Mother Nature has done it again. This time giving us a mountain that looks like a huge slice of rainbow cake! The aptly named Rainbow Mountain (aka Vinicunca, Montaña de Siete Colores, or Montaña de Colore), is a jaw-dropping natural phenomenon situated in the Peruvian Andes. The peak rises to an epic altitude of 5,200m and has been attracting visitors ever since it was discovered in 2015. We have the complete low-down on how to experience this otherworldly terrain for yourself.
Why so colourful?
You might be wondering what makes this mountain so colourful. The striking colours of Rainbow Mountain are a result of the rich geological composition of the land. Over the course of millions of years, sedimentary minerals like marlstone, limonites, and argillites were deposited in layers. They were stacked up and arranged in these layers depending on their weight. It is the oxidation of these minerals that gives the slopes that vibrant spread of colours you see today. Interestingly, the mountain was actually covered in snow for many years and unveiled only in 2015 - after years of weathering, erosion and climate change - making Rainbow Mountain a pretty new discovery.
You can get more into the nitty gritty of the geology of Rainbow Mountain here.
How to Visit
Rainbow Mountain is situated in the southern region of Cusco in Peru.
If you want to visit Rainbow Mountain, the best place to be based is the city of Cusco itself. With public transport, you can reach Cusco from Lima (Peru's capital) by either flight or bus. We recommend taking the bus - not only for the wonderful views you'll be treated to along the way, but also because this slower method of travel (19-21 hours of driving!) will allow your body to gradually get used to the high altitudes (Cusco is 3,399m above sea level).
More information about the different transport options from Lima from Cusco can be found here.
Most visitors stay in Cusco for one to two nights before starting their hike. You can take this time to explore this charming Andean city while acclimatising - or you might even prefer to stay a few nights in the smaller towns of Pitumarca or Checacupe. These are much closer to the start of the walk and situated at an even higher altitude.
You can visit Rainbow Mountain on the 6-day Ausangate Trek, or during a 1 day hike.
Going with a Tour Group🚶🏽🚶🚶🏽🚶🏽
Booking a 1 day guided tour is the most popular way of visiting the mountain.
The average price of a guided trip is about $40 (USD) / 164 sol per person. Many operators organise trips up to Rainbow Mountain, so you’ll have no trouble finding one. You could either pre-book online before you arrive, or search for a good operator once you arrive in Cusco. Here is a guided tour we recommend if you are looking to pre-book online.
The itinerary of these tours is normally the same. You’ll usually be picked up early in the morning (anywhere from 2am-5am, depending on the operator), drive a couple of hours before stopping for breakfast, and then carry on for just over an hour to the Rainbow Mountain car park where you'll begin your ascent. Once you're back down again, you'll head back to Cusco, stopping for lunch along the way.
Note: There is also a $3 / 10 sol entry fee to Rainbow Mountain that is not normally included in tour prices.
Going without a Tour Group🚶🏽🚶
Visiting the mountain on a 1 day hike, without a guide or tour group, is also totally doable.
Organising your own transport will be the biggest factor in deciding how feasible it is for you to do the trip without a group. You will need to figure out how to get to the Rainbow Mountain car park, where the route starts. This can be done by either hiring a taxi from Cusco to take you there and arrange a pick up. A less expensive option would be renting a car for yourself in Cusco for around $40 per day.
This will mean facing the altitude without the first aid kits or oxygen tanks that guides often have on hand, but just make sure you are fully acclimated before embarking on the hike and generally well prepared. You can also read up on the symptoms of altitude sickness ahead of your journey.
A great in-depth guide for those wishing to visit without a group or guide can be found here.
Tip: Download maps.me for detailed offline maps of the area (the hiking route itself is well marked). Also make sure to take a charging pack as phone batteries can drain much faster at higher altitudes.
What to Expect
Apart from the groovy, psychedelic landscape, there are a number of things you can expect when planning a visit to Rainbow Mountain.
The Altitude - Don't underestimate the altitude! Rainbow Mountain stands at 5,200m, meaning it is only a few metres below Everest Base Camp (5,364m) and nearly the height of Kilimanjaro (5,895 m).
The Alpacas - The area is a stomping ground for alpacas and llamas. Local Andean herding communities live and work on the land, so expect to encounter locals and these furry inhabitants along your way.
The Tourists - Don’t be fooled by the drone shots of desolate peaks. Rainbow Mountain receives about 1,500 visitors a day. If you really want to beat the crowds and are also prepared to be in the mountains without a guide, we suggest setting off from Cusco at about 1am or 2am, to start your hike at 4am or 5am.
10-20 Minutes at the Top - Don't roll out the picnic blanket or get too comfy once you reach the top. Due to the altitude, visitors are advised to spend a maximum of 20 minutes at the Rainbow Mountain summit.
Instagram vs. Reality - Instagram might awash with images where the saturation has been cranked up, but Rainbow Mountain in real life is really is a sight to behold. To experience the mountain in it’s full multi-coloured glory, keep a close eye on the weather. Guides recommend visiting from March to November, with June and August being the months with the most blue skies.