Hiking Rainbow Mountain or Viniacunca
Viniacunca (Seven colored mountain) or rainbow mountain is a mountain outside of Cusco near the Ausangate. Rainbow Mountain was discovered in 2015 because until recently, a thick layer of ice and snow covered the mountain. As temperatures rose, the snow and ice melted and revealed thick stripes of mineral deposits painted across sandstone rock. Fortunate and really unfortunate because two words: climate change. You can imagine my mixed feelings about hiking this mountain. On one hand, I was excited to tour a newer attraction but understood the real reason why I could go now.
The mountains are formed by sediments – iron oxide to give it that red color, sulfar for yellow, etc. Your guide from Flashpackers Connect will tell you a lot more!
The mountain itself can only be accessed by foot or horse. From the nearest road, there’s a trail leading up, which takes about 2-3 hours to walk depending on your fitness level and/or you get a horse. Including the three hours drive from Cusco, it takes around six hours in total to reach the top, 2-3 hours back down so it’s a long day.
Why hike Rainbow Mountain with Flashpackers Connect Tours
There were many reasons why I chose to ultimately hike Rainbow Mountain with Flashpackers Connect. One was LeAnn’s prompt and timely response, especially when I had a million questions. Some other positive points about them:
- I liked the extra early morning start time. We would be one of the first groups up there (there’s usually two or three flashpackers connect groups) and wanted to avoid the horde of tourists that inevitably would start the hike an hour or two behind us
- Small Groups (8 max)
- Breakfast, lunch, and snacks included
- A tour guide, driver, and cook
- Walking sticks are provided
- Horses are not included but you can rent one for $30 USD, if needed. (I saw a lot of people were riding them).
I loved the meals because our cook was a local Peruvian that didn’t live too far from the trail head. Breakfast was American-style and light. It consisted of some crepes, fruit, coffee, and tea. They also packed us a small sack for snacks – fruit, crackers, and cookies. Home-cooked Peruvian dishes were for lunch (delicious and plentiful), and I appreciated visiting a local home in a small village. Also, he had a real flushing western toilet! It was outside but clean.
Franco – was our tour guide and he did an excellent job leading us, guiding us, and answering any questions we had. I like to talk a bit with my tour guides and found out he’s a 21 year old college student in accounting while working as a guide! What a feat considering he has evening classes while also having to run a tour at 2 am daily.
Flashpackers Connect only has a group of eight (8) people maximum so hiking rainbow mountain with flashpackers connect is a good choice.
The hike is at 5,000 meters (17,060 ft) above sea level. Yes, Rainbow Mountain is higher than Machu Picchu and Cusco. Mount Everest Base Camp is 5,380 meters (17,600 ft), which means it is just slightly higher than Rainbow Mountain.
Hikers get forewarned and warned about the altitude. You’re going to have a bad time if you are not fully acclimated. The ascent is not that bad, it is the altitude because if you’re not fully acclimated, it’s a struggle. I was acclimated than most and I was STILL struggling. I didn’t use a horse or need an oxygen tank but I was reconsidering my life choices when the early horses passed me by when I was dying on my walking stick. My fellow hiker buddy in the group just laughed at the expression on my face while he waited for me. With people in my group being patient and kind enough to wait for me, my suffering became a public display of agony but hey – I still made it and didn’t even get a horse to cheat some of the trail!
When you’re almost at the top, there’s a little “base camp” that is a small rock corner. Justin (the local Peruvian there) allows you to sit and rest on his warm sheepskins. He also offers water, tea, soda, and other refreshments for good prices – just help a local out anyway. You can also leave your daypack there while you finish the rest of your ascent up the hill for the viewpoint.
On a clear day with blue skies, it’s simply incredible and the colors are pretty vivid. They’re not as vivid if you’ve seen some of the heavily photoshopped images on Instagram but it’s worth the hike. The hill is actually tiny and there’s not much space or room for photos if there are hordes of tourists also trying to get an epic photo in. (Hence, go early). Luckily, we started early so we saw tourists entering during our descent.
Tips, Tricks, and Advice
- Follow the tour company’s (in this case, rainbow mountain with flashpackers connect) about what to wear. The weather can change drastically so bring a poncho or a raincoat and dress in layers. I was peeling off clothes as fast as I was putting them back on. It does get windy at the top sometimes.
- Go Early. When we were descending, we saw the massive amount of crowds coming in and it just isn’t as peaceful.
- Wear sunscreen and bring it
- Bring toilet paper. There are porta potties and squatty toilets along the way (just shacks with wooden boards over a covering). If that’s the case, bring hand sanitizer as well
- Bring water. 1 liter minimum!
- Pack as light as possible otherwise
- Tip your cook, guide, and driver. Most tour companies say it’s not required but appreciated, (especially for a tour like this where the guide is hiking alongside you. It’s different if they’re just waiting by the car).
I know a lot of people (non-Americans mostly) are squeamish or uncomfortable with tipping but really. I understand you’ve coughed up a lot of money for this trip already, but you’re visiting a developing country (there’s poverty all around you), you’re not going to go bankrupt if you are generous with a few dollars. K? They work really hard and while tour companies (hopefully) give them a decent wage, any extra wouldn’t hurt. I’m sorry if not all countries give decent wages like in Europe, Canada, or Australia.
- Don’t fall asleep right after the hike! The drive back up is really splendid with great views.