Rainbow Mountain, also referred to as Vinicuna, is a colourful mountain located a few hours from Cusco in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Before I headed to Peru I kept stumbling across beautiful pictures of this colourful mountain on Instagram. I asked myself "Where is this mountain?, How can I see it?". With my upcoming trip to Peru I was eager to climb this beautiful, colourful mountain and see the magnificent views and colours for myself.
I had one spare day whilst in Cusco so was quick to sign up for a tour to Rainbow Mountain. With very little knowledge and expectation of this tour, I paid my 100 Sol (around $40 AUD) and got ready for the trip.
Be prepared for an early start, we were picked up at 4am from out hotel in Cusco. We travelled for around 2 hours on some quite bumpy roads before stopping for a breakfast break. Breakfast was basic; bread, jam, coffee and coca tea (you will be thankful for the warm drinks, it was rather cold). We then drove for another hour or so before reaching the base of the mountain.
Rainbow Mountain, what can I expect?
The altitude is something you really need to be aware of whilst climbing Rainbow Mountain. The Hike starts at 4450m above sea level and ends at over 5000m. This is the highest altitude I have ever been in my life and I climbed the mountain just one day after arriving in Cusco. This was not enough time to truly adjust to the altitude and I would recommend spending a few days adjusting to the higher altitude before climbing. The Peruvians use coca leaves to relieve the effects of the altitude. Try drinking some coca tea or having some coca lollies for the hike. Staying hydrated is also essential in combating the altitude.
The hike there and back is approximately 12km. This will take longer than expected as the altitude really does make this hike a real challenge. The terrain is mostly upward slopes. I recommend doing the hike at your own pace as everybody has different fitness levels and the altitude effects everybody differently. I took the hike slowly, towards the end taking only a few steps at a time before resting for a few breaths. At the top you will be greeted with the magnificent views and colours of the mountain, really a breathtaking and rewarding experience.
What to wear:
Dressing for rainbow mountain can be difficult as the weather is likely to change throughout the trip. Layers are essential. Depending on what season you go the temperature will vary. I went in August and most of the day it was rather cold. Whilst hiking up the mountain with the sun shining down I did strip a few layers but put them back on at the peak of the mountain where the temperature was below zero. I recommend a beanie, gloves, wind breaker/rain jacket and some comfortable sneakers or hiking boots.
What to take:
There are a few things I would recommend taking for your trek to rainbow mountain. The first essential is water and snacks. There is no access to any food or water once you get to the mountain. The tour company I travelled with provided us a few snacks and a bottle of water, I recommend taking some of your own as well. Don’t go overboard as remember whatever you take you have to carry.
Toilet paper is another essential. There is very little access to toilets along the hike and the ones that you will find at the base of the mountain are extremely basic (it may also be useful to bring some small change as often the toilets cost a small amount to use).
Sunscreen, a hat/beanie and sunglasses are something I would highly recommend for this trip. At such a high altitude it is very easy to burn, even if it's cold, the sun is intense at this altitude.
My last recommendation is your camera. The views on the mountain are breathtaking. It is worth capturing a few pictures along the way.
Alternative to walking?
On the mountain, there is an alternative option to hiking the whole way up. Locals have horses which they lead up the mountain for those who aren't up for hiking. The cost of hiring a horse will vary depending on where you decide to take the horse from. If you get it from the bottom it will cost you around 60 sol ($25 aud) with the price decreasing the further up you go. Although taking a horse will take you most of the way up the mountain there is still walking involved to reach the peak of the mountain.
Overall, if you are seeking adventure and up for a challenge, I recommend visiting Rainbow Mountain. I am not an experienced hiker myself and although it was a tough and challenging hike, I found it very rewarding and would recommend it as a must do experience whilst in Peru.