duration of approximately 2 hours and a half (ascent) at an average pace, the route includes slightly steep climbs and plains that ascend progressively.
HOW IS THE TRAIL TO VINICUNCA RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
The part that some of you may be most concerned about, due to the altitude, is the trek to the main viewpoint.
The good news is that it really isn’t very far and will cause no issues for many. The dirtpath trail to the top is flat for about 75% or so, with a gradual ascent for 15%, and then quite a tough steep ascent for the last 10% or 200-300 metres. At this height above sea-level, literally everyone will feel a little breathless at the beginning and on the last 10%, but if you have an ok level of fitness and have acclimatised it really shouldn’t be anything you can’t manage at a steady pace. To give you an indication of times, the walk to the top (with a few breaks along the way) in approx. 1 hour 45 mins, and zipped back down to the bus in 45 minutes; another 30 minutes or so for the ascent and descent is probably more realistic if you’re going at a slow pace.
The trail is easy to follow and most guides will simply leave their tour members to walk alone at their own pace. However, if there is a lot of rain then the trail will quickly become a slippy, slidey, muddy bog to traverse.
The bad news is that a lot of people will really struggle, usually as they are unfit. The micro-economy which has cropped up for the local indigenous community is actually wholly shaped around – and depends – upon this trend for exhausted walkers, as every day dozens in their fanciest vibrant traditional clothing will be waiting at Rainbow Mountain with horses to take people along and up (part) of the trail for a fee.
We’re all for seeing local people participate and benefit directly from tourism, and for the wealth to be spread out into a community, so usually this is something we’d praise to the heavens. However, from experience, we know that the use of animals in or to support large-scale tourism always leads to certain negative practices and outcomes for the animals involved. From what we saw of these animals, they are all in good condition at the moment and that’s likely a reflection of:
- The relative newness of this enterprise and
- That the locals use and depend on these animals for their own transport and livelihoods in the countryside.
However, as daily crowds grow so will the demands (and weights) placed upon these animals.
And so, we’re in a bind. No horse rides means no money and positive wider impact from the tourism here, but more horse rides also means trouble.
So, if you do need to use a horse as a last resort because you are struggling, please please please make sure that it is a healthy and well-treated one, suitable for carrying your weight. One-way horse rides are offered at the start for S/. 80 (£19 / $24) – in addition to your tour price – and you will have no shortage of offers all along the trail if you look like you’re struggling. Note that you still have to walk that most challenging 10% to the Rainbow viewpoint though.
And if you’re reading this and think that for weight or health reasons that the only way you can physically make it up Rainbow Mountain is with a horse, then we’d strongly encourage you to consider whether it’s safe or wise for you to be doing this tour in the first place.
We repeat, 5,200m of altitude is no joke.
IT’S ALREADY AT PEAK OVERTOURISM
We know from experience how these sites can often underwhelm, so you can spend your time doing several independent hikes and day trips from Cusco or in the Sacred Valley. However, we know a lot of you plan your own South America adventures, so we felt a responsibility to do it so we could let you know the realities of Rainbow Mountain.
The truth is that, in the three short years it’s been a tourist attraction, Rainbow Mountain has fallen victim to the lethal blend of Instagram’s influence and Peru’s existing levels of tourism. From being on literally nobody’s radar to near the very top of everyone’s must-sees in Peru in that brief time scale points to a worrying trend for the sustainability of this and many other tourism attractions around the world. Overtourism isn’t just a future concern, it’s already here at Rainbow Mountain.
Rainbow Mountain is actually quite a small site with a single access trail for all walkers, and it simply will not be able to cope under that strain for too long nor remain an enjoyable experience. Already, the mirador is is far too crowded due to tours arriving at the same time and nearly every single shot (including yours) you’ll see on social media will obscure the fact that there are people in front and behind waiting. These realities won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but it’s something many articles promoting Rainbow Mountain completely neglect to mention.
You have to add in all the other negative impacts of that ridiculous daily footfall (increased litter, lack of sanitation facilities, mistreatment and overworking of the horses, irresponsible walkers going off-trail), and it is crystal clear to us that the Peruvian government simply has to take action soon (as it recently did by blocking mining rights in the area) rather than later to limit the number of daily visitors and ensure that the area is not overwhelmed and, ultimately, desecrated.
We know that a number of locals now depend on this tourism economically (both in the restaurants tours stop at and via the horse rental) so we hope a sustainable balance can be found.
With that in mind, we want to emphasise that we aren’t telling you not to go to Rainbow Mountain, but rather giving you more honest insight than you may find elsewhere so that you can manage your expectations and make your own decisions.
THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES
And if that has left you despondent or questioning whether you want to do this particular day trip from Cusco, as it should for any responsible travellers, then it’s worth noting that there are a few excellent alternatives to Rainbow Mountain which will take you away from the crowds but still allow you to see the same or similar multicoloured ranges. You won’t be able to get that shot, but it might just give you a more enjoyable experience overall.
The main alternative to Rainbow Mountain, a day trip to Palcoyo from Cusco, involves a much more reasonable start time (7.30 a.m.), far fewer crowds, a hike at altitude, and incredible scenery of three rainbow coloured mountains.
An five-day, 69 km trek that runs through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Andes. Starting at 12,000ft and reaching high passes close to 17,000ft. It’s beautiful and remote, retaining that rugged sense off an off-the-beaten track adventure which will bring you through the Ausangate region and very very close to Rainbow (a short visit to it is actually possible) as well as a whole set of wonderful landscapes and glacier lakes.
THE RED VALLEY
Although often part of the same Rainbow Mountain day tours, not all agencies offer the opportunity to walk the extra 2 – 2.5 hours through the less crowded Red Valley. Doing this may make the overall day trip experience more worthwhile and memorable, but we imagine that this specific trail may well become as popular as the original loop.
If you don’t now feel like Rainbow Mountain is something you want to visit whilst based in Cusco, then consider some of the other best day trips from Cusco.
Whether you choose to visit Rainbow Mountain or not, as ever be considerate of the surrounding area and local communities, be respectful of the site, make memories and leave only footprints.
HOW HARD IS THE HIKE UP TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
Many people don’t realize beforehand that Rainbow Mountain is a high altitude hike. The altitude, more so than the incline of the trail, adds to the challenge factor of the hike. The trailhead starts at around 4,300 meters (14,000 feet) and climbs to just over 5,000 meters (16,400 feet). Many people have a hard time and end up paying for a horseback ride offered by one of the locals walking along the trail.
ARE THERE RESTROOMS ALONG THE TRAIL?
Very basic bathroom facilities are available along the trail. These bathrooms are very rustic, but it’s the only option that is available in such a remote area. Make sure to carry a roll of toilet paper with you just in case.
SAFETY ADVICE FOR THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN PERU?
There are a few absolutely necessary things to know before you climb Vinicunca. It is at a very high altitude which can often result in some serious accidents or issues while climbing – all of which can be avoided if you are wary of the points made on this page.
We will first discuss some of our top tips for climbing the mountain and then underline what should be your top priorities when choosing an operator. Following these points will ensure you have the safest and most enjoyable experience of Rainbow Mountain Peru possible.
This is among the most important things for travellers to be conscious of while travelling Rainbow Mountain Peru.
At such a high altitude it is important for your body to be hydrated so make sure you bring plenty of water and only take small sips of instead of large gulps. This allows the body to process hydration without the urgent need for the toilet.
Coca leaves are a famous aid used in Cusco to help with altitude.
When chewed, coca leaves are known to clear a throbbing head and make it easier to breath at such a high altitude.
They can also be bought quite cheap in Cusco so we advise picking up a bag to bring on your trek in case altitude sickness worsens while trekking.
The quality of your guide can make the difference between an enjoyable, interesting trek up to Rainbow Mountain Peru and a dragged out, boring, disappointing experience.
There are several unqualified operators in existence, with more and more setting up as Rainbow Mountain Peru grows in popularity. Some of these will have guides with little to no English or possibly even rush travellers to finish the experience faster.
There are also operators with guides untrained in first aid or who don’t bring oxygen tanks – do not travel without these insurances.
The need for the use of an oxygen tank while trekking Rainbow Mountain Peru is quite common.
Altitude effects different people in different ways. Many times, athletes or people known to have a high level of fitness, have struggled with Rainbow Mountain Peru far more than others in their group, needing the use of their operators’ oxygen tanks.
You won’t know until you get there if you will need an oxygen tank or not therefore it is necessary you travel with an operator who provides one.
This is something you should look out for when trying to pick an authentic and professional tour operator but is mainly just precautionary in more recent times.
As more people travel to Rainbow Mountain Peru the path is becoming more paved and less dangerous. Operators are also taking more precautions to follow a safe route.
However, injuries do still happen from time to time and so, providing a guide trained in first aid with a first aid kit is definitely something you should look for in an operator.
- Rainbow Mountain is at an altitude of more than half of Mount Everest
- It is also known as Vinicunca, a word originating from Peru’s native tongue Quechua, which translates to “colored mountain”
- The mountain is made up of 14 different, colorful minerals
- Just 7 years ago it was entirely covered in snow, making it impossibe to fully witness the beauty of the mountain
- Temperatures still drop below 0 at night – good to know for anyone visiting Rainbow Mountain on a multi-day Ausangate trek
- Llamas and alpacas can be seen dotted all along the route to Vinicunca
- Weather can change rapidly from snow to rain to blistering sun in the space of an hour