We’re sure you’ve seen countless photos of Rainbow Mountain on Instagram, and if you’re already in Cusco, it’s distinctive red, yellow, and orange seams will now be a common sight in all the city’s hostels and travel agencies.
Also known as Vinicunca, Winikunka, Montaña de Siete Colores, and Montaña de Colores, this Cusco tourist attraction has grown in popularity in recent years. It is arguably on the way to becoming the second most visited attraction in Peru after Machu Picchu.
If you want to know exactly what a day trip to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco entails (and is worth it), learn why the mountain has become so crowded, save big money, and understand how you can relate to the crazy height of Vinicunca – as well as appreciate some of the new realities of Rainbow Mountain day trips in 2020 – this is the only post you need to read.
The classic hike to Rainbow Mountain involved a long early morning bus ride from Cusco and a 15km round trip hike.
With a rudimentary new road carved into the hillside (specifically for coaches – no other traffic would have come beforehand), the actual ‘hiking’ part is now a much shorter round trip of around 7km. Unfortunately, the early morning bus ride remains!
Although some tours may start earlier or later, the standard Rainbow Mountain day trip includes the following:
As you can see, it’s a long, full day, with most of the time driving in and out of the mountains (although this takes you through some beautiful Peruvian scenery). Tours from 4:00 am to 4:30 am are less common but give you the best chance to avoid the big crowds later in the day.
If you don’t have your bike, it isn’t worth doing Rainbow Mountain independently, as the required transport links are too few and unreliable to make sense (trust us here, we always try to find independent options). Hikes, day trips, and in this case).
Although rainbows usually appear after the rain has fallen, wet weather isn’t your friend when it comes to experiencing Rainbow Mountain at its best.
We were blessed with perfect weather for our visit to Peru’s rainy season (which runs from November to April), but talking to others at our hostel in Cusco and on our route through South America confirmed that it could be a miserable and muddy experience. – and almost a waste of time – doing this hike in the rain and clouds. The main reason? Unsurprisingly, the mountain doesn’t look so good when everything (and everyone) is gray, wet, and miserable.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, of course, and you can’t fully control the weather on any trek in South America (we experienced four seasons on day hikes in Huaraz, northern Peru). ). However, if you are in Cusco for a limited time and the region has seen a lot of rain or rain is forecast, it’s probably best not to waste a day driving six hours in disappointment.
The biggest mistake you will make on Rainbow Mountain – paying more than $100 for the tour – is underestimating the altitude and its impact. If you hear someone say how difficult it was to walk or how bad they were, it’s almost sure they didn’t understand or adequately prepare for altitude sickness.
The entire hike to the viewpoint of Rainbow Mountain’s main summit takes place at a high altitude (starting at about 15,000 feet), and its summit is 16,000 feet above sea level; This altitude is no joke; it’s significantly higher than the highest altitude we experienced on our four-day Inca Trail trek and is the main reason you’re only allowed to stay 10-20 minutes at the summit. If you have just arrived in Peru or traveled directly from Lima to Cusco the day before, your body will not be used to these conditions (i.e., the thin air and a lack of oxygen).
Because of its popularity, Rainbow Mountain may be the only “hike” some people do in Peru. That’s why you’ll see many people walking around in sneakers and (don’t be fooled) flip-flops.
We hiked for about three weeks on our trip to Peru, so we already had a lot of gear with us; If you’re already packing essentials for the trek, it makes sense to use these.
Hiking shoes or hiking sneakers are best (and such footwear should already be in your backpack for Peru if you are ok), while for clothing, it makes sense to be prepared for any weather (and keep in mind that I will leave you). Cold Cusco is early in the morning, so please bring layers, a waterproof jacket or packable poncho, and a hat Sunscreen is essential due to the UV rays at this altitude, and plenty of water too.
If you are planning a series of treks in Peru, including the Inca Trail, we recommend reading 12 essential tips for trekking in Peru.
Ok, that’s most of the tedious prep stuff out of the way. Now for the fun part: This corner of the forest is lovely.
The famous mountain (many photos of which have been heavily Photoshopped to emphasize specific colors) is only part of the attraction, as the entire valley is blessed with snow-capped peaks and ridges and fantastic views over Ausangate.
The part that will worry some of you the most due to the altitude is the walk to the main viewpoint.
The good news is that it isn’t that far away and won’t cause many problems. The dirt road to the summit is about 75% flat, with a gradual climb for 15% and then a reasonably challenging steep climb for the last 10% or 200-300 meters. At this elevation above sea level, everyone will be a bit out of breath at the beginning and the last 10%. Still, if you are of reasonable fitness and have acclimatized, this shouldn’t be anything you can’t handle—a steady rhythm. To give you an approximate time, we are (with a few breaks along the way) in about 1 hour and 45 minutes, and I was back on the bus in 45 minutes; Another 30 minutes for the ascent and descent is probably more realistic if you go slowly.
The trail is easy to follow, and most guides let tour members go at their own pace. However, the course quickly becomes a slippery, slippery, muddy swamp when it rains heavily.
And if that has left you sad or wondering whether you want to take that particular day trip from Cusco, as any responsible traveler should, then it’s worth noting that there are some great alternatives to Rainbow Mountain that you can choose from masses that will be carried away. However, you can still see the same or similar multicolored areas. You won’t be able to get that shot, but it might give you a more enjoyable experience overall.
The main alternative to Rainbow Mountain, a day trip to Palcoyo from Cusco, includes a much cheaper start time (7:30 am), far fewer people, a high-altitude hike, and the incredible scenery of three rainbow-hued mountains.
An eight-day, 69 km trek takes in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Andes. Starting at 12,000 feet and reaching high passes near 17,000 feet. Beautiful and remote, it retains the raw feel of an off-the-beaten-path adventure, taking you through the Ausangate region and very close to Rainbow (a short visit is possible) and a whole host of wonderful countryside and glacial lakes.
Although often part of the same Rainbow Mountain day trips, not all agencies offer the option to hike the extra 2 to 2.5 hours through the less crowded Red Valley; doing so can make the whole day trip experience worthwhile and memorable, but we imagine this particular trail will be just as popular as the original loop.
Now, if you don’t feel like Rainbow Mountain is something you want to visit while you’re in Cusco, consider some of the other best day trips from Cusco.
Whether you visit Rainbow Mountain or not, be considerate of your surroundings and local communities, respect the site, create memories and leave only footprints.