How To Hike Rainbow Mountain In Peru

Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca) is the newly popular and brightly colored mountain destination in the Peruvian Andes. Located in the remote Willkanuta mountain range about 3 hours southeast of Cusco, the colorful peak sits at 17,000 ft, atop is a grueling 8-mile down and back withered trail.

Here’s everything you need to know to hike Rainbow Mountain in Peru.

What Makes The Rainbow

The vibrantly layered red, yellow, green and whites were formed by melted ice mixing with various minerals, and micro climate wind patterns. While many images you see online are enhanced, the real deal is more natural and beautiful, as long as you don’t end up hiking on a rainy or snowy day.

Its vibrantly layered red, yellow, green and whites were formed by melted ice mixing with various minerals, and micro climate wind patterns. While many images you see online are enhanced, the real deal is more natural and beautiful, so long as you do it right.

When To Hike Rainbow Mountain

Hiking in general in Peru is best in the shoulder seasons of April / May and September / October. April - October is advisable, but June - August bring more tourists, which can dramatically affect your experience in nature.

Day Trip From Cusco To Rainbow Mountain

The most popular way to explore Rainbow Mountain is a 1 day trip from Cusco. There are loads of tour companies that offer similar services and rates. I recommend waiting to book until you arrive to Cusco, as the weather is unpredictable and you don’t want to get stuck with something non-refundable on a day that will yield dangerous conditions or offer zero visibility

Depending on what all is included (typically breakfast & lunch, and pick up & drop off from your accommodation), expect to pay between $30-40 for a guided experience in a group of ~10 people. The entry to Rainbow Mountain is 10 soles (~$3) and may or may not be included in your package.

If you’re feeling super adventurous, there is also the option of the 6 day Ausangate Trek to see Rainbow Mountain. It’s one of the highest and most difficult in Peru, and accommodation is left to local housing and camping with no toilets.

What To Pack

Packing poses a challenge as the climate can change every few minutes up in serious altitude but you want to carry as little as possible with you. When there’s clouds and even a hint of wind, you’ll want a heavy down jacket, however there will likely be moments where the sun is so strong you feel like you are standing on it. At some point, you will probably feel like you’re in the mist of a cloud, too. Here’s what I brought.

  • Thermal coat, hat, gloves, warm socks

  • Tank top, sunscreen

  • Boots with great ankle support

  • Water, toilet paper

  • Offline pump up music & headphones

  • Coca leaves / candies

Pick Up & The Drive

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Day tours leave from Cusco between 3-4am. It takes awhile to pick everyone up at their hotels, and depending on the day, you may be gearing up for your hiking trip surrounded by people spilling out of nightclubs. Once out of town, it’s a 3 hour drive along winding roads to the start of the trek. Some are paved and some are dirt. We got stopped by a herd of alpacas right around sunrise, and it was the cutest traffic jam I’ve ever witnessed.

Montana De Siete Colores

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Expect to start the hike with plenty of other travellers from all over the planet. Last I read, 1,000 people per day are allowed on the trail, which is up from around 200 when I was there in May 2017. Many of the tour companies load people in the same buses and start the hike together, so it will be crowded during the optimal times of year and obviously busier on the weekends.

Luckily, there are a few toilets at the start of the trek that you can pay to use.

The hike ascends almost 3,000 ft over about 4 miles of pretty treacherous terrain. There are no restrooms, so bring your own toilet paper & a way to dispose of it if you’ll need it. There are opportunities to hire horses along the way, but we stayed slow, strong and steady and made our way all the way to the rainbow on foot!

Disclaimer: You can’t actually see Rainbow Mountain until you’re there. The approach is from the side, and although the colors get in more intensely rich and varied in palette, you somewhat wonder the whole hike if it’s one big spoof.

It’s not!

You’ll make one last trying climb to the very top, and it’s recommended to spend less than an hour as the temperatures are so extreme at that altitude. There was one vendor selling coca tea and candy at the top, much to our delight.

The hike back was a little less exciting. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not a big fan of out and back hikes in general, and the terrain was harder descending. Well worth it, obviously; but I was ready to go back to Cusco to practice at The Yoga Room, and to not put my hiking boots on for a solid month after this grand finale to my Peruvian adventures.

Peru, Destinations, TravelAlice Zarka