One trip that many visitors to Cusco look forward to when they come is Rainbow Mountain, aka Vinicunca. It’s the protagonist of many photos and we’re sure you’ve seen the array of colors on this spectacular creation of Mother Nature.
You can visit the mountain in a day from the city and enjoy a challenging hike to the top. You will need to spend two or three days to acclimate in Cusco before you head to Vinicunca because you’ll reach a little over 5,200 masl.
Once you get there, you’ll be greeted with some incredible views of the rainbow-colored mountain as well as a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. If you have time or are up for an extra hike, you can add a visit to the Red Valley, which almost feels as though you’re stepping foot on Mars!
All that aside, first you need to know how to get there. A lot of visitors opt to go with an agency or tour operator, mainly because everything’s included, which makes things much easier. However, some prefer to go it alone. This might be because they want to save a little money or they like the idea of the adventure.
Whatever way you’re thinking of getting to Rainbow Mountain, we’ve put together everything you need to know to get there safely plus some other important information and tips.
What to Take
Before you head on your journey, you’ll need to know what essentials to take with you. You only need a small daypack. Carrying too much will make it hard to hike at a high altitude.
- Waterproof jacket or lightweight poncho in case of showers
- Warm clothing – thin layers are best as you can take them off and put them on as your temperature changes
- Sunscreen of factor 50+ – you’ll be very close to the sun up here
- Sunhat and sunglasses
- 2 liters of water per person (You can also buy this at the base and at the top)
- Snacks for the hike to give you a boost of energy
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Cash in small denominations for snacks and water
How to Get to Rainbow Mountain With a Tour
When you plan to go to Rainbow Mountain as part of a tour group, there isn’t so much you need to know as everything will be taken care of. You’ll need to research some tour companies online beforehand or visit some different ones once you get to Cusco to choose the best one.
Get in touch with them and book your trip. If you’re not yet in Cusco, the best way to do this is by emailing the tour company. You’ll need to make a deposit or pay in full beforehand to reserve your tour.
On the day of your excursion, the tour group will likely pick you up from your accommodation and take you on the trip. They’ll also bring you back to your accommodation at the end of the day.
Advantages of Going With a Tour
- You don’t need to worry about any of the logistics as the tour company will do it all for you.
- Everything is included, such as transport, food, and a guide. You’ll need to check if the entrance fee is included or not as you might need to take this amount with you in cash.
- There’s no need to worry about finding transport or that you’ll find it hard to get back to Cusco.
How to Get to Rainbow Mountain Without a Tour
If you plan on going without a tour, you’ll need to do some more planning. Also, many people think that this way is more economical, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Here’s a step-by-step description of how you’ll need to go about traveling to Rainbow Mountain.
- The first thing you need to organize is getting from Cusco to the town of Checacupe. Now, you can hire a private taxi to do this for you, but this costs more and prices vary. Otherwise, you can find public transport from Avenida Tomasa Tito Condemayta to Ocongate. This transport costs 7 or 8 soles and you’ll be traveling for around 2 hours. Make sure you get off where the taxis are waiting.
- Upon arrival in Checacupe, you’ll need to barter with the local taxi drivers to take you to Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain). This can cost up to 100 soles and the car will wait for you to do the hike and bring you back, meaning you don’t need to worry about how you’ll get back. Bear in mind that the more people there are the cheaper it’ll cost per person.
- Once you’re at the mountain, you’ll see lots of other groups doing the tour, so it’s easy to follow where they’re going and the trail is very obvious. The round trip is around 3 hours plus 30 minutes or so at the top to take in the incredible scenery.
- When you get back to the car park, you’ll be able to get into your taxi and head back to Checacupe.
- You can ask your driver to take you to the bus stop in Checacupe, which is the easiest way to get back to Cusco. Trying to find a private taxi to take you back to Cusco is difficult from Checacupe.
Advantages of Going Without a Tour
- You have the freedom of leaving when you like in the morning and don’t need to wait around for other travelers during the day out.
- You might be able to save some money, depending on how many people are in your group.
- Stop and eat when you like, where you like.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Rainbow Mountain?
The best time to visit Rainbow Mountain, and Cusco in general, is during the dry season. This way, the sky is clearer meaning you get a better view. There’s also no risk of falls or slips due to the rail being wet.
The dry season is from May to October. These two months are the best times to visit because there are fewer tourists than in June, July, and August.
You can visit any time of the year, but just be aware that during the rainy season, you might get very wet, which won’t be very pleasant for the trip back in the car.
Rainbow Mountain, Cusco FAQs
Now you know how to get there, we’ll provide you with some FAQs that might answer a few of the questions you have when deciding whether or not you want to visit.
How Much is the Entrance to Rainbow Mountain?
The entrance to Rainbow Mountain is 10 soles, which may or may not be included in the price of a tour if you travel that way.
How Far is Rainbow Mountain from Cusco?
The ride from the center of Cusco to the start of the trail is around 100 km (62 miles). It takes around 3 to 3 and a half hours to get there.
Is Rainbow Mountain Worth Visiting?
Yes, definitely! It’s an out-of-this-world landscape that you won’t find hardly anywhere else on the globe. You might not get another chance.
Will I Get Altitude Sickness at Rainbow Mountain?
As long as you take the hike slowly and have acclimated for 2-3 days in Cusco beforehand, you shouldn’t suffer from altitude sickness. It’s very normal to feel your heart racing a little as you ascend the final stretch, and your head might start to hurt a little. Don’t worry, though, this isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
How Did Rainbow Mountain Get Its Colors?
Over thousands of years, climate change and erosion have brought minerals and sediment to the surface that cause these different colors. These include iron sulfide, iron oxide, and magnesium. The mountain was only discovered to be colorful in recent years when the snow that covered it melted.
Do I Need Travel Insurance to Go to Rainbow Mountain?
Yes, 100%. Many companies won’t allow you to travel without it and if you do need emergency care in Cusco, the health system and treatment cost a lot. Make sure your insurance covers adventure activities.
What if I Can’t Make it to the Top?
Occasionally, hikers get tired due to exertion at high altitudes. There’s no need to worry, though, as horses are available for hire in this case and can take you a majority of the way. You’ll still have to hike the last bit by yourself, but this takes away a lot of the hiking needed.
Do I Need a Guide to Visit Rainbow Mountain?
It’s not a necessity but we do recommend it. This way, you’ll learn all about the area and the mountain itself as well as be in safe hands in case of an emergency.
What’s the Temperature Like at Rainbow Mountain?
Due to the high altitude and being so close to the snowy peak of Ausangate Mountain, the temperatures are chilly. Once you begin walking, you’ll warm-up, but you’ll soon start feeling the cold when you’re standing at the top.
Written by: Liv Palmer