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Rainbow Mountain Trek: All you need to know

Written by Orange Cares | Noviembre 13, 2023
Rainbow Mountain Trek: All you need to KNOW

Rainbow Mountain Trek is an amazing adventure to not be missed. If you are planning a trip, not including a trip to the second most popular tourist attraction in Peru would be doing yourself a serious disservice. It’s an unforgettable adventure! It’s a remarkable place that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone with the right preparation and planning.

Keep reading to learn about our Rainbow Mountain Trek experience and know what to expect!

General information:

  • Elevation: 17,060 feet / 5,200 meters
  • Hike difficulty: Challenging, but definitely worth it
  • Known as: Vinicunca, Winikunka, Colored Mountains, Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain trek at a glance

  • The Tour kates around 10 to 12 hours
  • Best ranked tour operator: SAM Travel Peru
  • Difficult but can be done by anyone who is modarately fit.

If you haven’t already seen the content making rounds on Instagram and other social media networks, Rainbow Mountain is a unique mountain formation in the Andes of Peru which features the different colors of the rainbow.

The unique appearance is due to volcanic activity in the region which creates individual layers rich in specific minerals based on time periods. Tectonic activity is slowly pushing the earth up and revealing the spectacular red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet hues underneath.

Known as Vinicunca to locals, Rainbow Mountain was known as a difficult place to reach. Luckily, it has become more accessible in recent years due to improvements on the roads which has allowed for easier access. The trailhead is reached by a 3-hour drive from the city of Cusco. From here, it’s a 3-4 hour trek through somewhat difficult terrain.

How was the altitude?

The altitude can also complicate things: the Rainbow Mountain trek reaches a height of over 15,000 feet above sea level. That’s almost half the height of Mount Everest and several thousand feet above the level at which altitude sickness can take effect. Symptoms of altitude sickness can include fatigue, headache, nausea, rapid heart rate and more.

*** Not all tour companies bring an oxygen tank, so make sure to research and book with a safe option.
Anyway, despite the somewhat difficult nature of the trek, it’s 100% worth the effort to get there. Rainbow Mountain is an absolutely incredible place, a place that defies description. I took some of the most amazing pictures of my whole journey on my hike there. It really is a MUST visit for anyone who will be in Cusco! Here’s a look at what the itinerary is like.

Classic Rainbow Mountain trek itinerary and some TIPS.

  1. Tours start early in the morning, usually picking you up at your accommodation or hotel at around 4:00 am (can be early too). We definitely recommend getting a tour as early as possible, that way you will arrive at Rainbow Mountain in Peru before all the crowds get there and you will be able to take the best pictures
  2. The 3-hours drive to the start of the trailhead will be a bit bumpy, but try to get some sleep since you will have a long day of hiking ahead of you.
  3. Temperatures will continue to drop as you climb to higher altitudes. Make sure you come fully equipped with cold weather clothes such as a hat, scarf, and coat.
  4. If you have problem with the altitude, talk with you guideright away, he/she will have an oxygen tank and some medicines.
  5. Normally you will gather with your group and have a small breakfast before setting off in search of the “rainbow.” It’s not recommendable to eat too much, since food takes longer to digest at high altitudes.
  6. After you arrive to the trailhead, you will have to pay a small 10 soles (about $3) fee for entrance to the trail. This is not normally included in the price of your ticket, since this fee goes directly to the community which maintains the trail.
  7. The trek will take approximately 3 – 4 hours and you will notice the colors and climate gradually changing as you make your way down the trail.
  8. If you don’t want to do the trek on foot, you will have the option to rent a horse which will take you through the flatter sections of the trail (the horse is guided by its owners). Horses cannot make the final ascent though, so you will have to finish the final stretch on your own. The horst cost around $30 for round trip.
  9. Once you arrive to Cerro Vinicunca, the main rainbow-colored peak, you will have plenty of time to take photos. Not only is the rainbow-colored mountain itself beautiful, but from this point you can also see the glacier-capped mountain of Ausangate, the highest mountain of the region which is sacred to local people. Make sure you bring your camera!
  10. After you descend, you will have a quick lunch before boarding your tour van to head back to Cusco. You will arrive back to your accommodation hotel in Cusco at around 4 pm.

As you can see, the trek takes a little bit of work but it’s not too difficult. Just make sure to follow the tips mentioned above and book with a quality tour operator like Sam Travel Peru. Make sure to check out the comprehensive information available here at the official Rainbow Mountain Peru page to help you prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime trek!

Rainbow Mountain facts

  • You will come across llamas, alpacas and other wildlife during this unique trek
  • It was listed in National Geographic’s “Top 100 Places To Visit Before You Die”
  • Rainbow Mountain is also part of the not-so-famous multi-day Ausangate Trek
  • Many local communities live around the mountain and welcome every visitor joy, and even it makes this trek very cultural
  • You will be able to see the dominating Ausangate glacier from the Rainbow Mountain peak

When is the best Time to Visit Rainbow Mountain?

In the Andes Mountains, we do have 2 main seaosn (DRY and WET): the dry season, lasting from roughly April until October; and the rainy season (wet), lasting from November until March (with the months of heaviest precipitation being January and February). April and October are also pleasant since its usually when the seasons are transitioning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the hike to Peru’s most colorful mountain.

The trail starts as an even, gradual incline through a valley until you arrive to a steeper climb up to Rainbow Mountain.

To get the classic view, you have to climb a very steep, hard packed dirt mountainside that’s across from Rainbow Mountain. Because the mountainside is sheer, the terrain can be slippery when wet. The summit allows you to see the full streaking of the mountainside and the stellar views of lush, green scenery that fade into steely snowcapped mountain peaks.

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.

The weather at Rainbow Mountain is very unpredictable, changing frequently and quickly. You might see warm weather and sunny skies one minute and then cloudy skies and snowfall the next. The best idea is to make sure you are prepared for all weather by dressing in layers.

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.

A 1-day tour to Rainbow Mountain ends up being a very long day. Pick-up in Cusco is very early at 3am, then it’s a 3-hour drive to the trailhead, and then after several hours of hiking, you make the return drive. This can be very exhausting even for those in great physical shape, so for those who have the time, taking a 2-day tour may be a good idea. The schedule for 2-day tours is at a slower, more enjoyable pace. Not only does it break down the long roundtrip drive to and from Cusco, but camping closer to Rainbow Mountain allows you to adjust better to the altitude than in Cusco so you feel better during the hike.

The colors of the mountain actually come from the rich mineral deposits compressed into layers over millions of years. The red layers are iron oxide, while oxidized limonite gives some layers a brown hue. Chlorite gives off a green hue in other layers, and finally, iron sulfide is what makes Rainbow Mountains Yellow layers.

Tips for Visitors

  • Once you reach the base of Rainbow Mountain where the majority of tourists take photos, try hiking up the hill behind the first vista point for less crowded views.
  • Be sure to leave early to avoid the larger crowds, the earliest tours leave between 2-3 AM.
  • Weather can be unpredictable at the summit of Rainbow Mountain, be sure to pack a windbreaker and sunscreen in case conditions change.
  • Dont hesitate to rest, listen to your body while completing the hike, Rainbow Mountain’s height is above Cusco’s.
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