Rainbow Mountain. A huge hit on Instagram and admittedly, it was also high on our wish list. It will come as no surprise that more than a thousand curious visitors make their way to this “mountain of seven colors” every day, and that it can be quite crowded. So how is it that we were almost alone at the top?! You can read about it below.
One of Peru’s top sights
Until a few years ago, Montaña Vinikunka, with its height of 5036 meters, was still hidden under a thick layer of snow. Due to global warming, however, it gradually began to emerge, and since 2016, hundreds of tour buses have been driving back and forth every day. Rainbow Mountain has become one of the top attractions from Cusco, which is 140 kilometers away.
And we think that’s completely justified! At first, we tried to keep our expectations in check because we knew that many of the Rainbow Mountain posters had been altered by overenthusiastic Photoshoppers. We thought that the colors might not be as vibrant in reality. However, we were genuinely impressed by what we saw! It was a clear and sunny day, which made the rainbow stripes clearly visible. We couldn’t have come up with a more fitting name ourselves!
It’s interesting to note that the colors of Rainbow Mountain are the product of millions of years of rock deposits! The red stripes, for instance, contain iron oxide, while the green color comes from copper sulfate, and the yellow color shows sulfur… Thanks, Wikipedia.
Visiting Rainbow Mountain on your own
Rainbow Mountain is easily visited by tour bus. There are countless tour operators on every street in downtown Cusco where you can book a day trip, even at the last minute, and have breakfast and lunch on the way. This may sound very convenient, but be aware that these buses leave between four and five in the morning, and many, many people are doing exactly the same thing. So at Rainbow Mountain, you may have to navigate through crowds, and you may have to use your elbows for that one perfect Instagram shot…
That’s why we were so happy to find an alternative way to visit Rainbow Mountain. We contacted a local taxi company for a private ride, which may sound expensive, but if you can split the cost with other travelers, it can be quite reasonable. We paid 400 SOL for six people (or 300 SOL for four people) to Inka Transfer Tours (WhatsApp +51 921 134 104). The entrance fee of 25 SOL per person is not included.
If you manage to secure a private driver, you can of course choose your own departure time. We arranged to meet at eight in the morning. It took us just over three hours to get there, so we were able to start our hike around eleven o’clock. At that time, the parking lot was still crowded, but all the other tourists were descending the mountain and getting ready for their return trip to Cusco. Gradually, the crowd dispersed and the silence returned to this breathtakingly beautiful landscape!
The hike up…
The hike to Rainbow Mountain was quite challenging! Over a distance of three and a half kilometers, you have to ascend about three hundred meters. That might be easy somewhere else, but at an altitude of five thousand meters it’s a different story. The first part of the climb was relatively easy, but the last kilometer was really steep. So take it easy and be aware of the altitude sickness. By the way, it’s possible to do the first part of the hike on horseback!
Along the way you’ll see many alpacas and llamas grazing and cheering you on with their adorable presence. It’s amazing to see! Be sure to keep your distance, both as a courtesy and to avoid being spat on. At the top of the mountain, overlooking Rainbow Mountain, there are usually a few alpacas. Unfortunately, they are often decorated like a Christmas tree and sometimes even have colorful sunglasses on their faces… To each his own, but we found it very sad and decided not to pay attention to this kind of “tourism” to discourage it.
As we climbed higher, the temperature dropped significantly. Despite the physical effort, we were grateful for our jackets and gloves to keep us warm. At the top, the wind was quite strong, so make sure to come prepared for chilly weather.
A nice extra
If you’re still hungry for more after Rainbow Mountain, make a detour on your way back to Valle Rojo, the red valley on the other side of the mountain. The views are absolutely breathtaking!
To get there, take a left turn after the stairs of the steepest part on the way back. Midway up the slope, some locals will stop you and ask for an entrance fee of around 20 soles per person.