Is Rainbow Mountain Worth Visiting? A Backpackers Guide To Peru’s Best Trek

Rainbow Mountain is second most famous trek in Peru after Machu Picchu. Set high in the Andes at a breath-taking 5,200m, the colourful mountain has come onto everyone’s bucket list over the last few years when it emerged from the permafrost in 2015. But is Rainbow Mountain worth visiting? Here’s everything you need to know about the trek, from the best tour companies to how to pack and prepare.

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Is Rainbow Mountain Worth Visiting?

The Rainbow Mountain in Peru is well worth a visit for several reasons:

 

  • The deep red rock of the Andes in this region is incredibly unique and unlike anything you’ve seen before – a must for nature lovers
  • Tours are cheap – one of the best tour companies in Cusco charges $49 – a bargain!
  • The rainbow colours aren’t as pronounced as you see in edited Instagram photos, but they are still beautiful and worth seeing. If you can time your tour so that you can see snow on the mountain as well then even better!
  • It’s a challenge – climbing to 5200m above sea level is tough but achievable

Why Shouldn't I Hike Rainbow Mountain?

The better question to ask is – why shouldn’t I visit Rainbow Mountain?

 

And the answer to that is – if you suffer from altitude sickness and/or hate trekking then you should give this trek a miss. The hike up to the summit, whilst short is tough. The high altitude means you will be short for breath and the final push to the summit had me with my hands on my knees panting for breath.

 

If you suffer from altitude sickness easily then give Rainbow Mountain a miss. It’s unlikely you will make it to the top and a few people on our tour had awful headaches by the end of the trek.

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The Backpackers Guide To Rainbow Mountain

Whilst this natural wonder is a must-see, there are a few things you should know before attempting the climb to decide whether it’s worth your time. Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for Rainbow Mountain.

What Is Rainbow Mountain? Why Is It So Popular?

Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, Montaña de Siete Colores, or Montaña de Colores is a multi-coloured mountain with varying layers of colours streaking across its surface.

 

The mountain’s colourful appearance is due to the different minerals present in the slopes; clay, iron, sandstone, magnesium, and many others create an array of blues, yellows, greens, and deep reds.

 

The true colours of the mountain were only discovered as recently as 2015. The glacier covering the slopes melted away, revealing this colourful surprise which immediately turned into a popular tourist attraction. 

 

The sad truth is that the glacier melting was likely because of climate change; however, this new discovery has brought tourism and prosperity to the area, which has helped local communities.

How Do You Get To Rainbow Mountain?

The best way to get to Rainbow Mountain is to book through a tour company in Cusco. Tour companies set off from Cusco but the actual mountain is located 100 km (62 mi) south-east of Cusco.

 

The journey takes around 3-4 hours from Cusco to the starting point of the trek. Then it takes 1-2 hours to reach the summit depending on your level of fitness.

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Can You Go To Rainbow Mountain Without A Guide?

No, it would be very difficult to visit Rainbow Mountain without a guide and I personally wouldn’t recommend it.

 

Going to Rainbow Mountain without a tour company or guide would require a lot of organisation and it may even be a bit dangerous. 

 

Firstly, you would have to drive there yourself and likely find some accommodation in the small towns close to the mountain. Also, the final section of the drive up through the valley is not for the faint-hearted and is probably best left to experienced guides. The roads are muddy and full of alpaca.

 

There aren’t many buses which can take you to the nearest town of Cusipata either and even if there were, you’d have to walk up the valley which would take a few hours, so we don’t recommend trying to do it yourself.

 

Tours from Cusco are cheap and easy, so this really is the best option, even if you aren’t a big fan of them.

Which Is The Best Rainbow Mountain Tour Company?

There are hundreds of companies in Cusco selling tours to Rainbow Mountain. It can be a little daunting trying to sort through them all to see how they differ.

 

Whist I only went with one company, I can safely say that there won’t be much difference between them all. I went with Rainbow Mountain Travels (RMT) and would recommend them for their great customer service and cheap price.

 

 

It costs $49 (as of June 2022) and they have a great rating on trip advisor. The tour guides were helpful, and their English was exceptional. For that price, you also get breakfast and lunch.

How Much is a Rainbow Mountain Tour?

Your average Rainbow Mountain tours typically cost between 50-200 soles ($15-$50). These tours are for up to 30 people and include breakfast, lunch, and transport back to Cusco.

 

You will also have to pay 10 soles ($3) entrance which your tour guide will likely collect from you on the bus.

 

For a private tour to Rainbow Mountain, you will be looking to pay between $100-$150. The price really depends on the company and how many other people will be on the tour.

I’ve compared three rainbow mountain tours here for you to see, varying from cheap group tours to smaller, more expensive private tours:

 

 

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What Happens On A Rainbow Mountain Tour?

Here is a breakdown of the RMT itinerary to give you a better idea of how the day is organised:

 

  • 3.30AM – Minibus pick up in Cusco
  • 5.00AM – Breakfast stop
  • 7.30AM – Arrive at Rainbow Mountain / Briefing
  • 8.00AM-10.00AM – Trek to summit
  • 10.00AM-11.00AM – Red Valley trek
  • 12.00PM – Head back to Cusco
  • 13.30PM – Late Lunch
  • 15.00PM – Arrive back in Cusco

To summarise most tours; a minibus will pick you up in the morning, take you to the mountain and then take you back.

 

One of the main reasons I paid a little extra for our tour was the pick-up time. I wanted to get out as early as possible to beat the crowds and RMT leave at 3:30AM.  This is essential if you want to reach the mountain before all the snow melts.

 

It also means you will be able to trek to the top unimpeded. Most other tours will pick you up at around 5AM so you probably won’t beat the crowds. By the time I was coming back down, there were queues of people slowly making the final trek to the summit, all stuck behind each other. This is an extremely popular tourist destination with approximately 1,500 people visiting a day.

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The first section of the tour is a 1.5-hour drive to Cusipata, a town at the foot of the mountain.

 

Here we had a buffet breakfast of bananas, bread, yoghurt, cereal, fruit, coffee, and teas. Use this time to fill up on coca tea to help you with the altitude.

 

Following breakfast, we hopped back on the bus, and it was another 1.5 hours up a narrow winding dirt road to the carpark at the start of the trek. 

 

After you arrive and a quick briefing from your tour guide, you are free to start the hike. RMT gave us roughly 3 hours – 2 hours to the top of rainbow mountain, and then 1 hour down to check out the red valley and then get back down to the bus.

 

When you reach the top, hopefully, the weather is on your side. You will have amazing 360 views of snow-capped mountain ranges surrounding you, as well the view of Rainbow Mountain. Take pictures and enjoy before the crowds build.

 

After you finish the trek, the bus will take you back to the place you had breakfast to have lunch and then after than its back to Cusco. 

Trekking Rainbow Mountain is one of many great reasons to visit Peru. For more great reasons, including its incredible desert landscapes, check out the post below:

 

 

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How Long Does It Take To Hike Rainbow Mountain?

The Rainbow Mountain trek lasts roughly 3 hours in total.

 

From the start to the summit, it takes about 1 hour to hike Rainbow Mountain. This will vary depending on your fitness levels, however. You start at 5000m and only need to trek 200m to reach the summit, so it isn’t a long hike at all in terms of distance – it just takes long because everyone is so out of breath.

 

Getting back down should take an hour, maybe less as going down is always faster.

 

After the trek, there is also an option to trek to the Red Valley. This is another short but steep climb to see even more incredible scenery. This takes an hour to reach the viewpoint and then climb back down. Tour companies give you enough time to do both if you want.

When Is The Best Time Of Year to Visit Rainbow Mountain?

The best season to visit Rainbow Mountain is during Peru’s dry season.

 

The dry season in Peru is from May to October which means you are less likely to experience rain. November to April is the rainy season. Rain will make the paths muddy and the ice on the mountain even slipperier, so best to avoid it if you can.

 

The weather in the Andes is unpredictable compared to the rest of the country and there’s always a chance of rain, clouds, and storms.

 

You also want to try and pick a nice sunny day so be sure to check the weather forecast before you go. The whole point of this day trip is to see the colours in all their glory. This is only possible if the weather is nice with the sun beaming down on the mountain. 

If you are looking to spend an extended amount of time in Cusco during the dry season then check out these extended itineraries help you plan the perfect trip:

 

When Is The Best Time Of Day To Visit Rainbow Mountain?

The best time of day to visit Rainbow Mountain is in the early morning (between 6-10AM).

 

This is for two reasons:

 

  • The weather is much clearer in the morning and there’s less chance of rain/cloud
  • You will avoid most of the tourist crowds that arrive around midday

 

As mentioned, book through a tour company like RMT who leave at 3.30 in the morning. Our tour had clear skies all morning and we missed the huge crowds of tourists who were all heading up as we were casually strolling down.

 

The viewpoint at the top of the mountain isn’t that wide either, so it feels very cramped when you’re up there.  Also, trying to take little baby steps up a mountain, not being able to breathe and with hundreds of people in your way isn’t our idea of fun.

 

You also have a chance to see the mountain covered in snow the earlier you go. As the sun rises through the day, it starts to melt the snow on the east-facing side of the mountain leading to a beautiful contrast between the white snow and the rainbow colours. The later you arrive in the day, the more likely it is that all the snow will have melted. 

 

But if you aren’t bothered by crowds or snow then feel free to book one that picks you up later.

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How Difficult Is The Rainbow Mountain Hike?

The Rainbow Mountain hike is difficult in terms of altitude, not so much in terms of distance and elevation.

 

You will be spending the whole time at an altitude of over 5,000m (16,400 ft). Once you step out of the van, you will feel it instantly. You will have obviously experienced the high altitude in Cusco, but at this height, it’s even harder to breathe.

 

The first section of the trek takes 45 minutes on a mostly flat path. This part is the easiest and your breathing should be laboured but steady.

 

Once the flat part ends, you will be close to the final climb to the viewpoint. The viewpoint is 5,200m (17,060 ft) above sea level, so the climb to the top is challenging.

 

Due to the altitude and incline, it then takes about 45 minutes to an hour to make it to the top. This part is only around 100m in elevation but its so hard to breath that you can’t go faster than a snail’s pace.

 

Take it slow and make sure to take breaks to catch your breath.  If you start feeling ill, then it is best to descend.

If you are concerned about the difficulty of this trek then there is a second, easier Rainbow Mountain to visit in the region. You drive a large part of the way to the summit, and you still get some incredible views of the Andes, just with a slightly different multi-coloured mountain.

 

Check out our comparison of the two mountains to see if it’s for you:

 

 

 

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How Do I Prepare For The Rainbow Mountain Hike?

The best way to prepare for the Rainbow Mountain hike is to spend a good amount of time at altitude.

 

Cusco sits at 3200m so I would recommend you spend at least 2-3 days there to begin with (especially if this is your first time at altitude).

 

Whilst in Cusco, see how you feel walking around and climbing hills. After a few days if you feel fine then you have acclimatised. Jumping from 3,200m to 5000 is still a big jump though.

 

You may also want to try some other treks around Peru first to find your feet. Huaraz is known as the hiking capital of South America and there are many great single and multi-day hikes. Heading to Puno and Lake Titicaca is also a good step up in elevation – around 3800m and you can do this on the way to Cusco if you wish.

 

Finally, you may want to try a few treks around Cusco too. Humantay Lake and the Salkantay Pass all take you to 4200m.

 

Aside from the altitude, just make sure you are fit. Don’t do it with a hangover. Bring lots of water and eat well beforehand and you should be fine.

For more information on the great trekking you can access around Cusco, check out the post below:

 

 

What Should I Pack For The Rainbow Mountain Trek?

It’s a single day trek so you don’t need to bring loads, but here are a few essentials you don’t want to forget:

 

  • Camera
  • Warm layers – long trousers, waterproof jacket, jumper, etc so you can put on/take off layers when you get sweaty or cold. When I reached the summit, I was sweating and took off my big jacket. However, it didn’t take long until my body had cooled down and the icy wind started to hit me again.
  • Gloves – if you really feel the cold in your extremities then maybe bring gloves. The wind can bite
  • Snood, hat and/or scarf – the wind is strong, and your ears/face will start to feel the cold so keep them protected
  • Sunscreen – the sun is stronger the higher up you are so getting it on the parts of your face not protected by hats and glasses
  • Sunglasses – as mentioned, the sun is powerful this high up, especially if you get a nice day
  • 1L of water – bring this as a minimum. You will likely have drunk it by the time you reach the top. There are people selling supplies along the way, but this will cost you more
  • Snacks – maybe a protein bar or two if you get peckish on hikes. Although we were well fed at breakfast by RMT so didn’t feel the need
  • Walking boots – recommended as the walking conditions can be icy and muddy
  • Walking sticks – if you like to use them or have bad knees. RMT will supply these for you

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