Why You Need to go to Rainbow Mountain

Why You Need to go to Rainbow Mountain

Have you ever heard of Rainbow Mountain? Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca, as they call it in Peru, is a colourful natural elevation in the Peruvian Andes Mountains range. Tourists usually travel to Peru to visit Machu Picchu, but Rainbow Mountain, 90 kilometres southeast of Cusco, has quickly become a bucket list item.

Rainbow Mountain is a geological wonder; from the colourful mountains to the impressive glacier, to the eroded valleys, it is a photographer’s dream.

Once only accessible through days of hiking, changes to tourism have made it available as a day trip, attracting 1000 to 1500 people daily, a third of what Machu Picchu attracts.

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Our Rainbow Mountain Adventure

The Crack of Dawn

Eddie, our guide from Condor Travel, picked us up before 5 am.  My daughter and I had become used to the early mornings in Peru. We had gotten to know Eddie really well since he was our guide  7 out of the 10 days we were in Peru, including the Inca Trail.

You cannot visit Rainbow Mountain without a guide. This protects the natural environment and creates jobs for Peruvian people.

Related Story: Inca Trail, part 1

The trip to Rainbow Mountain takes a good three hours of driving on both paved and dirt roads full of switchbacks. The dirt roads are windy and narrow, you are literally driving on the edge of a cliff. The photo shows how precarious some dirt roads are.  The drivers honk when they go around corners to let other drivers know they are approaching.

Instagram

According to Eddie, Instagram has helped to boost the mountains’ popularity. That is where my daughter discovered Rainbow mountain and the photographs taken there were the reason we added it to our itinerary.

Llamas and Alpacas

We saw our first large herd of llamas and alpacas walking on the road. Peruvians raise Llamas and alpacas together and they both like the high altitudes. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any when we were at Machu Picchu.

Related Story: Inca Trail, part 4

Quesiuno

We arrived in the village of Quesiuno at approx. 4,326 meters (14,189 feet) where we could see the highest mountain “Apu Ausangate” sprawling before us. In the Quechua language, Apu means mountain.  I thought we were the only car on the road, so it surprised me to see other vans in the parking lot. 

Don’t Use the Bathrooms

Our first stop was the bathrooms (filthiest bathroom ever). We paid 1 sol to use the facilities and received a couple of sheets of toilet paper. The stalls don’t have seats and when visiting Peru you learn to squat pee (if you are a girl). Hand sanitizer is a must-pack.

Ride em Cowboy

Due to the fact that I got altitude sickness on the Inca Trail, we rented horses to ride to the top. Altitude is no joke. Rainbow Mountain sits at 5200 meters (17,060 feet) above sea level. Eddie acted as our liaison, negotiating a price for the ride. Having a guide who can interpret for you if you don’t speak Spanish is a luxury.

The cost was reasonable, and it helps the local economy. Seated on the horse, a local holds the reins and walks/runs ahead of the horse. There are two separate trails to the top – one for horses and one for walkers/hikers.

Almost There

Walking the 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) depends on your speed, but normally takes 1 to 1 1/2 half hours. Although the path looks fairly flat, it is more challenging than it appears. Peruvian flat is usually uphill.

Eddie walked to the top almost as quickly as we rode.  Eddie loved a physical challenge, and the altitude didn’t affect him.

The horses can’t go all the way to the top, but take you 70-80% of the way. Walking at that altitude was a little difficult. Hard on the lungs.

Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Top of the Mountain

It took 20 to 30 minutes to get to the top. We took our time not pushing our bodies. We passed a few people with nose bleeds from the altitude. Rainbow Mountain at 5200 meters (17,060 feet) is a little lower than the south Everest base camp at 5500 meters (17,900 feet). Because of the altitude, it is not very warm. 

Beauty Everywhere You Look

There are no words to describe the beauty of the mountain. Pictures do not do it justice. The vibrant colours stretch out for miles.

We got our picture taken with these lovely animals for 1 sol.

Why is Rainbow Mountain so Colourful?

Part of a volcanic chain, minerals and environmental circumstance gives the mountain its layers of colours.

  • Red from Iron oxide
  • Yellow/Orange from iron sulfide
  • Turquoise from chlorite
  • Brown from oxidized limonite
  • White from calcium carbonate

Ausangate Glacier

If you look in the opposite direction of Rainbow Mountain, you will see an imposing glacier. 

The Ausangate Glacier is sacred to the Peruvian people. A deity to the Inca people of the past. The imposing Glacier stands at 6,385meters (20,495 feet) Not all the mountains in Peru have names, but all the glaciers do.

Ancient Rituals

Peruvians worship and leave offerings such as coca leaves daily. Locals visit to heal and connect with the spirit of the Mountains.

Large Eroded Valleys

This untouched valley is on the left side of Rainbow Mountain.

Red Valley

The Red Valley, on the right side of Rainbow Mountain, looks like it stretches on forever. It connects Pitumarca to Vinicunca and takes between 4 to 5 hours to hike.

In the photo below, I have marked the Red Valley Trail, the Rainbow Mountain Trail, and the horse drop-off. In the far distance, you can see the parking lot where the trail begins.

Eddie advised us not to stay at the top longer than 20 minutes. I took another horse down to the village while Eddie and my daughter walked. 

Climate Change

If you don’t believe in climate change, Rainbow Mountain proves it. Snow and ice completely covered the mountain until 2013, that’s when the mountain appeared. Imagine all this beauty hidden.

Final Thoughts

Rainbow Mountain is one of the most beautiful places on earth. What do you think? Is Rainbow Mountain on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time

Frankie

All photos in this article are copyright Frankie Cameron Writes.