Local people call it Vinicunca, but we know it as the Rainbow Mountain. This incredible mountain is no longer Peru´s best kept secret, tucked away in the Andes, it has become almost as popular as the famous Machu Picchu citadel, and nowadays, it’s becoming one of the top activities to do while in Cusco. Travelers should be physically prepared to climb up to 5200m in altitude which can be a difficult task for inexperienced hikers who are short on time and want to see it all in a day. It is recommended travelers take longer tours to acclimatize and to also visit other destinations like the Ausangate mountain, local communities, and to take a moment to appreciate the wildlife in order to get the best out of the trip. Make sure that you spend at least a couple of days acclimatizing in Cusco if you do plan to do tis trip in one day.
The Rainbow Mountain is located in the Vilcanota range, also home to the majestic Apu Ausangate. The minerals in the Rainbow Mountain caused the sandstones to acquire a red rust-like color that contrasts the yellow, dep red and turquoise stripes, caused by the presence of other minerals combining with the extreme weather conditions. A true geological wonder. Rainbow Mountain was once covered in glaciers that melted due to global warming, thus its recent touristic discovery.
Getting to the top of the Rainbow Mountain involves a steep hike that are extremely challenging for individuals who are not fully acclimatized to the altitude. It’s recommended you spend at least a couple of days in Cusco prior to the excursion. Tours leave Cusco bright and early leaves Cusco by bus at 5 AM and arrives 3 hours later to the town of Quesiuno situated at the bottom of the mountain. From here we will hike for five hours with a lunch stop along the way. It sounds easy, but it’s actually so difficult due to the high elevation and local people rent horses to take you and your gear up the mountain.
The higher elevation also means colder, nearly freezing temperatures, so be prepared. If you decide to take a one-day tour, make sure to wear very warm clothes. Also bring coca leaves to fight off altitude sickness and pack lightly to ease the hike. There is also a chance that you’ll meet many groups of tourists by the time you arrive at the mountain, which can be some time before noon.
Private tours can also take six days because, aside from visiting the Rainbow Mountain, you get to hike around the Ausangate Mountain, one of the Incas’ most sacred mountains. In those six days of the Ausangate trek, you can see ice caverns, the mountain’s glaciers, lesser-visited Andean landscapes with crystal-clear lagoons. You also get to experience the life of the native people who are llama herders, visit ancient hot springs and see animals such as condors, foxes and vicuñas.
Whether you choose the full day trip to the rainbow mountain or the six-day adventure, or visiting the Ausangate mountain range, you will be visiting a cosmic Andean world, mostly unexplored that will be an incredible addition to anyone’s bucket list. The one day or 6 day excursion will have you back in Cusco time for dinner at around 5pm.