Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca is one of the most unique natural formations I have ever encountered. Located deep in the mountains of Peru, the bright colours are a result of tectonic movement over 24 million years ago. Accessible from Cusco as a day trip, this epic challenge is well worth the strenuous 25 kilometre trek.
What to expect at Rainbow Mountain
What is amazing about this trek is that the views are outstanding right from the start. You begin by walking through a vibrant green valley where you pass local farmers and llamas. The entire time Ausangate mountain can been seen in the distance. As you begin your ascent the coloured sediments start to appear. The entire trek is well marked and there are lots of other travellers to help guide you. The final hurdle (and the toughest climb of the hike) brings you up to the painted hills of Rainbow Mountain. From this vantage point you also get 360 degree views of the region.
How to get to Rainbow Mountain
I visited Rainbow Mountain as part of day tour with Viajes Cusco while based in Cusco. The tour included breakfast, dinner and a transfer to and from the trekking start point from my hostel.
Should I do a tour?
If you have your own means of transport (e.g. renting a car) I would highly suggest this. I did not feel comfortable driving in the Peruvian mountains so did not attempt it. The reason why I would recommend a self-guided trek was due to the quality of the tour I was on.
What happened on the tour?
We were told we would be picked up between 03:00am – 03:30am. At 05:00am after multiple calls and emails, our transfer had not yet shown. It was my last day in Cusco so I was stressing that they were not going to show and I would not get a chance to hike Rainbow Mountain. Finally, at 05:30am a car came to pick us up. We were taken to a coach station and put on a large bus that was so full that one person had to stand. Keep in mind it was a 3 hour drive. Along the way we made a stop for our included breakfast. I would suggest bringing a lot of layers so that you can eat in warmth because the stop is in a tent. You can then leave these layers on the bus during your hike. I would also bring extra food and tissue paper as you will not have access to a portable bathroom until the first stop of the hike. On arrival to the foot of Apu Ausangate you are left to start the hike.
Do not rush your hike, you will have to wait until the entire coach returns before you can leave so it’s better to take your time. On the way home you make a stop for dinner at the same place you had breakfast. You are then taken back to your accommodation in Cusco.
Things to note before hiking Rainbow Mountain
The day I did the trek it was cloudy but this did not detract from the views. I have heard that if it is snowing or raining you may want to delay though, as visibility can be poor.
I had never experienced altitude before and it was a bit of a shock to the system. Keep in mind that your starting altitude for the hike is 4,326m (14,189 ft) and it reaches 5,200m (17,060 ft) at the summit. I took altitude sickness tablets in Lima before I reached Arequipa and Cusco to help prevent side effects. While I did not get overly unwell, I had the usual symptoms of being short of breath and feeling extremely exhausted. I was travelling with two people that suffered the sickness severely (dizziness, vomiting, light headedness).
Make sure to bring plenty of water (I brought 2L with me). I would also highly suggest bringing snacks. It is a full day hike and while you can buy stuff along the way, the stalls are overpriced. A rain poncho is also advisable as the weather changes frequently.
I had been travelling and hiking around Africa for the two months prior to this trek. While I was “fitter than usual” I would still say I fell within an average fitness range. I think the key to this hike is to pace yourself. Take regular breaks and enjoy the scenery. Even though the trek back down will be a lot faster, try to also go slow. This is where most people have trouble with the altitude because you are descending too fast.
How to book
As I have mentioned, this tour was not perfect. I would probably not use this company again. I would say it’s better to arrive in Cusco and book through a company you find there. It will be cheaper and the same quality (if not better).
But… if you are looking for a tried and tested tour company then here are the booking details. I did the One Day Rainbow Mountain Tour with Viajes Cusco which at the time cost $25 USD per person. The tour now costs $50 USD – I don’t see why this cost would double in less than a year?
Rainbow mountain was my favourite day trip from Cusco. That’s right, I even preferred it to Machu Picchu. It’s a stunning region and a challenging hike, which made the view from the top even more rewarding. Make sure to add this to your Peruvian itinerary (and don’t feel pressured to book a tour in advance, wait until you get there and you won’t regret it!).
Any questions? Feel free to comment below!