Rainbow Mountain (Cusco, Peru)

Rainbow Mountains of Peru

In the Ausangate mountain region of the Peruvian Andes just a few hours outside of Cusco, Peru are mountains so uncommonly colored that they have become internationally known as Rainbow Mountain (not to be confused with The Rainbow Mountains of the Gansu province in China).  Technically the mountains are called Vinicunca, but that’s a bit boring when compared to the majesty of “Rainbow Mountain”.  Ranging in color from deep reds and oranges to rich purples and the brightest turquoise possible, the colors are the result of unique elemental components of the soil and the natural erosion and weathering of the environment.

Rainbow Mountain used to be difficult to view because it required long hikes at high altitudes, but with the boom of Eco-tourism and the increasing number of travelers looking for the wonders of the natural environment, there is now a road leading to the trail head.  The isolation of the mountains is part of the charm and being that close to the middle of nowhere gives the sensation of being on another planet.

Before the roads were built, the hike to Rainbow Mountain took a few days and was really only for those willing to suffer a great deal (altitude sickness is real).  With a road now taking visitors to the base of the mountains in a mere three hours, the trek to the summit is now only a couple hours worth of hiking (longer if you are out of shape, and longer still if you live anywhere at, or near sea level).

Like the Inca Trail, the Ausangate trek is popular with tourists in Peru, and with the thermal springs, vendors, little local villages, and incredible views is becoming more popular with each passing day.

Travel Tips

  • There are no rides to the top of the mountains and no matter what your travel agency tells you, there will be difficult hiking.
  • Take hiking gear and prepare for changing weather conditions.  Many people do not think it’s going to be as cold as it may be and do not dress appropriately.
  • There are lots of people and some of them will be crying.  The tough hiking conditions and often cold weather will literally make people break down crying.
  • Many of the photos seen in brochures are photoshopped.
  • The thousands of visitors are placing stress on the environment and Rainbow Mountain is being damaged by the increased tourism.
  • If you are really into seeing the mountain don’t be afraid to take the trip, but be prepared for it not to be as impressive as you think it’s going to be.
  • If the weather is good, the mountain really can be quite beautiful.