Hiking a Rainbow: Peru's Painted Palette

Rate this Adventure Vinicunca, Cusco, Peru

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    9.25 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    2871 Feet

Adult Beverages
Family Friendly

The hike at 14,000ft is no easy mission but is well worth it to see this natural wonder of the world. Rainbow Mountain traces a path between mountains created from weathered minerals and stripes of sedimentary rock, rare and specific to this part of the Andes. Sulphide yellow, chlorite green, limonite, rusty iron reds. It is a rainbow of lavender, gold, burnt orange, turquoise.

The journey begins at about 3am on the streets of Cusco, where we pile into a minivan and drive a few hours to arrive at the foot of Vinicuna (Rainbow Mountain) as day breaks. 

It’s a crisp, sunny morning at the foot of the climb (14,189ft) and the local compañeras line the path with dozens of horses ready to carry anyone who may struggle with the altitude.  The altitude is a force to reckon with  - so water and plenty of energy snacks are recommended! 

The weather can vary dramatically here with the climb. While we start in the sun, this soon becomes rain, sleet, and eventually snow. 

The pinnacle of rainbow mountain ends with a sharp climb towards a viewpoint; here a man in a checkered shirt, traditional hat with neon streamers operates a candy store and serves hot tea. It is a strange dichotomy and contrast to the surroundings and makes me very aware of the impact of tourism on this fragile landscape. Up here, we are at a staggering 17,060ft.
Up here, thankfully the snow has melted enough,and the clouds come in waves allowing glimpses of the amazing layered palette.

Sleet sets in again and muddy rivulets run rampant down the trail back to the vans. No more casual conversation, this is like a race for the bottom, a soggy, gruelling mudslide back to shelter.
We pile in, my face pressed against the misted window wrapped in a turkish towel and a raincoat, tucked in a ball hugging my camera bag for warmth I try to sleep despite the cold and echo of chattering teeth. The light dwindles and fades into bleak clouds as we drive the three and a half hour ride back to Cusco.

It is an adventure and a half, I highly recommend doing this but checking out the forecast first, and being prepared from every kind of weather!

Check out the full story on Ports of Gold.

Pack List

  • rain jacket
  • thermals
  • thin layer underneath
  • scarf
  • hat
  • gloves
  • good hiking boots
  • water
  • energy snacks
  • sunscreen
  • cash (for the entrance fee or anything you may want to buy along the way)
  • camera
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Emily Hlaváč Green Storyteller

A kiwi photographer building stories around food, lifestyle and travel, currently living in New York City. Always dreaming of the next mountain to climb, making a campfire a kitchen or adventure into the unknown. Adventures at portsofgold.com

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