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Secret Wonders: Presenting Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Think South America has no more secret wonders up its sleeve? Think again! Let us introduce you to Rainbow Mountain in Peru, one of the most spectacular visual feasts in the continent.

Everyone dreams of wanderings off the beaten tourist path, of discovering hidden gems in a region of the world which has been explored at length. When travelling to Peru, you may well wonder if such a place still exists. In Latin America’s most popular travel destinations…can a new secret wonder still be discovered?

Cerro Colorado, also known as Rainbow Mountains, near to Cusco, Peru
Cerro Colorado, also known as Rainbow Mountains, near to Cusco, Peru. Photo credit: shutterstock

Rainbow Mountain is one of the most beautiful, and beautifully hidden, treasures of Peru. The earthly rainbow of vibrant colours is an indescribable visual feast, and the fact that it is also one of the least-known wonders of South America certainly adds to the appeal for discerning explorers. Only a handful of visitors to Peru manage to include a phenomenal trek to Cerro Colorado, or Rainbow Mountain, every year. Yes…the fact that one hikes multiple days to cast one’s eyes on this splendour of Mother Nature is arguably one of the most enticing aspects of all.

If you want to experience this beautiful Secret Wonder, you’re gonna have to work for it.

Amazing Rainbow Mountain.
Amazing Rainbow Mountain. Photo credit: shutterstock
Llamas on the Ausangate Trek
Llamas on the Ausangate Trek. Photo credit: shutterstock

Rainbow Mountain Highlights

Walking on a trail up to the Rainbow Mountains.
Walking on a trail up to the Rainbow Mountains. Photo credit: shutterstock

At first sight, you may imagine that pics of Rainbow Mountain Peru are Photoshopped but we can assure you that the REAL picture is just as vibrantly colourful. Like something straight out of a colour-me-in picture book, the candy-striped mountains of Vinicunca are a truly magical sight. The mineral sediments of millions of years of evolution have created this most glorious effect, which is visible on many peaks and in different colour combinations. Rainbow Mountain is actually only one in a wondrous collection of beautifully hued peaks hidden in the heart of the Peruvian Andes.

The Picasso peak appears as the icing on an amazing cake, one which takes days to prepare. Indeed, the highlights of a visit to Rainbow Mountain come long before you even reach it. Strikingly remote Andean communities, sublimely therapeutic hot springs, endless herds of llamas and alpacas and spectacular views over glaciers, verdant valleys and striking peaks are just some of the unforgettable sights you’ll experience before you reach Rainbow Mountain.

Rainbow Mountain range.
Rainbow Mountain range. Photo credit: shutterstock

Best Way to Visit Rainbow Mountain

Peruvian ladies walking at the Rainbow Mountains.
Peruvian ladies walking at the Rainbow Mountains. Photo credit: wikipedia

The preferred and most classic way of visiting Peru’s Rainbow Mountain is on a multi-day trek along a trail which circumnavigates vertiginous Ausangate, a 6,372m mountain which plays an important role in ancient Inca mythology. The Ausangate Trek is one of the highest altitude hikes in all of Peru and joins Huayhuash in being one of the most rewarding yet least-known Peruvian attractions of all.

To the locals, this peak is immensely sacred and the ancient shepherding communities who live here – and who would never dream of leaving – make up some of the last remaining high-altitude herders in the world.

It’s amazing to discover that this is one of Peru’s remotest and least-visited regions, although it’s found only a hundred or so km from Cusco, as the crow flies. Information on the hike, the region and even the trail are notoriously pesky to come by, hence the recommendation of a fully-guided tour. Local herdsmen (and their priceless horses) can accompany you along the way, sharing their lives and knowledge for the whole duration of the trek. They also share their delicious traditional cooking, which for many of our clients ends up being one of the best highlights. On an organised tour, you’ll also be privy to oxygen tanks, first aid kits and knowledgeable expert mountain guides.

How Long Should You Spend in Rainbow Mountain

Amazing photograph of the mountain range.
Amazing photograph of the mountain range.

An Andean trek to Rainbow Mountain typically takes 6 days to complete but it’s essential you have acclimatised to the altitude already. Even then, you’ll still be gasping for air as the hike tends to hover at a pretty constant altitude of about 4,200m. This is why doing a multi-day trek is so ideal: it grants you the luxury of hiking at a modest pace so you can enjoy the stellar views without too much physical hardship. Include at least 4 days in Cusco to get your body used to living with less oxygen, perhaps including a visit to Machu Picchu by train while you’re there. All up, we’d say a 10-day sojourn in the area to be an optimal time to visit Rainbow Mountain. This will also give you days to explore Cusco’s historic centre.

Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Photo credit: shutterstock

Best Time of Year to Visit Rainbow Mountain

Picturesque view of high altitude south american Andes in Peru.
Picturesque view of high altitude south american Andes in Peru. Photo credit: shutterstock

Much like a hike to Machu Picchu, the Ausangate Trek and a visit to Rainbow Mountain is best tackled during the northern summer, between May and September. It is at this time that days are at their driest and warmest, although you should expect below-0 temps at night nonetheless. Daytime visibility is best during the dry months and you can expect breathtaking views to be your most constant companions. Give the relative anonymity (and challenge) of this trek, you’ll find it blissfully deserted even at the peak of Peru’s tourist season, in the months of June, July and August.

Top Tips For Hiking to Rainbow Mountain

Hiking up to Rainbow Mountain is not for the faint of heart and should only be attempted by those with above-average fitness levels. To be honest, the hike would be challenging at the best of times, and that’s without adding high altitude challenges to the mix. The trail is treacherous and having copious time is absolutely essential. While there are visitors who attempt to head up on just a single day-trip from Cusco, we wouldn’t recommend this, for several reasons. First of all, you’d be pushing your body to the limits and detracting from the experience. Secondly, you’d be reaching the summit at the same time as everyone else doing it on a day-trip, and thirdly, the whole Andean hiking experience, where you immerse yourself in pristine nature for days on end, would be totally absent. Do yourself a colossal favour and mark this as a multi-day visit. Hike slowly and you’ll enjoy much more. Above everything else, give Peru’s Rainbow Mountain the time and dedication it truly deserves.

A couple of extra tips to keep in mind:

– Make sure you are acclimatised to Cusco’s altitude before you set off on your hike. This is by far the best insurance of a smooth and enjoyable trip 
– Always be prepared for sudden climate changes. At this height, days can be blistering hot and nights freezing 
– We can organise horseback rides from local villagers, so don’t be shy if you want to include a longer piggy-back along the way 
– The packing list for a visit to Rainbow Mountain is identical to one for the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, and we’ll be more than happy to advise you on what best to pack

Here at Chimu Adventures, we organize adventure trips to the remotest corners of South America, including an unforgettable Rainbow Mountain trek starting from Cusco. Let us know just how much you’d love to include in your tour of Peru and we’ll do our best to create an itinerary which takes your time, fitness level and interests into account. We can plan your dream Peru trip, so all you have to do is show up and enjoy!

Written By chimu