Last month, I had a chance to spend 7 days hiking the Salkany and Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. As a “warm up” hike, I also visited Vinicunca, aka Rainbow Mountain.
Chances are you’ve seen Rainbow Mountain on Instagram. It’s a colourful mountain with over 24 different colours embedded along the face of the mountain itself. The colours were created my mineral deposits in the mountain itself and, since 2015, it’s become a hugely popular site for tourists.
Each day, hundreds and hundreds of people visit the mountain, dragging their heels to its windy peak. It’s become a full-blown tourist attraction in just a matter of a couple years, and is reaching the point of being over crowded.
Having seen it with my own eyes, I have to say that it is actually quite stunning.
I’m a pretty cynical traveler these days, but I was actually impressed.
If the weather is nice and it’s not raining, the colours are quite pretty and it really is a sight to behold. While the Instagram photos are oversaturated and much more vibrant than the mountain is in person, the views are still rather breathtaking.
But is Rainbow Mountain actually worth visiting?
Is it worth the price and the time and the inconvenience of waking up at 3am? (You need to get up SUPER early to see it on a day trip)
Yes — but there are caveats. Several of them.
In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on Rainbow Mountain to help you decide if it’s worth a visit.
Day Trips to Rainbow Mountain
Day trips to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco are the most common way to visit. They are overpriced, involve around 7-8 hours of driving in a cramped van, and are quite rushed.
I would not recommend a day trip to Rainbow Mountain.
It’s getting crowded and all the tours rush you ahead. Every time you try and stop for a photo, your guide will likely urge you onward.
Because they want to get you to the top and get you home. Time is money, after all.
Most day trips will be around $30-40 USD per person, which is a steep price to pay for a crowded hike that is just a few kilometers long.
So, while the view is great and the mountain is pretty I can’t recommend a single-day trip to Rainbow Mountain. It’s just not a fun experience and the region is getting bombarded by overtourism.
So, How DO You Visit Rainbow Mountain?
If you want to visit Rainbow Mountain, do it as part of either a multi-day hike OR a longer day hike that includes the Red Valley. That way, you’ll at least be able to get more hiking in and get away from the crowds.
Seriously, look at these crowds at rainbow mountain. It’s nuts!
You can get Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley combo hikes for around $40-50 USD, which is a much better deal. You’ll still spend around 7 hours driving (round trip) from Cusco, but you’ll at least be able to enjoy more of the region before cramming back into a van.
Additionally, you can visit the “Alternative” Rainbow Mountain. It’s the same distance from Cusco by car but the hike is much shorter and it’s significantly less crowded. If I was going to visit again, this is probably what I would do. While it’s less hiking, I’m happy to give up some hiking time if it means no monster crowds.
Rainbow Mountain: The Hike
I’ll be honest: the hike itself is not particularly great; you’re just trudging up a barren mountain side. You’re really just there to see the colours, soak in the view, and say you did it for the ‘gram.
At 5,200m the views are quite stunning. There are snow-capped mountains in the distance and you can capture some really nice photos (though it’s a challenge to get a shot without the crowds in it). The altitude can be a bit much, so be prepared and stay hydrated.
But as for the actual hike, it’s nothing to write home about. There are no trees or brush, just a simple worn path up a rocky mountainside with some stunning mountains in the distance.
I know, I’m not selling it but it’s really not an epic hike. I’ve done much better ones over the years. You’re really just here for the colours, which I admit are pretty unique.
The hike will take a few hours and there are 2 bathrooms along the way. Bring coins (the toilets aren’t free) and your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer. They are…rustic bathrooms, to put it politely.
Also make sure you have lots of water (2-3L) and are dressed for all kinds of weather. Cold, warm, sunny, rainy, windy — the weather is fickle, so be prepared everything.
Should you go in the rain?
No. If it’s wet or cloudy, don’t bother. The trail will be a muddy nightmare, and without a clear day you won’t get the view — which is half the point of going.
I’d only do this hike if I had a clear, sunny day.
While Rainbow Mountain is a unique sight to behold, it is incredibly busy and crowded. It’s only worth visiting if you have great weather and if you’re visiting as part of a longer hike.
For a day hike, I would skip Rainbow Mountain. It just won’t be a fun experience.
If I were to do it again, I’d do a multi-day hike if I had the time or I’d visit the Alternative Rainbow Mountain. That’s the best way to beat the crowd and have a more unique experience.
Unfortunately, I imagine that in the next 1-3 years this place will be absolutely overrun by overtourism, so see it while you can before it gets ruined!
Rainbow Mountain FAQ
Is Rainbow Mountain Hard?
The hike itself isn’t difficult, but the altitude can be tricky. With a summit at 5,200m you’ll want to make sure you spend a few days in Cusco first. That will help you acclimatize.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Rainbow Mountain?
Day trips will cost around $30-40 USD. For a Rainbow Mountain/Red Valley combo, expect to pay between $40-50 USD.
For the Alternative Rainbow Mountain, prices are higher. Expect to pay between $45-65 USD.
Is Rainbow Mountain worth it?
Yes, but not as a day drip and only if you have good weather!
How long is the hike?
The hike is around 5km and takes a few hours (the altitude really slows you down!!
How long is the trip?
Most trips start at 4am and take around 12 hours, all said and done.
Do you need to hike?
There are horses available if you don’t want to walk, but they were not well treated. AVOID riding a horse here.
Are there bathrooms/toilets?
Yep, there are 2 bathrooms on the hike. You’ll need to pay to use them though so bring coins with you. Also, bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer.