Hiking Rainbow Mountain in Peru: What to Expect

Rainbow Mountain in Peru, also known as Vinicunca, is a place so beautiful I almost don’t want to share it with people as it could get way too popular. While Machu Picchu is the most popular attraction, seeing colorful mountains in Peru was by far the best experience.

But, hiking rainbow mountain in Peru was without a doubt the high life of my trip and it definitely stole the show from the lost city of Incas. The hike to the top is no joke, but rewarding (hence why I don’t recommend doing the alternative Rainbow Mountain trek).

Constantly changing weather conditions, combined with high altitude, can be a challenge for experienced hikers. But if done right it’s manageable even for those who don’t hike much. Especially since they built new trails and facilities around it.

Everyone who sees the photo of the colorful hills wants to see it. But after doing even the slightest amount of research many travelers give up on visiting Rainbow Mountain. Why is that?

Tips for Hiking Rainbow Mountain Peru
(updated for 2021)


  1. Where is Rainbow Mountain in Peru: Ausangate Trek
  2. Rainbow Mountain Day Trip from Cusco + Alternative Mini-Trek
  3. Booking Online vs. Booking in Cusco
  4. What to Pack for Rainbow Mountain
  5. Renting a Horse & Toilets
  6. Where to Stay in Cusco Before Hiking Rainbow Mountain

Where is Rainbow Mountain in Peru: Ausangate Trek

The most popular route to see Vinicunca is a 6-day hike called the Ausangate Trek in the Andes. Unlike the Inca Trail, no permit is needed. In fact, it’s one of the quietest in the region and you’ll likely see only a few hikers.

You’ll hike through the fields full of alpacas and llamas, red mountains, snowy peaks or lakes. The views are unforgettable.

Ausangate mountain itself is considered a holy mountain by Peruvians and it’s been a place of worship since pre-Inca times. The mountain is also notable for the Qoyllur Rit’I Festival held at the base at the end of May.

The festival draws over 10,000 pilgrims each year and celebrates the Andes mountains spirit and the apparition of Christ on the mountainside.

The trek isn’t an easy one and your only option is staying in local houses and camping with no proper bathrooms on the way. As rewarding as this trek is, I only know that this isn’t for everyone, especially those with health problems.

Here’s the good news for you: there is an option of seeing the rainbow mountain in 1 day!

rainbow mountain peru
Colorful rocks along the trail

Rainbow Mountain Peru Day Trip from Cusco


  • Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) is in the Willkanuta Mountain Range, nestled in the greater Andes Mountains, just 3 hours away from Cusco.
  • Starting altitude: 4,326 m / 14,189 ft (Cusco altitude 3,399 m)
  • Max. Altitude: 5,200m / 17,060 ft
  • The best time to hike Ausangate is during the dry months between May and September. The shoulder months of April and October are also pleasant.
  • The Ausangate local community is one of the only few shepherding (raising llamas and alpacas) communities left in the world.

While Rainbow Mountain didn’t exist until 2015, recently the Rainbow Mountain trail became so popular that locals and tourism organizations around the world are worried that it could soon be completely destroyed. 

The NYT raised the questions: Will Tourism Ruin the Rainbow Mountain of Peru? and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened sooner than later.

Therefore if you go, leave the smallest footprint you can. While you could go off the path back in times when I went, with over 1000 people per day on the site, it’s not advised these days. Don’t even think of bringing things like baby strollers (yes, I was asked about it many times) – this is a hike in the mountains, not a quick viewpoint. 

Alpacas in Peru
Alpacalypse is coming!

Booking Online vs. Booking in Cusco

Many travelers prefer to pre-book all excursions in advance, and while it’s totally understandable, this isn’t always the best option when it comes to Vinicunca mountain. You often get overcharged this way.

If you just want to go, whether it’s a small or big group, then instead of pre-booking online, wait till you get to Cusco. You used to be able to save over $100 by booking in person directly in Cusco (60-100 soles = $17-40). But you won’t know exactly what will you get.

In very high season Rainbow Mountain tours might be sold out. A lot of tour operators branch together and send everyone on the same bus, serve them the same food and hike with the same group.

Alpaca in Peru
Friendly alpaca

If you decide to book the tour online (or in-person) make sure that you can change the date of the tour last minute. Why is this important? One day you get great views, another there is a snowstorm and you don’t see anything. If it’s bad weather, you won’t be able to see much.

The weather cannot be predicted more than a day in advance so when you book the last minute you can actually make sure you go when it’s nice and sunny out. I actually had to change my original plan and do the hike on a different day, as it was hailing and snowing for a few days.

Alternative Rainbow Mountain Mini-Trek

From 2017 many tour operators started offering a trip to an “alternative Rainbow M0untain” for those who aren’t up for a day of hiking. While it might seem tempting for those who don’t usually hike as the trek is only 20 minutes long, keep in mind that this isn’t a trip to the actual Rainbow Mountain. 

You will see some rainbow mountains, but the route you’ll take is not the same. While due to its popularity the ‘main’ rainbow mountain got crowded, if you start hiking early you will have it almost to yourself.

Plus, the best part of the trip wasn’t actually seeing the rainbow mountain but enjoying the stunning scenery, hundreds of alpacas around and the hike itself. You won’t get the same experience by doing the alternative tour.

rainbow mountain day trip

READ MORE: Carry-On Only Packing Guide

What to Pack for Rainbow Mountain?

It’s impossible to dress appropriately for Rainbow Mountain. When you leave Cusco at around 2:30 AM you want to wear a few layers, gloves and you’re most likely going to be freezing. When the bus dropped us off at the beginning of the trek I was still shaking and when I saw some people in shorts and t-shirts I thought they were crazy.

However, later in the day, the sun bears down bringing skin to the boil and those hikers in shorts were actually properly dressed. Well, they were for when I visited, but the day before hikers experienced snowstorms, so everything is possible. Here what I’d recommend packing (especially if you want to travel with a carry-on only):

  • Small Backpack – Pink in my case 😉
  • Comfy Shoes – I trek in sneakers as I find standard hiking shoes very uncomfortable, but be prepared for a lot of walking.
  • Warm clothes – Somehow I received many comments from readers who thought I looked very fashionable on that hike. I was wearing the simplest leggings, undershirt, thin sweater. I also bought an alpaca sweater, alpaca socks and alpaca gloves that I got in Cusco. Alpaca clothes are the best invention ever: warm light and cheap! My secret is out 😉
  • Rain jacket or poncho – In case of a snowstorm.
  • Hat and sunglasses – For the sun and snow.
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Don’t forget it! I burned my lips so badly!
  • Lifestraw Bottle – this won’t be much help at the painted hills of Vinicunca, as there’s no source of water anywhere.
  • Coca candy for the altitude – If you’re afraid of the altitude you can order them from Amazon in advance, but they’re widely available in Cusco.
snowy mountain in Peru
Snowy mountain peaks!

Renting a Horse, Toilets and other things…

As soon as I hopped out of the van at 7 am I saw a bunch of local homes surrounded by hundreds of llamas and alpacas! For an animal lover like me, this was an incredible treat. I was served hot breakfast coca leaves tea to get the day started and got to meet the other hikers.

People in my group weren’t hardcore hikers for sure, in fact, quite a few of them have never seen a squat toilet. I was actually surprised that along the trail there were squat toilets everywhere, as I expected none of them.

After we were well fed and mouths were stuffed full of coca leaves, we started our first hike. Our guides let us go at our own pace and I started walking with some new friends I made at breakfast. I think it was good that our guide allowed going at our own pace. Some people from my guide were very fast on horses and other very slow due to the lack of hiking experience and altitude sickness. Of course, various guides came to check on us many times.

I had more than enough time to stop and take photos along the way and no one limited me on the top of the mountain. I wouldn’t want a guide to tell me that I only have X amount of time and then we have to go down.

My group also got split into two different minibusses, as some of us finished the trek around 3 pm, while others reached the bottom of the mountain around 7 pm. I think it was a great idea, as not everyone hikes at the same pace.

Operators provide the horses to rent but unless you’re injured and need a guarantee of a horse you don’t have to ask for it in advance. My guide told us that if we want a horse for an entire way up is 75 soles ($22), but I actually hiked most of the trail and only decided I’d like a horse for the last part of the trek which I paid 40 soles for ($12).

Many horsemen were walking the trail along with the hikers, so I found myself a horse within a few minutes. However, certain sections of the trek are so steep that you’ll need to get off and walk beside your horse.

horse rainbow mountain
Hopping on a horse taxi!

Where to Stay in Cusco Before Hiking Rainbow Mountain?

Finding accommodation in Cusco isn’t a problem, but places do get booked up. Do need to pre-book it in advance. Everyone can find something for themselves, as the town offers luxury hotels, cheap hostels, and simple guesthouses.

One tip: many budget places don’t have central heating and use fireplaces instead. As a result, quite often the temperature in the room is the same as outside (read: freezing at night!). Here are some options for every budget:

  • Marriott El Convento – Super central hotel in Cusco: expensive, but well worth it.
  • Novotel Cusco – Luxury hotel with a beautiful courtyard. Slightly cheaper than Marriott.
  • Kokopelli Hostel – Hostel & Budget private rooms. Most dorms are heated and have a private bathroom.
  • Ecopackers – Cheap hostel with an incredible atmosphere. Rooms do get cold at night, but if you’re equipped with alpaca socks you’re going to be just fine.

candy striped mountain

Arrange Your Travel Insurance

Don’t forget to arrange health insurance before heading to Peru. The easiest and most reliable travel insurance that works with high altitudes such as Peru is World Nomads. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!

I highly recommend hiking Rainbow Mountain, even if you’re not an experienced hiker. The trip is remarkable and definitely unforgettable. While Machu Picchu might be the most famous landmark of Peru, this one is definitely the most memorable for me.

Any questions about Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain? Ask below!

Hiking Rainbow Mountain in Peru: Day Trip from Cusco
rainbow mountain peru

151 thoughts on “Hiking Rainbow Mountain in Peru: What to Expect”

  1. Thanks so much! I love the look of this and will 100% be doing this when I go…any tips on where to book in town or just an operator? Great to know the ‘local’ price!

      • What specific tour did you use?

        It is appealing and wanted of one that will let us go at our own pace such as the group you were in

        • No-name tour from an agency in Cusco 😉 You mean do you want your guide to be with you at all times, or want to go at your own pace? I was basically walking with my friend and the guide was checking on us once in a while. Thank God, because if I had to wait for this one person in my group I’d die up there – she took 5 hours longer than the rest of us 0_o

          • In that case, how did you find transportation from Cusco to the hiking point? Also, how did you find your group people and your guide? It seems that there were few people asked the same question, but you didn’t give a clear answer. Your help will be very much appreciated.

          • What do you mean? The company picks you up from your accommodation in Cusco and drops you off there. They check on you throughout the hike.

          • Yes it’s real. The brightness differs depending on the sunlight or cloud cover. I was there two years ago this January. I used the outfit guide Anna recommended and it was a great vacation combined with Machu Pichu and other temples. Highly recommend

  2. I wanted to do this so badly but I had such a struggle in Colca Canyon, I didn’t dare. One operator ensured me there were horses for the whole route (why don’t they advertise “horse trekking to Rainbow mountain” then) and others said there were only horses for a small section. I decided not to do it as to not put myself in any danger or slow/annoy the group. Now reading this I’m thinking: was it possible after all….? Maybe next time!

    • I don’t think any tour operator can guarantee horses as they don’t control them – locals do (which after all is better). One way or another the last part you have to trek on your own but it’s manageable. This is why I think my group was great – everyone was doing what they wanted and how fast/slow they wanted 🙂

  3. Oh wow, I really really want to visit Peru and especially see Rainbow Mountain! It looks so beautiful and colourful. It’s reassuring that you don’t need to be a really experienced hiker as well. I’m pinning this for future reference. Your packing list is super helpful btw.

    • You can definitely hike Rainbow Mountain in Peru without any professional experience. It’s not the easiest hike, but definitely worth it! Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  4. Hi Anna,

    This question is a bit out of topic, but.. I know there are vaccinations required to travel to South America. I am so much against all vaccinations and wonder if there is a way to travel anywhere to Latin America without them? Which immunizations did you personally got? I would be very grateful for your response!


    • Hi Anya!
      I actually haven’t got any vaccinations before going to South America (Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil), so that shouldn’t be a problem I guess.

  5. As an astral traveler, I know I could be there in a few blinks of the eye, but I’d rather stand still and know I am blessed with golden light of any path I walk on and charge myself with making the best decisions on putting that light in use.

  6. Hi, I’m going to Peru in February. I’m planning to do the rainbow mountain hike, but do you think it will be challenging? I heard February is rainy season. What is the trail like and how long usually does it take to hike? Thank you!

  7. This is such an interesting place! I have seen Rainbow mountain in instagram photos but never realized it was so challenging to get there. I’m planning Peru in May and have bookmarked this for all your tips!

  8. Hi Anna,

    I just read your post on Rainbow Mountain. I am traveling to Peru in May and am dying to see this! I almost booked a prepaid tour until I saw your post. I would love to talk to you more about this as I have some questions. Mainly about availability. Can we definitely get a day tour and choose which day we want if we wait till arriving in Cusco to book? I do like that it is less expensive, you can still get a horse if you need one and can choose which day you go according to weather. As a travel blogger myself, I would love to get the best day possible for my photos but not pay more than I need to! Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Heather! I was worried about the availability as well, but neither me nor other people I met encountered any issues and I was there during hih-season (July). Horses are being given on first come first serve basis at the mountain as none of the tour companies own horses. I actually never pre-booked my horse even on the bus, and as I said in the post, simply hopped on it half way through the mountain 😉

      • Thank you so much for your response! I would think July would be harder than May so I feel better about waiting. The tour company we were going to go with had a horse booking option so not sure that was a new thing?? In any case, thank you for your help. We have decided to wait! 🙂

        • I’m not surprised. They always ask you when they pick you up or if you want a horse, so they can pre-book them, but then at the mountain they just basically go to the local guides and arrange horses upon arrival. I personally witnessed a guide from another company (not sure which one) making a deal at the mountain to rent a horse to a girl for twice as much as I paid standing 5 feet away with my guide. And as you can imagine the money didn’t go to the local horseman living in the rainbow mountain area, but the other guide from Cusco. So it all varies unfortunately.

        • Hi Heather, did you make it in May 2017 – How was it?
          I am thinking to go Apr 2019, do you think it is good season to go – drier and sunnier?
          Any tips for choosing a tour provider and booking?

          Many thanks!

  9. Great post! I do have a question. Do you think it’s feasible to hang out in Cusco one day, hike Rainbow mtn, rest one more day, then do the 4 day Machu Picchu trek? None of us are experienced hikers so I’m a bit nervous, but I just can’t see how we can pass up Rainbow mtn! Are we setting ourselves up for a horrible Machu Picchu hike? Thanks for your help!

  10. Hi Anna,

    Do you recommend having a tour guide? I speak Spanish and would love to take my husband and just hike on our own. But I don’t know if this is tecommended or even possible.

    Also–do you know if there are places where you can camp along the way? Could we for example camp there overnight?



    • My friends did Rainbow Mountain hike on their own as they just drove there with their own car and started walking.

      For Ausangate Trek you’d need a GPS and arrange camping with local tribes on your own. As I don’t have a first-hand experience I can’t say how does it work, but once I come back to Peru and do it I’ll report back!

      • hi Anna

        yes, i have already read it, is it mean that if i book at FlashpackerConnect when i’m in cusco, it’s only around USD30? since i checked the online price is USD150 now. thanks.

        • No. Flashpacker Connect is an option for those wanting to pre-book a tour before they get to Cusco as you can do it online. If you book something in agencies in Cusco it will be between $25-40 🙂

          • Hello, I loved your post! I just have a quick question in regards to booking online vs in Cusco.. I will be heading to Peru next week and I am only in Cusco for a total of 3 days which limits me to only able to do this hike on June 11th, do you still recommend booking in Cusco or better to pay more online to ensure it is not sold out? I won’t be arriving to Cusco until a day prior (June 10th) as I will be in Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu before heading there. I am a budget backpacker and love to wait for the best deal, I’m just scared of missing out on this wonderful opportunity, any suggestions?

          • I’ve never heard of these hikes being sold out to be honest 😉 But remember that you need to arrive before everything closes on the 10th as the bus leaves at 4am.

  11. Hey Anna,

    I will be going this coming September. Not really related to Rainbow Mountain, but do you recommend paying for the hike to Machu Picchu once in the town, or pre book it?

    • Are we talking about Inca Trail? It all depends. There are many, many different hikes available to Machu Picchu. Full traditional Inca Trail, half Inca Train, one day hike, Jungle Trail, Inca Trail with guesthouses etc. If you want to have a more luxury hike, then I recommend booking in advance as these tours get full. However, if you just want to hike I met many people who purchased their hikes upon arrival to Cusco 🙂

      • I’m not in Cusco for very long. I am interested in a one day trip to Machu Picchu. Should I still book ahead of time?

        • Oh, that’s different. If it’s a one day trip you’d have to take a train. Leave from Cusco at 4am to catch a train at 5am and return by train in the afternoon. When I went it was easy to purchase tickets on arrival, or stop by any agency to book you tickets and transfers.

          • Hi Anna, great job! Very informative <3

            I just wonder is there a closer town than Cusco where we can sleep over before embraking onto Rainbow Mountain or Machu Picchu (as it might be fairly tiring to do hiking after hiking) ?

            Secondly, I just wonder if there is any toilet and how is the condition of the toilets along these trails?

            Many thanks!

          • There are some toilets and they weren’t that bad actually. The only bad one was the one at the beginning of the trail. Basic mountain trail toilets without a flush of course, but I’ve seen worse 😉

            If you’re taking an organized tour then they all leave from Cusco, if you’re driving you’ll find some local towns, but I’m unsure about any accommodation since it’s all very local. I’m sure you’ll find some thought, it just might be basic.

            I’ve actually done Machu on Tue, “rested” on Wed by doing Sacred Valley and Rainbow Mountain on Thu and it wasn’t so bad. As long as it’s not snowing or raining you’ll be fine.

  12. Hi Anna, great post! I know you said it many times but since I’m not a hiker at all – I hiked a few times but only for a maximum of 2 hours- definitely a beginner, do you recommend me to do this? possibly I will start by myself and then take a horse.

    • I’d say if the weather conditions are good (basically no rain or snow) you should be fine. You can take a horse any time, so that’s the worst case.

  13. Your Peru info is super helpful! I’m going on a trip to Cusco next month and it’s surprisingly hard to find reliable information online about how to get around and do things like Rainbow Mountain.

  14. Thanks, Anna! Your info was very helpful. We did the Vinicunca hike on horseback — well worth it in my opinion, even for experienced hikers, if you’re not acclimated to the elevation, plus it also directly helps the local indigenous community. One piece of info that wasn’t in your blog post, which answers the question of “why haven’t I heard about this place before?” is that the mountain has only been exposed relatively recently (in the past 5 years or so) due to climate change. Previously it was snow covered.

  15. I would love too it but I am not a hickey and would probably die as I’m not in the best shape… but can a person still do it?

  16. Hi Anna,

    Thank you for you’re great info. I’m going to Peru for three weeks. I want to book the Salkantay tour, that’ 5 days and 4 nights and then you end in Maccu Pichu. But I want to do the Rainbow tour also. What do you recommand? How many days in between?

    Greetings Eva

  17. Hi Anna,

    I know you mentioned now that you gave yourself a day in advance of you hike to Macchu Pichu. I am doing the 4D/3N and really wanted to do this tour to Rainbow Mountain as well (found it last minute and really wanna do it now) but I only have the day before my inca trail hike available to do it. Do you think it is still doable?

    • Hi Mackenzie. If you really want to do it I’d say go for it. You should be back in Cusco around 6-8pm, so it still gives you time to rest before the Inca Trail on the next day.

  18. Hi Anna,

    What a great article! My daughter and wife did this hike yesterday and it was great. My daughter resisted using a horse until after she made it to the top and said it was amazing, though very tiring due to the altitude. I can’t wait to see some pictures. They are on their way back to Lima today and going to Iquitos (Amazonas) tomorrow.

  19. Hi Anna!

    I am going to Peru in November with a friend and would really appreciate some advice on my question!

    We are leaning towards doing a day trip to the colorful mountain on the 18th, then, on the 20th, climb Machu Picchu; do you think this would be near impossible? Too much hiking for a short period of time?

    Thank you in advance!

  20. Hello,

    Great article. I just wanted to say to the people commenting saying that they want to do this hike straight after arriving in Cusco, don’t!! You need a few days at least to get used to the altitude in Cusco which is 3400m and the max altitude at Rainbow Mountain is 5200m. It is a lot for the body to handle. I know sometimes people are only in Cusco for a few days and if that is the case then you’ll have to do it when you can but it is better to do it towards the end of your trip when altitude sickness isn’t a problem.

    Don’t book online before coming to Cusco! It is a lot cheaper to book in person and you might be able to haggle on the price face-to-face, especially with a big group. Pretty much every agency does it and offers the same package- pick-up, meals included, etc and I have never heard of anyone not being able to get a trip on the day they want to go.

  21. Which company did you use to book your tour (flaskpackerconnect)? Online the prices are 150 USD so i’m not sure if that’s my best option. Also, when did you visit the mountain? Did you do the 1 day tour? Was that enough to see the mountains?

    Thanks 🙂

    • As the article says, I didn’t do the tour with Flashpacker Connect. I went on my own, but I can recommend this company for those who like pre-booking things online beforehand. I was there last July. I’m aware that now they’ve ‘modernized’ the trail so it’s not all nature anyone as there are designated pathways (happens to all places that get popular, unfortunately). In 1 Day you can see the rainbow mountain, but you can’t do any other trails from Ausangate Trek. There’s simply not enough time and locals won’t even allow that.

  22. Hi!

    Do you know if the Ausangate Trek is steep? I sometimes get verdigo and wondering if that’s a problem. How is the trek up to the rainbow mountain? I hiked in Canada 3 weeks ago in rocky mountains and managed some steep parts even though it was a bit scary some times. Do you think I can manage?

  23. Great article! Do you know what is the weather like in Dec/Jan? Is it rainy? We’re thinking of maybe heading to Peru in dec but am unsure how the weather will be for doing all the hikes

    • The best weather is considered their winter (June-August) but it’s also the busiest time, or anywhere during the dry season between May and October. Dec/Jan is their summer which means hot temperatures and rain. The heaviest rain is in February, which is also when the Inca Trail and many other paths are closed for maintenance.

      • Hi Anna you seem like an expert and I would like to piggy back off of the above question. I am studying abroad in Chile right now and at the end of January I will be going to Bolivia for an internship. I would like to go to Peru for a week and do day hikes to the Rainbow Mountain and Manchu Pichu but I’m worried the weather will be sour. I would be going from approximately Jan 18-26 do you have any thoughts on if I should go or not?

        • I mean… noone can predict the weather. I went in July when the weather is supposedly the best and suddenly it was snowing and hailing for two days (it wasn’t supposed to), but the rest of the time I had great weather. I met some backpackers who were doing the Inca Trail during the snow storm and while it sucked, there was nothing they can do about it.

  24. Thank you for sharing this! This hike has been on my bucket list since the first time I learned about Rainbow Mountain. This is the best guide/information I’ve seen about this so far! Hopefully I can plan a trip within the next couple years. 🙂

  25. Hi Anna, I cam across you wounderful blog while researching for the Rainbow Mountain. I was debating weather to book in advance or wait until i get there. I was worried i would be put together with loads of people and it all be a bit shabby. But I also do not want to be ripped off unnecessarily.

    I was actually debating if to do the 2 day over night hike. D you have any experience on this or advice please?


    Joanne xx

      • Thanks Anna

        I think I’m going to do the 1 day hike too and book while there. I’m there for about 5 weeks so hopefully I’ll get recommendations from fellow travelers there. Just got to decide on the calco canyon now! Have you been there?

  26. Great sense of humor and helpful overview. Tomorrow morning they pick me up for – YES THEY WILL – las montañas de siete colores.

  27. Hi Anna,
    Thanks for the post! Do you have a recommended agency in Cusco that you used to book your 1-day hike of Rainbow Mountain? I’ve read a few blogs that said the tour operators are vastly different and can be horrible so I’d like to use one that you’ve already experienced! Also, was it easy to change the date of your hike for weather reasons? Blogs I’ve read also said that operators push tours rain or shine, but it can be very dangerous and difficult to hike.
    Thank you!!!

    • I didn’t have to change anything, so I wouldn’t have a first-hand experience, but my friend did and it was easy. I hiked a part in the snow, in some places wet snow, and my friend did it in the snowstorm and I wouldn’t say it’s that dangerous. The mountain doesn’t have a steep route apart from the very top honestly.

    • I used Crossover Tours Peru, and it was an amazing team and experience. I did the hike early September 2017.

  28. Hi Anna, Great article. I am also considering doing this hike when I get to Cusco in May next year. I am also not an experienced hiker but I do hit the gym a few times a week so I am not entirely unfit and I am planning on hiking Huayna Picchu a few days prior.

    My question to you is, do you think a beginner hiker can do the Rainbow Mountain trek without using a horse? Reason I ask is, I have never ridden a horse before!

    Many thanks

    • I’m not a hiker myself and it didn’t feel too hard. In terms of renting a horse, don’t worry that you’ve never ridden one before. The horse comes with an owner that would hold it for you, so you’re basically just sitting without having to do anything 😛

  29. I travel a lot and always try to go to places that are not “touristy” so we find ourselves in some beautiful and interesting areas. I did this trip with my daughters and honestly it was the most difficult trip I have ever taken. I have been to many places with high altitude but this one through me (and my two daughters who were 19 and 20 at the time) for a loop. It is not for the faint of heart. Even if you ride the horses for a good portion of the trip it is still really difficult to breath and there is still a lot of uphill hiking involved. The driver / tour we booked out of Cusco was awful and the vehicle to the location was unsafe which was part of the issue… With all of this being said, my daughters and I have memories and laughs for the rest of our lives because we had MANY scary, funny and amazing stories from this visit. The mountains as well as the valley to and from the mountains are extraordinarily beautiful and take on different colors on the way up and on the way back as the sun makes for an amazing show. It took me six months to be grateful for the experience (as I was getting over the trip….lol), but I am now definitely grateful that we got to experience this.

    • Hi that doesn’t sound fun.who did you book it with? So I can avoid ! I’m planning on booking when I get there

      • There’s only one trail, so even if you go alone in your own car you’ll meet the 2500 mentioned people. All guided tours and solo travelers go the same way. Sadly 🙁

        • Hi Anna
          Yes,it’s just I have read so many reviews which are so different about completely airs some people say it their company was great and some say terrible. That’s what I didn’t understand when it is all the same trek! Haha x

  30. I visited this place last week. I trek a lot in Central America and I have had my fare share of excursions of this kind. It was such a disappointment. There were at least 2500 other visitors on the trek! Yes, about 2500, and the amount of vans and buses on the parking lot was so many, it filled the space and they began to drop off and drive away. The high level of travelers is beginning to damage the area. I feel bad, that I contributed to this damage as well. With so many people, it looked more like a procession, rather than a hiking trek. They seemed like ants… People were vomiting, crying, bleeding and limping on the trail. I really cant recommend it. It has turned into a “Tourist Trap” and it is no longer is a “natural trek” experience. At least, the horses (to my opinion and for what I saw) were well tended. They walked with tourist up and down about 4 times during my 4 hours there.

    • Even though it’s incredibly touristy and like an ant hill, I still enjoyed it. We almost didn’t go because of how touristy it’s become but I’m happy we did. They’ve roped off the mountain and keep people on the main trail so it’s not too destructive. Besides, where else can you have a beer at 5200M?

  31. Great one Anna! Amazing pictures and story you share here. Nice to hear that you’ve had such a great time up there as most of the other blogs I’ve read said that they struggled their way up there. Some with, others without a horse. But up there it’s incredible 🙂 want to be there right now too! For how long have you been up at the top and was it enough to enjoy the place?

    • I’ve had more than enough time at the top. I’m really not a hardcore hiker and while it was challenging I think Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand was more difficult.

  32. Hi Anna,
    We’ll be in Cusco in late May. We’re planning out our time in Cusco and this sounds like a must! I was wondering, you mentioned leaving Cusco at 2:30am, vans dropping you off, and eating breakfast. Is this part of the tour you booked? Does the tour provide lunch as well? Also, when you complete the hike, are the busses there waiting to take you back or do you have to wait a while for one to come back/fill up? I assume you also need to carry as much water as you’ll need for the day? And just a general question, what was your preferred way to purify/carry water during your time in Peru? Thanks for your help!

    • It depends on the tour, but mine did provide breakfast and lunch. I know there are now some cheap tours that don’t offer any food. You just need to check with the agency beforehand. All buses will leave once they fill up, my tour had two minivans and we left around 4pm with the first one, but I heard the other bus left around 6-7pm because some people were slow. I just had a small bottle of water, but I’m like a camel – I really rarely drink, so I wouldn’t rely on my water recommendations 😛 I always recommend lifestraw bottle (check the bottom of the article in recommended products), but there’s nowhere to get more water on that hike so just be prepared for that.

  33. Hey Anna, first of all thanks for the post..it really helped me while planning my trip to the rainbow mountains. When researching I found a lot of articles mentioning the difficulty of the trek due to the altitude…that’s why I looked for a different tour and I found the “alternative tour to the rainbow mountains” by exploorperu, a local Peruvian company. The tour was awesome because I only hiked for like 45 minutes, we left Cusco at like 5:00am (no so super early) and we actually saw various rainbow mountains. Definitely recommend you to check that out when you get the chance to return to Cusco again 🙂 Keep it up!

  34. Hi, I looked up in the map that the mountain is off the main road that goes to Puno. How long in time is it from the road to Puno to the parking lot and how long of a hike is it to go to the top and come back. Wondering if we can do it on our way to Puno. Thanks!

    • Well, for Us it was about 45 minutes on a very small, dirt road on a 40 passenger bus. There is traffic on the road, because of the other buses taking tourist. If they move slowly… so do we all. Give and take about 1 hour. About the hike: if you go up on horseback: 40 minutes, then walk to the “very top” in about 30 minutes slowly… take your pictures, admire the general splendor and then walk down slowly for 1 hr 30 minutes back to the parking lot.

  35. Such a great post, Anna and I really have do admit, I am afraid as hell to go up there, especially after reading several posts and how everyone some kind of suffered with the long hike. But I really want to go there. I searched for alternatives next to the horse and think this might be interesting for others too. I just found this other route in a tripadvisor post, that is supposed to take less than 1 hour to a different spot https://exploorperu.com/products/day-trip-from-cusco-alternative-rainbow-mountain-trek-red-valley-in-peru. Did you hear about that Anna?

    • No, I haven’t but I highly recommend doing the trek as the scenery is beautiful. Also, the rainbow mountain is so great because the hike is so tough. I also think that no one who did this trek would want the rainbow mountain to become the top attraction full of screaming tourists with baby strollers who got there by elevator or something. I sincerely hope this never happens (this would also mean the locals living on the mountain would suffer and probably forced to relocate).

      • Thank you Anna! And agree on that, especially to keep it also clean. I finally booked that tour and will see if there are more tourists, the video doesn’t show many people up there so that’s cool. Hope to see some locals and llamas on our way.

  36. Hi Anna
    I was wondering what’s availability like?
    Could I book the tour a day or two or even a week before and not worry about being booked out?

    Many thanks


        • I just talked to a tourism professional and he told me the high season begins in april aprox. until august/september…I’d recommend booking before, you never know 🙂 I booked my alternative rainbow mountain tour with exploorperu 2 months before, just to make sure that I won’t have any problems later on.

  37. Hi Anna!
    I am planning to go to Peru, but I have a 2 years old with me! So hiking seems to be a lot difficult for me! Besides I have never did any of the trekking or hiking before! I am not planning to to the Inca Trail track either! But I so wanted to visit the colourful rainbow mountain! is there any other way like going there by car/bus anything that will take me to the view?

    • Nope, there isn’t. It’s a good thing actually since it there was the mountain would have been destroyed by mass tourism, as apparently, it’s already happening 🙁 . You could go to Machu Picchu by train tho!

      • thanks a lot! but whats your suggestion for us? do you think its doable with a kid? i guess i wont be able to take stroller in the way! so we have to carry the kid!

        • Yes, absolutely no strollers. The hike up took me about 4 hours and then another few hours down (and there were some people in my group that took 7 hours up, without any kids). Toilets aren’t everywhere and they are backcountry toilets. You could take a horse, but make sure that you book one since the place got very popular and now horses aren’t as available as they used to be. I guess it depends on you and your kid, since you know your kid best and what he/she can handle. It’s a long day trip (you leave Cusco at 2/3am and you return at 8pm). Are you able to carry the kid for so many hours?

  38. Hey Anna, I loved reading your article, very helpful information and nice how you share your opinion here. Directly checked for videos as I like to see where I travel and found this video here with a kind of different looking Rainbow Mountain comparing it to yours https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbzvf0Ma0_A , have you been here? Traveling to Peru in August, Carl

    • Hi Carl, I just watched this video and read the article. It is a completely different trek and it doesn’t actually let you see the Vinicunca mountain (rainbow mountain), but some other semi-colorful mountains. I haven’t been there no. If you want to do a trek with fewer tourists, do the 3-day Ausangate trek.

  39. Hi Anna! This post is so awesome, thank you for sharing :). Well be in Cusco 9/18 of this year and We’re hiking the 4d/3n Inca trail on 9/22. Question is, do we hike Rainbow Mountain the day before getting on the Inca trail, or the day after, on 9/27? We are so pressed for time and actually intended on originally leaving Cusco on the 9/27 but am now contemplating about squeezing in this trip since it looks pretty darn awesome (love your photos!!). Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    Thank you!!

  40. Hi Anna,

    I had read about these super beautiful mountains few months ago. I was really amamzed. However now I find them being discussed all over the place suddenly. I want to sincerely thank you for such an informative blog and appreciate the details you poured in….It’s really great you trekked all the way,..congrats and thanks once again the blog is pretty useful.


  41. Hi Anna, When I planned my trip to Cusco, the first thing I wanted to do was to get to know Machu Picchu, making a dream come true. Not knowing that there was also a mountain of Colors in Cusco and I decided to visit the rainbow mountain and it was not very difficult, but one thing that must be considered It is the high altitude and the little oxygen. It is a place that leaves you breathless in all senses, both for the effort you have to make to get there and for the beauty of it. As if it were not enough with the beauty of the 7 colors you can see 2 snow peaks very close, almost within reach. Really visiting the Vinicunca Mountain is an excellent experience that all travelers should do.
    Greetings Miguel.

  42. Hey, we just come back from the alternative Rainbow Mountain with three smaller ones. I think this is a place you could include too, as we used your article as inspiration for our trip to Cusco and helped a lot during our investigation on what’s best. What I appreciate about the alternative spot is, that there were no other tourists and that the hike took us about 40 minutes instead of the 3 hours up. Hiking there is difficult, I didn’t expect it to be that tough.

    • In the past you were able to drive in and pay the locals 10 lira for the entrance to the national park. These days I’m not 100% positive as they built a ton fo facilities.

      • We drove there a week ago and paid the entrance fee of 10 Soles per person. We started hiking up after 10AM and shared the summit with only a handful of people. The tours start earlier and empty the summit around 12:30. Took us around 2.5 hours up and just under 2 down. It started snowing around 2:30PM. We too preferred Rainbow Mountain over Machu Picchu.

  43. Hi,
    Thank for your colorful article. Love it. We, with my boyfriend, are planning to visit Peru soon. Have one question though, what is the best month to visit both Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain?
    Thank you, hope to hear from you soon

  44. Hi Anna, this might be a stupid question but where exactly is the starting point and how do we get there if we’re not driving? Is there public transportation?

    Also, another question is are we able to bring a hydropack and fill it with water and ice from our hotel? Are there water bottles sold everywhere and is it okay to put ice in our hydropack for our water to remain cold for the entire day?

    Lastly, is it also cheaper to get the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu hike once we get to Cusco? I saw one online tour and it costs about $500-$600 for a 2-day hike. We will be staying at the Inkaterra Urubamba and was wondering if it’s necessary to take the 2-day hike or is the 1-day sufficient since we are already close to the train station?

    Thanks for your help in advance. Your advice/input is greatly appreciate.

    • I don’t think there’s any public transportation, it’s sort of in the middle of nowhere. When I was there there was no water sold anywhere, you had to bring everything.

      About Inca Trail – it depends when are you going. It might be cheaper, but during high-season passes will be sold out. You can do 1 or 2 day hikes, it really depends on how much do you want to hike.

  45. Thanks for all of the great info Anna! It’s just what I’m looking for to consider a trip like this. If I want to go to both Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu in the same trip, how many days would you consider staying (taking into account the acclimation)? Also, is riding a horse a necessary part of the hike? Is there any other option besides walking the whole way? Thanks again.

    • There’s no other option than a horse or walking, however, as I mentioned the last part of the trek isn’t reachable by a horse so you need to walk it yourself anyway.
      Are you planning on doing the Inca Trail to Machu, day trip by train, or a short hike? Rainbow Mountain can be done on your last day, but depending on how many days are you planning on doing MP for, that’s how many days you should stay. I also highly recommend a trip to Sacred Valley (this can be done in a day) and exploring Cusco (you can use your first day to explore and acclimatize).

      • Anna, I got a plan like this –
        1st day: after landing in Cusco, go straight to Sacred Valley. Stay in Ollantaytambo
        2nd day: take mornng train from there, to Machu Picchu. Stay in Aguas Calientes
        3rd day: Go see sunrise in MP, then back to Cusco by evening
        4th day: Sightseeing in Cusco, chill out and rest
        5th day: Eraly morning trip to Rainbow mountain

        My holidays are short, so have to rush to see everything. If that makes sense, Chris can follow similar route

  46. Thanks for the reply! My girlfriend and I are novice hikers (although we’ve done a couple of 14ers in CO together; I’ve done about 9) so we’re not going for the hike itself really but for the views and the overall experience primarily.

    That acclimatization part makes sense to me and also not booking the tour until we get there (to take advantage of better weather days). So I guess my question is “How long is the Rainbow Mountain hike without riding a horse?”

    • Depends how fast you walk 😉 In my group, we were two buses arriving together. You leave Cusco at 2:30AM, arrive early, eat breakfast there. Then start hiking around 8 AM. Half of my group we were done by 3 PM after eating lunch, came back to Cusco around 7:30 PM. Apparently, the second bus didn’t get back until 10 PM because people were slow. There’s no rule really.

  47. Sorry, I forgot to ask: Is it likely that we will encounter snow covered mountains prohibiting our view of the “Rainbow” if we go in January?

    • It’s going to be wet (hence why Inca Trail closes in February). January is a summertime in Peru, so no snow. In July there was snowing a lot.

      • Really great post Anna, I read it first 2 weeks ago before going to Rainbow Mountains. Reading the comments I found out about the operator exploor peru and did the Vinicunca + red valley with them and it was amazing, so thank you 2x for the content lol.

        However, there was some snow and I asked the guide and he said there can be snow from January-March as well because it is rain season and during rain season it starts snowing at a certain altitude…and as the rainbow mountain is higher than 5000m it will most likely snow there as well. Hope this helps some people, cheers!

  48. I am going in November and plan to do this hike towards end of month
    Is November a good month to hike this mountain?

  49. Very well written, thanks for the tips! Indeed, Peru has come a long way since the days of the military environment in the late 1970s, and is today one of the safer and more enjoyable countries to visit in South America.

    However, there are still tourist-targeting scammers and petty crime to be wary of. Do be wary of the poor student scam, chile-peru border crossing scam, pirate taxis / black market taxis, car break-ins, sob story scam, currency switcheroo / sleight of hand and many more

  50. Hi Anna,

    A Quick question. We are a party of four visiting Peru between Christmas and New Year. You think it’s a good time to take the hiking to Rainbow Mountains? Also, can we rent two horses at the base and switch people on them during the hike? Will they allow this?

    Thanks. You post has excited me a lot to take this trip.

    • Good question about switching – no clue, but I’d assume it depends on the horse owner. I frankly think you don’t need horses for the entire ride, it’s a really nice walk and there will be free horses for parts of the route along the way.

      It will be very wet during that time, so don’t be surprised if the day you hike it’ll pour on you. But you can also have a great weather. A friend of mine did the same hike a day before me in July which is supposed to be dry but the weather was abnormal and it was snowy and rainy and the mountain was covered in snow for her. Part of the mountain will be covered in snow, but you should be able to see the colors.

  51. You don’t need any guide, any tour nor any booking to go to Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain). It’s perfectly doable on your own, mostly if you have some extended travelling experience, unless you want a guide who bullshit you with silly tales for 6 hours and mixed up with uncool travellers. I prefer to experience nature and mountain on my own, in peaceful silence and custom my hikes for better experiences. Pack some snacks and warm clothes as Vinicunca is at 5000 meters altitude, leave your backpack in Cusco for 2 days. Get a bus in Cusco to direction Arequipa and get off in Checapupe. Get a combi (small seated van as local transportation) to Pitumarca and find an hospedaje there (so you contribute to the economy of a tiny town rather a super touristic spoiled city like Cusco). In early morning get another combi eastbound. You can find location of starting point on off line maps like MapsMe or trails with GPX Viewer and downloading free GPS routes to Vinicunca.
    From the rainbow mountain, you can return to the main road following a southbound valley, visiting nice lakes (you find those GPS trail online), making your experience nicer and more unique. On the main road you can flag down any combi on the way back to Putimarca.
    Entry ticket 10 soles (3.5 dollars). Independent journey experience, non-valuable.
    Don’t make your journey an holiday, keep them a travel, do it independently. Holidays don’t make you grow, travels do.

  52. I was just there last week. Technically Andres is right. You could follow his instructions but I wouldn’t want to do it. Too many unknowns. Unless you’re interested in “whatever happens” (thumbing rides at 16,500 ft. elevation), Anna’s suggestions are spot on and less given to bad experiences due to altitude. And Andres please don’t lecture the world about the proper way to travel/hike/experience nature. Your level of comfort is not necessarily the standard for everyone. Knowing who is driving me up narrow, barely surfaced roads shared with horses and llamas at 4am is not too much to ask. The fact that I’ve paid them for oxygen in case I need it (I didn’t) is also a comfort, not a weakness. If I was a local, now that I know where to go, maybe it wouldn’t be as intimidating to try on my own. But I’m not local. I’m in a foreign country (with guests) on limited time before I have to get home hopefully without injury. I’m not on a personal vision quest. BTW, hiring a guide IS contributing to the local economy. Plus the cost that Flashpacker Connect charges is reasonable given that the logistics are all taken care of.

    My recommendation: do what Anna suggests. We did and wouldn’t have changed anything. Or do what Andres suggests…and good luck.

  53. Hello Anna, I’m so amazed with Peru and so much more after reading this post. With the unpredictable weather is it easy to book a tour with not much planning?

  54. Hi Anna

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! I am visiting Peru in November and was hoping to do the rainbow mountain trek. I was curious though about your thoughts on staying in Cusco the first few nights right after landing (I will be coming in from Argentina)? Is it okay to stay right in Cusco with the big change in altitude or do you suggest I stay in sacred valley for the first night while im acclimatizing?

    Thanks so much for your suggestions! 🙂

  55. Hi Anna! Great post, we tollally agree with your vision. We were there two years ago and we have to say that it is an amazing place, really enjoyable, not only the mountain itself but also the surroandings!


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