Known by Peruvian locals as Vinicunca or Winikunka, Rainbow Mountain shows a spectacular range of colorful minerals. Hikers enjoy the path to la Montaña de Siete Colores or Mountain of Seven Colors as much as the summit since they get to see traditional shepherding communities and herds of alpaca and llama along the way. Sacred, snow-covered Ausangate Mountain looms on the horizon in the background as visitors make their way up the slopes of its smaller neighbor.
Cusco: Gateway to Machu Pichu and Rainbow Mountain
Cusco is most famous for its proximity to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, but it's also the easiest way to get to Vinicunca. The gold, green, red, and turquoise natural wonder is located about three hours from the city. Most tours to the mountain operate from Cusco. Anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu can schedule an extra day or two and include this experience in their itinerary.
Rainbow Mountain's Surprise Appearance
Global warming has surprised humanity in many ways. For the villagers around the Ausangate Mountain Range, it meant discovering a mineral rainbow when the snowcap on Vinicunca melted completely in 2015. According to Vinicunca's website, people from the area began making the trek to see its hues. Quickly, the mountain became a popular destination for local and international tourism. Now, hundreds of people may climb the peak in a single day.
What The Day Tour to Rainbow Mountain is Like
There are several options for travelers who want to see the impressive peak. The most adventurous take a multiple-day hike through the mountain range. This path takes them past unforgettable views of crystalline lakes, traditional villages, wildlife, and more. Fewer hardcore tourists prefer to take a single-day tour with guides from Cusco.
The best tours depart early. Anna Karsten explains in her blog, Anna Everywhere, that the company she hired came by her hotel at 2:30 AM to pick her up. Three hours later, when she arrived at the trailhead, locals greeted her tour group with a hot breakfast. They needed it before beginning the climb.
The early start was worth it, though, since it meant that Karsten could enjoy the sights and the path in relative peace. Later in the day, the trek can get overcrowded. At peak season, in August, more than 1000 people walk up the path to the colorful summit.
Karsten explained that people made the journey at their own pace since multiple guides walked back and forth, checking on everyone in the group. Anyone who tired during the hike could rent a horse at any point. Guides with trained trail horses walk along the entire length of the track. Karsten rented one for just the last stretch.
When hikers reached the end of the trail, minibusses shuttled them back to Cusco. The busses have several departure times to ensure that people who completed the trek more quickly didn't have to wait as long. Most people made it back to the city by 7 PM.
Keeping Safe On Rainbow Mountain
The hike up Vinicunca may be beautiful, but travelers will have a much better experience if they take precautions. It's crucial to remember that this is a hike. The path has steep stretches and places with loose gravel. Tour companies recommend that hikers be between older than ten and younger than 60 years old. Like most hikes, this tour is not for people with limited mobility.
Rainbow mountain has an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level. That means that people may suffer from altitude sickness if their body hasn't become acclimated to the height. The best way to prevent this traveling progressively from Lima to Cusco by bus. Then, visitors should take at least a day in Cusco so that they can adapt. Drinking plenty of water is vital to staying healthy.
The signs of altitude sickness include feeling nauseous, headaches, and shortness of breath. Some people experience it more severely than others. Even extremely fit, healthy hikers have had trouble reaching Rainbow Mountain's crown because they experienced this illness. It can happen to anyone. Locals recommend chewing widely available coca leaves to reduce the symptoms. Tourists can purchase them anywhere in Cusco.
Weather on the mountain changes from moment to moment. In one afternoon, visitors may boil under the stark sun, find themselves in a rainstorm, and see flurries of snow. By purchasing the tour shortly before taking it--one or two days anticipation--hikers can check the forecast and pick a sunny day with good visibility. Peru's summer, from December to March, is its rainy season. It's best to avoid Rainbow Mountain in these months. June through August is the best time to visit.
Finally, when picking a company, it's fundamental to select a reputable one. That means asking about guides' credentials and preparation. They should be bilingual and know first aid. Additionally, guides need to carry oxygen tanks to help anyone who suffers from elevation sickness. Some tour companies may be cheaper, but if they don't meet these requirements, they are not trustworthy.
Tourists can choose to arrange their own transportation to the trail to Vinicunca. They can pay the entrance fee at the trailhead and make the trek solo. This is only recommendable for people who are familiar with Peru, speak Spanish and have hiking experience.
Being Respectful To Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain is a glorious sight. Tourists from around the world are anxious to see it. Companies like the BBC and National Geographic have named it one of the best destinations in the world. This has come at a price. Tourism has had an impact on the previously virgin landscape. Sometimes visitors leave trash behind or stray from the path, sullying the area for future guests. Part of enjoying the trek to Rainbow Mountain should be taking care of it. That way, future generations will be able to take the same hike up to its rainbow summit.