The magic of Peru lies in its impressive Andean landscapes, and one of the great wonders of this country is Vinicunca, better known as the Rainbow Mountain Peru, a name given by the stripes of different colors that paint this rocky giant.
Rainbow Mountain Peru is a destination that attracts the eyes of tourists worldwide for the breathtaking scenery and beauty of its strips, whose explanation is the variety of minerals dating back millions of years ago when the landscape was covered with seawater.
If you are planning to visit Peru and have Vinicunca on your itinerary, here is all the information you need to know before you set out on your trip to this unique destination.
We know you are always looking for new adventures and unique destinations on your trip to Cusco. Today we introduce you to the 7 Colors Mountain. This marvel opens its way in the middle of the high Andean landscape and shines with its unique colors in an unsuspected contrast with the intense blue sky of the Peruvian highlands.
Over time, the sediments formed layers (with different grain sizes) that today look like the strips that attract so many tourists.
The movement of the tectonic plates in the area raised these sediments until they became mountains.
Then they acquired their striking colors due to the oxidation of their minerals, exerted by the area’s humidity, and their erosion, explains César Muñoz, member of the Geological Society of Peru (SGP) to BBC Mundo.
Muñoz and the Cultural Landscape Office study detail each strip’s composition according to its color.
According to Haydee Pacheco, from the Pitumarca district municipality, the inhabitants of Pitumarca say there was snow some 70 years ago.
Pacheco explains that the Mountain gained popularity thanks to the promotion of tourists who walked past the site on their way to Ausangate, a sacred mountain for the Cusco people.
Colombian magazine Semana attributes the phenomenon’s success to Instagram and Facebook users.
A July 2017 article says that “the images displayed (on the social network) are leading to people boarding a plane to replicate the photo.”
As you read this article, were you thinking about how many “likes” you would receive for a portrait with the solid rainbow behind it?
It is the second most visited tourist destination in Cusco after Machu Picchu. As its name suggests, it is a majestic mountain covered by colorful stripes that you would never expect to find on it. Visiting the 7 Colors Mountain will allow you to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, take a hike of unique beauty, meet local people, and learn a little about the fauna and flora. The 7 Colors Mountain or Vinicunca is a must-stop during your visit to the Imperial City.
The inhabitants know Vinicunca of nearby communities as Cerro Colorado, but the rest of the world knows it as Rainbow Mountain Peru. This natural jewel is located 100 kilometers from the city of Cusco, at an altitude of 5200 meters above sea level, making it a physically demanding adventure for visitors. Vinicunca is located between the Cusipata and Pitumarca districts in the Quispicanchis and Canchis, respectively, in the department of Cusco.
First, like many others in the Peruvian Andes, you should know that this destination is located at high altitudes. In the case of the Mountain, it rises to an impressive 5200 meters above sea level. For this reason, you must prepare yourself for dizziness caused by altitude sickness; therefore, you must do the tours as calmly as possible.
The climate can vary according to the time of the year, but in essence, it is pretty cold and can be felt even more due to the winds. The warmest season is between April and August, finding sunny days, dry weather, and no rain, while in the other months, the temperature can reach 0 ° C and present precipitation.
We recommend an early start, as the hike to Rainbow Mountain, Peru, takes several hours and is a physically demanding route due to the altitude at which it is located.
If you leave the city of Cusco, you should head towards the South Valley for about two hours until you reach Cusipata. From there, you must go to the community of Phulawasipata, where you can begin the ascent on foot. This community is located more than 4000 meters above sea level, so it is recommended that you take it easy and walk at a slow and steady pace, remember that you will climb more than 5000 meters to reach your destination.
The hike takes about 1:30 to 2 hours, and along the way, you can see some local animals such as llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas and enjoy the high Andean landscape full of ichu everywhere. You will be able to share with local people and talk to them while you learn more about their customs and traditions.
You will finally reach your destination, and all your effort will have been worth it; at the end of the day, you will return to the city with rainbow energy.
The 7 Colors Mountain is a tourist destination of incredible beauty, and no doubt you will be delighted with the visit, but this excursion will make you work hard, so you must be prepared and know what awaits you. So let me introduce you to:
The total distance of the hike is about 8 km.
The duration of the walk is about three and a half hours.
The altitude at the beginning of the walk is 4652 meters above sea level.
The height when you reach your destination is 5200 meters above sea level.
Due to the elevation, the degree of difficulty of this hike is 4 out of 5.
An essential part of the landscape along the hike to Rainbow Mountain, Peru, is the fauna and flora that can be seen. Among them are some animals, such as the Llama, the Vicuña, and the Alpaca, which, although related, are very different. You can also see along the way a plant that grows in the puna of Peru called Ichu.
Andean Cat: This majestic animal is historically considered a protective spirit of the Apus or mountains. It lives in the high Andean areas and is rarely seen in frigid regions. If you are fortunate and attentive to the landscape around you, you may be able to see an Andean Cat on your way.
Andean Peru Llama: They are the tallest American camelids and have long, leaf-shaped ears. Their coat is thinner and less uniform than their camelid cousins, which means that their wool, widely used in the textile industry in the highlands of Peru, is not the finest or the most expensive in souvenir stores. Llamas are a load-carrying aid and can support up to a quarter of their weight. In Inca times, they were used to transport various products and merchandise.
Alpaca: They are smaller than a llama, about half its size. They have very symmetrical, pear-shaped ears and are covered with a magnificent, more uniformly colored coat. They are most often seen gathered in herds in almost all Andean landscapes. Their wool is highly valued worldwide, as it is of excellent quality and very soft and is used to make high-quality scarves, coats, sweaters, and blankets.
Vicuña: Unlike alpacas and llamas, which are more domestic, vicuñas are wild. This is why it is possible to see them grazing on top of a hill, under a sunny blue sky, in the middle of nature. Vicuñas are shy creatures, challenging to eternalize in a photo, and an endangered species, which is why the State protects them against indiscriminate hunting.
Its wool can only be sheared every three years, so a garment woven with fiber can be costly. It is said that, like alpaca fiber, vicuña wool was reserved only for rulers and royalty during Inca times.
Ichu is the grass of the South American Andean highlands, used as fodder for livestock, mainly South American camelids. It measures between 40 and 80 cm. Due to its abundance in high Andean areas, for its resistance and impermeability, the inhabitants of the communities use this plant to manufacture their roofs or handmade bricks.
Although it has always been part of the route to the great Ausangate snow-capped Rainbow Mountain, Peru was not a tourist site. It was only known by the local people and by the hikers who went in search of the snow-capped Mountain and knew the Mountain well before it became such a popular destination.
But how is it that it has only recently become part of the tourist circuit, being the Mountain so unique and Cusco such a well-known destination? The Mountain was covered with ice and snow for a long time, but since a few decades ago, it has been revealing itself because of the thaw. In 2016, Rainbow Mountain officially became a must-see tourist destination.
The origin of colors of the Mountain is due to the minerals in the soil that forms it. Different sediments accumulated in the earth over time, even marine relics. These minerals have been transformed by rain, wind, and sun over time, generating an oxidation process on the surface that paints the Mountain as a beautiful rainbow.
Although it feels like magic, Rainbow Mountain Peru has a scientific explanation, where each color has a formula; for example, pink is produced from a mixture of red clay, mudstones, mud, and claystone (sand). Beige is obtained from quartz sandstone, rich in calcium carbonate. The red color is composed of claystone (iron) and clays of past eras. The green appears thanks to phyllites and clays rich in ferromagnesian. The brown tone is the product of a fluvial conglomerate composed of magnesium-bearing rock. And the mustard yellow color is due to calcareous sandstones rich in sulfide minerals—undoubtedly a kind of science for all those interested in visiting Rainbow Mountain, Peru, or Rainbow Mountain.
Any time is the best time to visit Cusco and live an experience like Rainbow Mountain Peru. But of course, the weather has its whims, and if you are going to make an expedition of this type, with a long walk at such altitude, you need all the help you can get, especially if it is from nature. Therefore the dry season between April and October is the most recommended to live this experience. Still, if you decide to travel in the rainy months, you will see a green and lively landscape, and you will only need a good poncho for the rain.
When you go on an adventure like this, you should be prepared for anything, so remember to take it with you:
The Rainbow Mountain Peru used to receive a few hundred people daily, but in 2016 it received up to 2000 people every day.
In August 2017, the website Business Insider, a global travel expert, placed Rainbow Mountain Peru on its list of the places you must see before you die.
In 2015, a mining exploration company applied to the Instituto Geológico Minero y Metalúrgico for permission to excavate in the area, with an area of 400 hectares in which the Mountain and the communities of Cusipata and Pitumarca were located, which was granted in 2018. The protests generated by such action managed to get the company to relinquish the concession a few months later that same year.
The term Auquenid comes from Auchenia, a genus now in disuse created by Carl Peter Thunberg to classify the camelids of the American continent: alpaca, guanaco, llama, and vicuña, which had been classified as Camelus together with the camelids of the Old World.
The National Coat of Arms of Peru has among its treasures the image of a Vicuña. This symbolizes the animal wealth of this country.
Now that you know a little more about this incredible destination be prepared so that nothing will stop you once you start your adventure. Once you’ve reached the top of the Mountain, you’ll be ready to explore all of Cusco. Enter The Full Experience and choose all the experiences you want to live on your trip to Cusco. We make your trip a safe, exciting, and memorable adventure.
The ideal trip to Rainbow Mountain Peru is to take warm clothes, gloves, and raincoats if you go in rainy seasons, light equipment, drinks to hydrate yourself (about two liters), food, and snacks high in caloric content.
Vinucunca is located three hours from the city of Cusco, close to the town of Pitumarca. So if you are in Cusco, you should take the Longitudinal de la Sierra del Sur Peruano (PE-3s) road to the village of Checacupe and then take the fork to Pitumarca.
To make this tour, you must take a bus from the terminal near the Coliseum of Cusco to Pitumarca. Once in the village, take a cab to Pampachiri for about 25 USD round trip. This trip takes approximately one hour.
Once at your destination, you will have to pay the entrance fee to start the hike, which can take between two and two and a half hours, depending on your physical condition.
Another option to get to Vinicunca is to hire an agency that covers all transportation and entrance fees.
See how to get there, what you can do, and see in Cusco
As I think you might have guessed by now, the main activity at this destination is hiking. For this reason, it is vital that you evaluate yourself, consider your physical condition, and take the time to do the tour once you are there not to overexert your body.
On the hike, you will discover a breathtaking landscape; therefore, you should not skimp on the number of photos to take, including selfies.
Something important to keep in mind is that the trip can be more enjoyable with a guide. In this case, you should remember that prices may vary depending on services such as food, and horseback transportation, among others. If you pay for a private guide, it can cost between 150 and 250 USD, while if you hire a group guide, the price will be considerably lower, ranging between 40 and 50 USD.