Vinicunca: The Rainbow Mountain in Perú
Vinicunca Mountain, better known as the Rainbow Mountain of Cusco, is one of the most impressive mountains in the Cusco Region, near to Ausangate Mountain.
This beautiful mountain, due to the minerals present in its soil and the erosion of the sedimentary stones of its hills and slopes presents the tonalities of the rainbow. And for this reason, this magical Mountain of Seven Colors, in spite of its recent tourist promotion, has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Peru and South America.
Thousands of travelers from all over the world visit it every day to appreciate its magical rainbow colors or to observe, from its summit, the impressive high Andean landscapes of the Ausangate snow-capped mountain.
Recently, National Geographic magazine included this attractive landscape among the 100 places you should visit before you die.
- Location of the Rainbow Mountain
- Weather and Temperature
- About the Colors
- Flora and fauna
- How to get to Rainbow Mountain in Perú?
- Distance from Cusco to the Rainbow Mountain
- Vinicunca Trek Difficulty
- What to do and see in Vinicunca?
- What to bring to Vinicunca?
- Tips for hiking the Rainbow Mountain in Cusco
The word Vinicunca comes from the Quechua toponym: Winicunca, which means Narrow Neck Hill.
Location of the Rainbow Mountain
The Rainbow Mountain in Perú – Vinicunca is located in the Vilcanota mountain range, near the snow-capped mountain Ausangate, between the districts of Cusipata and Pitumarca, provinces of Quispicanchi and Canchis, Cusco region, in the south of Peru.
The Vinicunca is located at an altitude of approximately 5200 meters above sea level (17060.37 feet).
Weather and Temperature
Because it is located between the mountain ranges of the Peruvian Andes, the climate of the 7 Colors Mountain is frigid. And its average annual temperature varies between 7 and 12 °C.
However, the weather in the Vinicunca Mountain is never variable. During the months of December to March, the Mountain of 7 Colors presents abundant cloudiness and intense rainfall. On the other hand, during the dry season (April to November) the climate in the mountains is frigid at night and sunny during the day.
In addition, between the months of June and July there are also frosts and snowfalls.
According to some geologists from the Geological Society of Peru, the Vinicunca mountain, like many other mountains in the great Andes, was formed by the movement of tectonic plates that raised marine sediments until they became impressive mountains.
On the other hand, the coloring that Vinicunca presents is the result of the oxidation of some minerals by the action of erosion, humidity and other geological factors.
At some point in our history, the mountain was covered with blocks of ice: it was a snow-covered area. However, due to the effects of global warming and climate change, the ice disappeared and left in its place this magical landscape that shows us the beauty and ecological fragility of planet Earth.
About the Colors
According to the studies of the Deconcentrated Direction of Culture of Cusco, the coloration of the mountain is due to the following mineralogical composition:
- The pink color is due to the red clay, fangolitas (mud) and arilitas (sand).
- The whitish color is due to the quartz sandstone and marls, rich in calcium carbonate.
- The red one is composed by the claystones (iron) and clays belonging to the superior tertiary.
- The green one is due to the compound of phyllites and clays rich in ferro-magnesium.
- The earthy brown is the product of fanglomerate composed of rock with magnesium belonging to the Quaternary era.
- And the mustard yellow colour is due to the presence of calcareous sandstones rich in sulphur minerals.
Flora and fauna
Despite the arid landscape that can be seen in most of the photographs where only some South American camelids stand out. The beautiful mountain of Vinicunca never hosts several species of plants and animals. Among these we mention:
Flora: ichu and some lichens.
Fauna: alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, condors, kestrels, Andean guinea pigs, gray deer and others.
How to get to Rainbow Mountain in Perú?
To go to the impressive Rainbow Mountain from the city of Cusco you can take any of these three options:
Route by Cusipata
This is the shortest way to reach the top of the Rainbow Mountain. And it’s also the most travelled route by travellers. Since, the travel time by car is only 1 hour, and the walk is of equal length.
To get to Vinicunca through Cusipata there is no direct transportation service from Cusco. Therefore, you must follow the next route.
Take the buses that cover the route Cusco – Sicuani, through the Longitudinal Highway of the Southern Peruvian Sierra (PE-3S). These public service buses can be boarded at the Sicuani bus terminal located on Huayruropata Avenue (next to the Garcilaso stadium).
But, if you want more comfort and speed, you can also choose to take the direct services (without stops along the way). The terminals of the fast services are located one kilometer below, on the same avenue (at the height of the Casa de la Juventud coliseum).
The cost of the tickets in the inter-provincial services is 5.00 soles. The cost of tickets for inter-provincial services is 5.00 soles, while for fast services it is around 12.00 soles. And the travel time can last between 1 hour and 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
But, no matter what type of service you take, don’t forget to get off at the Cusipata town. And from this place you will have to take a bus service to Phulawasipata (end of the road from where the hike to the magnificent mountain of colors begins). The cost of the ticket to Phulawasipata by bus is 10.
However, this is not the best option to reach Vinicunca. Since there are only buses and passengers in the morning hours. So you will have to take an express service. The express service has a cost of 100 soles, including the ride up and down.
Route by Pitumarca
To visit Vinicunca on this route, follow the same steps we described on the Cusipata route. Only in this case, instead of getting off in the Cusipata district, you will have to get off a few kilometers further on in the Checacupe district. The travel time to this location is 2 hours. And the costs of the tickets vary between 7.00 soles (public service) and 12 soles (fast service).
In the plaza of Checacupe take the buses that go to the district of Pitumarca, from where you will have to board another bus to the community of Pampachiri.
The ticket from Checacupe to Pitumarca will cost you 1 sol; and from Pitumarca to Pampachiri, 10 to 12 soles. And the estimated travel time will be 1 hour.
At the Checkpoint in Pampachiri (where the trail ends) pay your entrance fee (10.00 soles, foreign tourist; and 5.00 soles, national tourist). And then start with the 5 kilometer hike to the Vinicunca Pass. The walking time, through a relatively flat road, is about 2 hours.
Until the beginning of the year 2019, this was the busiest route. However, even though the road now climbs even a few kilometers below Vinicunca, most tourists prefer to enter through Cusipata, because of the proximity to Cuzco.
Going with a travel agency
For the degree of difficulty of the trek, since you will be above 5 200 meters above sea level. We recommend that you take a tour to Rainbow Mountain. This way you won’t have to worry about anything but enjoying your adventure.
Your travel agency, depending on the service you hire, will manage your transportation, food, guides, entrance tickets and other services.
The prices that travel agencies offer to get to Vinicunca never vary. The most basic packages are around 80 soles, and you can buy them around the main square in Cusco. While the improved services are around 50 and 60 dollars. There are also exclusive and private services that cost around 200 dollars.
Distance from Cusco to the Rainbow Mountain
Depending on the route you choose, the distance between Cusco and the Mountain of Colors will vary as follows:
Through the Cusipata route:
- Cusco – Phulawasipata: 102 km (asphalt road and dirt road).
- Phulawasipata – Mountain of Colors (road): 3 km.
Through the Pitumarca route:
- Cusco – Pampachiri: 139 km (paved road and dirt road).
- Pampachiri – Mountain of Colors (road): 4.8 km.
Vinicunca Trek Difficulty
The hike to Vinicunca has a medium – moderate difficulty.
Most of the route is slightly steep with few steep slopes that do not pose any difficulty. However, it is not the path that makes the ascent difficult. It is the fact that you are more than 5,000 meters above sea level that can sometimes affect the normal breathing of some visitors. Well, at higher altitudes the amount of oxygen is less.
Therefore, it is recommended that you are in good health and in good physical condition. And if possible, your excursion to Vinicunca should never be made after you have acclimated to the climate of Cuzco.
What to do and see in Vinicunca?
In the mountain of colors you can:
- Appreciate the whimsical natural colors of the mountain of colors that resemble the colors of the rainbow.
- Observe the incredible natural landscapes that surround the hill of colors, such as the snowy peaks of Ausangate.
- Take walks around Vinicunca to other nearby natural attractions such as the Red Valley.
- Participate in cultural interaction activities with the local people, who are dedicated to the grazing of South American camelids.
- Enjoy an excellent and incredible day, breathing pure air, walking at more than 5000 meters above sea level, connecting with mother nature and reflecting on the fragile natural balance.
What to bring to Vinicunca?
Since you are leaving the city towards the heart of the mountains of the Peruvian Andes. Ideally, you should take it with you:
- Identification document.
- Camera with extra battery.
- Cash for your personal expenses and to pay the entrance fee to Vinicunca (10 soles, foreign tourist; and 5 soles, national tourist)
- Wide brimmed hat and waterproofs (in the rainy season).
- Coat, gloves, windbreaker, trekking pants and trekking shoes.
- Water, snacks and some fruits.
- Personal medication, in case you require it or are under any medication.
- In case you require it, you can also consider the option of renting horses. The cost of the horse is 50 soles (one way) and 80 soles (round trip).
Tips for hiking the Rainbow Mountain in Cusco
To enjoy a comfortable and safe trip, take into account these tips:
- Travel in the dry season, between April and November, see our post: Best time to go to Rainbow Mountain.
- Try to enjoy good health and be in good physical condition.
- Take your trekking equipment with you: wide brimmed hat, small backpack, trekking shoes, warm clothes, sunscreen, trekking poles, rain poncho, water and food.
- Buy water and food in Cusco or in Cusipata or Pitumarca, the only places where you will find a shop.
- Do not travel with children under 12 years old.
- Finally, before hiking to Vinicunca, don’t forget to acclimatize to the climate of the Cusco region. This way you will avoid altitude sickness (soroche).