I have never fully understood what it meant to “taste the rainbow” until I made the trek up to the peak of a mountain outside of Cusco called Rainbow Mountain. Rainbow Mountain, more commonly known in the area as Vinicunca or Montaña de Sietes Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors) is a three-hour drive from Cusco. Caravans typically leave under cover of darkness, at around 3 or 4 in the morning, and arrive at the Rainbow Mountain trailhead.
If you manage to stay awake, you will find that the second half of the drive is a windy adventure through beautiful landscapes and sheer cliffs. From the trailhead you can expect a couple hour hike to the top, depending on your level of physical fitness and comfortability with the altitude (17,060’ at the peak). However, if your legs begin to groan and your lungs grow weary, there are locals who can lead you to the top via horseback for a very fair price.
Be sure to go on a clear day as the colors of the mountain aren’t very vibrant in the clouds. We were lucky enough to enjoy the peak without a speck in the sky, and the landscape was truly stunning. Once you make it to the “top”, there is one more steep push to the viewing area where you can see everything from the snow capped mountains that seem to be within grabbing distance, to the arid plains on the other side of the hill.
Most of the marketing material for Rainbow Mountain is shrouded with highly photoshopped material that exaggerates the colors of the mountain, so expect something like the photo below.
What To Know
Be sure to go on a sunny day and arrive either at sunup or sundown, as the afternoon rays tend to drown out the stunning colors of the mountain. Don’t be afraid to pay one of the locals for a ride to the top as that is a fun adventure in itself.
This hike starts at an altitude of 14,189 ft and reaches a max of 17,060 ft, so sure to keep an eye out for altitude sickness.
For the best weather, aim for the dry months between April and October.
What To Bring
Plenty of water. This is a real hike at high elevation.
Comfortable shoes. Hiking boots with good traction if you have them. Shoes with quality soles are a must, especially if you are planning to go on horseback to the top.
Some food or a snack. Your caravan will likely provide some sort of food but having some of your own is a good idea.
Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses! Especially if you have fair skin, the sun is intense, and you could get a bad sunburn if you are not prepared.
How to find a Caravan?
It is best to book a caravan in Cusco as you will save a lot of money. FlashPacker Connect is the service we used, but there are many budget and premium caravans easily bookable throughout the city. Be sure to do your research and look at credible reviews before booking your caravan.
With realistic expectations, Rainbow Mountain is a real gem and was undoubtedly a highlight of my trip to Cusco. Be sure to come prepared as the hike can be intense, but the trek is well worth the incredible view at the top.
My name is Rhett Streelman, I am an avid adventurer, surfer, hiker, mountain biker, and traveler. If I’m not doing something outside, I’m either watching The Office or writing articles about my travels. I’ve visited 15 different countries and lived in Mexico for 5 months.