There is no doubt that Rainbow Mountain belongs to the highlights of Peru. Rainbow Mountain is, as a matter of fact, one of the most beautiful places in South America and easily reached from Cusco.
If you want to explore Peru properly, you got to hike it. Similar to our hike to Laguna Paron and Laguna 69 in Peru, Rainbow Mountain requires some planning. Be aware that once you decide to hike to the summit of Rainbow Mountain that there are a few things you need to know beforehand.
It was one of the hardest hikes we have ever done and that is mainly due to the altitude. Also, the following facts will prepare you for the hike so you can enjoy it and not suffer instead. We also don’t want you to be disappointed, so we will share the truth and what you should expect when hiking Rainbow Mountain in the region of Vinicunca. The view on Rainbow Mountain
READ MORE: Find out all 15 most beautiful spots in South America.
WHY IS IT CALLED RAINBOW MOUNTAIN OR VINICUNCA?
Rainbow Mountain belongs to the extraordinary places in Peru and it has also many names. One of the most well-known names is Montaña de Colores which means Colorful Mountain. The name comes from the 7 colorful layers that are visible up there due to the mineralogical composition. You might also hear the name Mountain of 7 Colours or a bit more poetic Montaña de Siete Colores in Spanish. However, the name the indigenous people use is Vinicunca or Winikunka.
TOURISM IS BOOMING
We hate to break it to you, but be prepared that you won’t be alone as Rainbow Mountain is a very popular site in Peru. Since 2016 the number of tourists has exploded and more and more people want to see this natural wonder. Of course, that makes perfect sense. The trek is wide and we didn’t feel like we had no space to walk but it was crazy to see from the summit how many people were actually hiking to Rainbow Mountain.
CLIMATE CHANGE EFFECT…
If you haven’t heard about Rainbow Mountain in Peru before, it is mostly because it wasn’t really a thing until quite recently. Due to climate change, the snow covers the peaks for shorter periods of time and thus allows tours to come up more often. One of our friends still managed to see only snow up there.
FULL DAY TRIP TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
This is a full-day trip to Rainbow Mountain. Hence, make sure to not make any plans after. To be honest, after our tour to Rainbow Mountain we were completely done. Similar to our hike to Laguna Paron and Laguna 69 in the northern part of Peru, doing such a hard hike to Vinicunca is exhausting and takes a lot of energy.
If you are traveling to the north of Peru, head to a town Trujillo, where you can visit Chan Chan, the largest adobe town in the world.
Furthermore, we got up very early in the morning to start the long 3 hours drive from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain. Naturally, we were the first ones picked up and had a long “bus tour” through Cusco until everyone was collected. That is why when we came back to our hotel we just lied down and couldn’t move anymore. We only managed to go for dinner and went to sleep.
THIS IS HOW OUR DAY LOOKED LIKE:
- WOKE UP AT 4 AM
- PICKED BY A TOUR AT 5 AM IN CUSCO
- DRIVING TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN 3 HOURS
- HIKE TO THE SUMMIT OF RAINBOW MOUNTAIN: 1-2 HOURS
- HANGING AT THE SUMMIT OF RAINBOW MOUNTAIN: 20 MINS
- HIKING BACK: 1 HOUR
- DRIVING BACK TO CUSCO: 3 HOURS
You already noticed that you will spend around 6 hours on the bus. Driving through Andes of Peru, you will probably encounter many cute locals on the way to Rainbow Mountain. It’s very easy to spot herds of alpacas and llamas.
HOW TO BOOK A FULL DAY TRIP TOUR TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
Once you arrive in Cusco you will see many shops offering a variety of tours for Vinicunca. We booked our tour a day before we decided to visit Rainbow Mountain. It wasn’t very hard as most of the tour operators offer the same tour.
We found a tour operator located in the same street as our hotel was located that offered a great tour and we were very happy with it. We paid 60 soles which are around 15€.
WHAT DOES A FULL DAY TOUR TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN INCLUDE?
- HOTEL PICK UP
- PROFESSIONAL GUIDE
- ENTRANCE FEES TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
- FIRST AID ASSISTANCE & OXYGEN
- DROP OFF AT THE HOTEL
But if you don’t want to waste your time looking for tours on your own, then there are also a few tours which you can book online for less than 28€ that include meals and a professional guide.
BE READY TO FIGHT WITH ALTITUDE SICKNESS
You will start at around 4.600 meters above sea level and for most people (including us) it’s the highest they’ve ever been. The hike continues with a gentle incline to the elevation of 5.200 meters.
Fun fact: Mountain Everest Base Camp is located at 5.350 meters above sea level.
Hence, do not underestimate the altitude. Once you arrive in Cusco do not go to Rainbow Mountain right on the next day. You need to acclimate your body to the altitude. You need at least 2 days to get used to the altitude, otherwise, the probability that you will get sick is pretty high. That is the reason why we recommend you to take it slow, explore Cusco first, and go for a day trip to Salinas De Maras.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
I know many people think they can do anything, but hiking in altitude over 4.500 is no joke. People say, that if you barely exercise, you might struggle more than the fitter ones. But it doesn’t have to be like it. Altitude sickness can get to anyone, and it has nothing to do if you are fit or not. I consider myself a fit person but I knew already at the beginning of our hike that I wouldn’t be able to complete it and enjoy it at the same time. People with low blood pressure tend to get altitude sickness more easily. I did some hikes before and I had problems with altitude sickness so I knew I had to get ready.
HOW TO TO FIGHT ALTITUDE SICKNESS:
- BRING COCA LEAVES WITH YOU
- DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
- BRING SNACKS WITH YOU (Sugary snacks, protein snacks, something light)
- TAKE IT SLOW
- TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
- ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL WELL
- DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU ARE IN PAIN
Tour guides usually have a first aid kid with them and they usually also provide oxygen. I hope you won’t be the one needing it. The usual symptoms of altitude sickness are headache, stomach ache, vomiting, feeling weak and disorientation. Death can occur if these symptoms are ignored. That is why take care of yourself and follow your guide’s advice. On our tour, we had 1 person who needed oxygen after the hike. Several others did not make it to the summit at all.
IS THE HIKE TO THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN HARD?
During our 4 weeks in Peru, we did many hikes and hiking to Rainbow Mountain is not an easy task. We do not want to scare you, but only to let you know: DO TO UNDERESTIMATE the hike to the Rainbow mountain. The terrain of the trek is in general not very hard. The trek is mostly flat with a gradual ascent of 15%. The hardest part is actually the last 200 meters to the summit which is another 15% ascend. In general, the hike is mostly hard due to the altitude.
There is one trek to the summit, please do not go off the trail to protect the site and the natural environment.
HOW IS IT WITH HIRING A HORSE TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
Traditional owners living in the area of Vinicunca take full advantage of tourism in Rainbow Mountain. By providing horses for hire to tourists, they created a great source of income for their families. During our time of the visit, we noticed that horses were not mistreated but rather treated with care and love. There were a few parts where you will need to get off your horse and walk on our own due to the rough terrain. Like this, locals protect their horses and we hope that it is still like this.
Bring some cash to pay for your horse ride. The price for the round trip is 70-90 Soles. I only paid 50 Soles for the ride up as I walked back from the summit.
Also, be aware that the horse will not take you directly to the summit. The horse ride finishes at 200 meters from the top. Thus, the last meters you will need to climb a rather steep staircase. This part is no doubt the hardest part of the trek.
If you are not sure whether to take a horse or not, start on our own and see how you feel first. We have seen many people struggling on the way. Half of our group didn’t even make it to the summit. Many people started on their own and after some time they had to take a horse. Honestly speaking, without hiring a horse, I wouldn’t be able to make it. In the parts where I had to walk on my own, I felt like I was dying. Nico was high on coca and marching up to the summit like an idiot.
WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR HIKE TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
As the weather might change rapidly, you need to pack accordingly. Having good waterproof trekking shoes, or sturdy sneakers is essential. You will start at 5 AM so it will be very likely cold. So make sure to bring with you a warm fleece, or a windproof jacket. In case of rain, bring with you a rain poncho. It might be very windy and cold at the peak. Also, don’t forget you are at a height of 5000 meters above sea level and you need to put sun cream on your face.
NECESSARY THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU
- STURDY SHOES
- WARM CLOTHES
- SUN CREAM (USE GIGI10 for 10% off)
- WINDPROOF AND WATERPROOF JACKET OR A PONCHO
- LOTS OF WATER
HOW TO TAKE PHOTOS WITHOUT PEOPLE?
If you look at the previous photo, you can tell where the spot is located most people take the ‘famous pictures’. We hated that spot, as you can never get a picture without people photobombing from all sides. If you go a bit further up and to the left, there is this cool spot, where you can make it seem as you are almost alone.
If you scroll through Instagram, you might see sometimes unrealistically and weirdly edited photos of Rainbow Mountain. I don’t understand why people do it, I guess to enhance the colors. Our photos which you see here are what Vinicunca really looks like.
CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE YOU VISIT RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
Of course, you cannot predict the weather and the weather in the mountains does change rapidly. Thus, make sure to check the weather forecast before you book a tour. We were so lucky to have clear skies which made our day incredible.
WHAT IS THE BEST MONTH TO TRAVEL TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
If you want to avoid rainy days and grey skies, travel to Rainbow Mountain during the winter months. We visited in May and it was perfect. In general, visiting Rainbow Mountain between May and August is great. For our entire week exploring Cusco and its surroundings, we had blue skies.
Temperatures at night will get really cold and often below 0 degrees Celsius. So, make sure to bring some warm clothes like fleeces, hoodies and a good jacket. A beanie and gloves might make the cold bearable as well. We had breakfast outside at around 1 degree Celsius.
LACK OF FACILITIES
Unfortunately, the Rainbow Mountain track lacks hygienic facilities. There is only 1 environmental toilet on the way to the summit. It is nothing fancy, but better than nothing. There are bathrooms at the parking lot where the tour operators park their busses and vans.
NO TRASH BINS
Please make sure you take your trash with you. As there are no trash bins, protect this site as much as you can.
There is an opportunity to go further and complete an 8-hour trek in the Red Valley. Here you can see a trail that continues from the summit. We didn’t do to the track due to my health conditions, we also just got back from Machu Picchu Inca trail and we were already exhausted.
THE FUTURE OF VINICUNCA RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
We fear that over-tourism is already a problem and negatively affects Rainbow Mountain and its fauna. And sadly at some point, it will degrade this natural wonder. We think that restricting the number of visitors per day will help to protect Rainbow Mountain. However, at this point, the officials don’t seem to care.
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