How To Trek Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca) in Piso, Peru
Vinicunca, Montaña de Colores, Montaña de Siete Colores, or Rainbow Mountain. All the names for this one otherworldy and breathtaking landscape in the Peruvian Andes. Considered to be the 4th largest mountain in Peru, this natural wonder had been covered in ice for tons of years, later to reveal its sandstone mineral deposits in shades of light moss, burgundy, mustard and, cambridge blue after much melting.
At 16,000 feet (5200 meters), it isn't a walk in the park to observe, but once you start in the foothills you will come across heaps of alpacas, stunning desert landscapes, indigenous merchants, and snow capped-glacier mountain tops before making it to the summit. The terrain all around you looks painted, or something out of a surrealist imagination and the 360 view from the top is nothing short of something to marvel.
Are you ready to see this magnificent beauty of nature with your own eyes? Here's how to Trek Rainbow Mountain in 5 steps.
1. Plan to arrive in Cusco, Peru 2-3 days before embarking on your Trek. If you are accustom to high altitudes, perhaps you live in Denver and are in incredible physical shape, this adjustment may not be as intense for you (which is possible), but note that Cusco is at 12,556 feet and you still need to ascend another 3,400 feet. You will start the trek up the mountain around 14,000 feet. So, arriving in Cusco early to adjust to the altitude is a good start. Start off easy with some gentle walks around town and then build up to more sight-seeing.
2. Eat clean, get your rest, and stay hydrated. This is a full day event, with limited restrooms, so you'll want to have all the energy you need and plenty of hydration before being out in the sun and altitude all day. Consider drinking some coca tea to help with the altitude as well.
3. Hire a tour company. If you are adventurous and want to rent a car and head to the mountain on your own, it can be done. It's a four-hour drive south of Cusco and touring in Rainbow Mountain isn't regulated so you can get there last minute. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. One - the local language isn't Spanish, it's Quechua. Having a tour guide who is experienced with the terrain and can speak the language is mighty helpful. Second, if you've never been in 16,000 feet altitude and you don't know how your body will react, it may be good to not go at this alone and have an expert with some oxygen readily available for you. And third, a bonus: someone can take pictures of you and you don't need to mess with more equipment on your back)
I booked a one day tour with Flashpacker Connect, an experienced adventure tour company that specializes in tours of this caliber throughout the world; running them in small manageable groups. I found their customer service and communicating with LeAnn to be top notch. They were transparent, informative, responsive and thorough. They provided me with everything I needed to bring, my options and what to be aware of. In addition, this tour is one of the earliest to start the trek up the mountain, meaning you will have fewer tourists around you the entire way up and fewer people in your photos when you reach the top. They also provide delicious food cooked by a chef before and after you do your climb and provide enough options for different food requirements. We were stuffed.
*I was in terrible shape during this part of my trip around the world, but Grover the tour-leader was extremely patient and understanding. He stayed with me the whole way up while the rest of my group pushed on. The fastest folks got to the top in 2 hours by foot. I took nearly 4. But on the way back it only took me 2. It's approximately a 7.5 mile round trip trek. There is an option to pay additionally to have a local take you up on a horse when you arrive. Whether you book with the tour group or not. I had been horseback riding the day before so I was still sore and preferred to try the walk myself. On the way down I saw the horses sweating and exhausted and my heart sank. So I felt solid in my choice not to ride the horse up. And despite being out of shape I utilized some coca leaves but never needed oxygen.
4. The weather in this region is super unpredictable so you'll need to dress in layers. (Note the different looking skies and tones in each picture all caused by the rapid changes in weather and light.) You could have sunny bright skies one minute and then windy, rainy, and a cloud cover the next. Wear a base layer and comfortable trekking pants and shoes and a fleece. Consider bringing a poncho or raincoat or warm outer layer and a rain cover for your backpack if you're bringing it up. You may want a hat and gloves, sunglasses and plenty of spf for your exposed skin. Pack lip balm, wear comfy socks, and any snacks or extra water you may want to consume and of course, your camera! (I loved the coca candy I found in Cusco and kept some in day pack too). It's better to have the layers and be comfortable and later take things off then getting caught in rain and miserable. If you forget to pack something you can always find it in one of the many shops around Cusco.
5. Bring your sense of adventure! The weather is unpredictable, you may not feel awesome from the altitude and getting to the top can be very challenging. This is a difficult trek after all, but coming with the right mental attitude can make all the difference and you'll feel so much joy and pride after you conquer this one of a kind remarkable terrain.
"When we see ourselves in a situation which must be endured and gone through, it is best to make up our minds to it, meet it with firmness, and accommodate everything to it in the best way practicable. This lessens the evil; while fretting and fuming only serves to increase your own torments." - Thomas Jefferson
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. Have an incredible time trekking Rainbow Mountain! And as always, send in your experience!