Nature Travel

Hiking Rainbow Mountain in Peru

17,000 feet above sea level in the Andres of Peru lies one of Earth’s geological wonders, Rainbow Mountain.

Vinicunca, the rainbow mountain in Peru’s Cusco region, gets its coloration from the intermixing of oxide rust — which causes the red color — and iron sulfide — which produces the orange and yellow hues.

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

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.

The best time to visit the mountain is the dry season, from May to October. The rainy season, lasting from November to April, can make it difficult to hike.

The Rainbow Mountain is a stunning geological phenomenon and one of the most spectacular sites to see in the Andes.

Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Rainbow Mountain in Peru

The other side of the rainbow

Have you ever wondered what’s on the other side of the rainbow?

These two videos reveal a stunning full rainbow in their entirety, one from many stories up and the other from the beach.

Rainbows — they are a full circle of light but we typically see the arc because most people view them from ground level.

Take another 360 degrees look of this spectrum of beauty from the sky above.

360 degrees of rainbow full arc
Photo via Scott Hefti/tw

Yet, even cooler may be seeing a rainbow at night, what’s deemed a “moonbow.” This image was taken by photographer Fred Wilder, who writes:

In the spring around the nights of the full moon when the snow is melting in the mountains, it is possible to see rainbows at night in the mist of waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. These lunar rainbows, to the camera, look like the ones produced by sunlight during the days that are visible to our eyes.

This image was taken during the June full moon at lower Yosemite Falls. It is a combination of 25 x 30-second images to provide the equivalent of 12 1/2 minutes of exposure to show the stars circling the north pole. The camera lens needed to be wiped dry between shots due to the large amount of mist at the base of the waterfall, so the star trails wiggle a little as this moved the camera a bit … I find it really cool that the light of the full moon can produce this rich color at night.

Fred Wilder
Rainbow in Yosemite National Park at night
Photo by Fred Wilder

Rainbows can also display as clouds, almost always above a large body of water.

Rainbows, they brighten up the day. Now we just need to find out which side contains the pot of gold.