Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Vinicunca Mountain, also known as Montaña de Siete Colores or Rainbow Mountain, can be visited from Cusco, one of Peru’s most attractive tourist hubs, from where you can also visit Machu Picchu. The top of Rainbow Mountain sits at 5,200m, which is higher than Mont Blanc at 4,810 and nearly as high as Everest Base Camp, at 5,389.
The outside world has been aware of the existence of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain for little more than five years, but already there are fears it could be contributing to the peaks’ destruction.
Hidden away more than 16,000 feet (5,000 metres) above sea level in the Andes, the ridge is blanketed in an eye-catching array of turquoise, lavender and gold stripes.
Although Rainbow Mountain was formed millions of years ago as multi-coloured layers of sediment were laid down and then pushed up by clashing tectonic plates, it has only recently become a tourist hotspot.
What to Expect
1. Cost and Pick up
Rainbow Mountain tours cost an average of 100 Soles ($30), from Cusco’s innumerable travel agents.
2. The Drive to Rainbow Mountain
The drive out from Cusco was a skitter across snaking mountain roads, under cover of blackness.
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.
That kind of bathroom really is a luxury when you’re on a mountain hike. If you think you might need toilet paper, be sure to bring your own.
4. The Hike up Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain Facts:
The walk to and from Rainbow Mountain is a day-long stagger at over 14,000 feet, 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.
How to Dress 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.
5. Alternatives to Hiking
For the truly exhausted, there was another option. Touts followed the column, gently selling horse rides up to the top for only 70 Soles per person.
70 Soles is a quite lot of money, especially when a lot of the horses look suspiciously like ponies.
And anyway, it would have felt like letting the mountain win.
Rainbow Mountain is a slab of shifting colours, pinks and greens and greys and yellows struck into a bank of rock protruding upward from the Earth.
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.
6. At The Top of Rainbow Mountain
Our group was allowed 45 minutes at the top, struggling against buffeting winds as we tried to soak in every second of the view.
While we were there, a column of llamas threaded by, 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.
The Backpacker Code
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.
Rainbow Mountain was an arduous clamber. 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.
10 Things You Should Know Before Hiking Rainbow Mountain
If you are planning to hike within the Andes Mountain Range, the chances are you will be at high altitude, so acclimatising is extremely important before you exert yourself at even higher altitudes. For those who have come from sea level, you will most definitely want to spend a couple of days getting used to it and if possible, go up gradually. Cusco stands at 3,399m so even for those coming from Lima (1550m), that can be quite an adjustment.
If and when you are advised to have an early night before, do so! In addition, having a couple of pints really won’t leave you in good stead the next day, that hangover will probably be magnified as the altitude increases, especially as you have to leave Cusco between 2:30 and 3:30 am!
Don’t get conned!
On the internet the prices for the trip (all the trips from Cusco for that matter) are at an inflated price, at around $150-200 USD, when in Cusco they are normally 70 Soles ($21USD), although you may need to barter and ask different companies. Don’t be lured into a higher price thinking it’s with a better company, most of them get thrown in together. In addition, pictures may sometimes be misleading with a transfer van, you only get a transfer to the bottom of the trail.
Drink mate de coca
The Peruvians swear by both chewing coca leaves and having them as a tea, thanks to the old Incan ritual. In addition to this, you can go to the pharmacy and pick up altitude sickness pills, although many of the ones you get over the counter are glorified pain killers with caffeine and they aren’t much use when you already have altitude sickness. Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids as your body needs it, water primarily to hydrate you, but sugary drinks and snacks are also important.
Signs of altitude sickness
You will experience altitude sickness when you can’t get enough oxygen from the air, this will lead you to have symptoms such as a headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, dizziness and lightheadedness, shortness of breath with exertion and finally some people feel nauseous and vomit.
Other strange signs
Do not fret! Some people may not show any signs of altitude sickness, but their body might do something else that could be considered as strange. As you receive less oxygen, your body favours your respiratory system, so it’s common that you may have a bout of diarrhoea, swollen fingers, achey limbs or a worsened cough. Altitude sickness only usually improves when you descend to lower altitude.
You never know when it’ll get you
Altitude sickness works in mysterious ways, some days you’ll get away scot free, some days it might just hit you for six. This is especially the case if you’ve suffered from altitude sickness in the past few days, but felt better, it can always come back to haunt you.
Distance vs time
You may look at the distance and the time allotted and think that you’d be able to conquer it in half the time, unless you’re very well accustomed to altitude and extremely fit, then this probability is extremely slim! You may as well take your time as you don’t want to over exert yourself, and the buses all wait for all their passengers anyway.
Reality vs Instagram
Many photos are rather obviously edited, turning up the saturation to manipulate the photos into looking even more impressive. Don’t let this leave you downhearted, the journey up there is still pretty magnificent, especially when the sun is shining… which leads to our next point!
Choose the summer season
It’s highly advised not to go during wet weather, which is common during the winter season months November to March, as the path can become very unsturdy and eventually turns into a mudslide, which combined with jelly legs might end up a rather mucky excursion. In addition to this, due to its height it’s hard to predict the visibility, which once you’ve grafted for nearly two hours to get there, is pretty important.