12 January, 2021 | Reccy Guide
Located deep within a remote mountain range in the Andes, hours from the nearest city, there lies an extraordinary peak, famed for its rainbow stripes. For centuries, Peru’s second biggest attraction lay hidden by snow. But a few years ago, global warming melted its glacial shell, revealing layers of mineral rock in lavender, terra cotta, and turquoise. A day trip to the Rainbow Mountain is done by thousands of visitors, all seeking a glimpse of her spectacular arcs.
Rising to an impressive 5200m, the colorful peak looks more like a dream scape than a naturally occurring phenomenon. Her unusual shades are caused by the area’s unique mineral makeup, which possesses rare qualities due to its staggering altitude and proximity to the coast. Rainbow Mountain is made of seven unique layers, which include red clay, calcareous sandstone, ferro magnesian rich clay, and iron clay stone. These appear as arcs of red, orange, brown, white, green, turquoise, and mustard yellow.
Until the mid 2010s, she remained virtually unvisited by humans, and the sense of wilderness is still palpable as you explore her rainbow crags. Official tours did not begin until 2016, and initially the only way to reach her summit was via a grueling six hour hike.
However, following the construction of a rudimentary road, tours are able to begin much closer to the end-point. Now, she has gained global notoriety, gracing glossy travel magazines and influential Instagram accounts on a daily basis. Her vibrant arches have become synonymous with Peruvian adventure and mystique, and are a must-visit for anyone visiting the country.
The range can be found around 130 km from Cusco, a stunning colonial city in South Eastern Peru.
Characterized by Incan archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture, this golden city provides fantastic access to Machu Picchu, Manu National Park, and of course, the Rainbow Mountain. The winding streets offer an abundance of high quality accommodation, foodie offerings, and historical attractions, making it the perfect base for those looking to explore the southern region of Peru.
The majority of companies offering tours to Rainbow Mountain are based in the city centre, also there are plenty of options online. The most popular way to visit is as part of a day tour, which generally requires a very early start (often around 3am), but offers a rewarding payoff.
Your tour company will meet you at your hotel or an agreed meeting place first thing. From there, you will take the three hour journey to Rainbow Mountain via your private tour bus. Traveling by public transport is particularly tricky, and you will likely find yourself stranded if you attempt it alone.
The drive to the mountain offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. For all her brilliance, Rainbow Mountain is just one of several brightly-hued mountains in the Ausangate mountain region. They serve as a fantastical backdrop, rolling into the distance in varying shades of red, purple, and orange. Snow capped peaks and glacial ridges stud the otherwise earthy landscape, and as you wind your way up the mountain roads you will be treated to panoramic views over the Andes.
Once you arrive, you will begin the trek to the main viewpoint. It should take somewhere in the region of 1 hour 45 minutes to reach the top, and although the hike is not technically difficult, the altitude is significant. Most of this is very flat, until the final 500 meters, when the terrain becomes significantly steeper. If you have a good level of fitness you should reach the top without much difficulty.
On the way you will encounter some of the friendly local wildlife, which includes herds of alpacas and llamas. You will also be greeted by local farmers, who form part of the close knit mountain community.
Your guide will meet you at the viewpoint, and give you time to take photos, have a snack, or simply to soak up the incredible view across the Andes.
The journey back down to your tour bus will take less time than the ascent, thanks to the power of gravity! Most people manage this section in around an hour.
If you are struggling with the climb, there are numerous local guides with horses, who will be able to lead you on horse back up and down the mountain 50 to 100 soles.
On the return leg to Cusco you will likely stop off in a local village for lunch, before heading back to your hotel or hostel.
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