Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

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Last updated Jan 17, 2024

Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca, is one of the newer attractions in Peru. It only became a visitor attraction in the last few years (approximately around the mid-2010s) after the glaciers melted and exposed colorful slopes at the summit. This is a one-day trip from Cusco with a short hike to the summit. The hike is short but steep and at a very high elevation so prepare accordingly.

Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Rainbow Mountain | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

In Cusco, there are many tour agencies or independent taxis that offer a visit to Rainbow Mountain. There are two different ways to get to Rainbow Mountain. One way is a shorter drive and a longer hike in the direction of the town of Checacupe, and the second way is a longer drive and a shorter hike in the direction of the town of Pitumarca.

We used the Salkantay Trekking tour agency for this adventure and the below-detailed hike itinerary is based on that experience.

Rainbow Mountain Hike Details

Distance: 4.5 miles, roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 1500 feet

Food and Water: Breakfast, Lunch, and snacks included. Additional food and water are available for purchase along the trail.

Facilities: Available along the trail, bring your own toilet paper. Each toilet use is 1 PEN.

Detailed Rainbow Mountain Hike Itinerary

This epic adventure begins with the pick-up at your hotel at 4 a.m. For the next two hours, you will travel toward Southern Cusco Valley. After about a 2-hour drive there will be a stop for buffet-style breakfast.

After breakfast, there is another 1-hour drive on the dirt road and through tiny local villages to the parking lot where the hike starts. During this one-hour drive, you will see local people living in this remote area working the land, herding alpacas, and making traditional clothing.

PRO TIP: The entrance to the dirt road drive to the parking lot is shared between three local villages and at times they have disputes about how the earnings are split which can result in closing the Rainbow Mountains to the visitors.

Once you arrive at the parking lot, you will meet both your guides and the driver. They will hand you a package with water and snacks for your hike and you will have time to use the toilets before starting your hike. Don’t worry about replenishing your snacks there are plenty of opportunities along the way to purchase refreshments from different vendors and restrooms are available at multiple locations.

By the number of vans and cars as well as locals with horses you will realize quickly that this is going to be a crowded journey.

TIP: If you are unsure of your ability to hike, at an additional cost you can ask one of the locals to take you part way to Rainbow Mountain on the horse.

Day Trip from Cusco
Parking Lot for Rainbow Mountain | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

The starting elevation of the hike is 15,190 ft. and is immediately felt. The ascent is gradual, but the guides are aware of altitude and will take frequent breaks while the peaks of Ausangate tower over you. Also keep in mind, that at this elevation and this early in the morning it can be pretty cold even on a clear sunny day.

Day Trips from Cusco
Ausangate | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

The last part of the hike is where the more extreme elevation gain is. You will hear a lot of people huffing next to you, some of them crying and others negotiating with their hiking partners to turn around.

Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Hiking up to Rainbow Mountain | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

Once at the summit, the beauty is unmatched. But the crowds, food vendors, and photographers take away from the serenity we were expecting.

Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Rainbow Mountain | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

There is a path into the valley on the other side of the summit and if you walk down that path just a few feet you will find yourself all alone with the side view of the Rainbow Mountain. I could have stayed there forever. You will have about 30 minutes to spend here on your own.

Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Red Valley | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

As we prepared to ascent, the clouds rolled in, and it started hailing. The temperatures dropped dramatically and there is nowhere to take cover, so hopefully, you have brought water-resistant clothing and can continue to keep descending. The descent is much easier on the body and breathing becomes easier.

Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
View from Rainbow Mountain | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

Once the hike is completed and everyone is back by the van, you will drive back to the breakfast restaurant for a buffet-style lunch. The expected return to Cusco is between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.

In Summary

Rainbow Mountain is at extremely high elevations and you need to take all the precautions necessary ahead of time to adjust. This is not an easy hike because of the altitude so be prepared to struggle with this walk.

This is a trendy adventure that a lot of people sign up for. With that said, expect large crowds, a lot of vendors along the entire trail (food, drinks, clothes, pictures with Alpacas, etc.), horses and hikers sharing the trail, and visitors only interested in getting their photos no matter how rude they are to everyone else around them. It feels more like being in a theme park than a natural monument.

If you are strapped for time and have to make a decision on cutting something from your itinerary in Peru, I would recommend cutting Rainbow Mountain. Yes, it is a natural phenomenon, yes, it is stunningly beautiful, and yes, the views of Red Valley and Ausangate peaks are stunning, however, it is very crowded with people who are not your typical hikers.

Additional Rainbow Mountain Options

This post is about a one-day trip to Rainbow Mountain, but multi-day options are also available.

Red Valley and Rainbow Mountain is a 2-day Tour. This is a great two-day hike with amazing views of different lagoons and up-close and personal meet and greet with Ausangate glaciers, Rainbow Mountain, and a walk through the Red Valley. The first day is an approximately 7-mile hike and day two is an approximately 4.5-mile hike, but at a very high elevation.

Ausangate Trek to Rainbow Mountain is either a 3- or 4-day hike, also at extremely high elevation. They pretty much cover the same spots, 4-day trek is just a little slower pace. All the nights are spent in tents at campsites which can get chilly at that elevation. It is a great adventure with beautiful scenery and no crowds until you get to Rainbow Mountain.

Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Rainbow Mountain | Visit to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco

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Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu – Unforgettable 5D/4N Hike
7 Iconic Hikes in Peru
Peru Itinerary – 7, 10 & 14-Days Travel Guide
2-Day Colca Canyon Hike

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