If you love outdoor activities as much as we do, then you’ll surely be glad to know there is a magical place waiting for you right at the heart of the Vilcanota mountain range. The Vinicunca mountain, also known as the Rainbow Mountain of Peru is the most sought after day trek near the Imperial City of Cusco.
This colorful mount originated millions of years ago and even though it has been there all along, it wasn’t until 2015 that it was discovered by locals and put on the tourist market in the beginning of 2016.
The Rainbow Mountain was hidden in plain sight since it was another snow-capped peak of the Andean region. However, due to climate change the thick layers of ice and snow that once covered it, melted away unveiling its true colors to the world.
The imposing colored mountain sits on an elevation of 5,200 meters above sea level and it’s surrounded by the mighty Apu of the Andes, the Ausangate Mountain, as well as the Red Valley and an impressive natural scenery.
It is worth mentioning that even though the trail may seem partially flat and easy, the altitude is a factor that can’t be ignored. Therefore, if you’re planning to do this trek, make sure to be properly acclimatized before venturing out to this otherworldly location.
On this blog, we’ll tell you everything about the trail to the Rainbow Mountain, includings some tips to get used to the altitude, what to bring and other recommendations so you can experience this awe-inspiring landscape at its fullest.
Trail to Rainbow Mountain: Step by Step
For those looking to trek all the way up this undeniably beautiful peak, most tours start from the city of Cusco. Each company has a set departure time, though it is best to arrive as early as possible since this natural wonder receives over 1,500 travelers per day.
Luckily for you, our Rainbow Mountain Trek starts early in the morning, between 04:00 and 04:30 a.m. so you can have time to have breakfast, climb up the mountain and take some awesome pictures without it being unbearably crowded.
The trek up the mountain takes up to 2.5 hours depending on your physical condition and pace, however, that’s plenty of time to complete the trail since it’s only 3 km long. But, what makes it really difficult is the altitude since you’ll be ascending from 4,800 m.a.s.l. until the very peak of Vinicunca.
Therefore, we highly recommend taking the walk slowly and calmly so you can appreciate the breath-taking scenery of the Andes as you make your way to the mountain’s summit.
If you feeling adventurous, and most importantly, you have what it takes to finish the trail, here’s what you should expect:
04:00h – 04:30h | Pick up at the hotel
As we mentioned above, we’ll pick you up early in the morning. Keep in mind that you should be well rested and under any circumstances do not drink alcohol the day before the trek, otherwise you could end up feeling sick without even having started the trek.
We encourage you to be prepared for the cold in layers of clothes, even though the trek will take you over 5,000 meters of elevation, the sun and physical activity will get you all warmed up so you might want to think twice if you were planning to dress up as if you were visiting the south pole.
Likewise, it is highly recommended to drink plenty of water throughout the trek since the higher you go, the more prone you’ll be to the effects of altitude sickness. Having that in mind, you’ll be set and ready to start your adventure to the Rainbow Mountain.
05:30h – 06:30h | Breakfast stop
We’ll make a stop on the way to the starting point, so you can have some delicious Andean breakfast and a cup of tea to get you all warmed up for this adventure.
We have included a buffet restaurant in the itinerary, where you’ll find a variety of food to delight your palate. Remember to have a light but high-calorie diet, the altitude increases our need for fuel and it’s best to listen to our body rather than ignore it.
Once you’ve recharged your energy, it’s time to head right to the starting point of the trek, which is called Phullawasipata. From here we’ll have sweeping views of the nearby mountains and the Ausangate snow-capped peak looming from the distance.
07:00h – 09:30h | Trek to Rainbow Mountain
Before starting our adventure, the guides will give you recommendations on how to do the trek. Remember that we have all the necessary equipment to help you with any eventuality or emergency.
It is wise to take the trail slowly and communicate in case you’re starting to feel dizzy, extremely tired or having a mild headache, these symptoms could be related to altitude sickness.
The way up to the mountain is relatively flat, but it becomes challenging as you ascend on altitude, especially during the last bit of the trek since this part is really steep and well.. over 5,000 meters above sea level.
For that reason, it is advisable to keep a considerable pace instead of rushing your way to its summit. Besides, the surroundings are as impressive as you can imagine, with towering snow-capped mountains looming in the distance, strangely colored hills and hoards of llamas and alpacas walking around freely.
We’ll give you 2.5 hours to finish the trek, so you can experience everything calmly. Once we get to the top, you’ll have sweeping views of the Rainbow Mountain and the surrounding otherworldly scenery.
09:30h – 10:15h | Free time on the mountain
As this is a high-altitude place, it is advisable to not stay longer than 45 minutes, which is why you’ll have some free time once you get to the top so you can take some pictures and enjoy the landscape.
Some locals come here with their traditional dresses and llamas, make sure to take a picture with them while you’re there. Keep in mind that a tip is always welcome!
From this natural viewpoint, you’ll be able to see the great Nevado Ausangate, right in front of the Vinicunca mountain. Also, you’ll spot a small path that leads to the beautiful Red Valley, a red-colored esplanade that extends as far as the eye can see.
10:30h – 12:30h | Return to the buses
As you head back to the buses, you’ll realise how all that hard work has been paid off! Now it’s just time to say goodbye to this natural beauty as we make our way down to the parking lot.
Luckily, the return will be a lot easier than climbing up. Once everyone’s back on the transport, we’ll go to a buffet restaurant where you’ll get to experience the best of our gastronomy.
13:00h – 14:30h | Buffet Lunch
On the way down you’ll be captivated by the beautiful landscape of the region before we get to the buffet restaurant to have a well-deserved lunch and rest.
14:30h – 17:00h | Return to Cusco
Finishing our lunch break, we’ll head back to Cusco so you can continue exploring the beauty of the city or go to bed before you start your next adventure through the Andes.
As we said earlier, our team is highly capacitated to assist you in case of any inconvenience. In case you’re feeling any altitude sickness symptoms, make sure to talk to any of our guides so they can assist you right away.
If you want to visit the Red Valley, make sure to let your travel agent know upon booking. The day before the trek, our team will give you a briefing about the activity ahead. You’ll also be provided with a walking stick and an identification vest for the trip.
Altitude Sickness: How to Prevent and Deal With It
If you’re planning a trip to Peru, you surely have heard of the so-called “Soroche,” a condition that affects most tourists and residents that travel to places that surpass the 2,500 meters of elevation.
Therefore, some travelers may experience dizziness, tiredness, shortness of breath and headaches upon arrival to these high-altitude places, those are the most common symptoms of altitude sickness.
We’d like to highlight that this condition may affect anyone, including those who have lived over 1,000 meters above sea level. For that reason, we highly recommend taking things slowly on your first 2-3 days in Cusco before committing to a physically demanding activity.
Luckily for you, we have gathered some tips that will help you prevent and deal with altitude sickness:
1. Keep yourself hydrated
The water will be your best ally to fight and prevent this condition, so make sure to drink enough liquid throughout your stay. Higher altitudes are associated with dehydration as a result of dryer air and more rapid breathing, causing a greater loss of bodily fluids.
2. Avoid alcohol and smoking at all costs
Yes, we know this is hard and even worse if you’re on vacation but trust us, it’s best to wait at least 48 hours before drinking alcohol or smoking. These could worsen dehydration and shortness of breath if ingested on your first days in Cusco.
3. Drink Coca tea or chew Coca leaves
The Coca plant is a medicinal herb used since pre-Columbian times. It is known for helping to ease any altitude sickness symptoms and improving acclimatization. You can either drink tea or just chew on the leaves.
4. Eat a light but high-calorie diet
Higher altitudes increase our need for fuel, which is why it is best to have a calorie-based diet. Make sure to eat healthy snacks including lots of whole grains in your meals.
5. Take it easy
The key to everything in life! Don’t rush yourself, take the necessary time to get used to the altitude and don’t do any physically demanding activities during your first days. In the meantime, you can take a walking tour through Cusco’s old town or visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
If you’re wondering if there are any medicines that can help you with the altitude sickness symptoms, you could buy Diamox or Soroche Pills from any drugstore in Peru. However, we recommend consulting with a doctor first before taking any of these medications.
What to Bring for the Trek?
As you already know, the rainbow mountain is located at 5,200 meters above sea level, which is why it tends to be really cold up there, even if the sun is out. Here we have prepared a packing list with all the essential things you should bring with you for this trek:
- Water. As we mentioned above, you will need this to prevent any altitude sickness symptoms and clearly because you biologically need it.
- Be prepared for the cold. Make sure to bring warm clothes and to be prepared in layers. As you walk up the mountain you might want to take a layer or two off.
- Bring snacks for the way. Although you’ll have breakfast and lunch, it’s good to pack plenty of healthy snacks.
- Rain poncho. If traveling during the rainy season (December – April), make sure to bring this in your backpack since it can either snow or rain up there.
- Hiking boots or comfortable sneakers. Although hiking boots should be the go-to option, not everyone is doing many treks during their adventure through Peru. If you do, then you can either rent or buy them from any trek gear shop in Cusco. Otherwise, some good sneakers will do the job!
- Small Backpack. Bring a daily pack with you, you’ll want to have your hands free during the hike, or at least just to take pictures.
- Sun protection. Make sure to bring sunscreen and to apply it every 45-50 minutes. Also, don’t forget your sunglasses and sun hats at the hotel! The sun can be really aggressive at this elevation.
If you’d like to know what’s the best place to rent trekking gear, make sure to ask our travel agents, they’ll provide you with the best options to do so!
How to book the Rainbow Mountain Trek?
Cusco is the main travel destination of Peru since it comprises so many natural and historical attractions. For that reason, there is a sea of tour operators that offer this and other excursions in the Cusqueñan region.
Keep in mind that there are hundreds of companies that offer this trek, which is why we recommend doing proper research before choosing one. That’s because not all of them are reliable or may not include the things we’ve mentioned before.
Going cheaper isn’t always the option, remember that you’ll get the service that you’ve paid for, no more no less. Going with a compliant tour operator will make things a lot easier, and you’ll feel safer while walking over 5,000 meters above sea level.
Luckily for you, we have prepared this itinerary so you can experience the trek without any rush and with total safety. If you wish to include it to your travel itinerary, make sure to contact our team and we’ll take care of all the details so you can just worry about having fun.
Peru is undoubtedly one of the perfect travel destinations in South America and we’d love to show you everything about it. In case you’re planning a trip to our country, check these travel packages and live an authentic experience with Viagens Machu Picchu.