The Rainbow Mountains in Peru

The Rainbow Mountains are actually called Vinicunca and are a mountain and its flanksin Peru, about two and a half hours drive from the popular tourist city of Cusco. Vinicunca is 5200 meters high at its highest point. The impressive stripes come from sedimentary deposits that have piled up over millions of years. The once horizontal depositsn were pushed upward by plate tectonics, which also piled up the Andes, and arenow almost vertical.

The different colors come from different minerals in the sediments.

The red color of the mountain and also of Redvalley comes fromiron oxide, also known as rust. More pink streaks contain moremanganese or alumina. Yellow streaks are rich incopper and sulfur. White rocks are rich in calcium. Greenish streaks are probablyiron-magnesium compounds.

A less glamorous view of the Rainbow Mountains. You can still see the distinct color differences

Where do I book a Rainbow Mountains tour?

You can book the tour to the Rainbow Mountains in Cusco. There the tours are much cheaper than on the internet. In addition, there are countless tour offices in Cusco, all of which have a tour to the Rainbow Mountains in their program. Currently (6/2019) there are still no visitor restrictions, such as Machu Picchu, so it is also not necessary to pre-book. In high season, however, it can get so crowded that there is now talk of limiting daily visitor numbers.

The question “What does a Rainbow Mountains tour cost?” cannot be answered, however, without also considering the differences in Rainbow Mountain tours. Do you want a Rainbow Mountain tour with guide and food or without, how big should the group be and do you want a Rainbow Mountain tour including the Red Valley? Of course, all of this can significantly affect the price of a tour to the Rainbow Mountains. In Cusco, we have seen the touroffered starting at about $25. We ourselves booked the tour as part of a package together with Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley for $262. The biggest cost driver here, however, was Machu Picchu.  

According to our impression, a guide who accompanies you to the summit is not necessary for the Rainbow Mountain Tour. However, even then you should keep an eye on the clock, as some tours are a bit tight on time. Food is also not essential for the Rainbow Mountain Tour. At least the food on our tour was not particularly good. It’s possible that Martina even contracted her amoebic infection in the small improvised backyard restaurant we stopped at

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Unfortunately, the infrastructure at the Rainbow Mountains is very poor. You can certainly visit the Rainbow Mountains without a tour. However, they are a few kilometers from the nearest town Pitumarca. There arefew restaurants nearby, and the road is just a one-lane dirt road on a hillside for the last few kilometers there, with two lanes of traffic. With our own car or a rental car, we would only dare to make the trip in daylight, with an off-road vehicle and a few push prayers (which we also gave as atheists and also on the bus).

The Rainbow Mountains Tour from Cusco

Our tour started at just before four in the morning. An alternative tour would not have started until seven, which would also have been more convenient from our point of view.

The first stop of our tour was after about two hours of driving in a pub that this name rather does not deserve. It was the shell of a house, which had windows, but otherwise renounced all other amenities such as a toilet. Toilets, by the way, were in the backyard. The toilets were even shielded from view withe a shower curtain. In the restaurant long wooden boards were built up. There was Omelet from an egg for everyone, sweet bread with butter and jam. In addition tea, coffee or cocoa. All in all, a sufficient but not rich breakfast.

Then we went on to the Vinicunca. The road there is first bumpy and then a gravel road. We drove through a few more villages. The last part of the route was very steep along a slope and is definitely not for riders with a fear of heights.

At a booth at the roadside still before the parking lot it is necessary to pay the sum of 10 soles entrance fee for the Rainbow Mountains or  20 soles for the Rainbow Mountains including Red Valley.

Then we stopped at a parking lot at about 4600 meters. From there, you can’t miss the trail into the Rainbow Mountains. There is a wide stream of tourists going up the mountain. At first it goes very flat along the mountain flank.

We would like can be brought for 60 Soles with one of the numerous horses on the mountain. However, people who want to ride should pay some attention to the condition of the animals and also that the horse has a suitable size for them. We felt a little sorry for one or two ponies with full-grown and overweight riders.

The climb up the Rainbow Mountains

Only towards the end of the Rainbow Mountains tour comes a steep climb. Still, the altitude should not be underestimated. Even experienced hikers get out of breath here. The height generally always carries the risk of altitude sickness.

The trail is wide and easy to walk on. On the last climb, however, there is quite a bit of snow that has been trampled intocompact ice fields by the feet of the numerous tourists. Halfway up the summit there are two small improvised stalls selling candy bars and cold drinks.

Just below the summit, there is already a popular viewing spot above the famous Rainbow Rock. Here, a couple of elderly ladies also sell tea to the tourists, who were shivering away in temperatures around freezing and cold winds during our visit.

In addition, you can get a stamp for your passport here as a souvenir. This costs 2 soles.

Then it’s the last few meters up the mountain. On our visit it was quite icy and a few people in sneakers came sliding towards us.  At the complete summit you should be a little careful, because it has the shape of a hemisphere and on the sides it goes unsecured very steep down.

The view at the summit is of course magnificent, yet it is hard to take good pictures because there is a lot going on.

View of the Rainbow Mountains

At this point our group completely lost sight of each other and was only gradually gathered back in the crush on the mountainside.

Red Valley

The further way into Red Valley leads up a mountainside diagonally. It is not signposted but except for the way you came, it is the only path where people are on the way. At a landslide a couple of employees stood and show the further way.  We got caught in a blizzard here. With our heads turned away from the wind, we had to hold out for a few minutes until it was even possible to continue walking.

Walking into Red Valley in good weather: photo IG @venture_of_life

Fortunately, it cleared up afterwards, so we had another great view of the Rainbow Mountains and the entire Red Valley on the grade and a subsequent hill.  From here the trail split. one headed back toward the parking lot, another would take us deeper into the colorful valleys. Unfortunately, we had to go back. Frozen through as we were, the spirit of discovery was also somewhat limited.

The landscape in Red Valley is extraordinary. The slopes of the mountains glow in various shades of red. Gradually, saturated green wetlands stand out in contrast.

We are in a hurry, because rain is predicted.In case of thunderstorms we were in advance inculcated to turn off all electronic devices.

Valley and trail of the Rainbow Mountains. In the background you can see a glacier

The trail goes along the valley and around a hill at the end. In the valley there are a few isolated houses that we can see from a distance, alpacas and a few small lakes.

At the end we sit exhausted and frozen through again in the bus.

It goes back to the small “restaurant” to have lunch. There is guacamole, salad, sweet potatoes and two different chicken dishes as a buffet.

Summary Rainbow Mountains Tour

The Rainbow Mountains Tour is a beautiful day trip from Cusco. The total driving time of over five hours is a bit of a chore. The tour is only suitable for people who are acclimatized enough to the altitude of at least Cusco. The weather in the Rainbow Mountains is very changeable. Therefore, one should prefer the onion look. Friends who were there two days before us they, had no snow at all and walked around without jacket .

The Red Valley: Photo IG: @venture_of_life

The mountains are nowhere near as radiant as some pictures suggest, but the colored stripes are clearly visible. Thanks to Instagram and Co, they are also no longer an insider tip and you have to fight for beautiful pictures. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see the landscape and we would definitely recommend the tour. The Red Valley we would definitely recommend as a descent. It is much less touristy, very beautiful and not a big detour, so you can still take it well on the way back.


Thank you Jenny and Moritz @ventue_of_life for the great photos in the sunshine, including the post cover 🙂

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