Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley in Peru: Everything You Need to Know Before Hiking
Are you planning on visiting the recently discovered Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley in Cusco area, Peru? Read our hiking guide which includes all tips and information you should know before traveling to this beautiful place.
You’ve probably already seen many pictures of one of the most magnificent geologic features in the world, the Rainbow Mountain all over the Instagram, and wonder if those photos are real or if the effect is only a work of well-skilled users of photoshop.
After our visit, we can confirm that Rainbow Mountain is no fake – those colors are real, but to enjoy Rainbow Mountain in its glory, we recommend you to plan your visit on a sunny day when colors are the most vivid. When it is raining or cloudy, colors can be darker, and it would be hard to avoid disappointment.
For us, the visit of Rainbow Mountain wouldn’t be complete without hiking through Red Valley.
Until today, we can’t even believe how is it possible that a place similarly beautiful (for us even more beautiful) as Rainbow Mountain is so scarcely visited although the place lies only 15 minutes walk from the heavily visited viewpoint.
Are you planning on visiting Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley?
Great, but there are things you should know before coming.
WHERE IS THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN?
Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca and Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors), lies in a remote region of Peruvian Andes, approximately three hours drive from the former Inca’s capital, Cusco.
It is a part of Vilcanota Mountain range as well as Ausangate Mountain, with 6384 meters, the highest mountain in Cusco area.
The settings of Rainbow Mountain was a big surprise for us. Because everyone is focusing only on the colorful mountain, honestly, we had never thought of its surroundings. But what a surprise when we turned our heads from the main attraction and realized that the view of the other side of the valley is equally astounding.
DISCOVERY OF THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
You might wonder how is it possible that the big boom of the Rainbow Mountain has started just recently.
A multi-day, also increasingly popular Ausangate trek leads around this mountain, so how come that no one (even local people) knew about it earlier?
The answer is maybe more obvious than you would have expected: global warming.
About five years ago, global warming had caused the ice to melt, and the colorful mountain has appeared underneath. It didn’t take long until hikers and guides walking the Ausangate Trek noticed the new attraction and shared it with the world. Since then, approximately 1000 people visit the Rainbow Mountain every day.
As usual, the popularity has its positives and negatives.
At the end of the day, it will be only on us (travelers) on one side and Peruvian government and people involved in the tourism industry on the other side, how will we be able to manage the sustainability of this place.
WHY IS THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN SO COLORFUL?
When looking at the valley leading to the Rainbow Mountain and the mountain itself, we couldn’t stop wondering where all the colors come from.
The explanation is more complex as there are many reasons why the Rainbow Mountain is striped with multiple colors such as yellows, greens, reds, and purples, but two main reasons are called weathering and mineralogy. Different layers of sediment rock change colors when exposed to environmental conditions such as wind or water, and we cannot forget that the high altitude also plays an important role in this process.
That’s why sediments of iron oxide turn red or iron sulfide turn into bright yellow.
Nature is sometimes unbelievable, right?
HIKING IN THE HIGH ALTITUDE
Because of the eyes catching and almost unreal colors, travelers sometimes can’t wait to see the Rainbow Mountain and sign in into a tour the very next day after arriving in Cusco.
But this very often happens to be a big mistake.
You shouldn’t ignore the fact that the Rainbow Mountain and the whole trail lies at a high altitude. The hike starts 4600 meters above sea level, and the viewpoint lies even over 5000 meters; at 5036 meters above sea level to be precise.
We cannot stress enough how important is acclimatization before you do the trek, because the altitude sickness is no joke and you can ruin your entire stay in Cusco or Peru overall.
We met a girl who hiked the Rainbow Mountain trek two days before she had the Inca Trail booked but she got seriously sick during the trek, and she couldn’t hike the Inca Trail and spent several days in the hospital instead.
Although you can never know how the altitude will affect you (it has nothing to do with physical ability or how your body reacted to altitude previously), there are several simple rules you should follow to maximize your chances to enjoy the trek.
Stay in Cusco at least two or three days before the hike to adjust your body to a higher elevation.
Drink enough water, do not eat heavy meals and try to do some light physical activity.
Do not forget that health and safety always go first, so in case you start feeling dizzy or a headache gets stronger during the hike, do not continue and get back to a lower altitude as quick as you can.
Weather in high mountains can be unpredictable, and you should come well-prepared.
The dry season in Peru is from April to October, but it can rain (or even snow) any time of the year at this altitude. Apart from the rain, you should also expect cold winds and strong sunshine (don’t be fooled by clouds).
WHAT TO EXPECT: WHAT IS THE TRAIL TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN AND RED VALLEY LIKE
The trail to the Rainbow Mountain is not extremely hard or long in case you are used to walking a bit.
You will gain a bit more than 400 meters on 5 kilometers. The path is obvious, can be slippery at places (especially after rain) and climbs gradually to the top apart from the last section which is pretty steep.
What makes this trek difficult is the altitude so although you are an experienced hiker, take it slowly. It should take you about two hours to reach the famous viewpoint.
When returning via Red Valley call yourself lucky. Not only you will be spoiled by amazing vistas, but the trail goes all the way downhill for 7 kilometers until you reach the parking lot where the bus waits.
Although the Rainbow Mountain deserves the hype, it is not the only fascinating attraction in the area.
Rather the contrary.
Only several hundred meters from the colorful mountain lies valley which offers incredible views and although the name suggests you will be overwhelmed by shades of red that’s not entirely true. You will be blown away by the mixture of shades of red color AND astonishingly lush green patches of grass. This combination is really eyes catching, and in case you’re planning on visiting the Rainbow Mountain, you should also add Red Valley into your Peru itinerary.
Instead of walking back the same way, take a 2.5 hours detour through this natural marvel.
You won’t regret this decision.