How to take on the Rainbow Mountain like a boss

Don't miss out on these expert tips for your adventure to Rainbow Mountain in Peru!
A view of Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain. Photo by Emily Richards.

Turquoise, scarlet, and mustard colored sediments drape down Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicuna, and give the mountain its striking appearance.

Nestled in a remote region of the Andes Mountains, Rainbow Mountain was once a spectacle only to be admired by trekkers along the Ausangate Trek. But now you can witness this display of natural beauty in all its glory on a shorter 1- or 2-day hiking tour.

“Rainbow Mountain is one of my top experiences in Peru,” says Emily, our expert travel advisor, who returned from the 1-day tour earlier this year.

When an experienced traveler makes this type of claim, you listen.

We asked Emily for her expert advice to give you a truthful account of what the hike to Rainbow Mountain is really like:

What is the trail to Rainbow Mountain like?

“The trail starts as an even, gradual incline through a valley until you arrive to a steeper climb up to Rainbow Mountain.

To get the classic view, you have to climb a very steep, hard packed dirt mountainside that’s across from Rainbow Mountain. Because the mountainside is sheer, the terrain can be slippery when wet. The summit allows you to see the full streaking of the mountain side and the stellar views of lush, green scenery that fade into steely snowcapped mountain peaks.”

How hard is the hike up to Rainbow Mountain?

“Some people don’t realize beforehand that Rainbow Mountain is a high altitude hike. The altitude, more so than the incline of the trail, adds to the challenge factor of the hike. The trailhead starts at around 4,300 meters (14,000 feet) and climbs to just over 5,000 meters (16,400 feet). Many people have a hard time and end up paying for a horseback ride offered by one of the locals walking along the trail.”

What is the weather like?

It was the rainy season when my friends and I did the hike, but we lucked out with a dry day. There were sunny skies in the morning, and then in the afternoon it was cloudy and chilly, and even snowed when we reached the peak of the hike. This day was a perfect example of how the weather can change quickly and frequently in the region. I was happy to have dressed in layers and have a rain poncho with me – essentials for the region during the rainy season.”

Are there restrooms along the trail?

“Very basic bathroom facilities are available along the trail. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s what is available in such a remote area. I always travel with my own toilet paper roll so I’m always prepared.”

What should I bring on a 1-day tour to Rainbow Mountain?

Expert Packing List:

  • Carry a water bottle and drink plenty of water
  • Bring a snack for the hike (and bring back any trash with you). There are also locals selling candies, water and soda, and small snacks near the trailhead.
  • Soles in smaller bills (S/.20 and S/.40) if you want to pay for a horse ride
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes with good traction.

Do you recommend the 1- or 2-day tour?

“The 1-day tour to Rainbow Mountain that I did was a very long day. Pick-up in Cusco is super early at 3am, it’s a  3-ish hour drive to the trailhead, and then after several hours of hiking you make the return drive. This can be very exhausting even for those in great physical shape, so I would actually recommend the 2-day tour to Rainbow Mountain.  The schedule for the overnight option is at slower, more enjoyable pace. Not only does it break down the long roundtrip drive to and from Cusco, but camping closer to Rainbow Mountain allows you to adjust better to the altitude that higher than Cusco so you feel better during the hike.”

A big thanks to travel advisor Emily Richards for sharing her Rainbow Mountain expertise and photos with us. ClickGo Discover” now.