Rainbow Mountain is Peru’s newest tourist attraction, with its multicolored facade quickly finding its way to nearly everybody’s Instagram page.
Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicuna to give its original name, is located at 5,200m above sea level. Just 3 hours from Cusco, this colorful mountain was only recently discovered due to the effects of climate change. The snow that previously covered the mountain melted, leaving behind the rainbow-like appearance on the mountain. Due to this fact it is always best to check the weather before making a trip to Rainbow Mountain as it can quickly become covered by snow overnight, or during bad periods of weather.
This blog discusses the day trip we took from Cusco to visit Rainbow Mountain. We also visited the Red Valley, which was a highlight, and we can 100% recommend to anyone to add this to their trip.
Booking the Tour
Similar to every other tourist attraction in Cusco you can book a tour to Rainbow Mountain absolutely anywhere! We wanted to ensure that we would visit the Red Valley as well as Rainbow Mountain but not every tour agency includes this. We went with Peru Majestic Travel who charged 110 soles (~30 euro) per person. This fee included the entrance to both Rainbow Mountain and the Red Valley, as well as breakfast and lunch.
We actually booked the tour last minute. We had just completed the grueling Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and I had a sore knee and in general, was just tired of hiking! We finished the trek on a Saturday (arriving back at 9 pm) and had Sunday as a “rest day”. We debated the pros and cons of going to Rainbow Mountain (pro’s – it’s beautiful; con’s – it’s touristy, has a reputation of being a hard hike and we would have a 3 am start time) for the entire day without making a decision. Finally, at 8 pm Aoife took the lead and WhatsApped Peru Majestic Travel. They had space and could come and collect the money from our hostel. I still hadn’t committed to doing it until Aoife was running out the door to meet them!
Rainbow Mountain Tour
So having spent our rest day washing our hiking gear we had to put them back on again at 3 am and get ready for another hike. We were the first to be collected and we weaved through Cusco collecting the rest of our group before leaving the city. We actually got lucky as the next day there were protests that stopped any Rainbow Mountain tours from happening at all!
After about 3 hours of driving, we stopped in a small village for our breakfast. It was actually at a local family’s house, where we had the chance to buy some gear for the cold if we needed to do. The breakfast was delicious and plentiful and it just felt really rewarding that our money would be going to a local family.
About an hour after this we made our way to the entrance to Rainbow Mountain. It was here that we started to see how touristy this excursion would be – there was a lot of other groups, and we were one of the first! After collecting some hiking poles and getting a debrief of the trek we began. The guides also said that if we wanted we could rent some horses (extra $$) to bring us up. To our surprise, an Austrian couple who were in their early 30’s and looked fit as fiddles took the guide up on his offer!
We started the hike at 4480m and it is a 5km hike until reaching the viewpoint at 5,200m. The hike itself is fairly uneventful. It is a lot tougher due to the increased altitude but after being in Cusco for 2 weeks and completing the Salkantay we were okay with the altitude. You can just observe other people struggling and getting horses up to the top. If you aren’t fit enough to do a 5km hike then maybe don’t.
As we got closer to the viewpoint a rolling cloud came in and covered the whole “Rainbow Mountain”. We were disappointed until we noticed it was clearing and we began to run up the last 200m or so of elevation to see the mountain in all its glory. It wasn’t too busy when we got there and we could take some pictures. We just moved a bit to the right and had nobody in them; perhaps that is a tip if you would like a good photo!
As we were on top a snow blizzard came in, totally obstructed our view of the mountain and covered us in snow, before clearing again. If nothing else it gave us some good photo opportunities! In general, the whole time we were there it was cloudy so the mountain doesn’t look as colourful as we expected. Either that or everyone on Instagram uses Photoshop. Maybe it’s a bit of both!
We descended from the viewpoint and bought some coca tea from a local man selling it. We waited for the rest of our group before starting the next part of the trip; Red Valley. Strangely some people in our group weren’t doing Red Valley and were just going to go back to the van and wait for us. Little did the know how long they would have to wait. We waited for the Austrian couple who were flying their drone before starting the part of the trip we were looking forward to the most – The Red Valley.
The Red Valley
On the way to the Red Valley, we walked past countless people with llamas and alpacas who were offering pictures. We spotted a young guy called ‘Ronaldo’ and spoke to him for a bit. He was off school for the summer and was trying to make some extra money by posing with his llama for tips. I took a photo with him and his eyes lit up when I gave him the equivalent of 2 euro for the picture. The poverty and hardship we saw in this part of Peru were some of the worst we saw on our whole trip.
We began the trail through the Red Valley and it quickly became clear that on this day it should be called the White Valley. The snowstorm that engulfed us when we were looking at Rainbow Mountain (and the unpredictable weather in the area in general) meant that there was more snow in the valley than usual. I think it’s fair to say that we could still see the amazing beauty of the area, however!
The walk is pretty much all downhill and as such is much easier than the hike to Rainbow Mountain. Our Austrian companions didn’t agree however and they really made this hike a chore. They were aggressive and rude and made our guide hike with them because they were taking twice as long to walk as the rest of the group. If you aren’t fit enough for a downhill hike – please don’t sign up for one!!
The hike was amazing and we went through some of the most amazing landscapes in South America along the way. We stopped for a short break at a young family’s house and we got to play football with the kids. Again we saw some poverty but they welcome they had for us was unbelievable and it is nice to see that we could give something back to the family by buying snacks.
After about 2.5 hours and 7 kilometers we had completed the hike through the Red Valley and our tour bus met us on the other side. The Austrians were so far behind us that we got dropped off at the place for lunch (same place as breakfast in the morning), ate lunch and played with the kids in the house before they arrived.
We started the journey back to Cusco arriving back after 8 pm. It should have been 6.30pm but we were delayed throughout the whole day as mentioned above. I have to saw that the tour guide handled the whole situation very well and that we definitely recommend Peru Majestic Travel for this day trip.
- Ensure that Red Valley is included in your Rainbow Mountain excursion. It actually made the whole day for us!
- Be realistic about the weather, if it’s cloudy the colours of the mountain won’t be as striking as what you have seen on the internet.
- Make sure that you are correctly adapted to the altitude – it’s not an easy hike if you aren’t.
- Try not to use a horse to get up to Rainbow Mountain – it isn’t fair on them!
- It was basically just our tour group that went back via Red Valley – we saw no other people. This is in complete contrast to Rainbow Mountain and we have no idea why! Just another reason to book it!