Rainbow Mountain Cusco, Peru: Elevation and how to climb

hiking rainbow mountain peru

One of Earth’s geological wonders, Rainbow Mountain, sits 17,000 feet above sea level in the Andres of Peru. Despite its elevation, there are various trekking experiences. Each route to Rainbow Mountain presents a distinct experience, offering its own mild difficulty and charm.

Why the Rainbow Mountain in Peru is so colorful

Vinicunca, as the rainbow mountain is known locally in Peru’s Cusco region, gets its red and orange coloration from the intermixing of oxide rust.

Discovered in 2015, the rainbow mountain emerged from leftover mineral deposits from ice sheets that once filled the area. As the ice melted, the mineral deposits were exposed to the sun, causing them to oxidize and ultimately develop their vibrant colors.

How and when to hike Rainbow Mountain

The trailhead for climbing Rainbow Mountain sits in Pitumarca, Peru. Recent road developments in this area have made the path more accessible. You can now reach the start of Rainbow Mountain with just a three-hour drive south of Cusco, the ancient Incan capital.

Climbing the spectacular mountain requires endurance — it takes about 2 hours to get up and another 1 hour to get down. The trek to get there is a challenge in itself. But you can also hire a horse to take you up — you’ll still need to climb the final leg.

The dry season, from May to October, is the best time to visit the mountain. The rainy season, lasting from November to April, makes hiking difficult.

Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain in Peru

The five diverse treks to Rainbow Mountain

Venturing to Rainbow Mountain in Peru, known as Vinicunca, offers various trekking experiences. The Classic Rainbow Mountain Trek, starting near Pitumarca, is a popular day trip from Cusco. It involves a brisk 1-2 hour hike directly to the mountain’s vibrant slopes, appealing to those with limited time.

For a path less traveled, the Red Valley Route offers an extended journey through the striking red landscapes of the nearby valley. This alternative, slightly longer than the Classic Trek, provides a more secluded and diverse hiking experience.

Rainbow Mountain in Peru

The Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Trek caters to those seeking a gentler hike. Starting near the Palccoyo community, it’s a shorter and more accessible path leading to alternative views of Rainbow Mountain, ideal for visitors who prefer ease over challenge.

Adventure seekers can embark on the Ausangate Trek, a multi-day expedition from Tinki or Upis. This trek includes Rainbow Mountain and takes hikers through a panorama of Andean scenery, featuring Ausangate Mountain, glaciers, and high-altitude lagoons. The best part? Choosing to walk with some alpaca guides to get you there!

Rainbow Mountain in Peru

Since you are here, for more alternative scenic locations in Peru, check out Peru’s Waterfall of the Bride.