Mount Vinicunca – Peru’s Rainbow Mountain
This weekend, Daniel and I hiked to Mount Vinicunca, better known as Rainbow Mountain. We were fortunate to be able to do the trek at all – it used to take tourists days of hiking to get a view of this surreal landscape. The new day trek was only discovered and opened for tourism in January 2015.
Why? Because it was hidden under a large glacier, that has now melted due to climate change. Because of these rising temperatures, instead of a grueling trek through the mountains, we can enjoy the rainbow colored land in a one day trip from Cusco. It’s a sad fact undermining the beauty of the day, and caused me to vow to make sure I do more to protect our earth.
2018 EDIT: Although our guide mentioned melting glaciers as an aspect thats led to increased tourism, and it’s mentioned in this Forbes article as well, I’ve began to look into it more and now I’m not so sure that’s the case. My friend Diego has been a guide in Cusco for years and says that increased demand, better roads, and more services on the route and climb have led to the recent boom in tours to the Rainbow Mountains, and not melting glaciers (although that certainly is an issue that’s happening in Peru at the moment!)
Altitude: begins at 14,000 ft, peaks at 17,000 ft.
Temperature: Varies from about 30 to 60 degrees throughout the day. I wore multiple jackets, gloves, and a scarf in the morning, but finished the trek in a t-shirt. Come prepared with layers.
Cost: 70 soles / $22 usd
Hike: 5 hours
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 15 hours from Cusco to return
How To Book a Tour
Mount Vinicunca is not an easy trek. It begins high in the Andes at 14,000 feet and peaks at almost 17,000! So even though it’s only 6 miles round trip, the thin air certainly makes it feel much longer. We made sure to drink plenty of coca tea and eat coca toffees on our hike to combat the effects of high altitude and ward off any headaches or dizziness. That being said, the hike is still a must do while you’re in Cusco.
We booked our tour the night before we decided to do it. If you’re planning on visiting this and many of the other tourist sites in Cusco, you will get much cheaper prices by booking in person at the agencies in town rather than booking in advance online. There are hundreds of little tour shops and everything (except the Inca Trail) can be booked just a day or two before departure. Just like everything else in Cusco, prices are negotiable. Look for signs advertising Mount Vinicunca or Rainbow Mountain. We snagged a deal on the street on the right side of the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas for 60 soles each – less than $20 for the trek!
The price includes transport, breakfast and lunch, English speaking “guides”, and a doctor. The trail is well marked and pretty obvious – the guides didn’t stick with us on the walk or give us much information at all. If you don’t want to book a tour, this trip could easily be done on your own if you pack some food and rent a car. However, we liked the security of having a doctor to provide oxygen and care in case something went wrong at the high altitude. We also enjoyed having a hot meal provided after the 6 mile walk!
My tip: Wait a few days in Cusco to acclimate before you book the trek to Mount Vinicunca to be better prepared for the high altitude and prevent altitude sickness.
The drive from Cusco began with a 3:30 am pick up at our apartment, followed by a 3 hour drive to the town near the trailhead. The last hour or so of the drive is on dirt roads winding along a sheer cliff face so… don’t take a window seat if you’re afraid of heights! Also, make sure you wear layers – the morning was freezing and I wore two jackets, gloves, and a scarf. Later on the trek though, the sun was beating down and I did most of it in a t-shirt. Temperatures change quickly in the mountains so make sure you’re prepared for both extremes (a good tip for any treks you do from Cusco).
After we ate a quick breakfast, we drove another 20 minutes to the beginning of the trail. The views of the surrounding mountains from the parking lot are stunning! We began our tour in a large group – 5 buses worth – but quickly began to spread out along the path. Some people opted to pay another 60 soles ($20 usd) for a horse to take them up the impending three mile incline, but we decided to do it the old fashioned way. Don’t worry – if you get tired, or the altitude gets the best of you – you can rent a horse easily at any point on the trek to take you to the top.
We came to a gate and paid a 10 sole ($3 usd) entrance fee, then we were on our way. The trek is three miles out and three miles back. On our way we passed (whats left of) the highest glacier in Peru. It was a stunning view, and not even the main attraction. The streaked and colored mountains also begin to come into view as you climb. The trek to Mount Vinicunca finished with a steep hike up the mountain side to view the famous “rainbow mountain” on the other side. Although it’s rarely shown, there are also snow capped peaks, deep valleys, and gorgeous panorama views on all sides. It’s breathtaking.
The walk back was easier as it was mostly down hill, and the way the afternoon light hit the mountains enhanced the colors streaking through them. The rainbow look isn’t confined to Mount Vinicanca, but extends through the whole range, making for an extremely unique and picturesque walk.
Finally, we reached our bus again at 1pm after five hours of walking. We returned to the same restaurant for a buffet lunch, and then made the long, but beautiful, drive home. After almost 15 hours total, we reached Cusco again at 6pm. Whew. It was an exhausting but unforgettable day.
If you are visiting Peru, this site certainly should not be missed!
All my love,
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