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If you plan a trip to Peru, you probably have seen photos of Rainbow Mountain. Also known as Vinicunca, Rainbow Mountain has become one of the most beloved spots among tourists.
Today thousands of visitors coming here daily! That’s a stark contrast compared to just a decade ago.
While the newfound fame has been great for local tourism, it also brought consequences to this remote place, which had to adapt to the constant stream of tourists coming here. In this article, I will explain how you can visit Rainbow Mountain in Peru and how to do it in a way that supports the environment and creates the best experience for you.
Where is Rainbow Mountain in Peru?
The Rainbow Mountain sits in the heart of the Peruvian Andes 62 miles southeast of Cusco, surrounded by jagged snow-powdered peaks.
Why is Rainbow Mountain Peru colorful?
While the name of the mountain suggests seven colors, it has more shades with hues of brown, red, orange, and yellow all mixed in a colorful palette. Formed by environmental conditions and erosion, the minerals of the Rainbow Mountain create a stunning display of colors.
Each color in this mountain comes from different minerals. Red comes from iron oxide, and yellow is indicative of sulfide. The exterior part of the mountain has been depleted by erosion, which made it possible for the colors to come out in a full display.
FUN FACT: The original name of the mountain, Vinicunca means “colored mountain” in Peru’s native language Quechua.
Rainbow Mountain Peru elevation
Rainbow Mountain stands at an altitude of 17,060 feet (or 5,200 meters) above sea level. You start the hike at 13,780 feet (or 4200 meters).
How to visit Rainbow Mountain in Peru?
The easiest way to visit Rainbow Mountain is by joining a guided tour from Cusco. The mountain has become one of the most popular places to visit in Peru in the last 5 years, and now hundreds of people come here to see the incredible colors of this mountain.
Before 2015 very few people knew about Rainbow Mountain, as it had been hidden by a thick layer of snow. But as the snow melted because of global warming, Rainbow Mountain was “discovered.” Rainbow Mountain is visited by a few thousand people during the peak season, so over-tourism is a very real issue here.
👉 When you hike Rainbow Mountain, be a responsible tourist. Don’t throw your trash and other items around, because there’s simply nobody to pick it up. Rainbow Mountain already suffers from overtourism, so do your part and be a good steward of the environment.
What are Rainbow Mountain tours like?
When walking around Cusco, you will find countless tour agencies advertising Rainbow Mountain tours. Most of them leave around 5-6 a.m. and include breakfast and lunch. You leave before the sunrise and drive for about 2 hours to the nearby mountain village where you stop for food before going to the beginning of the trailhead.
Rainbow Mountain tour takes most of the day because of the long distances. You will get back to Cusco around 5 p.m. after stopping for lunch and being on the road 2,5-3 hours on your way back.
Can you do Rainbow Mountain without a tour?
Yes, you can do Rainbow Mountain without a tour, but it’s going to take significantly more time. Your biggest challenge will be arranging transportation to the Rainbow Mountain parking lot at the beginning of the trail and hiking at the high elevation without a guide who normally carries a tank of oxygen.
Booking a tour of Rainbow Mountain online
Another option is to book a tour of Rainbow Mountain online. You can find various packages and choose the one that works best for you. Buying a tour of Rainbow mountain online will save you a lot of time so you can spend enjoying Cusco and doing other activities. Most online tours of Rainbow Mountain have reviews from other travelers, so you can check if it’s a good option.
What is the Rainbow Mountain hike like?
The Rainbow Mountain hike takes you along the dirt trail with a gradual and steady incline.
WHAT IS THE TRAIL TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN LIKE?
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 go up a steep, dirt trail across Rainbow Mountain. Once you get to the summit, you will enjoy the view of the Vinicunca and the lush, green scenery in the background and the snowcapped mountain peaks far in the distance.
Best tours of Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Things to know before hiking Rainbow Mountain in Peru:
Get used to the altitude
During my visit, I’ve seen a lot of people struggling on the Rainbow Mountain hike. The truth is many people who go on Rainbow Mountain tours are not prepared or don’t have a physical aptitude for this hike. To minimize your chances of altitude sickness, spend at least a day in Cusco to get used to the altitude before heading to Rainbow Mountain. Do Machu Picchu or Sacred Valley before heading to Rainbow Mountain.
Be ready for a demanding hike
Hiking to the top overlook of Rainbow Mountain is a challenge, and you shouldn’t take it lightly. To get used to the altitude, spend at least one day in Cusco before booking a trip to Rainbow Mountain. If you have just arrived in Cusco from Lima, do not do this hike on the same day, because it will be very difficult due to the drastic altitude change
Drink plenty of water
Carrying plenty of water and snacks is paramount. You will get thirsty while hiking Rainbow Mountain, so make sure to have at least a gallon of water with you. You can also buy water and snacks from one of the vendors along the way, but if you do, make sure to take all your trash with you.
Most Rainbow Mountain tours start in the morning and finish late in the afternoon. When you begin your hike it might be chilly, but as soon as you start walking uphill, you will get hot. When you get to the top of the main overlook, it will be cooler, so you will need your jacket again. Wear layers to stay warm and avoid getting sick.
Put on sunscreen
Rainbow Mountain sits at more than 17,000 feet of altitude. This is no joke. Just to give you perspective, it’s almost at the same altitude as Everest Base Camp. The sun here can be strong, and you should come prepared with good sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
Hiking Rainbow Mountain is a challenge. Along the way, you will see many hikers stopping to catch some breath. Do the same and hike in smaller increments to avoid straining yourself and prevent altitude sickness
Use some lip balm
Using some lip balm is also a good idea, as your lips could get cracked because of the thin air at this altitude.
Watch for signs of altitude sickness
Altitude sickness can occur at high elevations due to many factors. When hiking Rainbow Mountain, pay close attention to how your body reacts to it. If you experience dizziness, bad stomach, or nausea, take a break. Altitude sickness affects some hikers, and it’s important to know when to slow down or turn around because it can have lethal consequences.
Always stay on trail
The influx of tourism has had major consequences for the delicate tundra ecosystem with the 2.5-mile hike to the mountain getting completely eroded. When you hike Rainbow Mountain, always stay on the trail and don’t wander off in the tundra, as you can easily crush plants with one step.
The rise of tourism on Rainbow Mountain brought many locals from the surrounding villages here. Most of them sell snacks and drinks or bring their llamas dressed in colorful outfits and sunglasses to pose for photos with tourists. Always carry Peruvian Soles with you (local currency), because credit cards are not accepted on the mountain.
GOOD TO KNOW: Most tour guides carry oxygen tanks, so if you start not feeling well, immediately let your guide know about it. Once you reach the top of the trail, you should stay there for no more than 20 minutes, because of the effect that this altitude could have.
What’s the best time to hike Rainbow Mountain Peru?
The best time to hike Rainbow Mountain is during the dry season. But even then, you should check the weather forecast before booking your tour. The conditions at this altitude are notoriously unpredictable, and it’s not unheard of for this mountain to be obscured by clouds.
A popular trip from Rainbow Mountain is Ausanguate, a glacier that sits around 12 miles (20 km) from Rainbow Mountain.
Red Valley Peru
While many travelers know about Rainbow Mountain, the nearby Red Valley remains largely undiscovered. If you want a quick view of this area, take a trail up the nearby mountain from the Rainbow Mountain Trail. You will see very few people on this trail, but once you get to the top, you will enjoy the spectacular view of this natural wonder with red and green colors.
How can I visit Red Valley?
Visiting Red Valley in Peru requires a separate trip, and you can find some tour agencies in Cusco that offer it. The most popular way to visit Red Valley is by doing an extension of the Vinicunca tour, and it will involve an additional cost.
Rainbow Mountain Peru: FAQ’s
Is Rainbow Mountain a difficult hike?
Rainbow Mountain is a fairly difficult hike that requires time and some preparation. What makes the hike difficult is the altitude. While it’s not a steep trail, you will most likely get out of breath at some point while going uphill. Remember to drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks along the way.
How long is the walk to Rainbow Mountain?
The hike to Rainbow Mountain 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) round trip and takes about 3-4 hours to complete depending on your level of fitness.
When is the best time to visit Rainbow Mountain?
The best time to visit Rainbow Mountain is from March through November, or from June to August, when you are most likely to see the blue skies and plenty of sun. Try to plan your visit either early morning or toward the evening, because that’s when the light is optimal for taking photos.
But no matter when you decide to visit Rainbow Mountain, pay close attention to the weather. It really sucks to arrive to Rainbow Mountain and find the grey skies or worse yet, rain.
👉 If the forecast calls for rain, plan the Rainbow Mountain hike for a different day to have a better experience. Climbing to the top is just not worth it if the view will look nothing like the photos you’ve seen.
How long does it take to get from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain?
A tour will pick you up at your hotel and take you to a small village about one hour from the parking near Rainbow Mountain trail. You will have about 40 minutes for your breakfast stop, and after that, the bus will take you through winding mountain hills dotted by small villages before you arrive at the beginning of the Rainbow Mountain trailhead.
How much does it cost to hike Rainbow Mountain Peru?
Rainbow Mountain tours cost an average of $30 (about 100 Peruvian Soles) and can be booked online or at one of Cusco’s tour agencies. You can also book a private one of private Rainbow Mountain tours which should cost between $40-50 USD.
Are there restrooms along the Rainbow Mountain trail?
Along the trail to Rainbow Mountain, you will find many primitive bathrooms that you can use for just a couple of Peruvian Soles. These bathrooms are very basic and are the only options available in this remote area.
Do you need hiking shoes for Rainbow Mountain Peru?
Wear comfortable pair of hiking shoes or good sturdy sneakers with thick socks for your hike to Rainbow Mountain Peru.
Here are other essentials for hiking Rainbow Mountain:
- Waterproof jacket (if the forecast calls for rain)
- A backpack to carry water, snacks and other essentials
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- A warm hat
- A warm layer like a sweater or fleece
- A moisture-wicking top that will stay dry if you sweat
- A good camera to capture photos of your amazing adventure 🙂
Is Rainbow Mountain in Peru worth it?
Rainbow Mountain is a wonderful and challenging experience. You get to take a break from the busy streets of Cusco and explore some of the best
Hiking Rainbow Mountain Peru: final word
Climbing Rainbow Mountain is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences you can have while visiting Cusco. Although the mountain has become very commercialized with thousands of visitors coming here during the peak season, it’s still an incredible adventure that gives you an opportunity to test your stamina and will power. When you get to the top, you will be rewarded with the spectacular display of colors of the Rainbow Mountain and the sweeping views of snow-powdered Andes in the backdrop. It’s the view unlike anything you’ve seen before!