All over the internet, photos of Rainbow Mountain Peru entice would-be travelers with vibrant colors. Are these unique Peru mountains really this colorful? What is it like to travel to Vinicunca Peru? Traveling to this unique destination presents unique challenges, but this once-in-a-lifetime journey is a breathtaking one.
About Rainbow Mountain Peru (Vinicunca Mountain): A Geological Marvel
Located high in the Andes at an altitude of 5,200 meters or a bit over 17,000 feet above sea level, Rainbow Mountain Peru is just a touch lower than Mount Everest’s base camp. It’s higher than the highest peaks in Canada and the United States, and as anyone who has trekked the most colorful mountains in South America will tell you, the air is so thin that breathing is difficult. Even after a few days spent acclimating, even the hardiest adventurers tend to have trouble conversing while climbing.
Many who visit the most incredible painted mountains Peru has to offer will use filters to heighten the colors of the landscape so that their photos look brighter. In reality, the minerals offer softer tones; muted reds and sage greens being most common.
The Best Time to Travel to Rainbow Mountain
The best time to visit Rainbow Mountain Peru is outside the rainy season, which occurs between November and March. While there are certainly sunny stretches during these months, the trail can become a muddy river if it’s raining and that makes your trip more dangerous and a lot more difficult.
Traveling to Rainbow Mountain Peru: How to Get There
For most travelers, the trip to Rainbow Mountain Peru begins with a flight into Lima, after which they fly or take a bus to Cusco. Most choose the bus. Even though it takes longer, there’s incredible scenery along the way and flying from sea level to the 3,400 meter altitude of Cusco increases the odds of altitude sickness. The hop bus helps with acclimation since people can hop on and off at different stops and gradually adjust to the altitude as they make their way toward the highlands of Cusco.
Many travelers opt to take advantage of tour packages that include transportation, food, a guide, oxygen, and other amenities. Whether you’re part of a larger tour or handling your trip on an a la carte basis, the trip from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain will be memorable.
Because the drive is long, most Rainbow Mountain Peru tours leave very late at night or early in the morning, usually around 3 a.m. From Cusco, you’ll travel to the mountain via bus, along a steep, winding mountain road with sheer drop-offs. The views are breathtaking, but if you are nervous about heights, you may want to choose an aisle seat.
Once you arrive at the starting point, you will probably be treated to an introduction from the trail guides, who usually speak English as well as Spanish. Friendly local vendors are often on site offering warm, colorful hand-crafted hats and scarves in case you’re chilly and need another layer.
Llamas looking to the rainbow mountain in Peru.
The Hike Up: What to Expect
The round trip hike from the trailhead to the top of Rainbow Mountain and back down is 15 kilometers, and most people complete it in about three hours.
As you walk toward the entry point for the mountain, you’ll be offered the opportunity to take a horseback ride instead of hiking. Many people take advantage of this option, as it is inexpensive and even some seasoned hikers find themselves feeling tired before the actual climb up Rainbow Mountain begins, or wish to save their strength to hike past the point where horses drop off passengers before the final climb up the mountain itself.
At the chalet marking the entrance to the mountain, you’ll pay a small fee. If you are part of an all-inclusive tour group, this fee will probably be part of your package, and you won’t have to pay it again.
For the most part, your walk up Rainbow Mountain Peru will be along gently winding paths that gradually ascend through a stunning pastoral scene complete with tiny villages, curious llamas and alpacas, and friendly locals. You’ll be treated to astonishing views of Ausangante Glacier, along with colorful vistas in the distance, all in soft shades that range from yellow to red to green.
When you reach the top of the mountain you’re likely to be greeted by locals who congratulate you and offer to let you have photos taken with llamas and alpacas dressed in colorful halters. It’s a touch touristy, but the photos are a fun memento of the trip!
Most visitors to Vinicunca Peru opt for the Rainbow Mountain day hike. Serious climbers can opt in to a multi-day journey that traverses glaciers, snow-capped peaks, and silent, windswept plains where few fellow travelers can be seen. Since the multi-day journey is so challenging, it’s understandable that the day hike from Cusco is the most popular option.
Each day, a column of travelers ascends and descends the mountain. Most find themselves taking it slow; even when you’re in great shape and you’re fully acclimated, the climb can be taxing. There are horror stories about people who have visited Rainbow Mountain unprepared for the challenging weather and the equally challenging terrain. We’ve included a packing list and a quick guide to avoiding altitude sickness to help you deal with these challenges.
Alternatives to Hiking: Other Ways to See Rainbow Mountain
The Horseback Riding Option
It’s about 80 soles to rent a horse at Rainbow Mountain Peru. Most of the time, horses are available at base camp and the local Quecha people are often lined up along the trek between base and the bottom of the mountain, offering rides to those who have found themselves feeling winded and in need of a break. If you’re visiting during the high season in June or July, you might look into booking a horse ahead of time if you think you’ll need one.
The Quick Trek
Want to visit Rainbow Mountain Peru but not ready for a full day’s hike? A quick trip to Palccoyo and Tres Rainbows gives you a good view of Rainbow Mountain in a walk that usually takes less than an hour.
What to Wear When Hiking in Peru
How to dress for Rainbow Mountain Peru? Great question, because this is an unpredictable place. The best advice is to bring a little bit of everything. Wear light layers and bring a wind-proof jacket in your pack. Rainbow Mountain weather is fickle. One moment, the sun’s heat can be intense, and in an instant, the wind might pick up or a sudden hailstorm might appear out of the blue. Vinicunca Peru is often subject to rain, so either pack a light rain poncho or ensure that your jacket is waterproof.
Comfortable hiking shoes are a must. Be sure that they’re waterproofed and well-broken in, and ensure that you carry an extra pair of socks in your pack in case your feet get wet. Mud, gravel, and rocks are encountered along the typical hike through these challenging but colorful mountains.
Horseback ride to the final climb up the mountain.
Rainbow Mountain Packing List
For your day trip to Rainbow Mountain Peru, it’s essential to travel light and keep everything in a small pack or hydration pack with a hip belt or waist adjuster to keep the load from shifting.
• Toilet paper: There is no toilet paper in the outhouses. Bring a Ziploc bag along to pack out any toilet paper you use along the trail in case you’re between outhouses and there’s nowhere to dispose of it.
• Hand sanitizer: There’s nowhere to wash up, so hand sanitizer is your best friend.
• Warm, water-proof gloves: Lightweight gloves are essential if the weather turns foul.
• Waterproof / Wind-resistant Jacket: Anything could happen, including rain, hail, or sleet.
• Lightweight, warm clothing to layer: Prepare for hot temperatures as well as cold.
• Sunscreen: Strong sunscreen will save you from the sun and bright rays reflecting off glaciers.
• Warm hat: You’ll be glad you had it if you encounter bad weather at Rainbow Mountain Peru.
• Brimmed hat: The sun is bright! If it warms up, you’ll be thankful you packed this lightweight hat.
• Trekking poles: If you’re concerned about footing, lightweight trekking poles might save the day.
• Sunglasses: Consider keeping them on a lanyard for easy on/off.
• Water: Bring at least 1.5 liters of water and stay hydrated. It’s a good idea to use a hydration pack instead of carrying a separate bottle.
• Snacks: Even if your tour operator provides meals and/or snacks, it’s a good idea to be prepared with high-energy foods to keep you fueled up. There are plenty of stores in Cusco where you can buy what you want.
• Money for extras: Want coffee, photos, a horseback ride, or a colorful poncho? Bring a little cash! The entry fee for Rainbow Mountain Peru is 10 soles unless it’s part of your tour package. Coffee is usually about 2 soles, and horseback rides are usually around 80 soles. Sometimes there’s a vendor at the top Rainbow Mountain offering cups of coca tea, which will help you warm up and help with any altitude sickness symptoms you’re experiencing.
Last but not least, it’s a good idea to bring coca leaves with you. The locals use these as a natural remedy for altitude sickness symptoms including difficulty breathing and headaches. You can buy Coca leaves in Cusco and chew them if needed, and some guides keep them on hand as well.
Rainbow Mountain Altitude and Safety
Cusco Peru elevation is 3,400 meters, or 11,200 feet. Rainbow mountain is at 5,200 meters, which is higher than Mont Blanc which at 4,800 meters, is the highest mountain in the alps. Many find themselves suffering from altitude sickness as they make their way up these colorful Peru mountains.
The most helpful altitude sickness prevention measure you can take is to spend at least a few days exploring the Cusco region before your planned excursion. Even then, don’t expect to perform at your sea-level best: Even the most athletic people find themselves panting as oxygen levels decrease.
To put things in perspective, people who move from sea level to 2,400 meters can feel the beginning stages of altitude sickness. We can’t stress the importance of acclimation enough as Rainbow Mountain Peru altitude is more than twice that amount.
If, like most people, you’re planning to visit Machu Pichu as well as Rainbow Mountain, you can help yourself acclimatize by doing your Machu Pichu trip first.
Whether you’re an experienced climber or not, you may want to take advantage of a tour company that carries oxygen along on the hike up the mountain. In any case, know the symptoms of altitude sickness and don’t try to push yourself if you’re suffering:
• aching muscles
• shortness of breath
The symptoms above are associated with acute mountain sickness (AMS) which is the mildest form. Going further can be life threatening: High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) causes fluid buildup in the lungs and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) causes fluid buildup in the brain. Like other famous peaks, Rainbow Mountain is remote. When you’re this far from a hospital, it’s best to forgo your trip to the summit and live on to enjoy more adventures in the future.
We don’t want to scare you away, but we do want you to be safe. Walk at a comfortable pace and rest if you need to. Turn back and seek oxygen immediately if you think you may have altitude sickness and you aren’t traveling with a guide who carries oxygen along in case it’s needed.
Besides taking altitude sickness precautions, be sure to wear sunscreen when hiking in Peru, particularly around Cusco. Even though it can be chilly here, it has the highest average level of ultraviolet light on the planet.
The Takeaway: Make the Most of Your Excursion!
Don’t be afraid to travel to this amazing destination. Most people who are aware of the challenges and take appropriate precautions such as acclimating and ensuring that they have oxygen available in case it’s needed enjoy their time on the mountain and come away with amazing memories and some great photos. Follow our packing list to ensure that you stay comfortable – it’s a great feeling to know that you’re prepared for whatever conditions you might encounter in this incredible natural environment. It’s like nowhere else on earth!
There’s nothing quite like traveling in Peru. Cusco is fascinating – and as the jumping-off point and site of the nearest Rainbow Mountain resort and hotel options as well as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Pichu, and other must-see sites, it’s one city you’ll want to immerse yourself in. And while there are no accommodations near the summit of this beautiful and colorful mountain, Selina offers a range of comfortable options in Cusco, along with a fully guided tour that includes transportation, two meals, and oxygen. Read on to learn more about Cusco and the travel packages on offer and then, prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!
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