Exploring the Rainbow Mountain Hike

Apus Peru > Peru Hikes > Exploring the Rainbow Mountain Hike


Communing with nature on the Rainbow Mountain hike


The Rainbow Mountain Hike: An Introduction

Rainbow Mountain, Stripy Mountain, Colored Mountain… this breath-taking mountain in Peru goes by many names. Rainbow Mountain is a natural geologic formation near Ausangate mountain that is fast attracting large numbers of visitors. It’s now the second-most visited site in Cusco after Machu Picchu!

Well, we understand why.

Rainbow Mountain is known locally as Vinicunca (also spelled Winicunca). Cunca in Quechua means “neck.” The meaning of vini is unknown but it might refer to the colorful mineral layers that give Rainbow Mountain its name. If that’s the case, then “Neck of Colors” or “Colorful Neck” could be a reasonable translation of the name.

RELATED: Why You Should Trek to Ausangate Cusco

Apus Peru Goes Exploring

One crisp April morning, ten members of the Apus Peru team drove three hours from Cusco to Pitumarka. From there, we continued another hour on some fabulous winding roads. The road wove through local farming terraces, rock formations and picturesque canyons until we reached Hanchi Pacha, a small farming village located at an altitude of 4180 m (13,714 ft). This is where our Rainbow Mountain hike started. Gradually, we ascended out of the valley to reach K’airahuiri, gaining 400 m in altitude in just an hour and a half!

The Apus Peru team at the starting point for the Rainbow Mountain hike


Getting ready to trek out of the Rainbow Mountain valley 


Matt Waugh, from the Apus Peru sales team, near the tiny hamlets of K’airahuiri


Andean Villages on the Rainbow Mountain Hike

K’airahuiri actually consists of two villages: K’airahuiri Bajo and K’airahuiri Alto, lower and upper K’airahuiri, respectively. We reached K’airahuiri Alto after about a half hour on the Rainbow Mountain hike, where the local community greeted our team. Meeting the locals gave us a great opportunity to discuss options for future groups that we plan to bring to the region. Working with local communities is critical to the way we work, and is what helps us to craft unique routes that keep you off-the-beaten-path and away from the crowds.

RELATEDPioneers of the Choquequirao Huanipaca Route

We then trekked for another 1.5 hours to the pass. Our climb quickly became steeper – and our breathing more laboured! – as we reached an elevation of 5000 m in this last section.

Locals from K’airahuiri Alto on the Rainbow Mountain hike 
 Heading to the top of Rainbow Mountain


Finally! We Reach our Destination

After 3.5 hours of trekking over a distance of 9.5km, and reaching a height of 5000 m, we had finally made it. As we crossed over the Vinicunca Pass, we were finally rewarded with magnificent views of the mighty glacier, Apu Ausangate!

WANT TO GO? We offer several ways for you to experience the Rainbow Mountain hike:

Just a few more meters of climbing up the “neck” gave us a better glimpse of why we had come to this particular spot. At last we could see the amazing view of Vinicunca and its fantastically colorful layers of rock sediment…turquoises, oranges, browns, and reds! We never would have believed this brilliant natural beauty existed had we not seen it with our own eyes!


Team Vinicunca: A Feast for the Eyes


Reflecting on the Rainbow Mountain of Peru

I first saw a photo of Vinicunca in a gallery and art shop in Cusco called Tawa Concept back in 2015. Honestly, I thought an artist had drawn a rather imaginative painting, and I wondered where he had drawn his inspiration. When I was told this was actually a photograph…of a real place in Peru…I didn’t even believe it.

But seeing is believing!

Now I know that Rainbow Mountain is indeed a real place, and not just a figment of someone’s imagination.

Vinicunca, The Rainbow Mountain of Peru: truly a glorious feast for the eyes!


KEEP READING:The Spirit of Apu Ausangate


Written by Matt Waugh. First published on 7 April 2016, and updated on 21 July 2019.

1 Response


Hiking in Peru

machu Pichu
The Best Machu Picchu Backpack: Everything You Need to Know
15 July, 2024
The Ultimate Machu Picchu Packing List [2024]
1 April, 2024
person enjoying views of inca site, private inca trail tour
Inca Trail Private tours to Machu Picchu: 4-Day Trek Expert Guide
15 February, 2024

Peru Trip Planning

machu Pichu
The Best Machu Picchu Backpack: Everything You Need to Know
15 July, 2024
CA Private Cusco
13 Best Hotels in Cusco for All Budgets
30 June, 2024
Best Collapsible Hiking Poles for Peru and Worldwide 2024
21 April, 2024

What our clients are saying about us


Proceed Booking