Rainbow Mountain Peru

The Rainbow Mountain

You may be wondering, what on earth is this Rainbow Mountain?  I will never forget the first time I saw a picture of this fantasy place and my brain short circuited with How? Where? Why?  I immediately googled “mountain with painted colors” and eventually discovered the real name of this place; Vinicunca, in the Ausangate Mountains of Peru. Ironically I had just booked a ten-day trip to Peru to visit Cusco, Lima and hike the Inca Trail.  I was bummed because had I known about Rainbow Mountain, I would have fit it into the trip.

Read More: Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

One week before my trip, I was googling day trips from Cusco and guess what popped up? Rainbow Mountain! Hallelujah! I was ecstatic to see that it was available as a day trip, although not so close to Cusco. I didn’t even flinch when I saw that the tours had 3 am pick-up times followed by a three-hour drive and then a three-hour hike at an extremely high altitude. Whatevs.

Dammit I was going to see Rainbow Mountain!

How to See It

Apparently, according to authorities and by authorities I am referring to my guide, Cesar, this mountain was only discovered three years ago by Israeli tourists who were quite off the beaten path. Eventually word spread and people began hiking to see this crazy mountain. It traditionally was a six day hike until recently.

Rainbow Mountain

It’s so unknown, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. It is inhabited by the traditional Andean alpaca and sheep herders, many with strong Inca roots. Alpacas are everywhere!

The various colors of the mountain are quite a mystery to many, but not to geologists. I can’t pretend to understand all of it but basically all mountains were underwater at some point in the Earth’s history and various minerals are deposited as various layers form over millions of years. Red sandstone once covered the entire mountain but was eventually blown away creating these striations revealing the layers underneath.

There are a plethora of Cusco tour operators offering day trips to Rainbow Mountain. You can book online (and pay more) or book in Cusco. Most trips are $30-40 with large groups. We actually booked a private tour with Cesar, a guide who previously had taken a friend’s brother on the Inca Trail.  We paid $70  because he arranged a wonderful customized day trip for myself and two other women.  I can’t say enough good things. (I’ve seen tours offered online for $100-$300!)

Well How Was It?

We were picked up at 4am. Ouch. Each of us had a whole row in the van with a blanket Cesar thoughtfully provided, and slept the three hours to reach the Ausangate Mountains.  Breakfast was provided for us and then we started the hike. The starting elevation is close to 14,000 so already we were feeling it. Luckily we were acclimated after over a week at high altitudes. However the Inca Trail had beat us up. We had very sore muscles, swollen joints and I was still recovering from food poisoning.

Don’t even think about doing this if you are not well acclimated to the altitude!

Rainbow Mountain

Horses are available on this trail, at least for part of it, because the end is rocky and steep.  They cost about $30. I am always skeptical of animals used at tourist attractions so I asked many questions about their treatment. The indigenous Andean local own the horses and they appeared well fed.  My guide said that they only work one day, then have from one to three days rest. Unfortunately, I cannot verify that this is true.  Riding a horse seemed like wimping out, but at one point my body rejected that whole “working out with food poisoning” idea, so I rode only 45 minutes. The horse was huffing and puffing and I actually felt bad for it.  My love of animals was stronger than my desire to rest so I sucked it up and walked.

Rainbow Mountain

Along the way early in the hike there are little stalls where the locals sell snacks and water.

Rainbow Mountain

There is even a toilet stall at one point.

Rainbow Mountain

That’s my friend Melissa. Don’t worry, I didn’t creep on a total stranger.

The Mountain

I think I’ve said enough. I’m going to let the mountain speak for itself and show you some pretty pictures!

Rainbow Mountain

Believe it or not these flat parts are still hard because of the altitude!

Rainbow Mountain

I couldn’t get this one to play with me.
Rainbow Mountain

Just before the summit, I looked back and saw how far I had come, not just on this day but this entire trip. I did something I never thought I could do. I felt so incredibly lucky at that moment, to be able to see these amazing sights. I actually cried. Rainbow Mountain made me cry!

Rainbow Mountain

Here’s a nice Panorama. At the top you have the rainbow on one side and the largest glacier in Peru on the other. Rainbow Mountain

There’s even snow at the top (this is my friend Danielle building a teeny snowman).

Rainbow Mountain

A Few Tips

If you want to contact Cesar to arrange a tour of this or anything else in the region, please contact me!

It is COLD. Bring layers including warm hat, gloves and thermals, tops and bottom. There can be snow at the top and gusty winds.

Bring a travel pillow for the car ride.

Bring snacks and plenty of water.

Get your rest. It is a long day. Some tours will pick you up at 0230! Ours was 0400 but we didn’t get back to Cusco until 2000.

Make sure to be acclimated to the altitude by staying in Cusco a minimum of two days. Consider Gingko and Coca Leaves for altitude.

Rainbow Mountain

Read More: Things to Know Before Hiking the Inca Trail

 

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Rainbow Mountain

About The Author

csaradar

31 COMMENTS

  1. Cara Fuller | 6th Mar 17

    Hi! Love your post. I would definitely be interested in organizing something with Cesar! We won’t be in Peru until May 2018, but I’m looking things up ahead of time to prepare.

    Do you think there is a way we could be on Rainbow Mountain for sunset or sunrise? It’s an anniversary trip and I’m bringing a photographer to help us capture the trip! Kind of random, haha, but it just seems like such a beautiful place.

    • csaradar | 11th Mar 17

      Hey there. So sorry for the delay. I’m not sure if sunrise feasible but you could probably do sunset. How cool to have a photographer!! Just make sure he’s fit! LOL. Cesar’s info. +51 974 881 222 on what’s app. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

  2. Emily Lyons | 13th Dec 16

    I loved reading your post…I will be going to Peru on a 10 day trip with my family in April. I would be so grateful to get your guides information. Also, I have a 14 year old & a 12 year old who are very well traveled and in better shape than me. Where there any other teens on the trail?

  3. Rosi C. | 10th Dec 16

    Great history background. That’s why is good to go off the beaten path. I hope to visit Peru and this particular spot. Glad u were determined to visit. Great pic 🙂

    • csaradar | 10th Dec 16

      Thanks Rosi! If I wasn’t so stubborn I probably wouldn’t see much. LOL!

  4. Abigail | 2nd Dec 16

    This spot is stunningly beautiful. We also featured the Rainbow Mountains in Arizona, but didn’t realize there was also one in Peru. Added to the travel bucket list!

    • csaradar | 5th Dec 16

      I will have to check out the ones in Arizona too!

  5. Christine | 27th Nov 16

    We are lined up to go with Cesar tomorrow! Thanks for the details. It’s going to be awesome!

    • csaradar | 28th Nov 16

      That’s so exciting! Can’t wait to hear about it:)

  6. StephanieA | 23rd Nov 16

    Those mountains look magical!
    I hope I will be able to visit Peru sometime in the future 🙂
    x

    • csaradar | 23rd Nov 16

      I hope you do too. It’s a nature and food lover’s dream.

  7. saraessop | 21st Nov 16

    This mountain is so beautiful. I think it should be listed as a natural wonder of the world. Macchu Picchu is high up on my bucket list and when i go there, I definitely plan to visit Rainbow Mountain too.

    • csaradar | 21st Nov 16

      Ah I’m so glad you are going to visit these amazing natural wonders!! Nature is truly amazing!

  8. mappingmegan | 20th Nov 16

    Wow, this is seriously spectacular! To think a couple of tourists accidentally stumbled upon it! We missed this on our recent trip to Peru so will have to get back sometime soon 🙂

    • csaradar | 21st Nov 16

      Seriously! It’s a crazy story. Glad you enjoyed the pics:)

  9. Naomi │ Roaming the Americas | 20th Nov 16

    This looks absolutely incredible! I’ve never heard of it, but it looks beautiful and worth all the effort it took you to get there. Definitely pinning it for future reference!

    • csaradar | 21st Nov 16

      Thanks Naomi! It is definitely worth it and I hope you go someday!

  10. Christine Tenekjian | 20th Nov 16

    Great story cousin! What a beautiful place. My fave part is that you were moved to tears 🙂 happens to me also in beautiful natural places all the time. The planet is simply amazing.

    • csaradar | 21st Nov 16

      Thanks Christine! The planet is amazing. I am just constantly blown away each and every new experience I have in nature. Hopefully we can do something together one day soon.

  11. Amandas_Wanderlust | 20th Nov 16

    I have really wanted to visit Rainbow Mountain since I first heard about it a couple of years ago, so I really enjoyed this post. From your pictures I can see it is as beautiful as I had imagined. Great tips about making sure you are acclimatised and well rested. I bet a few people get caught out on that!

    • csaradar | 20th Nov 16

      That altitude is a bitch but definitely an amazing thing to experience! Thanks for commenting:)

  12. The Travel Captain | 20th Nov 16

    i love this whole post! from the brain short-circuit to not giving a $h*t about the 3am pickup time to the amazing pictures. and i can especially relate about the animals! had the same thing happen in Petra, rode the donkey for 10 minutes and hopped off when I realized he was really tired 🙁

    • csaradar | 20th Nov 16

      Haha thanks so much! Glad there are animal sympathists like us in the world:)

  13. Karen Wanderlustingk | 19th Nov 16

    I so want to do this hike. I’ve never been to South America, but rainbow mountain looks so incredible! It seems quite popular, but maybe I follow people who are really into hiking. 😉

    • csaradar | 20th Nov 16

      Karen it does seem to be popping up quite a bit lately in the travel scene. Peru is a great first stop in South America! Thanks for stopping by:)

  14. Cynthia | 19th Nov 16

    Do you know what contributes to the vivid colors?

    • csaradar | 20th Nov 16

      It has something to do with the geology…I honestly didn’t understand it all but the red is sandstone that covered it but eventually some was blown off by wind and created striations. I really should have included this in the post! LOL

  15. Claire | 19th Nov 16

    Ahhh I didn’t do this hike in Peru and totally regret it! You’re right, there isn’t much information about it in Cusco as everyone is so focussed on Machu Picchu but I wish I’d gone… maybe next time I go to Peru 😀

    • csaradar | 19th Nov 16

      There’s just so much to do there! I just happened to have an extra day. Definitely next time!

  16. Christina from Happy to Wander | 19th Nov 16

    Ahh I’ve always wanted to see this for myself! Thanks for the tips and I’m a big fan of that tiny snowman up top hahah 🙂 I find it insane that it was only so recently discovered… it’s been popping up everywhere on social media so really, it’s only a matter of time until it’s completely covered with tourists like most spots. Guess I better get there soon before that happens!

    • csaradar | 19th Nov 16

      I was surprised that it was as crowded as it was, considering it’s recent discovery. I would suggest going on a weekday!

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