View of the valley on the way down, Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Peru: Rainbow Mountain

Jan 11, 2018 - Carlos

A relatively recent discovery only 1-2 years old, Rainbow Mountain is known for its multi-colored hills. According to our guide, the whole area used to be covered by glaciers that melted due to climate change (very sad), which then revealed the colorful wonder underneath. Using Cusco as our base, we set off for the three-hour one-way drive nice and early with breathtaking Andean scenery. The road was perched on the side of a beautiful canyon with a river running inside.

Parking lot, Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Parking lot, Rainbow Mountain, Peru

We thought we had headed out pretty early and our van passed a lot of other cars, but when we got to the parking lot, there were so many other vans and buses already! Rainbow Mountain was a popular place. The trail was going to be crowded and like many hikes during this trip, at high altitude. The trail is the 5km (3mi) one way to the viewpoint at 5,200m (17,060ft) of altitude… starting at 4,477m (14,688 ft), it wasn’t going to be an easy task.

Entrance to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Entrance to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

As an alternative to hiking, locals rented horses for the ride up. Soon enough we saw others take the horses. We opted to have our legs take us up and we don’t regret it. It was definitely some suffering, but the sense of accomplishment after hiking the whole way up is irreplaceable.

Local renting a horse up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Local renting a horse up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

In a similar fashion to the hike in Cotopaxi and Quilotoa, we took it slow, pausing every now and then to catch our breaths and recover. The views of the valley were phenomenal and made stopping for breaks so, so much easier.

View along the way up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
View along the way up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Being well acclimatized at this point in our trip, we distanced ourselves from our group. Many people struggled with the altitude and had to turn around or ended up renting horses. Even then, by the end, most of them were not feeling well.

Steep trail up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Steep trail up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

The weather that day wasn’t the best, but as we approached the top we could see some colors on the side of the mountain. We could only hope that the weather would hold by the time we got up to the viewpoint. We pushed our pace and tried to get to the top as soon as possible.

The colorful side of the Rainbow Mountain, Peru
The colorful side of the Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Unfortunately, we weren’t fast enough and the clouds rolled in and covered the famous view of the Rainbow Mountain. 🙁

Hikers before the clouds covering Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Hikers before the clouds covering Rainbow Mountain, Peru

The view at the top looked like this:

Cloud-covered Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Cloud-covered Rainbow Mountain, Peru

This was far from optimal, but at least it was something? The different minerals in the rocks cause the varying hues of magenta, maroon and turquoise – a true geological wonder.

Different minerals create the colorful hues of Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Different minerals create the colorful hues of Rainbow Mountain, Peru

We waited up there for more than 30min to see if the clouds would clear for a clearer view. But it just wasn’t our lucky day. At some point it was snowing! Disappointed with the weather and getting really cold with the snow, we started our descent back to the parking lot.

Looking down the valley from the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint, Peru
Looking down the valley from the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint, Peru

As soon as we turned our heads to head down, we realized we had been ignoring the true jewel the whole time. The view of the valley the other way.

View of the valley on the way down, Rainbow Mountain, Peru
View of the valley on the way down, Rainbow Mountain, Peru

If the view at the top didn’t live up to our expectations, the view of the valley on the way down certainly made the trip worth it. In the foreground, bits of colored rock shared the terrain with vast and lush green hills, while the background was painted with red and green mountains, as well as rocky snow-capped ones. So gorgeous.

Julie and Carlos hiking down from Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Julie and Carlos hiking down from Rainbow Mountain, Peru

The way down was easy. It was on the way down that we had the energy to pause and go out of our way to take photos, like close ups of all the llamas dotting the scenery.

Llamas on the trail to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Llamas on the trail to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

We encountered many members of our group on the way down and just as we reached the van, it began hailing! The weather at Rainbow Mountain was so weird.

Hail pouring down on the drive back, Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Hail pouring down on the drive back, Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Overall we have always been quite fortunate with the weather during our travels, but it was out of our control for Rainbow Mountain. Even though we didn’t get the best experience at the main attraction, we still enjoyed the challenge and scenery along the way. It might be cliché, but this day trip can be a metaphor for life in general – that it’s about the journey, not the final destination. That we should appreciate and live along the way, not only when we reach our end goal.

If we thought Rainbow Mountain was an early start, it was nothing compared to the next day – Machu Picchu!!