Vinicunca, better known to English speakers as Rainbow Mountain, is a beautiful multicolored mountain that gets its patterns from the variance of sediment deposits that have built up over the years. Rainbow Mountain is located high up in the Andes of Peru, 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) above sea level. The colors of this gem make you want to do a double take and quick Google search to confirm that it’s even real. It’s only been on the radar for tourism for a few years, so when photos of this unique spot starting popping up, I decided we had to go whenever we made it to Peru.
Before I continue, I have to get something out of the way. YES, this hike is haarrdddd. They say that the best view comes after the hardest climb, and this could not be more true for Rainbow Mountain. While my husband and I are not athletes, I’d still like to think that we’re in decent shape. Prior to Rainbow Mountain, our week in Peru was jammed pack with adventures like climbing up to Skylodge Adventure Suites (doing via ferrata 400 meters up and then ziplining down) and hiking the challenging Huyana Picchu that towers over Machu Picchu (which requires some struggling up on all fours). Both of these felt tame to us in comparison to Vinicunca—and we even hired horses part of the way up! To top off everything, Michael and I were also recovering from having FOOD POISONING the previous day. So needless to say, the odds were not in our favor. Given the difficulties of this hike, I am so grateful that we had an incredible tour group to help get us through it.
There are a variety of ways to get to Rainbow Mountain, but most will include a tour group with an insanely early pickup time in Cusco and a 3-hour drive to a spot from where you can either hike for a few more hours to get to the mountain summit (or take horses part of the way up, like we did). After this, there will be a hike back down and usually a stop for lunch somewhere on the way back to Cusco. There are many tour agencies that offer this adventure, but we chose to go with Flashpacker Connect.
According to their website, “FlashpackerConnect Adventure Travel is about providing you with unique off the beaten track experiences around the planet.” I can definitely say that this is true from our experience! It costs approximately $150/person, and while there are certainly tours for as low as $30/person, we really felt the price to go with FlashpackerConnect was worthwhile based on the following reasons:
- BEING FIRST UP THE MOUNTAIN
Going with FlashpackerConnect meant that we got picked up from our hotel around 2:15am (most other tour agencies pick up between 3-4am). Yes, this is early, but it also means you will be the first ones to get to Vinicunca. The beautiful multicolored mountain can attract up to a thousand visitors a day, so it’s a HUGE perk to be the first ones up! My husband and I groggily stumbled into the van and were overjoyed to find that our guides, Amilkar and Rosbel, were thoughtfully passing around blankets for everyone. Our driver, Berto, effortlessly navigated the crazy roads to get us there safely and without anybody getting carsick (trust me, the road was incredibly windy and rough, so this was an impressive feat!).
- THE RESOURCES AND HELP UP THE MOUNTAIN
When we arrived at the parking lot for the starting point, we were all given breakfast bags to start with and snack bags to munch on later. They were mindful of each person’s dietary restrictions (I am gluten-free, and we had three vegetarians in the group). Both our guides had oxygen tanks with them in as well case anybody was feeling the effects of altitude sickness. We never ended up using the extra oxygen, but it was very comforting to know it was there. My husband and I opted to take horses 2/3 up the mountain (for 60 soles/$20 USD per person), which we also felt was incredibly worthwhile—especially given that we were both just getting over food poisoning. There were a good number of locals with horses there when we arrived, but I’ve been told that depending on the day, there won’t be any horses left for later tour groups to even have the option.
Once we got to the mountain, our guides showed us the best photo shots and kindly obliged to a mini photoshoot for all on the tour (just seven of us). They gave us advice on grabbing snaps with the local’s alpacas (and recommended we tip 1-2 soles). And I’ll never forget that on the hike down, they offered to help us with our backpacks (we refused) and gave us their own personal walking sticks (we accepted) to help with the rocky terrain. If you’re embarking on this difficult hike, best to do it with professionals!
- LEARNING ABOUT THE SURROUNDING AREA
After we were satisfied with our photos at the top, we all gathered for Amilkar to give us a history of the flora and fauna in the area. Being able to sit there and soak in the beauty of the area and understanding its significance really helped make the experience that much better. I also got to cuddle with the cutest pup who was there while we listened—he kept me nice and warm!
- SEEING A DIFFERENT SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
You may already know all about Rainbow Mountain, but did you know about Valle Rojo (the “Red Valley”) just around the corner? I certainly had no idea, so when our guides suggested they take us there and revealed it was only a 15-20 minute walk away, I was astonished!
The Red Valley is also a wonder to behold in its own right, boasting sweeping vistas and a vibrant shade of red. I’ve read online that some tour agencies will charge you an extra 10 soles to take you here, but thankfully this was not the case for us with Flashpackers.
- THE MOST DELICIOUS MEAL EVER
After we returned to the van from the mountain, we drove 1.5 hours to a local spot for lunch where we were prepared an AMAZING meal by our chef, Mario. It was honestly one of the most satisfying meals from our Peru trip! Not only was it delicious, but they were again mindful to have a variety of options for all food restrictions. After this hearty meal, we headed back to Cusco and made it back to our hotel around 4:30pm.
Needless to say, our trip to Rainbow Mountain was an unforgettable one.
RAINBOW MOUNTAIN TIPS
WEATHER VARIANCE: We were incredibly blessed to have a clear day (which I think also aided to how vivid the mountains were!), but nice weather is not a given here. This hike can be a miserable one, and if it’s grey and gloomy, some people will find that the mountain is not as technicolored as desired when they get to the top. Keep an open mind and go in excited, but prepared. Even though it was sunny for us, we saw snow that was melting into giant puddles by the time we headed down. Bring shoes with good traction, sunscreen, layers of warm clothes, scarves, sunglasses…all in all, be ready for anything!
IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBT, TAKE A HORSE: We debated taking the horses up 2/3 of the way, but are so glad that we did. Everyone reacts to the altitude differently, so if you’re feeling out of breath and queasy just going a few steps up, definitely take the horses. You’re still going to have to hike for the last 1/3 of the mountain, but being able to relax and take in the scenery for the first 2/3 is incredibly helpful.
CURRENCY: Make sure to have some cash (soles) on you just in case you do decide to take the horses up and also if you opt to grab photos with the alpacas or purchase some snacks from the locals.
LANGUAGES: Spanish, but many tour guides (like ours) will speak English as well.
RESPECTING THE MOUNTAIN: Because there are so many people going in now, there is concern that tourism will destroy Vinicunca. As much as possible, be a conscientious traveler—don’t walk anywhere you’re not supposed to, and don’t litter.
This review is written in partnership with FlashpackerConnect. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you so much to the FlashpackerConnect for making our trip to Rainbow Mountain an adventure to remember!