Rainbow Mountain, Peru rests far in the Peruvian Andes and is known as one of the most magnificent geological features in the world. Its colorful terrain is capturing the attention of many, making this slightly remote destination the newest trekking spot for adventurers in 2018.
While I, and many others, refer to this magical peak as Rainbow Mountain, there are quite a few variations of its name. To one it might be Montaña de Siete Colores, while to another it is simply Montaña de Colores. Local Peruvians refer to the mountain as Vinicunca while some call the mountain by its regional name, Ausangate. To keep matters simple, let’s stick with Rainbow Mountain (it’s the cutest name, anyway).
The “Painted Mountain”
About 100 km southeast of Cusco is a painted land unlike any other. Feast your eyes on a sweeping valley of vibrant colors, ranging from lavender, turquoise, and red. You might be wondering, how is this possible? A mountain with so much pizazz? Well, I’ll let you in on the secret. The reason for the vibrant coloration in the layers of Rainbow Mountain is largely due to the weather and mineralogy. The red tinted layers often indicate iron oxide rust as a trace mineral. Think of it like this: you know how a nail will rust and turn red when oxidized? The same reaction happens here. Specific sediment that is exposed to oxygen and water will change color. In addition, the sedimentary layers have been tilted on their side exposing stripped intervals.
Not only is the mountain a beautiful place to reconnect with nature, it is also a site of worship. Since pre-Inca times, Peruvians have believed Rainbow Mountain to be the deity of Cusco and refer to the land as an Apu (a site of worship). To this day, the locals return to Rainbow Mountain for daily worship and to give offerings.
Trekking to Rainbow Mountain
You might be thinking this mountain is too good to be true, but there is one catch. You cannot access the summit by car, you must get down and dirty and hike! Travelers can choose from 1-day to 8-day trekking routes. A tip: the 6-day Ausangate Trek seems to be the most popular!
Now I won’t fool you into thinking this trek is a walk in the park. It’s a pretty difficult route (classified as a grade C) due to its length and sections in high altitude. It is ideal for experienced hikers and beginners should opt for a horse ride or a shorter trek.
While I may have scared you with the trails difficulty, let’s not forget why people put themselves through this long trek. The Ausangate Trek allows individuals to traverse through fields of friendly alpacas and llamas, towards natural thermal pools that you can soak your muscles in, and offers incredible views of red mountains, snow-capped peaks and more. How can you say no to all of that?
Travel Tip: While the 1-day option may suit travelers who are low on time, I recommend stretching your trip so that you can embark on the 6-day trek. The 6-day route will ensure that you see all sorts of angles of the mountain, unique wildlife and flora and fauna, that you might miss if you’re only able to experience Ausangate in one day. Some might say, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” But in the case of Rainbow Mountain, it’s about both.
Special Events at Rainbow Mountain
Looking to do more than just hike? There is a special festival that occurs every year in the Andean Sinakara Valley. The Snow Star Festival (Qoyllur Rit’i) is its name and thousands of pilgrims gather in Sinakara to honor a combination of Catholic, Incan, and indigenous beliefs, as well as the reappearance of the Pleiades star cluster which marks the beginning of the harvest season and the local glacier which is held to be sacred.
Throughout the event, travelers can witness dancers in multi-layered skirts and musicians with drums and flutes performing traditional tunes. Men dress as mythical half-man, half-bear creatures, known as Ukukus. In the past, they would cut blocks of ice from the glacier to share with the community. It was a tradition that highlighted the healing powers of water. Unfortunately, this tradition has stopped due to the decline of the glaciers.
When to go?
This celebration is held every year during the full moon before Corpus Christi. It is scheduled according to the Catholic calendar (usually in May or June).
Where to Stay at Rainbow Mountain
The Andean Lodges are the closest thing to luxury accommodation when trekking to Rainbow Mountain. If you decide to venture on a multi-day hike, stop off at one of the lodges tucked into the mountains built by Andean Lodges. These rustic homes are much more than meets the eye. Each lodge is equipped with luxurious accommodations, private bathrooms and hot showers (much needed when you’re traversing the ever-changing climate of Rainbow Mountain!). There is a welcoming, warm fire in the communal sitting area, and the delicious local meals prepared for you by the kitchen staff might just deter you from leaving the lodge next day.
Social Responsibility in the Andean Lodges
The Andean Lodges have a deep-rooted history that tourists will learn to cherish. The charming structures were built between a joint effort of the communities of Chillca, Osefina, and Andean Lodges. Roger Valencia, the director of Andean Lodges created a route through the mountains that would give hikers the best views of the area. He then raised 1 million dollars to build three lodges. The fourth would be funded by the community through a grant by the Peruvian government. This gave the members a financial stake in the project.
Now, the entire operating team of Andean Lodges is made up of villagers trained as guides, kitchen staff, housekeeping, maintenance, and security personnel. Andean Lodges also works with women who produce handmade fabrics to directly sell their products to hikers. Staying at the Andean Lodges will provide the best views, the best service and a wonderful cultural experience for tourists to come.
Ready to visit Rainbow Mountain? Not before you’ve packed accordingly! It’s incredibly difficult to pack for Rainbow Mountain, as the weather changes from one extreme to another daily. My suggestion for you is to be prepared for any type of weather! Below are some essentials that are sure to keep you safe in any weather conditions:
- Small backpack – with a copy of your passport, wallet, camera and any other necessary items
- Comfortable hiking shoes – you’ll be doing a lot of walking!
- Warm layers – you can always take layers off if you get too warm!
- Rain jacket or poncho – you never know when it may start to rain
- Sunscreen & lip balm with sunscreen
- Hat and sunglasses – for sun & snow
- Water bottle – stay hydrated!
- Altitude Medicine – can be purchased on Amazon or locally in Peru
Ready to Book a Trip to Rainbow Mountain?
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Rainbow Mountain in Peru is emerging quickly as a world-class tourist and trekking destination. With the perfect amount of adventure for any type of traveler, Rainbow Mountain just cannot be missed!
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