Rainbow Mountain is one of the most popular mountains to hike on in Peru. It’s famous because of its unique look; which consists of stripes in seven colors. Rainbow Mountain is also notorious for being one of the most difficult hikes in Peru. The mountain is 5,200 meters (17,060 feet) above sea level—an altitude that makes every step taken on top of it a serious feat. When tourists reach the peak of the Rainbow Mountain hike, they do it with the pride of having overcome the difficult walk to get there. Other names used to refer to Rainbow Mountain include Vinicunca, Winikunka, and Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors).
This guide includes everything you need to know about embarking on the Rainbow Mountain hike in Cusco, Peru.
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Quick Facts About Rainbow Mountain
Here are some top facts about Rainbow Mountain that will be helpful to know while planning your hike.
- Where is Rainbow Mountain Located? Rainbow Mountain is a part of the Andes Mountain range, in the Cusco Region of Peru.
- When and How Was Rainbow Mountain Discovered? Rainbow Mountain’s unique pattern became visible in 2015, when climate change caused snow that was covering it to melt. Despite only being discovered a few years ago, the Rainbow Mountain hike attracts millions of visitors per year. The hike is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Cusco Region of Peru. Other popular hikes in the area include the hike to Machu Picchu and the Inti Punku Sun Gate Hike.
- What is the Altitude of Rainbow Mountain? The mountain is 5,200 meters (17,060 feet) above sea level.
- What is the Weather Like on Rainbow Mountain? There are two seasons in the Cusco Region of Peru, where Rainbow Mountain is located—Wet Season (December to April) and Dry Season (May to November). The weather during the dry season is usually sunny with little chance of rain. During the wet season, there are significant amounts of rain and snow. That said, the weather can change quite quickly on Rainbow Mountain and can be unpredictable any time you visit. I visited in December (wet season) and had a great hike, with lots of sun—which is contrary to the “norm” and indicative of its erratic weather.
- When is the Best Time to Visit Rainbow Mountain? The best time to visit Rainbow Mountain is during the dry season (from May to November).
How to Get to Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain is accessible from Cusco City in Peru. International travelers must first fly to Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) in Lima, Peru. Once in Lima, travelers can take a domestic flight from Lima to Alejandro Velasco Astete Cusco International Airport (CUZ).
Once in Cusco, travelers can take a local bus or cab to Rainbow Mountain and hike it independently.
What to Pack for the Rainbow Mountain Hike
- Dress in Layers: The weather on Rainbow Mountain is volatile and unpredictable. It’s possible that the weather will change from hot, to cold, and snow, or rain–all during one trek. Prepare for all of this by wearing layers.
- Rain Gear: There’s always a chance of rain on Rainbow Mountain, even during the dry season. Bring rain gear (such as a poncho) in case you get caught in the rain during your trek.
- Winter Gear: If hiking Rainbow Mountain during the wet season, bring a warm hat, scarf, and gloves with you.
- Comfortable Shoes with a Good Grip: Wear comfortable walking shoes with a good grip. Having a good grip is important because the last part of the hike involves walking up a steep incline.
- Lots of Water: There’s no way to purchase water near Rainbow Mountain. Bring as much water as you think you’ll need.
- Coca Leaves: Altitude sickness (lightheadedness, shortness of breath) may hit during your trek. A great way to offset this is by chewing on coca leaves. You can pick them up in Cusco City before your trek.
- Toilet Paper & Hand Sanitizer: Public bathrooms in Peru don’t always have toilet paper or soap. Bring your own with you.
- Sunscreen: You will be at a very high altitude which will cause heavy exposure to the sun. Wear sunscreen during your trek.
- Camera: Definitely bring a camera with you; there are tons of great photo opps during the trek on Rainbow Mountain — especially on the top!
- Lightweight Backpack: You’ll need a small backpack to carry everything in. Try to make it as lightweight as possible so that you have less to carry during the already difficult hike.
How to Hike Rainbow Mountain
Hiking Rainbow Mountain by Foot: Most visitors opt to hike Rainbow Mountain by foot. Navigating the hike is easy, the hard part will be overcoming the altitude. Every step will feel more difficult than you’ll assume it should be.
The first part of the Rainbow Mountain Hike is flat, with no incline. You’ll walk on the flat terrain for about an hour. After an hour of walking, the trail will begin to incline.
The last part of the hike is where you will be at the highest altitude. The final part involves walking up a steep incline, to the top of its peak, where the views are the best.
- Going Up Rainbow Mountain by Horse: Some visitors choose to go up Rainbow Mountain by horse. Traveling on Rainbow Mountain by horse is a good option for tourists who can’t, or don’t, want to handle hiking in the altitude. You’ll see locals with horses standing at the beginning of the hiking trail. Most of these folks speak Quechua, and not Spanish or English. Agree upon a fee with them before you get onto the horse. Once on the horse, you can ride it about 3/4 up the trail. The last part of the trek involves walking up a steep incline, which the horses can’t walk up. So, you’ll have the horses help for most of the trail but will have to walk up the hardest part alone.
Rainbow Mountain Hike Difficulty
Rainbow Mountain is a moderately difficult hike to embark on. The altitude makes the hike difficult to conquer by foot – you’ll likely feel short of breath throughout the entire journey and it will seem like you’re pushing through a thick wall of air with every step that you take.
The majority of the hike takes place on flat ground. The last part of the hike involves a steep incline but the difficult “push” to the top will only take 20-30 minutes to complete.
If you do the hike by foot and decide at any point that it’s too hard, you can hire a horse to ride to the bottom of the peak.
There are also tour guides that offer oxygen, and motivation, throughout the trek so you’ll always feel supported, and safe. Take care of yourself during the hike; drink a lot of water, don’t walk too fast, and take precautions such as chewing on coca leaves throughout the journey to avoid being overcome with altitude sickness.
Hiking the Red Valley
On your way down from the Rainbow Mountain peak, you’ll have the option of visiting The Red Valley. The Red Valley is an area next to Rainbow Mountain. The look of the area is much different than that of Rainbow Mountain’s; the colors consist of deep hues of reds with some green brushed in. A trip to the Red Valley will take about 2.5 hours in total (this includes walking to the area from Rainbow Mountain’s peak, taking time to enjoy the views, and then trekking back to the area where your transportation will pick you up after).
I really enjoyed visiting the Red Valley, and recommend trekking to the area once you’re finished viewing Rainbow Mountain.
So, You Ask ... is Rainbow Mountain Worth It?
Hiking Rainbow Mountain was one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve ever done. The altitude of the mountain makes it a very challenging hike, but in this case, the challenge will make it feel like an achievement when you reach the top. The views on the top of Rainbow Mountain are incredible, and when all is said and done, you’ll be glad you went on the trek.