Hiking the Rainbow Mountain in Peru (outside Cusco) has been on my list since I saw the photos in National Geographic Magazine. I told myself that if ever I’ll be in Peru, there are two things I’d like to do/see: Visit Machu Picchu and Hike Rainbow Mountain. I conquered these two in July 2022!
For clarity, the locals call Rainbow Mountain by two names: Montaña de Siete Colores and Montaña Vinikunka.
This is definitely, the second most incredible hike I’ve ever done in my life!
Where is the Rainbow Mountain?
The Rainbow Mountain is in the Peruvian Andes, about a 3-4 hour drive outside Cusco. The mountain gets its name from its colorful stripes, which are caused by mineral deposits in the rocks. The colors are incredibly vibrant after rain and in good weather.
The Elevation and Altitude Sickness
At over 17,060 feet above sea level, the hike is not for the faint of heart. It is almost the same elevation as the base camp of Mt Everest in Nepal at 17,598 feet!
Now, is altitude sickness real? Oh yes, honey, it is super real! Even if you have a clean bill of health, there’s still a chance you’ll experience it! How to beat it? Acclimatize yourself in Cusco for a few days before deciding to hike Rainbow Mountain. Drink coca tea and take Advil. I had a bit of a headache (after the hike), but my friend suffered from severe lightheadedness.
What to bring for the Hike
Before you hike, bring enough water to drink on your way up. Avoid dehydration, especially when the sun is up. Don’t be fooled by the chilly weather forecast. Also, do not pack too much. Bring the essentials: water, a camera or cellphone, a hat, and a hiking cane/stick. Yeah, maybe a biscuit or a fruit, too! And remember not to leave your trash along the hiking route. Don’t be that tourist that everybody hates.
And, of course, wear appropriate clothes and check the weather forecast. The Andean wind can be brutal if you’re not prepared.
Join a Tour to Visit Rainbow Mountain
The best way to get there is to join a tour. It’s cheaper and safer to be with other people – just in case you have difficulty breathing. The drivers and tour guides are trained to do first aid,, and every van has an oxygen tank. If you can afford it, you can also do a small private tour for your circle of travelers.
Click the thumbnails below if you decide to go on a tour. This is what we used because they have a 24-hour cancellation policy. With COVID still around, it’s better to get your money back in a full refund.
The Hike to Rainbow Mountain / Montaña Vinicunca
There are two ways to reach the top of Rainbow Mountain/ Montaña Vinikunka. You either hike for an hour and a half or pay an additional fee to ride a horse. I did the former, and my friend did the latter. However, the horse won’t take you to the summit; it will only take you to the “base,” and you have to climb the steep part for 20-30 minutes.
Before we embarked on our hiking adventure, our guide gave us a wooden hiking pole. He told us that we could walk at our pace, but it usually takes an hour and a half, including rest stops and for taking photos.
I started the hike on my own. The landscape along the hike was so inspiring and breathtaking that I had to stop often to enjoy the views. The Andean Mountains are mighty, making me feel like a tiny wasp on earth.
On my way, I saw these two alpacas munching on grass. The one on the left was, perhaps, curious why on earth I was hiking instead of riding a horse. 😂
Thirty minutes into the hike, I began panting. I drank more water and rested more and never looked ahead and thought of how far I was to my destination. I walked, rested, admired the vista, drank water, and repeated.
The nature surrounding me seemed to be a natural cure for whatever uneasy feeling I had.
I distracted myself by looking at the indescribable panorama I won’t ever see again in my lifetime.
I was relieved when I reached the “base,” where people get off their horses. From here and onwards, this won’t be a hike anymore, and it’s the start of climbing to the summit.
This mother and child didn’t seem to worry about the high elevation. While many of us gasped for breath, this mom showed us her resilience, courage, and strength. If she could do it with a kid on her back – why not me? Later, I saw her at the summit, peddling some souvenirs to the tourists.
The climb to the apex can be done in two ways. You can either take the stairs (mainly used for going down) or take the trail while holding onto a rope. Listen to your body – it’s your choice!
I chose to trek the trail. I held on to the rope and rested every ten steps for a minute. The Rainbow mountain is right next to me, and I was almost there! On my way down, I used the stairs.
When I finally reached the lower part of the summit, my friend was waiting, but altitude sickness had already hit her. This part is where most tourists take their selfies because it’s “closer” to the multi-colored landscape. She stayed there while I continued climbing to the highest elevation, Montaña Vinikunka.
Montaña Vinikunka is the highest elevation you can reach. This is where you can see a 360-degree view of the surroundings.
The views from the top are more than worth it. In my next post, I will show you the incredible landscapes from there.
Where to Stay in Cusco
We stayed in two accommodations in Cusco and both are in different neighborhoods. So we had the best experience by getting to know the historical district and the “new” Cusco.
First, we stayed at Wild Rover Cusco, definitely the best hostel in Cusco. The rooms are clean and the bunk beds are comfy. They also have an in-house Irish bar with a great patio overlooking the city. It’s 10 minutes walk to the Plaza de Armas, the historical center of the city.
After our two-day trip to Machu Picchu, we went back to Cusco and stayed at Cosy Room Cusco. The hotel is clean and the staff members are nice. It’s a good 20 minutes walk to downtown, passing all sorts of shops, cafes, restaurants, food stalls, markets, and other sidewalk businesses.