You’ve seen the photos of the stunning, striped mountain that draws in thousands of tourists each year. Vinicunca, also known as the Rainbow Mountain, is a popular destination for travelers visiting the highlights of Peru from Cusco. From the photos, it’s easy to see why, it’s a striking geological feature, different minerals creating colorful stripes across a long mountain range.
If you’re feeling weary, sick, and/or are not in the best physical shape, you can opt to ride a horse to the base of the final climb up to the viewing point of the Rainbow Mountain.
I toured Rainbow Mountain with Cusco Expeditions, and I highly recommend them as a company for experiencing this sight of Peru. They are professional, organized, and attentive. They explain all the essential things to know about the hike and excursion, so you know exactly what to expect when you set off to conquer the mountain.
What to bring to Rainbow Mountain
Warm clothes. You’ll want layers that you can take off and put back on easily, as the temperature can change quickly AND you’ll work up a sweat hiking if it’s sunny. At the top elevation, it can be freezing and windy, so be prepared with a hat and gloves just in case. It’s also a good idea to bring a rain jacket, as the weather can change at a moments notice.
Medicine for altitude sickness. Whether you have pharmaceutical grade stuff, the coca candies from all the shops in Cusco, or some other remedy, I’d highly recommend bringing something for your nausea. I found the bus ride to be particularly brutal, as you weave up and down mountain roads, and it’s a bumpy ride.
Water and snacks. With our tour, we were fed a simple breakfast and then a much bigger buffet lunch after the hike, but during the walk, I was glad we had some trail mix to munch on. If you forget to pack food or drinks, there are plenty of stands along the way of locals selling treats, so bring small change and plenty of cash if you want to buy on the go.
Sunglasses and sunscreen. The glare can be incredibly bright, and at such a high altitude, your skin can burn very quickly. Don’t forget to reapply!
A backpack. This will be the easiest way to carry all your stuff on the hike, but don’t bring anything too big or bulky.
What to expect at Rainbow Mountain
The top elevation of Rainbow Mountain reaches 5,200 meters or 17,060 feet. This is nearly the altitude of Everest Base Camp. The air is super thin, just simple walking feels like strenuous exercise. If you are coming right after arriving in Cusco, be prepared for altitude sickness. It’s ideal if you can give yourself a few days to adjust to the altitude of Cusco before embarking to Rainbow Mountain, but of course, sometimes you don’t have a choice.
The first portion of the hike is reasonably easy, it’s mostly a flat walk along a ridgeline. It’s unbelievably beautiful the entire trail, you’ll be surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and a lush green valley.
After about 2-hour walk, we reached the base of the final summit to the viewing point of the mountain. This is where horses drop off their riders, and you realize how little oxygen there is in the air. It’s a steep uphill, and I had to break every 15 steps to catch my breath. I was in amazement of how difficult it was, considering I am an avid runner and like to think of myself as being in good physical condition.
Make the hike to the top, and you’re treated with beautiful views of Vinicunca. It’s truly a fantastic sight to see, a feat of nature. There are locals with Alpacas at the top, definitely pay a few soles to snap a photo. It’s an excellent place to take a quick rest before making the journey back.
Other tips for visiting Rainbow Mountain
While I drank water during our hike, I didn’t chug a lot because I knew the bathroom situation along the trail was pretty dire. There are “toilets” that you can pay for along the way, but they looked terrifying. If you can wait, there are more developed facilities at the rest stops where you eat before and after.
Don’t forget to charge your camera battery and have an extra battery pack for your phone! It would be a shame if you ran out right at the end of the hike when it’s the most picturesque.
Wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots.
Take breaks when you need them. There’s no sense in pushing yourself to the point of feeling sick or getting self-conscious about how hard you’re huffing and puffing. It’s a HARD hike – mostly because of the extreme altitude and lack of oxygen.
Rainbow Mountain was an unforgettable day trip from Cusco that I’d recommend any visitor to do with a tour agency. Cusco Expeditions was fantastic, but there are many to choose from. You can’t really do the experience on your own, and I wouldn’t recommend it as it could become hazardous quickly. I also WOULD NOT recommend going if the weather forecast is meant to be rainy or stormy. This could also make it a bad experience, and without sunshine and clear skies, I don’t think the colors of the mountain would show up vibrantly anyway.
Have you been to Rainbow Mountain? What was your experience like?