What To Expect When Hiking Rainbow Mountain Peru

Most people don’t realize that Rainbow Mountain in Peru was virtually undiscovered until 2015 and it only started accepting day tours in 2016.

It is hard to believe nobody had heard of it a few years ago, but now Rainbow Mountain has become a trekking mecca for many people who travel to Peru. There is no doubt that Instagram has added to its popularity and backpackers flock on this full-day tour from Cusco to take snapshots of its iconic rainbow-colored layers of yellow, red, and orange.

Rainbow Mountain Peru – Montaña de Siete Colores

Rainbow Mountain, also known as Mountain Vinicunca, or Montaña de Siete Colores, (Mountain of Seven Colors) was created from ice melting and mixing with iron sulfide, rust, and other minerals in the soil creating a mountain landscape of rainbow colors. When the snow melted 5 years ago (due to climate change), it instantly became one of the most picturesque places to visit in Peru.

Where is Rainbow Mountain?

Vinicunca, Peru - Rainbow Mountai
Mountain Vinicunca, Mountain of the Seven Colors,

Mountain Vinicunca is located a three-hour drive from Cusco, Peru in the Andes Mountains. It sits at an elevation of 5200m (17,060 feet) above sea level. There are many tour operators that offer day trips from Cusco Peru and it has become one of the premier things to do from Cusco besides visiting Machu Picchu.

Tours Cusco, Peru

rainbow mountain tour from cusco peru
Cusco Peru is a major destination for exploring Machu Picchu

We began our Rainbow Mountain adventure by waiting for a bus. There were six people in my party; a group of travelers who had met in Cusco, Peru’s bustling tourist capital and we booked a tour together. Many people come to Cusco to start trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. But it is now becoming popular for Mountain Vinicunca treks too.

Rainbow Mountain tours cost an average of 100 Soles ($30), from Cusco’s innumerable travel agents. We splashed out by spending 130 Soles ($40) to secure a local operator with a reliable reputation.

It was supposed to collect us from one of Cusco’s narrow streets but after an hour of waiting on chilly cobbles, I began to fear there had been some mistake.

It was 3 am (tours to Rainbow Mountain leave early as it’s a three-hour drive from Cusco). Down the street, people were spilling out of bars and clubs and into taxis. Cusco has a strange twilight. Half crowds slumping home from a night out dancing, half trekkers waking early for a day of hiking to Machu Pichhu or the Sacred Valley. 

Eventually, the only person in our group with a thorough grasp of Spanish made a call to the “Reliable Operator.” It turned out the bus had got lost, on the way to find us. 

My Rainbow Mountain Tour

Getting ready to go on the Rainbow Mountain hike
Arrival at Rainbow Mountain

The drive to Rainbow Mountain is long. From Cusco we skittered across snaking mountain roads, under cover of blackness. In total, there were about a dozen people in our Rainbow Mountain tour group; my party of six, plus some others the bus had picked up while failing to find us.

We were a mess of nationalities: English, American, Scottish, Dutch, Peruvian, and French Canadian, crammed into a tiny bus, trying to snatch a little sleep while the vehicle jerked along.  I managed a few minutes but realized I should have brought a travel pillow. 

Just as the sun was coming up, the bus stopped in a pokey little village snuggled in the red valley. There, the thoroughly juddered passengers were herded into a hut by our tour guide – a perky woman with a bright red jacket wearing a floppy hat.

Around a wooden table, we were fed a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and fried bananas, while village sheepdogs begged for scraps. There were toilet facilities on hand, just outside the hut. That is, there was a hole in the ground with a tarpaulin wrapped around it. 

Toilet Tip: It is Mother Natures toilet so be sure to bring your own toilet paper

The Rainbow Mountain Trek

view of the villiages of Rainbow Mountain
Village at the start of the trek.

The walk to and from Rainbow Mountain is a day-long stagger at over 17,000 feet (5200 meters), tracing a dirt path between looming peaks of green and startling red rock.

It’s a gorgeous route, passing local villages built from stone and glittering mountain streams. But the altitude is punishing enough to turn even the sprightliest young athlete into a panting mess.

Don’t even think about trying the trek until you’ve spent a few days getting used to the elevation of the Cusco region. I may not be the sprightliest young athlete, but I made a decent panting mess; lagging behind my group to take pictures, while we clambered up the escalating path.

How to Dress for Rainbow Mountain

peru man with horse on our trek up Rainbow Mountain
Locals on the trek

It’s impossible to dress appropriately for Rainbow Mountain. At times on the hike, the sun bears down with relentless intensity, bringing skin to the boil.

High altitude demands strong sunscreen, liberally applied. But the slightest breeze brings temperatures dropping right back down to frigid, so it’s important to have a jacket or two on hand. At times on the hike, the sun bears down with relentless intensity, bringing skin to the boil.

But the slightest breeze brings temperatures dropping right back down to frigid, so it’s important that you dress in layers.

Here are the recommended essentials to bring with you:

  • Broken-in hiking boots or shoes. Flipflops won’t cut it!
  • Windproof/waterproof jacket
  • A base layer that isn’t cotton.
  • A wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottle
  • A sweater or mid-layer to put on at the viewpoint
  • Small daypack backpack to carry everything

Being prepared for all kinds of weather is the key to enjoying this hike. If you want more tips, make sure to read our guide to Layering for Cold weather.

Rainbow Mountain is Crowded

rainbow mountain horses
You can rent horses to ride up Rainbow Mountain

Our tour group was one of many making the ascent-part of a solid column of hikers, several kilometers long. Sadly, Rainbow Mountain is already seeing the effects of over-tourism. If you go, expect to share the mountain with up to 5000 people per day in high season.

Trekking during the offseason is highly recommended. But even then, 500 or more people will be on the mountain with you.

Tour guides trotted up and down the column with surprising speed, urging us forward. The perky woman guiding my group kept shooting me desperate smiles and encouraging gestures; she really wanted us to be first-party up to the top.   I wasn’t exactly in the mood to sprint. But a bright smile and a floppy hat were hard to argue with.

You Can Hire a Horse

Alpacas and horses going Vinicunca, Winikunka - Montaña de Siete Colores
Alpacas and horses going Vinicunca, Winikunka – Montaña de Siete Colores

For the truly exhausted, there was another option. Touts followed the column, gently selling horse rides up to the top for only 70 Soles ($20 USD) one way per person. If you do decide to do this, please make sure that the horse you choose is a healthy one.

I know this is the way the local indigenous community makes money, but it also our responsibility to make sure that it is being done in a humane way. For me, hiring a horse would have felt like letting the mountain win, so I pushed on.

The Famous Mountain Vinicunca Viewpoint

rainbow mountain mountain of seven colors
Vinicunca Montana de Siete Colores – Mountain of Seven Colors Really Stands Out

Rainbow Mountain is a slab of shifting colors – pinks and greens, and greys and yellows stuck into a bank of rock protruding upward from the Earth. It is known as the Mountain of Seven Colors for good reason. You can see them all layered in the pattern of a rainbow.

The famous rainbow hump is part of a whole stretch of coloured mountains, in shades of rose and blonde. The climax of the Rainbow Mountain hike is a ridge overlooking the whole range, in all its spectacle. 

Our group was only allowed 45 minutes at the top. We struggled against buffeting winds as we tried to soak in every second of the view.  While we were there, a column of llamas threaded by us, herded by local villagers across the radiant mountain range and over the horizon.

It was like watching a set of cuddly toys trundle over the surface of Mars. 

If Rainbow Mountain had been in a European country, I couldn’t help thinking, there would have been a cable car to the top. There would have been a Starbucks at the peak. There would have been a bus back down, and a nice hotel at the bottom. There would have been a toilet that wasn’t just a hole.

Full Day Rainbow Mountain Itinerary

rainbow mountain horse trek
A horse grazing on Rainbow Mountain

It is a long day, so be prepared for more driving than hiking.

  • 3 am Pick up at hosel or pick up point. Some tours leave earlier and some leave later. Just remember, the later you leave the bigger the crowds at the mountain.
  • Drive for 2 hours to a short breakfast stop
  • Eat a hearty breakfast stop in a local village for about 45 minutes.
  • Drive again for 1.5 hours to Rainbow Mountain.
  • Hike up to the viewpoint. Usually 2 hours depending on your level of physical fitness.
  • Stay at the viewpoint for 45 minutes and snap photos.
  • Hike down to bus which takes about an hour.
  • Drive back to Cusco with a lunch stop for a total of about 3 hours.
  • The total is about 12 hours. It’s a full day.

When is the Best Time to Visit Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain in Peru

Generally speaking, the best time to visit Rainbow Mountain is during the dry season which is March to November. That is when you are likely to have the best chance at good weather.

Regardless of what time of year you visit make sure to check the weather forecast. There is nothing worse than spending 4-5 hours driving only to be greeted with a muddy mess that resembles nothing close to what you have seen in pictures.

If rain is predicted and you only have a little amount of time in the Cusco area then I would suggest skipping Rainbow Mountain altogether.

Should you pre-book your tour?

Deciding whether to pre-book a tour to Rainbow Mountain depends on how much you like having done for you before you arrive. If you are like us and don’t want to bother going to the travel agents and tour operators in Cusco to book it then, by all means, book your day trip beforehand.

If you book when you arrive in Cusco then make sure to check the reviews of tour operators before you lay out any cash. The cheapest is not always the best.

Book these are some reliable tours from Cusco with Get Your Guide that offer free cancellation and last minute bookings.

  1. Cusco Full Day Tour to Rainbow Mountain – 4am pick in comfortable van. Transer 3 hours to the town of Cusipata, where you will have breakfast in a local family house before your hike up to Rainbow Mountain. Includes lunch
  2. Avoid the Crowds, Rainbow Mountain Tour Take an alternative route to Palyccoyo Mountain. View Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain free from the masses with option to hike on hike onto the nearby Stone Forest. Meals, a visit to potato factory and transfers from Cusco included.
  3. Get back to Nature Rainbow Mountain Trek – Another option for Rainbow mountain with an emphasis on looking for wildlife. Meals and transfers included.

How Hard is Rainbow Mountain to Climb?

View point of Rainbow Mountain
The views just keep getting better the higher you go.

A successful climb up Rainbow Mountain certainly depends on 2 things; one, your fitness level, and two, how acclimatized you are to the altitude.

The hike itself is about 2.5 miles (4km) long one way. (4 1/2 – 5 miles – 7-8km long round trip.) With an elevation gain of about 3937 feet (1200 meters). If you are already acclimatized and in reasonably good shape it is not too difficult. Yes, you will be out of breath and tired, but most of the path up is relatively flat.

It isn’t until you get to the last 1000 feet (300 meters) that it gets quite steep. Here, you will want to take your time and go slowly. You will be breathing heavily, but the views are worth it. The hike back down was much easier and took us about 45 min to an hour.

The Altitude is no joke! Some of the best advice I can give you is to be prepared for the altitude. The viewpoint sits at 17060 feet (5200 meters) above sea level and you start the hike at around (13,779 feet) 4200m.

To put that in perspective, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, is 19,340 feet (5895 m) above sea level and that normally takes 5-7 days to limb. So you WILL be affected by the altitude.

The truth is that a lot of people really struggle on this hike. They don’t follow the advice of acclimating to the altitude in Cusco, and they are not really in good shape.

You will have a much better time and it will be a little easier if you are not fighting the effects of altitude sickness. My recommendation is to not attempt Rainbow Mountain until you have given yourself a few days to acclimatize and get used to the elevation in Cusco. Spend some time exploring Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley and then tackle Rainbow Mountain.

rainbow mountain peru lookout

When all was said and done, I would say that it is definitely worth a day of your trip to Peru to visit Rainbow Mountain, especially if you are spending some time in the Cusco region. It was an arduous clamber, but well worth the early wake-up call and a little physical punishment.

Backpackers can be freaks for punishment. There is an urge to say: “I did this the hardest way, and it was more authentic for the difficulty.” Sometimes it’s an attitude that leads to silliness, like taking twenty hour local busses to save a few pennies, or eating local street food that you know will poison you.

I’m not sure it would have been that much less beautiful, with a nice hotel at the bottom and a cable-car to the peak. But its beauty would have felt less earned. And I never would have known that it was worth the climb.

Author Bio

Elliott Gresswell is a freelance writer and hopeless traveler. You can follow him at www.irreverentprogress.com and follow him on Social Media at @tryingbrevity

Discover more of Peru

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rainbow mountain Peru verticle
Beautiful Rainbow Mountain – Mountain of Seven Colors

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Leave a Comment

52 thoughts on “What To Expect When Hiking Rainbow Mountain Peru”

  1. This is a piece of really great information about rainbow Mountain thanks for sharing valuable information and photos.

    Reply
  2. Did you guys do some exercises to get acclimated?

    When I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in 2010 the altitude sickness was no joke. On day 3 – at around 15,000 ft – we had to do acclimation exercises prior to starting the daily trek. We’d scale up steep 100-200 ft climbs then take a breath, drink some water and go back down. Had to do this a handful of times before the sickness subsided.

    Reply
  3. I always enjoy your informative descriptions so well accompanied by stunning photos. You make me want to travel more. Peru is definitely on my bucket list.

    Reply
  4. Rainbow Mountain is next on my wife and my list. We did Machu Pichu (along with everyone else) last Spring and decided Rainbow Mountain would be our next Peruvian adventure!

    Curious – we went to Machu Pichu because we’ve been told the trails are shutting down to the public. Is this true or a marketing ploy? We later learned it could have been a marketing ploy.

    Reply
  5. Great post! I visited Rainbow Mountain about six months ago and the altitude is no joke. I’m reasonably fit (exercise almost daily) and even after spending three days in Cusco to acclimatize I suffered from altitude sickness. It is most definitely a beautiful place , but I hesitate to recommend it to others.

    Reply
  6. Please note you should tell people to bring a plastic bag and pack out the used toilet paper. Leave no trace principals are important and most unexpected hikers don’t know you can’t leave toilet paper shoved under a rock. With all the tourists soon the hike will be a mess. It would be great if you added this to your tips.

    Reply
  7. Great article and description of your trek! Thank you for sharing. One day, I hope to visit South America. I’m from Southern California.

    Reply
  8. Creo que para visitar La Montaña Vinicunca, antes que nada es estar preparado, para la excursión ya que las caminatas duras aproximadamente 3 horas, tener un buen estado físico, servicios personalizados que ofrecen algunas agencias de viajes u operadores turísticos, llevar lo necesario para que la caminata se haga ligera, y ropa adecuada sobre todo para el frió y calor y visitarlo por supuesto en una fecha adecuada, y no viajar en temporada de lluvias.

    Reply
  9. Thank you, I found this very interesting reading as I am visiting Peru in September. One tip – it would be nice to have your photos labelled so I know exactly where they were. Thanks again.

    Reply
  10. Awee…I missed this when I went to Cusco almost 5 years now.
    What is the month to hike? Reckon I have to go back.

    Reply
  11. It’s gorgeous vista. This is the first time I’ve known such a stunning natural beauty. Excellent. Wish I could go there someday 🙂

    Reply
  12. We just come back from the alternative Rainbow Mountain that took us 40 minutes to get there. A nice place with three smaller Rainbow Mountains and the best was, there were no other tourists, the main reason why we came here. I think this place should be recommended and maybe you can include it in your article that already helps a lot to understand more about this place.

    Reply
  13. My friend Ken from Las Vegas NV – on June 18, 2018. He was almost to the peak of Rainbow Mountain in Peru when he had an altitude induced cardiac arrest. He loved to travel and he loved the outdoors. He died doing what he loved.

    September 9, 1947 to June 18, 2018

    Reply
    • Hi Leticia, I am so sorry for your loss. I am glad that he lived his life to the fullest and died doing what he loved.

      Reply
  14. The Peruvian govt just sold the rainbow moutain to a mining company !!! We just hiked the summit on 6/18/18. We are in Peru right now… so devestating.

    Reply
  15. Very informative post guys 🙂 I decided against hiking the Vinicunca rainbow mountain and I did the Palccoyo rainbow mountain tour with exploorperu.com. It only took me 40 minutes and it was amazing because there were very few people around.

    Reply
  16. Such a great post, Deb and Dave, and as I’m about to travel to Cusco in two months, I’m kind of afraid after reading this and all those posts with altitude problems and more. But as I really want to do this. The traveler said that it took him less than 1 hour to get up to another spot, but he still felt the altitude. The page itself looks interesting and shares some videos. What do you think of that?

    Reply
  17. Absolute favorite article about the Rainbow Mountain I can find there at the moment. Thank you for sharing these helpful information guys! As you and many others mention and I think it’s more than clear, that the altitude is no joke and it makes me afraid of not really enjoying it. That’s not my idea of traveling. Anyway, I really enjoyed your article here and makes me happy to read from others, how they experienced it.

    Reply
  18. A lovely and especially an honest post, that’s what the entire travel industry needs instead of just sugar-coating too many trips. I was also planning on doing the Vinicunca trek to the rainbow mountains and also found your post before doing the tour (that’s why I’m getting back to you know haha). I’d like to tell you that I actually found an alternative tour to the rainbow mountains where I only hiked for about 45 minutes and when arriving at the summit I could see various rainbow mountains..that was awesome! I did the tour with a local Peruvian company called exploorperu. Next time you’re in Cusco you definitely have to try that tour 🙂 Cheers!

    Reply
  19. Thanks, Elliott, for sharing your experience and those tips! Really helpful and to be honest, the Rainbow Mountain is a tough one! Great one with the alternative by horse! Luckily you’ve had a sunny day, your pics look amazing, well done!

    Reply
  20. Great post. Thanks! I’ve been to Cusco 10+ times but never made it to Rainbow Mountain. Looking forward to it. Appreciate the tips.

    Reply
  21. It is a unique and different place. The colorful landscape at the top and the surroundings is one of the most beautiful places.
    They reach 5200 m altitude and altitude sickness in some people is huge,
    so it is not for everyone you have to be prepared for a demanding hike.
    But it is worth it, and what makes the trip much better is if you return through the red valley which is a beauty in itself.
    here I leave a video to encourage you to go: https://goo.gl/HDgMV7

    Reply
  22. We think the Rainbow Mt is one of the most beautiful places in Cusco Region, recently discovered and opened to the tourist, not for everyone it can be difficult or easy, it depends on your physical fitness and also how much acclimated you are to the altitude. If you have 2 of these things it will be relatively easy, because the trail is gradually like a ramp, we know the altitude makes harder, but it is possible to do in 1 day. You should have 3 very important things in considerations.
    First.- Choose the right company, who can guarantee a quality service.
    Second.- go in small group and have more customized tour service.
    Third.- Early starts makes a big difference , and I ´m sure that you will have a lifetime experience. CLICK HERE!
    http://www.inkatrailexplorer.com/cusco-treks/rainbow-mountain-hike-peru-travel/

    Reply
  23. The Rainbow Mountain In Peru¡

    We think the Rainbow Mt. is one of the most beautiful places in Cusco Region, recently discovered and opened to the tourist, not for everyone it can be difficult or easy, it depends on your physical fitness and also how much acclimated you are to the altitude. If you have 2 of these things it will be relatively easy, because the trail is gradually like a ramp, we know the altitude makes harder, but it is possible to do in 1 day. You should have 3 very important things in considerations.
    First.- Choose the right company, who can guarantee a quality service.
    Second.- go in small group and have more customized tour service.
    Third.- Early starts makes a big difference , and I ´m sure that you will have a lifetime experience. CLICK HERE!

    Reply
  24. The Rainbow Mountain is an excellent place for everyone who likes to walk, as it is the only way to get there although you can also get horses, but in particular I prefer to walk because when arriving there it is worth it and what makes it even better is Go by the red valley that very few do.

    And I think it’s the only video with red valley because everyone only shows up to the mountain

    Reply
  25. You can get a day-tour the evening before from 70 soles upwards. Never knowing what quality (food transport) to expect.
    The trek is simpel, not really a guide needed. Easy to follow, BUT very hard because of the extreme height. Do it only after spending several days in Cusco or higher.
    They have almost finished building a gigantic parkingplace 1 hour up the trek, at the village and park entry, so soon it will be only 2 hours trekking.
    And more busy…

    Reply
  26. I would definitely second (and third and fourth) doing the 2 day hike instead of the 1 day. I did mine through Ayni Peru (https://www.ayni-peru.com/rainbow-mountain-peru-vinicunca-yauricunca/) and it was fantastic. On the two day tour, you leave Cusco around 7 AM and drive about 3 hours to the trek departure point. From there, it was only about a 2 hour, fairly easy (mostly flat ground) hike to our campsite, which was at the base of Rainbow Mountain. We had the entire campsite to ourselves- except for the llama and alpaca herders that occasionally came through with their herds. The next morning, we woke up early for the ascent to Rainbow Mountain and we were the only people on the trail the entire time! When we reached Rainbow Mountain, we had the whole mountain to ourselves for about an hour before the fastest 1 day hikers began to arrive! I would highly, highly recommend this option. As we were hiking back down, we saw the floods of people beginning their climb up the mountain- the trail was packed. So if you want less people crowding up the trail (and ruining your pictures!) opt for the two day hike. You also can take your time and hike at a much slower pace, which is great considering the crazy altitude.

    Reply
  27. Is there a small village or town closer to Rainbow Mountain that we can stay at? Driving at 4am from Cusco for 3 hours and back later doesn’t sound enticing.

    Reply
  28. Hey great blog! This trek was the highlight of my trip to Peru. I’m a beginner hiker and chose to do the 2 day trek with FlashpackerConnect.com While it challenged me, I was so happy I did it because there is no where else in the world like it! We barely saw any other trekkers, and we ate like royalty!

    Reply
  29. For anyone planning this trek, I would really recommend at least an overnight trek to the Rainbow Mountain. Taking an extra day allows you to break up the driving, leave later, and have the mountain all to yourself, before trekkers making a day trip arrive. The stars are also incredible…you can see an image of them about half way down this page: http://www.ayni-peru.com/rainbow-mountain-ausangate/

    If you have more time (at least 4 days) you can head into part of the Ausangate Circuit, which is truly gorgeous, probably the best natural scenery in Cusco.

    Reply
  30. This hike sounds amazing! I had some questions! Did you prepare for the hike before you went? Such as exercising more before going? Also did you book the trip when you got to Cusco? I’ll be heading there in December and I would really like to do it. Thanks!

    Reply
  31. I so wanted to do this when I was in Cusco but I was still recovering from my Colca Canyon hike and opted out. They assured me I could do the whole trail by horseback ride, but I was thinking: if that would be possible, why wouldn’t they sell actual horseback rides (rainbow mountain by horse). Looking back, I’m still bumbed I missed out because it still looks amazing, but hearing all the stories from people how hard it was, I’m glad I didn’t do it. Your pictures look wonderful for sure! Good for you you made it up there! Well earned.

    Reply
  32. I never knew this existed! It looks so gorgeous, but I will admit that I’m not sure I could handle that bathroom situation. I always think hikes like this sound so amazing, but I’m such a wimp I know I couldn’t handle it. Maybe I need to start on smaller hikes and work up to something bigger.

    Reply
  33. Thanks for this photoblog Elliott! A hole with tarpaulin wrapped around is for sure a luxury as far as a toilet goes as far as the Andes goes! The scenery out there is incredible and while I get that Machu Picchu gets all the glamour there is so much to Peru that most people miss. The beauty that you describe for the more off-beaten-paths is so true. A difference in luxury and difficulty can sometimes truly change authenticity.

    Reply
  34. This is not Europe and we are happy like that¡
    A a nice hotel at the bottom or a cable-car to the peak would definitely destroy the landscape or scenery, as you could see this is in the middle of the nowhere and locals use it for having walks with their animals. luxury hotels and others you guys would love are not part of the area, it would disturb communities around. WE ARE HAPPY LIKE THIS. Everybody who enjoys walking and beautiful sceneries please visit us! there is a Peru for everybody!

    Reply
  35. You have captured the true beauty of rainbow mountain in photos . Looking forward t visiting this as a part of our honeymoon soon

    Reply
  36. Rainbow Mountain is a lovely name for a place. It’s great that you feel that its beauty was earned. The landscape you captured in the photos is stunning. It’s a shame that bus got lost on the way so it’s a relief that you were able to get on the right path.

    Reply