Everything You Need To Know About Rainbow Mountain In Peru

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A few years ago, some snow melted.

Yeah yeah, it happens every year, snow falls, it melts, we get excited, we move on. 

But no-one’s “moved on” from this thawing in Peru, not since the snow that melted revealed something so significant as this. 

You see, in a somewhat worrying nod to climate change, thick layers of Andean snow and ice disappeared in 2015. But as the saying goes, with every cloud comes a silver lining, and that’s exactly what happened here, when melting snow revealed what was to swiftly become one of Peru’s most popular tourist attractions. 

Enter Rainbow Mountain. 

Hidden for centuries beneath glacier caps, this bizarre feat of nature now peaks out of the Andes, a three-hour drive and a 5km walk southeast of Cusco, 5,200m above sea level. 

And boy is it a looker.  

Vinicunca or Montaña de Siete Colores
Everything You Need To Know About Rainbow Mountain In Peru 1

What is Rainbow Mountain also known as?

Known locally as Vinicunca or Montaña de Siete Colores, Rainbow Mountain’s mineralogical composition results in, well, a rainbow-striped effect along the ridge, and it’s quite the sight to behold. 

Why does Rainbow Mountain look like that?!

The different colours are all down to its mineralogical composition…

  • Pinks are caused by red clay, fangolitas and arilitas (that’s mud and sand to you and me). 
  • Whites come from quartzose, sandstone and marls, all of which are rich in calcium carbonate. 
  • Reds are caused by claystones, or iron, and other clays apparently from the Upper Tertiary period.
  • Greens are down to phyllites and clays that are rich in ferro magnesium. 
  • Browns are produced by fanglomerate composed of rock with magnesium. 
  • Yellows come from the calcareous sandstones that are rich in sulphurous minerals. 

Geography lesson complete. 

And if you’re like most people and you weren’t sure what the majority of those words actually meant, what you really need to know is that Rainbow Mountain’s a very pretty rock, and one you should go and see if you’re ever in the area. 

Rainbow Mountain, Cucso, Peru
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Is Rainbow Mountain worth your time? 

In a word, yes. 

If you’re a fan of the spectacular (and who isn’t?!) and you’re headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu, then there’s no good reason not to add a day trip to Rainbow Mountain into the mix. 

Its proximity to the Inca capital and the ancient ruins mean it’s an easy way to turn your adventure up another notch and make your Bucket List trip the very best it can be. 

Yes, Rainbow Mountain is popular, but not to the point that you should avoid it. 

Most people agree the best time to visit is August, during Peru’s dry season, when you’re pretty much guaranteed a stunning view and maximum colour as you gaze upon this strange, natural beauty. 

But that is around the same time you’d be sharing the trail with as many as 4,000 other adventurers keen for a glimpse of the famous stripes. 

So if you’d rather have the views a little more to yourself, and get some great snaps for your Instagram grid without anyone getting in the way, the early December low season is a great time to go. 

How High is Rainbow Mountain?

Rainbow Mountain stands at an impressive 5200 metres (17060 ft) above sea level. That’s higher than you will trek on the Inca Trail trek, the Lares Trek & the Salkantay trek. Rainbow mountain is actually only 164 metres shorter than Everest Base Camp (17,598 feet, 5,364 meters) in Nepal.

Because of the height of Rainbow Mountain we always advise you to do this after you have been trekking so your body has acclimatised. 

Rainbow Mountain Peru
Everything You Need To Know About Rainbow Mountain In Peru 3

How far is Rainbow Mountain from Cusco?

Rainbow mountains is 62 miles from Cusco. The drive is windy and takes around 3 hours to get there. 

Be prepared for an early start on the bus trip to get everything done in one day. 

How far is Rainbow Mountain from Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is in the opposite direction from Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca. If you are visiting Machu Picchu first you will need to head back to Cusco and then go onto Rainbow from Cusco. 

How do you get to Rainbow Mountain?

Whenever you think will be the best time to visit, make no mistake, you should go. And if you’re already trekking to Machu Picchu with the Bucket List Co, then we’d always recommend tacking our Rainbow Mountain add-on to your trip. 

The mountain’s not particularly easy to find, see, and if you set out to try and taste the rainbow guide-free, chances are you’d never get there. 

But with our expert local guides, you’ll have no problem. We leave Cusco early in the morning, driving through beautiful scenery like Tintinko, Rio Tigre and the Mountain of Surina, on our way to the Cusipata community. 

Llama, alpaca and vicuña-spotting included along the way.

The guided walk takes around 1.5 hours, climbing up the Red Valley, past the Nevado Ausangate and several picturesque lagoons, before we arrive at the viewpoint of all viewpoints.

We stop, we stare, we take in the majesty of the whole mountain in all its technicolour grandeur. Our tour guide will tell us more about those curious colours while we sip a delicious and very welcome cup of tea and have a bite to eat before heading back down through the Red Valley’s striking trails. 

Want to taste the rainbow? Select your Machu Picchu Trek and hit the orange trip builder button to add a Rainbow Mountain excursion to your Peruvian Bucket List adventure. 

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