Vinicunca – the Rainbow Mountain

A hike to the Rainbow Mountain is a great day trip from Cuzco. It is known for its characteristic stripes of many different colors, which arise due to a variety of minerals in the soil. The mountain has a stunning location at 5200m of altitude in the Peruvian Andes.

Vinicunca (also called the Rainbow Mountain) is a mountain in the Peruvian Andes with an altitude of 5200m above sea level. It is called Rainbow Mountain because of its characteristic stripes of many different colors. The colors arise due to different minerals such as copper, magnesium, quartz and sandstone.

It was only recently discovered, since it was completely covered with ice and snow up until just a few years ago.

The start of the trail to the Rainbow Mountain
Admiring the valley and the mountains around

We were collected in a van at our hotel in Cuzco at 04.30 in the morning, and we drove for about 2 hours before where we stopped to have breakfast and drink coca tea. Afterwards, we had another hour of driving on steep and curvy, unpaved roads up to a valley in the Andes mountains at about 4500m above sea level where the trail begins.

The hike up to the Rainbow Mountain takes about 1.5 hours, and it goes up to an altitude of about 5200m. Due to the altitude, the hike is tiresome, and many people struggle with altitude sickness. We had spent some days in Cuzco (which is already situated at 3400m above sea level), which helped us to adapt to the altitude. However, the slopes up to the mountain are demanding, and you quickly get short-breathed and get a high pulse due to the altitude. Note that there were local people following along the trail with horses, so people who had a hard time walking had the option of doing the hike on a horseback.

The hike and the whole area in the Andes mountains is stunningly beautiful and we can highly recommend it. You also meet many local people along the way, who are dressed in colorful, traditional Peruvian clothes and they offer coca tea, water or a snack for sale. We also saw a large number of wild alpacas, llamas and horses.

At the top of the trail you are rewarded with beautiful views to the Rainbow Mountain with all its colors as well as a panorama view over the whole valley and numerous mountain peaks in the distance.

After descending down the mountain, we drove back to the restaurant (where we earlier had breakfast) for a buffet lunch, and after additional two hours of driving we arrived back to Cuzco at around 4 or 5pm in the afternoon.

Quick facts

  • The soil of Vinicunca (the Rainbow Mountain) has the following colors due to different minerals[2]:
    • Pink: mixture of red clay, mudstones and sand.
    • White: sandstone (quartz) and limestone
    • Purple: marl (mixture of clay and calcium carbonate) and silicates
    • Red: argillites and clays
    • Green: ferromagnesian and copper oxide.
    • Yellow: limonites and sulphide minerals
  • Vinicunca has an altitude of about 5200m above sea level
  • National Geography lists it in its “Top 100 places to visit before you die”
  • It was only recently discovered, since it used to be completely covered with ice and snow
  • The mountain has been unconvered in the past few years due to climate changes
  • Organized tours for tourists have been going on since 2010
  • Getting there involves a 3-hour drive followed by a hike of about 1.5 hour to the top and 1 hour to go down again
  • For curing altitude sickness, we can recommend drinking coca tea or taking two capsules daily of Altivital (based on coca and natural substances). You can get it at most pharmacies.
  • It is also important to acclimatize to the altitude. Spending a few days in Cuzco (at 3400m above sea level) will help you acclimatize.
  • Trips can be organized by many hotels and travel agencies in Cuzco. From our experience, availability was good, and it is not necessary to book it a long time in advance.
  • We payed 75 Peruvian soles per person for the tour, which included transportation, breakfast and lunch.

References

  1. Rainbow Mountain Peru (Official Information Site)
  2. Rainbow Mountain en Vinicunca, Quispicanchis, Cusco (in Spanish)

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