Vinicunca or Rainbow mountain is a place near the Ausangate. The mountains are are partly formed of colorful sediments, which give the site a unique and surreal look. The mountain itself can only be accessed by foot or horse. From the nearest road, there's a trail leading up, which takes about three hours to walk. Including the three hours drive from Cusco, it takes around six hours in total to reach the top. You can find the trail in Open Streetmap and it's well marked and easy to follow, even if you're not going with a guide. If in doubt, just follow the hordes of tourists.
Although there are a few people living in small villages around the place, it was only discovered for tourism in 2015. The first guided tours were available in January 2016, but by now most of the agencies in Cusco offer one day trips and the place is on its way to a becoming a major tourist a attraction. Even on rainy / cloudy days, the site can get crowded with several hundrer people climbing to the top at the same time. Be aware that the lookout itself, from where you get the best views of the actual Rainbow Mountain and it's surroundings, is just a small hill that fills pretty quickly. All guided tours reach the top at about the same time, so while there's not much people around most of the time, there's a lot around 10:30 - 11 am. If you want to make sure to get some time for yourself, the only way is going by yourself or spending the night around the area.
Since the region is getting more and more popular, it is especially important not to leave any rubbish (including human waste: there's toilets along the way, so use them). Try to stay on the path and don't walk on the Rainbow Mountain itself (there's some kind of fence around it) to preserve this site for future generations.
As with many of Peru's hiking routes the exact location and directions are difficult to find. Here are the coordinates for Rainbow Mountain:-13.869444, -71.303056
The trailhead is a three hours drive from Cusco, with the last third being a narrow dirt road. There are several ways to get this quite remote place:
- By public transport: While people have made it there by using busses and collectivos, you will probably need to take a taxi for the last bit and there's always the chance of getting stuck somewhere along the way. It is possible, but probably quite tricky.
- By rental car: If you got your own or rented vehicle, you can drive there by yourself. You can find the place in open streetmap, so an offline navigation app such as maps.me or OSMand might come in handy. Although the last hour is by dirt road, you don't need a 4WD and there's some spots for parking (although they might be crowded by the vans of the agencies).
- Take a guided tour: Although this place is still fresh, you can already book day trips with most agencies in Cusco. Most of the tours start early in the morning. Most tours include a pick-up from the hostel, breakfast, lunch, the entrance fee (10 Soles) and oxygen in case of altitude sickness. The tours start from as little as 50 Soles (but check,what´s included). While the `cheper`offers leave Cuzco at 5am (you can easily add 30 minutes until everyone got an pick up), the more experienced / expensive tours start as early as 3 to 4 am. Try to get there as early as possible, as the weather is getting worse after noon. Furthermore, ask about the group size and check the weather forecast (e.g. Windguru. There are minibuses (up to 19 pople) and real busses (up to 35 people). Most tours stop close to Cusipata for breakfast and lunch (the gravel road starts there). It´s around 2h from Cuzco to Cusipata and around 1,5h from there to the top (it´s faster downhill). Breakfast is usually bread, jam and butter, eggs and tea or chocolate. Once you´re at the parking lot, you can walk up at your own pace or rent a horse (for 70 Soles, but it´s not really worth it because you have to walk up the most exhausting part anyways, the last 200m). You don´t really need a guide, just follow the crowd or the clear paths uphill. You can´t get lost. Just make sure to be back at the parking lot right in time. You´ll be back in Cuzco around 6 pm.
Although it's definitely the easiest way of getting in, some people are disappointed about not having too much time at the actual site. Be aware that there are several offers online, which are mostly overpriced. It is probably best and cheapest to book the trip directly in Cusco, since that gives you the chance to bargain and compare prices. The whole trip costs around S./50 - S./130, just check if everything is included to compare prices (Jan. 19). It is also possible to negotiate the price if you book the tour without food. Do not pay extra s/10 for the guide to the Red Valley as you can easily reach it from the top independently, and it will take around 15-20 min one-way. See the Do section for more information regarding the red valley.
- Go with an agency: If you're up for some adventure, some agencies will also agree just to take you there and pick you up again one or more days later. Just ask around the Av. de Sol in Cusco. This should cost you around S./50 - S./80, depending on the agency. This is probably the easiest and cheapest way to spend more time at the site without all the hassle of the public transport option, also making sure that you arrive early in the morning, thus giving you the whole day to explore the area. here you have one of them
- Do a Trekking tour: It is also possible to do this trip as part of the Ausangate Trek. While the original trek will normally not cross this place, it is possible to do a detour. Ask a local guide or talk to an agency who are experts and can provide tourist information. There are option is from less than one hour to one over two and more days of hiking and camping in the mountains. Companies offering these treks can be found online.
The only way of getting up is walking, which takes about three hours (return). You can also rent a horse from the villagers, which is S./70 one way, S./80 for the return trip. Since the first part is rather flat, people will follow you with horses waiting for you to get tired along the way, so normally you can also rent one if you're already half way up. Be aware that when it gets crowded (especially on weekends), there might not be enough horses for all the people.
The breathtaking landscape, loads of alpacas and some wild vicunas (if you're lucky). There's some small villages, and the people there still live in their traditional way of life, including colorful dresses.
- Red Valley: Most people return after taking a photo at the Rainbow Mountain, an other option is to go to the red valley (Valle Rojo). It has fewer tourists, but is equally beathtaking. It´s not necessary to book a guided tour, as it is easy to find and explore. If you decend from the rainbow mountain, turn left (after 200m or so, you can see the tracks from the viewing point). You will get to a junction guarded by locals. The left track will cost you 10 Soles, while the right track costs 5 Soles. The right track is worth the extra 5 Soles. You go up to the viewing point (Rojo Valle, 5038m altidue) where you can see the rainbow mountain and the mountain range on the one side and the red valley on the other side. Furthermore, it´s possible to decend an additional 200m to get a closer look to the red valley. You have 2 options to get back to the track / busses. First and the easier /faster option is to go back from the viewing point to the main track, secondly to keep on the other side of the mountain range and follow a less touristic track. A local will charge you an additional 5 Soles for this track. It is advised to follow an guide, as the track isn´t easy to identify all the time. As an approximation, just keep on the right side of the mountain (you will have to circumnavigate the mountain range to get back to the bus station)
If you have time, there's a lot opportunities of walking around and exploring the area. There's not much vegetation, so you can't really get lost, although bringing a GPS device might be a good idea.
There's not much there, but some of the villagers will sell you some snacks on the way up. At the top, there are shops selling warm food and coffee / tea. If you want to stay more than one day, you should definitely bring you own food.
There is a small stream you can use for water, but make sure to purify it before drinking, since there are many horses and alpacas around and they leave waste everywhere. Also be aware that you will find less water the higher you go, so don't rely on it and always carry a sufficient supply. In the village you can buy bottled water and some soft drinks from the villagers.
There's no place to stay yet, but you can find plenty of space for a tent. Make sure to ask the people in the village first, although they might ask for some money (be aware that none of them has a job, so they live mainly from raising alpacas and even a few Soles can make a real difference to them). If you don't want to camp just wait a while, there's gonna be a hostel someday.
Be aware of the high altitude of more than 5000 meters. Make sure to acclimatize sufficiently before the trip. Also the weather can change rapidly (as everywhere in the mountains). While it can get hot at daytime, nights can be freezing cold, snow is not unusual. Also the place is really remote, with the only way of getting up being walking or taking a horse. Especially if you go independently, make sure to bring proper equipment, water and food.