Originally known as Vinicunca, but now more commonly known as Rainbow Mountain lies 3 hours from Cusco and sits at a whooping 5,100m altitude. As you can probably guess from the name, the mountain is awash with colours, 7 to be precise, all completely natural, created by the minerals in the earth. Red Valley sits along the same mountain ridge and as the name would suggests, is a startling red colour.
We visited Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley in October 22, booking our day trip through Machu Picchu Reservations. We had booked our Salkantay Trek & Sacred Valley tour with them already and they offer discounts when booking additional tours.
We paid $20 USD per person, which included a $5 discount for multiple bookings. There is an additional entrance fee for Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley that has to be paid in cash, in Peruvian Soles (s/.), on the day to the local people who are the ‘owners’ of the area. Rainbow mountain seems to have a set fee of s/.25 but the entrance for Red Valley seems to be changeable and can range from s/.10 – s/.25 depending on how the local people feel on the day!
We were picked up from our hostel at a gruelling 3.40am and; after a few more pick-ups at other hostels; drove for about 2 hours. Thankfully the mini bus was reasonably comfortable and most people slept on the journey.
First stop was for breakfast. A small, busy restaurant catering for the masses of tour buses that pass through over the course of a couple of hours. Buffet style, offering scrambled eggs, bread, fruit and cereal, along with tea and coffee.
Another hours drive from here and we arrived at the parking lot at the base of the mountain. The weather was lovely for us, dry and sunny but at 4,605m it was a bit chilly! Although Cusco is already classed as being at altitude you have jumped another 1,205m just on the bus journey, so you may feel some of the effects. We noticed that the air felt a little thinner, but thankfully nothing more sinister than that.
The hike up to Rainbow Mountain is 4km but takes a couple of hours. We took a slow steady pace, stopping where needed a couple of times. There are a couple of possible toilet stops along the way too. The walk up the valley is beautiful, towering mountains dotted with alpacas and small dwellings. As you get closer to Rainbow Mountain you can see what you came for, the stunning colours caused by the minerals in the soil. Don’t miss turning round and looking back down the valley the way you have come up, you will be surprised to see lots of colour there too.
About halfway up our guide stopped and gathered us altogether to make an offering and give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth). We laid coca leaves and other snacks in a pile on the earth, topped off with a pouring of beer. We thanked Pachamama for allowing us to explore this amazing landscape and for the beauty of it.
The wind picked up at the top and we even had some snow. You have plenty of time to take photos and enjoy the view before the guide gathers you together to start making your way back down.
Once you are a few 100m down you have two options, you can either proceed back down the way you came, or you can take a different route down via Red Valley. We opted to go to Red Valley which involves another slight initial climb and then a gradual climb along the valley to a viewing point. It’s not difficult if you just take your time and the views of Red Valley are totally worth it. Whilst it is all one colour, red obviously(!), I found it more impressive than Rainbow Mountain, I think because it is so vast and striking!
From the top you make your way down quite a steep path. It’s not difficult as such, just a little frustrating as you have to go slowly to avoid slipping and it feels like it goes on for ages! However, once you reach the main path it’s only a little further back to the bus.
The bus takes you back to the same restaurant, about an hour away, for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious spread of rice, salads, chicken, noodles and nachos with a spicy salsa.
From here you drive back to Cusco and we were dropped off near the main square around 5.30pm.
We thoroughly enjoyed the tour. We were well looked after, got to meet lots of other travellers and the scenery was stunning. The walk itself isn’t particularly challenging but the altitude is not to be underestimated, and it may be a good idea to allow time for acclimatising in Cusco before going on the trip.