Rainbow Mountain Peru has become one of the top destinations in South America. Actually, it is one of the most popular destinations in the whole world, the Quechua name of Rainbow Mountain is Winicunca, but it is more well known as Vinicunca Mountain or Rainbow Mountain. It is one of the most spectacular mountains in the Ausangate group.
This Mountain’s amazing colorations are due to the mineral content of the soil and to the effect of erosion on the sedimentary rocks of the hillsides. This is why it is called the magical 7 Color Mountain. Nowadays every traveler wants to experience this alternative adventure by climbing up the most colorful mountain in the world. Today it has become one of the newest and most fantastic tourist attractions in Peru and in all of South America.
Everyday thousands of people from all over the world come here to experience the excellent combination of these magical rainbow colors and the majestic beauty of the high Andean glacier-covered mountains of the Ausangate Massif.
The most recent edition of National Geographic Magazine has named this incredibly picturesque scenic attraction as one of the 100 places that you should be sure to visit before you die. Therefore, if you are planning to Travel in Peru, you should include visiting Rainbow Mountain Cusco.
Where Does the Name, Vinicunca, come from?
The word, Vinicunca, comes from the Quechua place name, Winicunca, which signifies HILL WITH A NARROW NECK.
Where is Rainbow Mountain Located in Peru?
The Mountain of the Seven Colors, Vinicunca, is located near Cusco. The exact location is: it is part of the Vilcanota Mountain Range of the Andes (Ausangate Peak). It is between the Cusipata and the Pitumarca communities, in the provinces of Quispicanchi and Canchis, in the Cusco region of the southern part of Peru.
Its exact co-ordinates are:
- 13°52’8.51″ South Latitude.
- 71°18’12.76″ West Longitude.
The Altitude of Rainbow Mountain Peru?
The altitude or elevation of the Mountain of Colors is about 17,060 ft. or 5,200 meters above sea level. Because of the altitude this mountain is considered sacred by the people of the local villages and is called Apu Winicunca – Vinicunca (APU means GOD in Quechua).
What is the Weather and the Temperature Like on Rainbow Mountain?
Because it is located high in the Peruvian Andes, the climate of Mountain of Seven Colours is cold. The average annual temperature is between 7 and 12 °C.
The daily weather varies considerably. From December through March it is quite cloudy, and sometimes the rains are very intense. On the other hand, during the dry season months, from April to November, the nights are cold and the days are sunny and warm. In June and July, sometimes there is snow and ice.
How was Rainbow Mountain Formed?
According to the geologists of the Geological Society of Peru, Vinicunca Mountain was formed in the same way that most of the mountains of the great Andean Mountain Range were formed. Movement of the tectonic plates forced marine sediment upward, forming a vast range of high mountains.
The colorations of this Colorful Mountain in Peru are due to the oxidation of the minerals present in the soil through erosion, humidity, and other geological factors.
At some time in the past, the mountain was covered with blocks of ice. It was a glacier-covered, snow-capped peak. Due to global warming activity and the changing climate, the ice all melted and left in its place this incredibly colorful landscape which demonstrates how beautiful and how fragile the ecology of the planet Earth really is.
Why is this Mountain Rainbow-Colored?
According to the Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura in Cusco, the colors that you see at the Mountain of Seven Colors Peru are caused by the presence of the following minerals:
- The rose color is due to red clay, mud, and sand.
- White is due to sandstone rich in arsenic and calcium carbonate.
- Red is due to iron rich clay which was laid down during the Upper Tertiary period.
- Green is composed of phyllites and clays rich in ferro-magnesium.
- The earthy brown is a product of fanglomerate which is composed of rock with magnesium which was laid down during the Quaternary era
- And the mustard yellow is due to the presence of calcareous sandstone rich in sulfur.
Which plants and what wildlife are found on Rainbow Mountain?
Despite the arid conditions which can easily be seen in photos, the South American llama and alpaca thrive on Mountain Vinicunca. There are also other animals and many diverse species of plants that you will be able to observe.
A few that we can mention are:
- Flora: ichu grass and some lichens.
- Fauna: alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, condors, kestrels, Andean cuy, and gray deer, among others.
How can I get to Rainbow Mountain?
There are 3 options available for those travelers who want to go to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco.
This is the shortest route to Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca, and it is also the most popular route that most travelers choose. The ride by car takes 3 hour approximately, and the hike up from the trailhead takes an hour.
There is no direct transportation service from Cusco to Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain via Cusipata. Therefore, you should take the following route if you are traveling on your own without a guide: Take a bus that goes to Sicuani from Cusco. It will travel along Route PE-3S. So, you can catch this bus at the Sicuani Terminal which is located across the street from Garcilaso Stadium.
If you would like to take a direct service bus to Cusipata that does not make stops along the way, you can catch one of these at the Coliseo Cerrado (Casa de la Juventud) which is located about 1 kilometer down the street from the stadium. The slow bus costs 10 soles, but the direct bus costs 17 soles. And the ride takes between 1 and a half and 2 hours.
Whether you take the slow bus or the direct bus, you have to remember to get off at Cusipata. From here you can catch a collectivo to Phulawasipata which is at the end of the road, and where you begin the hike to Mountain Vinicunca. The price of the collectivo is 20 soles, most of the people who ride the collectivos are locals who live in the villages of the region.
That is one way to get there, but it is not the best option because the collectivos only run in the mornings. Another option is to use a private taxi from Cusco which costs an average of 250 soles, depending on the number of passengers.
To get to the Mountain of Seven Colors Peru via this route you would follow the same steps as if you were going via Cusipata. But when you arrive at Cusipata, you would not get off the bus. Instead you would ride a few kilometers further to Checacupe which is where you would get off. The ride to Checacupe is about 2 hours. Usually the cost is 15 soles on the local bus, and 20 soles on the faster bus.
In the Checacupe Plaza you would board a collectivo going to Pitumarca. In Pitumarca take another collectivo to Pampachiri. The ride from Checacupe to Pitumarca costs 5 soles, and the ride from Pitumarca to Pampachiri costs 20 to 25 soles. And the travel time is about an hour.
When you reach the checkpoint at Pampachiri (the place where the road ends), you will pay the 10 soles entrance fee for Vinicunca Mountain. (Peruvian nationals pay 5 soles). Next, you will start the 5 kilometer walk to the pass where the Mountain of 7 Colors is waiting for you. All the trail is not very steep and the hike usually takes about 2 hours.
Until early 2019, this route was the most popular route. But because the road through Cusipata arrives at a point closer to the mountain and because it is a shorter drive from Cusco, the Cusipata route is now the first choice of most travelers.
With a Travel Agency
The hike takes you up over 17,000 ft. above sea level (5,200 meters). That alone makes it sort of difficult and, therefore, we recommend that you use a travel agency to get to Vinicunca. That way you won’t have to worry about anything except enjoying your Rainbow Mountain Tour.
Why Should You Choose Travel 1? Travel 1 is the new excellent Tour Operator to this destination and we are committed to sustainable tourism on all our excursions. So, we guarantee you the finest service, the best tour guide and the safest transportation while traveling to Vinicunca! We have guaranteed daily departures so you can rest assured that you will enjoy every minute of your expedition. This wonderful day trek is all-inclusive. There are no hidden charges or fees. Also, you can make your reservation online on our website and use our absolutely safe booking and payment system.
Booking Online vs Booking in Cusco. If you book this tour online with Travel 1, you will have guaranteed your transportation, your entrance, breakfast and lunch will be much better than other tour operators. You could also book your Rainbow Mountain Trek in Lima or Cusco. If you book this tour in this way you could possibly save a few dollars. But there would be no way of knowing if you were going to receive the top-flight service that you deserve
The prices which different agencies charge for Rainbow Mountain vary quite a bit. Therefore the most basic service costs about 100 soles and you can find these tours for sale around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. For just a little bit more money, Travel 1’s top-of-the-line service is available for only $ 39.00 USD. Also, you could take a private tour for upwards of $100 USD per person.
Cusco Tour Operators
In Cusco there are some really good Tour Operators that work in the best way possible. But all over the world there are really big tourism companies that sell travel packages for Rainbow Mountain and they earn their good reputation thanks to the Cusco agencies. These companies sell a large number of packages to this destination, but these companies don’t care about the local tour operators, the environment, the wildlife, or the level of service offered.
How long does it take to get from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain?
This depends on which route you choose to take.
- If you travel via Cusipata, the journey by car from Cusco to Phulawasipata is 102 km and takes 3 hours. At Phulawasipata you will begin hiking and the hike to the Mountain of Colors takes approximately 1 hour.
- If you travel via Pitumarca, the journey by car from Cusco to Pampachiri is 139 km and takes 4 hours. At Pampachiri you will begin hiking and climbing up to the Vinicunca Mountain takes 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Difficulty level of the rainbow mountain hike
The level of difficulty is rated as moderate. Most of the way the trail is in good shape and it is not very steep. Only at the very end will you be walking at over 17,000 feet.
The problem is that you will be hiking at high altitude, and there is not very much oxygen in the air at that altitude. This affects the normal respiration of some visitors. Of course, the higher you go, the less oxygen there is available.
It is recommended that you start out healthy and in good physical shape. And also, if possible, it is a very good idea to be acclimated to Cusco and the surrounding area before you hike to Vinicunca.
Best time of the year to visit Vinicunca in Peru
It is really good to know what time of year is the best season to visit Rainbow Mountain. There is no good reason why your trek to the 7 Color Mountain has to become a disagreeable experience. On the contrary, this should be one of the most wonderful adventures of your life. For this reason, we advise you to make your Trip to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco during the dry season. (May through November). Usually during dry season, you will find the night cold, the day sunny, and the sky clear blue.
For your own security and for your holiday pleasure, we do not recommend that you go hiking up this mountain during the rainy season, from december to march. This is because you will most likely encounter cloudy skies, low visibility, and perhaps cold, rainy days.
What is there to see and to do at Rainbow Mountain?
At Vinicunca Mountain you can:
- Enjoy the vibrant earthy rainbow colors as they dance in the sunlight before your eyes.
- Marvel at the surrounding high country, including snow-capped Ausangate Mountain which is the highest mountain in the Cusco region.
- Take side trips to other natural wonders that are very close by, such as the Red Valley or Palcoyo Mountain.
- Participate in inter-cultural activities with the folks who live in the local villages. These people are shepherds who make their living raising llamas and alpacas.
- Enjoy an absolutely incredible day while breathing in the pure, high mountain air, hiking in the wilderness at over 17,000 ft., connecting with Mother Nature, and reflecting on the fragile beauty of our planet.
What do I need to bring to the colorful mountain in Peru?
It is good to remember that you are leaving Cusco behind, and venturing into the heart of the Andean wild country. Some things are very important to carry along with you.
- Your passport or other official personal information document.
- Cash money in small denominations, so you can pay your entrance fee and take care of other expenses.
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and a rain poncho.
- Hiking shoes and hiking pants, a warm sweater, a wind-breaker, and gloves.
- Camera for taking pictures and an extra battery
- Water, snacks, and fruit.
- Personal medication as required, if you are presently taking meds.
- Coca leaves for extra energy.
There is also the option of riding horses along the trail instead of hiking. To rent a horse for the journey costs S/. 50.00 soles one way or S/. 90.00 soles round trip. Your guide can show you where to rent the horse.
Recommendations and advice for climbing Vinicunca Mountain
In order to thoroughly enjoy your trip to the famous Rainbow Mountain, here are a few tips.
- Travel between April and November which is the dry season.
- Start out in good health and in good physical condition.
- Bring along your trekking equipment: wide-brimmed hat, small backpack, hiking shoes, warm clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, walking sticks, rain poncho, water, and food.
- You should buy your water and your snacks in Cusco, Cusipata or Pitumarca. Ouside of these towns there are very few stores.
- Children under 12 years old should not make this day trip.
- Finallly, before you start hiking up to the Vinicunca Mountain Peru, spend some time relaxing and becoming acclimated to the elevation of the Cusco region. In this way you can avoid problems with altitude sickness like soroche.
Sacred to the Incas, the magnificent Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is a destination replete with spiritual energy where you can look up and feel the life-force of the Apus, renew your positive energy, and connect with the wilderness. The Mountain is there, waiting for you!