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Chasing Rainbows in Cusco

If you find yourself in Peru and plan on visiting Machu Picchu, I would highly recommend taking a day trip to the Rainbow Mountain, a.k.a. Montaña de siete colores. It takes about 3 1/2 hours by car to drive from the city of Cusco to the colorful area nestled in the Peruvian Andes.

Before you go, here are some tips that you should know:

Rainbow Mountain is located high in the atmosphere. At 4,700 m above sea level (about 15,500 feet), that’s more than half way up Mt. Everest. To prepare for the high altitude, the best thing to do is drink lots of water while you acclimatize yourself in Cusco for 1-2 days. Cusco is located at about 3,500 m above sea level (11,500 feet). Altitude pills are also helpful and we purchased our pack at a local farmacia in Lima before flying to Cusco. Another option to prevent getting sick (headaches, fatigue, nausea, etc.), is chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea, a natural remedy used by the locals.

There are two places where you can see the Rainbow Mountain(s): Vinicunca and Palccoyo. Vinicunca is the main Rainbow Mountain, but it was closed to tourists when we were there. Our only option was the alternative mountain, Palccoyo, but after learning about both, I’m glad we visited Palccoyo. Here’s why:

  • While the landscape is very similar, Palccoyo is not quite as high as Vinicunca (Palccoyo’s peak is 4,900 m, whereas Vinicunca reaches 5,200 m).
  • Also, the Palccoyo trail is fairly flat, so it’s not quite as stressful on your body.
  • And, you will see three rainbow mountains at Palccoyo, instead of just one.
The colorful mountains were discovered recently (about 10 years ago) after the glaciers began to melt, revealing the vivid sediment below.

The mountain is made up of different minerals which creates the dramatic sight.

The drive from the city of Cusco to the newly discovered natural wonder takes over three hours and most of the drive is unpaved and bumpy.

Plan to spend about two hours on the mountain; while the trail is not that steep, it will take a little while to climb since each step can be strenuous on the body due to the high altitude.

Temperatures can change rapidly on the mountain. At night, overnight lows drop to below freezing and during the day, you can experience rain, wind, snow and sun…all within the same hour. My advice: wear layers! I wore two pairs of leggings, a long sleeve thermal shirt, a puffy vest, hat, gloves and a jacket. Good hiking shoes and sunglasses are a must.

There are two seasons: the wet season and dry season

  • December – March is the wet season
    • Temperatures can drop down to 26°F
  • April – October is the dry season
    • Temperatures can rise to 69°F

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Hope that helps!

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