Peru’s Amazing Rainbow Mountain

The tragedy of melting ice caps and glaciers caused by global warming has a silver lining in southern Peru’s Cusco Region. A few years ago receding snowline exposed the exquisite, multi-coloured Rainbow Mountain. Three hours drive east of Cusco, Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca) is now a popular tourist attraction.

Rainbow Mountain is higher than 5,000 metres and should only be tackled once acclimatised to altitude. Given my previous experience above 5,000 metres, I chose to visit after nearly three weeks in 3,400 metre high Cusco. In August 2016, Lotte and I woke up very early for the day-trip’s 3am pick-up.

Alpacas and Ice Cap, Rainbow Mountain

Llamas grazing in a stone-walled paddock with an icy peak in the background

After breakfast at lower altitude, we started the three hour trek past stunning scenery up to Rainbow Mountain. Climbing the mountain requires purchase of a ticket for 10 soles to cover maintenance costs.

Flowering Cactus, Rainbow Mountain

A very resilient cactus plant with yellow flowers

Stone Pile and Alpacas, Rainbow Mountain

A stone pile in front of alpacas

Horse riding at Rainbow Mountain; visitors not wanting to hike could pay extra to ride a horse

Potatoes Drying, Rainbow Mountain

Two lots of chuño (freeze dried potatoes) drying on the ground. The potatoes freeze at night and then are exposed to the intense sun during the day. Chuño is a traditional food in Peru and Bolivia and a popular ingredient in soups

Hikers, Rainbow Mountain

Looking back down; even the other mountains were amazingly beautiful

Part-way up the mountain I bought a bottle of home-made chicha morada, a drink made from purple corn. This would be a mistake.

Hikers, Rainbow Mountain

Nearing the end of the climb

Trekking to this altitude was tough despite the established path and good weather. At the top we were also exposed to a freezing wind.

Drone, Rainbow Mountain

A drone at the top of Rainbow Mountain in front of an icy peak (possibly 6,834 metre high Ausangate)

Joe and Lotte, Rainbow Mountain

With Lotte at Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain Colours, Cusco, Peru

Rainbow Mountain’s colours come from different minerals

Sunlight highlights the mountain’s colours, increasing their awesomeness. At the top I watched and waited for the clouds to part.

Horseman in front of Mountain, Rainbow Mountain

A man riding a horse on our trek down

Decorated Sheep, Rainbow Mountain

A sheep with decorative coloured yarn on top of its neck

Alpacas in front of Stunning Mountain Range, Rainbow Mountain

Alpacas in front beautiful purple mountains complemented by yellow pasture

Returning down to base camp I felt lifeless with no interest in eating the hot lunch in front of me. I only wanted to sleep. Altitude sickness had struck again. I felt somewhat better in the van returning to Cusco and I thank Lotte for her support.

That evening back at Ecopackers, the altitude sickness and food poisoning from the chicha morada combined for a notable end to a memorable day.

The stunning beauty of Rainbow Mountain and surrounding landscapes was worth the discomfort.

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