Are you wondering if Rainbow Mountain is worth it or it is overrated and doesn’t look as nice as in the pictures? In this article, I will give my honest and unbiased review of the hike to the Rainbow Mountain and show what it looks like without any filters.
Rainbow Mountain which is also known as Vinicunca or Montaña de Siete Colores, has grown in popularity in recent years and is quickly becoming the second most visited attraction in Peru after Machu Picchu. Vinicunca is a word originating from Peru’s native language Quechua, which translates to “colored mountain”.
With an altitude of 5200 m (17060 ft) above sea level Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is one of the toughest peaks to conquer. Let’s find out how challenging is this hike and if it is really worth the effort.
Location of the Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain is located 139 km (85 miles) from Cusco, which is around 2.5-3 hours’ drive from the city. It is a great day trip if you are based in the area. Most of the tours start early in the morning around 4 o’clock and they usually pick you up directly at your hotel.
The town closest to Rainbow Mountain is Checacupe, which is located about two hours from Cusco. Apart from an ancient Incan bridge, there is not much to see in this small town. That being said, if you are planning to visit Rainbow Mountain on your own without a tour, then you have to make a stop at Checacupe. Taxis to the Rainbow Mountain are much cheaper from here. You can get to Checacupe from Cusco by public transportation.
How Does Rainbow Mountain Look Like Without Filter
When you see the colorful pictures of the Rainbow Mountain in Peru they all look unreal and photoshopped. So is the Rainbow Moutain really that colorful or it is all fake? I wondered that myself but still gave it a try and climbed up to the top to find out.
In reality, when the skies are clear and the sun is shining, you will indeed see all the colors of the rainbow mountain. In real life it looks even better than in the pictures but not so saturated. The route itself to the mountain is extraordinary, accompanied by majestic mountain peaks on both sides of the route and a small beautiful lake.
All the pictures of Rainbow Mountain in this article are not photoshopped or edited in any way (only resized). So you can judge yourself how Rainbow Mountain looks without any filter.
Honestly, I was really lucky to see the Rainbow Mountain in full colors. Our tour guide told us that most of the time it is covered with snow and it also rains/snows a lot in the region. If you want to see the Rainbow Mountain in full colors you should check the weather forecast and ask your tour agency if there is still snow lying on the top.
Expectations vs Reality
During the dry season between May and October, the Rainbow Mountain gets very crowded, especially in June and July. On the way to the viewpoint, it is less visible and disturbing but once you reach the top, you will see a lot of people. You might need to wait around 20-30 minutes for your turn to take a nice picture (like the one on the postcards). It is usually a quick shoot-and-go type of thing. The good news is if you are fit, you can hike all the way up (an additional 30 minutes from the main viewpoint). There you can take nice photos with even better views.
Should You Take a Tour to Visit Rainbow Mountain?
Although the official website of Rainbow Mountain states that you are not allowed to visit it on your own without a registered tour agency, I didn’t see anybody checking it. Please keep in mind that this might change at any time.
Many bloggers write that it is possible to do the hike without a tour agency and a tour guide. In my opinion, it is not worth the risk. The extra few bucks that you will save will cost you time and effort for planning. Moreover, breakfast and a yummy buffet lunch are usually included with a tour. The tour guide also helps to mitigate the effects of altitude sickness.
Rainbow Mountain Hike Description
Starting Point: 2,5-hour drive from Cusco
Highest Point: 5200 m (17060 ft)
Total Length: 8 km (5 miles)
Duration: 4 hours
Trek Type: Out-and-back
Tour Type: Self-guided is possible but a tour guide is highly recommended
The Rainbow Mountain trek is one of the most beautiful hikes in South America. You will need to spend two or three days in Cusco to acclimatize before you head to Vinicunca. I did my hike on the 5th day in Cusco after visiting Machu Picchu and hiking the Inca Trail.
The entrance to Rainbow Mountain is 10 soles. It may or may not be included in the price of your tour (they usually write it in the tour description).
The hike starts at the parking station where all the cars and tour buses park (you can’t miss it). Here you will have an option to quickly go to a bathroom for 2 soles before starting the hike. There will be another two bathrooms along the way so always have a few coins with you.
There are two main paths leading to the top of Vinicunca Mountain. One path is for people and another one for horses (carrying lazy hikers to the top). Both paths go in parallel, the upper level is for people and the lower level is for horses.
If you get tired you can always opt for a horse ride. It will cost you around 90 soles for going up and down, and around 30 soles to go down.
The hiking trek to the Rainbow Mountain is wide and technically not difficult. It is just a nice walk with jow-dropping views. What makes this hike challenging is the altitude. After hiking for 1.5-2 hours you will arrive at the main viewpoint.
The last 30 minutes are the most challenging. Once you get there you will be rewarded with a panoramic 360-degree view and colored-arrays stretching over the mountain resembling a rainbow. Here you will have your first possibility to take great photos.
After the photo session and enjoying the views, you will have to choose between heading back to the parking lot or going all the way up to the top of Rainbow Mountain. If you opt for the letter, you will have to hike up a very steep hill for another 20-30 minutes. I highly recommend doing it. Here the views are even better and it just feels surreal. Here you will have an opportunity to take a photo with two cute and overly sweet alpacas.
Going back to the parking lot is easier than ascending and will take about 1-1.5 hours depending on your speed.
You can’t really understand how it feels like to be at an altitude over 5000 meters until you experience it yourself. Altitude sickness feels like you weigh 100 times more than you do. Each step you make feels like 1000 steps. You can’t breathe and your heart rate goes nuts.
Some things help against altitude sickness such as drinking sparkling water or soda and chewing coca leaves (or coca candies). You can also drink electrolytes and just walk slowly. You shouldn’t eat much in the evening before going to sleep. Your body can’t digest food at the normal speed and usually takes much longer.
3 Reasons to Hike Rainbow Mountain
Let’s discuss 3 main reasons why you should consider hiking the Rainbow Mountain and why it is worth it.
Reason 1: Natural wonder and breathtaking landscapes
Rainbow Mountain is a true natural wonder. It was discovered only a few years ago. Until 2013 it was permanently covered in snow making it impossible to fully witness its beauty. When the snow melted, the mountain revealed its 14 different colorful minerals that were hidden under a thick layer of snow for thousands of years.
Rainbow Mountain is one of those places where the whole journey is as breathtaking and equally rewarding as the destination itself. Llamas, horses, and alpacas are dispersed all over the range. Local communities still live almost the same life as before.
Reason 2: Very different from Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail
Unlike the famous lost Machu Picchu, there are currently no limits on how many tourists can visit Rainbow Mountain daily. You also don’t need to obtain any permit in advance. This makes hiking Rainbow Mountain more affordable (7-10 times cheaper) than the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Rainbow Mountian is located at a much higher altitude compared to Machu Pichu (almost 3000 meters difference). This makes the views, climate, and scenery totally different. That’s why Rainbow Mountain belongs to the top must-visit places in Peru and should be part of your Peru Bolivia Itinerary.
Reason 3: If you get tired you can always get a ride on a horse
You can rent a horse at any point of the hike if you begin to find the trek difficult. You do not need to have one hired from the beginning and can simply get a horse ride on the way back. Only the last few meters to the main viewpoint are not accessible by horse and you will need to hike a bit on foot. Llamas and alpacas can be seen dotted along the route to Vinicunca.
Rainbow Mountain in Peru is a true gem and breathtaking natural wonder offering a unique experience. It has a distinct vibe different from Machu Picchu, and the option to catch a ride on a horse if your legs decide they’ve had enough. If you are lucky with the weather you can see all 14 distinct colors forming the rainbow mountain.
This natural phenomenon in real life looks even more stunning than in the photos. While there can be many people visiting Rainbow Mountain during the high season, you can always escape the crowds by starting your hike a bit earlier or later than the rest. Visiting it during the shoulder months in May or September/October can be also very beneficial.
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