Once completely off the radar for tourists, Peru’s “Rainbow Mountain” has recently shot into the spotlight thanks to social media. Featuring a spectrum of reds, yellows and greens, Rainbow Mountain has now become one of the most spectacular and in-demand destinations along the Ausangate trek. Although getting there is not easy, making the journey to Peru to see the beauty of Rainbow Mountain is absolutely worth it.
A Stunning Landscape
Ausangate, one of the holiest and most impressive mountains in Peru, is a popular trekking region for adventurous travelers. The region is also home to one of the few remaining alpaca-herding communities in Peru. Rock formations millions-of-years old can be found surrounding Ausangate, with Rainbow Mountain being the most visually stunning.
Locals call Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca, or “Seven-Colored Mountain,” for its alternating mineral deposits that appear as stripes of gold, burgundy, turquoise, teal, beige, lavender and white. For years, Rainbow Mountain was buried under a sheet of ice, until rising temperatures melted it to reveal the hidden splendor. Until recently, not even locals knew of its existence, except for a lucky few who stumbled upon the discovery. Tourism is increasing, but the site still remains relatively untouched, making now the perfect time to visit.
The trek to Rainbow Mountain covers spectacular natural scenery, with peaks, valleys and grasslands as far as the eye can see. The surreal feeling upon reaching the peak and watching the criss-cross of colors fade into the distant clouds makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.
How to Plan Your Trip
Today, a number of travel companies offer Rainbow Mountain tours as day trips or as part of an extensive five-to-six-day trek through the Ausangate Region.
While day trips can be booked from a variety of local companies in Cusco, it’s better to book with a reliable and safe company given the altitude involved on this trek. Many companies have latched on to Rainbow Mountain’s popularity and offer tours that go dangerously fast up the mountain with little regard for safety and acclimatization. More-qualified companies typically provide breakfast at a nearby village, better guides (the mountain can be quite hard to locate) and more flexibility with dates. Keep in mind that for a day trip, you’ll need to be well acclimated and be prepared for a three-to-four-hour drive from Cusco and then six hours of hiking. Prepare to wake up early—often around 4 am—to make the entire journey in one day.
Better yet, visiting Rainbow Mountain as part of a multi-day trek is highly recommended. Reputable companies can provide high-quality safety equipment, smaller-size groups and even a private chef for multi-day treks. These longer treks allow for a more spread-out experience that also covers other regional wonders. Bring along your own handheld GPS device, like the Oregon 750 to enhance your exploration, with features like weather updates, photo geotagging and more.
A Rewarding Journey
To start your journey, a bus, van or private taxi will provide transportation from Cusco to the rural outskirts of the Ausangate Region. Most itineraries involve starting the trek at an altitude of around 4,300 m. The trail crosses through green hills, herds of llamas and remote farming communities. Cairns mark the trail, which ascends up toward the first checkpoint.
Ausangate, standing 6,385 m (20,945ft) high, towers into the clouds in the background. Be mindful of the increase in altitude, as temperatures will get colder and the climb will gradually become more arduous. Although the weather is usually unpredictable, many days get plenty of sunshine and hot weather. It’s a good idea to bring some light layers that are easy to remove when needed, as well as sturdy hiking shoes and a few energy-boosting snacks.
Leaving the valley behind, the steepest part of the climb comes next, which breaches an altitude of 5,000 m. At this point, the colorful rocks slowly begin to appear into view. After more hours of hiking, you should reach the peak by midday or early afternoon, where you can cherish the full array of Rainbow Mountain’s amazing colors, as well as a breathtaking view of the entire valley.
Header image provided by Bill and Nicole Koch, Haku Expeditions
Jon Jen is a Chicago-based travel writer for kimkim.com. His passion for learning about other cultures helps him curate community-based itineraries for destinations like Peru and other exotic locations. You can follow Kimkim on Facebook for more travel tips and insights about Iceland and other exciting destinations. Don’t forget to share with Garmin on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and use #HaveNoLimits.