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Rainbow mountain hike day trip

Written by:
Claire Dean

Published: 23-02-2022

The Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, in the Ausangate region of Cusco, is no longer a secret tucked away in the Andes. It has rapidly become a rivalled destination to visit in Peru, giving Machu Picchu a run for its money! 

A rare Rainbow mountain image with no people!

The Rainbow Mountain is located in the Vilcanota mountain range, which is also home to the Ausangate mountain. The different minerals found in the Rainbow Mountain caused the sandstones to acquire a rusty red colour that are intermittently striped with yellow, maroon and blue-green hues, caused by other minerals in the region and the rugged weather conditions at this elevation, forming a remarkable, geological wonder. Local people will tell you that the Rainbow Mountain used to be covered in glaciers that have melted due to global warming, hence why only recently this natural phenomenon was discovered.

Some local inhabitants

Travellers to the Rainbow Mountain, should be physically prepared to climb up to 5200 metres above sea level, at a similar elevation to Everest Base Camp. This can prove difficult for inexperienced trekkers who are short on time and want to see everything in a short space of time. Adequate acclimatization is an absolute must before even attempting the see this stripy natural marvel and you can also visit other destinations like the Ausangate Mountain,  local Andean communities, or visit alternative Cusco sites first, acclimatising all the time, to make sure you make the most of the Rainbow Mountain 1 day trip. 

Vinicunca trail

Climbing to the summit of the Rainbow Mountain involves a steeply inclined trek that could be extremely challenging for individuals who are not fully acclimatized to the altitude. It is a very good idea to spend at least a couple of days in Cusco prior to taking on the Vinicunca visit. A myriad of tour companies offer a day trip that leaves Cusco at dawn and arrives four hours later to the towns of Japura or Chillca, found at the base of the mountain. You will have to hike 8 km for about two hours until you reach the summit.  The fact that you are at such a high elevation, with such thin air makes this a lot more difficult than it sounds. Local people even rent horses to take you and your backpacks up the mountain, should you feel the need.

Not a walk in the park!

The higher elevation also means colder, freezing temperatures, so go well-prepared. If you decide to take a one-day tour, make sure you wrap up well.  Coca leaves are also a good idea to ward off altitude sickness and carry only essential items to make hiking a little easier. You will definitely come across other groups of tourists by the time you arrive at the Rainbow Mountain as the vans start to arrive from Cusco.


When booking a 1 day Rainbow Mountain tour, make sure it includes transportation, a professional, bilingual guide, meal and snacks, trekking sticks and a first aid kit with oxygen, should you need it. It’s a quick visit that may leave you wanting more, and there are other trekking options to see the mountain. If you prefer a more relaxed and unique experience, you can sign up for a multi-day private tour that guarantees a much more spiritual and cultural adventure. This usually involves camping at high elevation overnight, so go prepared!

Ausangate circuit

Another option is to do the Ausangate with Rainbow Mountain trek where you have the opportunity to hike around the base of the Ausangate, one of the Incas’ most sacred mountains. Dung these 5 to 6 days, you will trek through the unique Ausangate region to witness ice caverns, glaciers, lesser-visited Andean landscapes and crystal-clear lagoons. You also get to experience life with native villagers who are llama herders, visit ancient hot springs and see Andean fauna such as condors, foxes and vicuñas.

Local inhabitants!

Nights on the Ausangate will get cold with temperatures often dropping below freezing, so pack appropriately. The region should also be visited with a knowledgeable guide as weather conditions can often catch out even the most experienced of trekkers.
Whether you choose the 1 day Rainbow Mountain trek or the more complete Ausangate adventure, visiting the Vilcanota mountain range means experiencing a whole new world of the Andes, an area mostly unexplored that is the perfect addition to any trekker’s itinerary!

Rainbow mountain

The basic essentials:


If you are planning to hike anywhere within the Andes Mountain Range, you are going to encounter high altitude, so acclimatising is extremely important before you exert yourself at even higher elevations. For those who have come from sea level, you will most definitely want to spend a couple of days getting used to it and if possible, go up gradually. Cusco stands at 3,400m so spend a couple of days there to aid acclimatization.

at the top!


It is a good idea to get an early night before the trek. You will be waking early and have a day of trekking ahead so get your rest!

Along the way to Vinicunca


Choose a responsible trekking company and if budget allows, go with a private tour. Quite often cheaper tours or group tours are pooled together so you do not necessarily get what you paid for. A private trip ensures your needs are met and offer attention to your specific needs on the trek.

At the peak

Drink coca tea

The Andean people chew coca leaves or consume them as a tea, dating back to Inca times. You should probably follow their lead on this hike! In addition, you can go to the pharmacy and pick up altitude sickness pills, although many of the ones you get over the counter and take them a couple of days before the trek. Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids as you can dehydrate quickly at high elevation and take high energy snacks such as energy bars, nuts and dried fruits to help you along the way.  Altitude affects people in many different ways so always check with your guide if you start to feel strange in any way.

Coca offering to the Apus

Distance vs time

You may look at the distance and the time allotted and think that you’d be able to do the trek in a quicker timeframe. Remember fitness will help however the altitude will slow you down so take your time along the hike and take in the impressive views the transport at the bottom will always wait for you!

hiking the trail

Reality vs Instagram

Many photos are rather obviously photoshopped to make this stripy coloured mountain more spectacular, however, the journey up there is magnificent, especially when the sun is shining and reflecting off the rainbow mountain, enhancing its colours.


Choose the Winter season

It’s highly advised not to go during the rainy season, which is common during the summer months of November to March, the path becomes more challenging and eventually turns into a mudslide, which makes it very slippy. Rain will of course affect your visibility of the mountain itself, which is the reason why you are trekking, and often rain turns into snow at high elevations.

Misty Vinicunca