Hiking Rainbow Mountain in Peru: Things You Need to Know

Vinicunca mountain or rainbow mountain

Ah, Peru, the land of the Incas and the unusual rainbow mountain. A wonderful country with unbelievably beautiful places. Land of the impressive Andes mountains, the unique Inca culture, the gigantic Amazon, the varied food, and the friendly people.

No wonder Peru is a popular destination in South America for so many people. Because in addition to the beautiful nature and the unique culture, you can also do a lot of activities. You can enjoy sandboarding, surfing, walking or climbing the mountains, etc. There is something for everyone to see or do. Whether going for a short or a long trip, it is undoubtedly a journey in your life that you can’t easily forget.

However, when you think of Peru, you immediately think of Machu Picchu, but there’s much more than that. The world’s wonder Machu Picchu and the remarkable Inca ruins in the sky are truly astonishing. Words fail to describe this place, making it even more important for everyone.

But not everyone is familiar with rainbow mountain.

This unique natural phenomenon Vinicunca also called the rainbow mountain, has seven colors or Montaña de Siete Colores in Peruvian. Located southeast of Cusco, deep in the Andes mountain – the elements in the ground, such as copper and iron, give the mountains these striking colors. Rainbow mountain has become one of the biggest tourist attractions in Peru.

Have you probably seen these before?
Months before my trip, I was fascinated by the pictures on Instagram, and it’s a shame to omit you can find them only in Peru.
So when you see the images of the colorful mountains, you want to see them for yourself. And every step you made was so rewarding.

The mesmerizing rainbow mountain of Peru

Hiking to Rainbow Mountain

Prepare for an early pick-up at 4:00 in the morning. Yeah, it’s going to be a short night. I hadn’t slept well because I was nervous about the hiking and the altitude.
So I wasn’t in top condition even on the bus couldn’t sleep.
It was dark while on our way, and I could feel like we were driving to the summit as I was breathless. I’m spooking, and we haven’t arrived yet. I have never been to these heights in my life. So it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The trip takes 3 to 4 hours from Cusco. If you go with the groups, they’ll take you first to a local restaurant to have breakfast. And after that, a short drive to Vilcanota, a small village where you start hiking.

Drink a lot of tea leaves the day before and try an early bedtime. Also, prepare your backpack the night before.

The day you depart, dress in layers. You can easily take off or put on something if necessary. The weather in the mountain can change completely within a minute.

Essential Things You Must Have in Your Small Backpack

  • Jacket – I wear a lightweight wind and waterproof jacket that can fold compactly.

  •  Comfortable or sturdy walking shoes – I wear my running shoe. I didn’t take my hiking shoe as they took up space in my small suitcase. But underneath, I wear an alpaca sock I bought from the market.

  • Gloves can be helpful in the mountain, especially in the morning.

  • Hat – it’s cold and windy in the mountain and keeps your ears warm.

  • Sunglass – The sun during the day is so intense protects your eyes from the sunbeam.

  • Money in Peruvian soles – if you want to hire a horse, these are only payable in cash.

  • Water – you need to drink during the hike to avoid headaches.

  • Snacks – you burn a lot of energy while hiking; thus, therefore handy to have something to grab. 

  • Toilet paper – you will be grateful to see this list; tissue toilets in some public restrooms are hard to find.

  • Lip balm – the combination of the cold wind and sun in the mountain dries your lips very quickly.

Hiking Vinicunca mountain

The Altitude in Rainbow Mountain

Don’t underestimate the height. The Vinicunca (rainbow mountain) has a peak of 5035 meters. The hike starts from a small village in Vilcanota at 4326 meters altitude.

If you arrive at the parking, there’s a bathroom, and it is necessary to go before you start walking because, on the way up, it won’t be easy to find a toilet.

A round-trip hike to the summit takes about 4 hours from where the buses park. The first three kilometers are flat; and relatively easy, but the altitude makes the walk slow.

Hire a Horse in the Mountain

Ah, the horses, what a relief for those doesn’t want to walk. People, when saw a horse, they go up on it.
The horses are waiting near the parking. But they don’t go to the summit. It will take you to the bottom of Vinicunca, and you still have to climb the last part of the mountain.

The price for a horse costs 60 soles, but if you walk for 20 minutes further, you get a ride for 50 soles, even less if you haggle.

So to see how great the business is for the horses in the mountain.
By looking at those older men and women pulling the horses with tourists, I feel for them. The way they do try to go fast and drop off those people and then return, as some tourists are waiting for horses.

Rainbow Mountain the Most Strenuous Climb Ever!

The last 2 kilometers were the most challenging part. I could go slower at a time and stop, then continue, but I wasn’t the only one. A lot of people are struggling to reach the top.

Some group members didn’t go through the last part as they got headaches. But I was pretty determined and slowly made my way to the summit. Once you make it there, you don’t want to go down anymore.

But you can’t stay longer than 10 minutes at the top because you will get a headache. So after taking a picture, go back down. That’s also the advice we got from the guide.

I’ve seen some people with difficulty who can’t walk anymore and just fell to the ground. Young children fell asleep while sitting up there. Luckily, there were a bunch of guides who could help.

How To Get to Rainbow Mountain

You must get to Cusco and arrange a trip from there. Some people do it individually by arranging transport with a guide and leave early as possible to avoid the crowds.

It is an excellent idea to do it yourself.
The crowd arrives around 8 and 9 in the morning, and if you get there early, you have the rainbow mountain for yourself.

Arriving later is a catastrophe—unbelievable how busy this place is. You must have a lot of patience if you’re going to have a good shot here because you will go in lines for the picture taking.

For fewer hassles, book a one-day trip. It’s a long and tiring day, but an unforgettable one.
Don’t book online because it is insanely expensive. I met a Saudi Arabian guy and paid 50 USD by booking online.

More info: Don’t rush to book. Visit different travel offices in Cusco and compare the price. 

I booked with Sumac Coca Travel and paid 95 soles (€24). All included: Park entry, transport, guide, buffet breakfast, and lunch. And while I heard from the others in the group, they pay more than I do. 

Read more→→ How safe is Peru for a solo traveler: things to know.

Moreover, if you just arrived in Cusco and want to visit the mountain the next day, you must forget it. You can book the tour, but your trip will be in three days. I was already at the altitude for six days from Arequipa, Colca Canyon, and Puno.
Travel agencies in Cusco don’t sell tours to the mountain quickly to people who haven’t yet adjusted the altitude. Thus, it’s necessary to acclimatize before going on the hike.

Where To Stay in Cusco?

When booking my accommodations in Cusco, I also doubted which areas to stay in, and some say the San Blas because it is quieter but hilly.

I’m not in the mood to ascend every day, so I choose the Wanchaq district, which is a short walk to the main square. And if you’re traveling by bus, this was ten minutes with a taxi from Cusco bus station. A taxi cost should not be more than ten soles.

However, when it comes to hotels, there are many places to stay in Cusco, from cheap hostels to reasonably priced hotels, and thanks to BOOKING.COM for the extensive list. I stayed in two different locations, and they were agreeably cheap.

The first hotel was Casa Real Hoteles – the shops and restaurants are outside, an excellent location just ten minutes from Plaza de Armas (main square).

Beautiful spacious room and has pretty good wifi reception. A delicious breakfast serves on the rooftop, where you have views of Cusco. The disadvantage of Casa Real Hoteles is that there’s no elevator.

Despite all that, I was satisfied with the place. The staff was so friendly, and I highly recommend this hotel in Cusco if you are looking for a cheaper stay.

The second place I stayed in was Secret Garden, a backpackers hostel, but they had a room with a private bathroom. These were a short walk to San Pedro Market and the main square. Unfortunately, the room didn’t meet my needs, but I only stayed for one night as I had a flight to Lima the next day. Their private room is very cheap with good wifi. 

How to Get to Cusco?

Sooner or later, you will go to Cusco for Machu Picchu. There are two ways to get to Cusco, whether flying or by bus.

I went by bus to Cusco from Lima but stopped along the way to acclimate. I stayed a couple of days in Arequipa and Puno. So I was prepared for the heights and still nervous about the hikes.

If your time is limited, going by plane is the fastest way. However, the bus is an alternative if you choose a more adventurous trip. Also, it helps you adapt to the high altitude during the trip because it is a long journey.

And traveling by bus in Peru is not expensive; if you search the price online, there are dozens of companies to choose from, easy to book, and no need to go to the station for the ticket. However, there are also a lot of websites out there it isn’t easy to choose the right one. So I book my ticket online with 2GO– their competitive price is hard to resist. And if you travel by bus, pay a little more for the comfort.

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