Vinicunca: How to get to Rainbow Mountain

After hearing the stories of the sherbet coloured Dr Seuss mountains near Cusco I was very curious… Would it take 5 days hiking the Ausangate Trek to reach it? And would we have to pay hundreds of US dollars? Nope, here are the details on how we did it cheaply in a day, and how you can do it to!

I searched online for a few hours and kept coming up with reports from intrepid travellers who had set off in search of Vinicunca. Spending days hiking towards a GPS co-ordinate they’d picked up from a guy with a strong Scottish accent called Elmer, and finally finding the striped mountains of pastel colours before collapsing in a heap. Did it have to be like this?

Even after travelling for 4 months now, and learning time and time again it’s much better to speak to real people instead of Google, it still took me the better part of 2 days before I went in and just asked a few tour companies. Turns out EVERY tour company in Cusco have been offering a one day trip to Colorado Colores (or Apu Ausangate) since December 2015, and if you ask around, it can be pretty reasonably priced. We asked in 5 places and were quoted everywhere from 130 soles to $180 USD. Word to the wise, don’t book this one online, it’s outrageously overpriced. 130 soles is only about $40 USD so why would you book through a website charging $200+??

The bus came to pick us up from our hostel at 3am (even though we were told 3.30am) and a lovely local guide from the Sacred Valley called Elizabeth met our drowsy faces to escort us to the van. We picked up the other 8 passengers and were on the road by 4am. I’d love to give you an idea of what towns we went through on our way to the beginning of the trailhead, but I fell asleep. Google Maps had no idea where we were either, but luckily Maps.me had a reliable grip on things so I have a map to share! I’m not sure how easy it is to get local transport to this point but from about 6.30am there are plenty of tourist vans and cars parked here, loads of people walking the track and horses to hire if you’re a lazybones.

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The blue triangle is Cusco, the blue circle shows Vinicunca and the red pin below it shows where the trail starts. The cluster of pins to the left are set at Pitumarca
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Here you can see the unpaved road past Pitumarca with a left turn down another unpaved road

We arrived at the beginning of the trailhead around 6.30 and walked up to a tiny farm village of around 20 small, clay brick houses to have breakfast. The locals were all very well dressed in the colourful, traditional outfits of the area and warmly received us.

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Breakfast was included in the cost of the tour and consisted of hot chocolate, tea, wheat coffee and bread with jam which we ate snuggled inside one of the small huts. It was really humbling to have breakfast in the same way as the locals and get a taste of how they live. No running water no flushing toilets, and up until recently (when the government started funding gas stoves) they were still cooking with fire.

 

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Elizabeth telling us about the local people and their customs over breaky

After breakfast we were on our way! The walk wasn’t as difficult as I’d been preparing myself for. Don’t get me wrong, it was still tough walking up hill at 5,000m above sea level, but only 3 hours up and about the same on the way back, so manageable. Because we weren’t sure of the difficulty, the 10 of us did pay 6soles each for an emergency horse “ambulance” after a sales spiel from our driver.

Instead of describing our trek, I’d like to show you the direction on the map, then illustrate it in a series of pictures…

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I had to turn the orientation around to fit it in with the names of the other mountains, but this shows the start and finish of our trek, not a round circuit

 

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This is the view from our breakfast spot looking back towards the road on which we came. The start of the trail is behind us.
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The first part of the hike follows a stream to the top of a beautiful lush green meadow
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This is the view from the top of the stream, you can already see the colours peaking through this mountain
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You will need to turn left here and walk towards the next tiny farming village, this is what you will see.
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Continue on towards the little farming town
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The track is roughly marked with painted rocks and artistic piles to make sure you’re on the right path
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Steve with our ambulance driver at the place you pay 10 soles to walk up to Vinicunca
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Although this trek is only a few months old its growing rapidly in popularity. They are even building a baño!
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After paying you will take a bit of a climb up to the right, the path is pretty clear but if in doubt, keep right.
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Go back while you still can
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You will see loads of llamas and local farmers coming down the trailhead
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Friendly bunch!
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In spite of the cold weather they rock those sandals up and down the mountainside. Everyone we met was just so happy!
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This is the toughest part, but you can see the colours becoming more pronounced
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The view back down the valley from where we’d come
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The view from the top of the ridge, absolutely breathtaking!! 
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Walking the last few metres to the lookout at the top of the mountain with the view I’d seen in my keyboard expeditions in the background.
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We made it! What a great crew!
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Another friend on the way back down

As part of the tour we also stopped for lunch on the way back to Cusco, it was a delicious fried trout! I’d recommend booking the tour, I don’t think it matters who you book it with because I think they all put you on the same bus but we liked the guy who helped us out. He gave us a fair price from the start and knew what he was talking about.
Vertigo Travel Peru: Jaime
Calle Plateros 394, Cusco, Peru
vertigotravelperu.com +51 84 222192

 

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17 thoughts on “Vinicunca: How to get to Rainbow Mountain

  1. Hi there, do you mind telling me which travel company you used? My friends and I would love to do this day trip but want to book via a local company while we are in Cusco as you advised here!

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      1. Thank you so much for all the info! The email you provided didn’t work. Is there another email? If not no worries. I will give them a call.

        Thank you!

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      2. Hi Sarah. I’m not sure about another email I’m afraid. I think every tour company in Cusco is offering rainbow mountain these days and it may even be cheaper now. I don’t think you would have any problems showing up and booking a tour for the next day. It’s a very popular now 🙂 Enjoy! Cusco and the Sacred Valley are amazing, you must spend some time in Ollantaytambo and Pizac if you go! I wrote more about all of the places we loved in Peru, it is just such a culturally rich place.
        Sacred Valley Blog

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  2. Hi Paige!
    We are now in Cusco and we are planning to do the trek of the tour of the Ausangate.
    We would like to see the rainbow mountain during this trek.
    Can you share with us the coordonate of the mountain you had with maps.me ?

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    1. Hi Florian, sorry about the late reply! We haven’t had any wifi. Unfortunately Maps.me deleted ALL of our bookmarks so we are not very happy with the app at the moment! Sorry I can’t help on this one 😦

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I was afraid I couldn’t be able to visit Vinicuna but now I know it doesn’t take so long! Do you have any recommendations when doing this tour?

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  4. Thank you for your post! I found a cheaper one near Plaza de Armas, for only 90 soles (it is possible to find the same package at 250USD in other travel agencies at Avda. El Sol…). The trip I booked was 1 day trip, including the transportation both ways, breakfast, oxygen shots (in case of need), guide and lunch for only 90 soles. The experience was incredible and the guides were carying and very friendly. Highly recommended, for those interested: http://www.perunaturetreks.com

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  5. If you have the time, I would HIGHLY recommend doing the 2 day hike instead of just the 1 day. I did this a few weeks ago, and we camped at the base of Rainbow Mountain and had the campsite completely to ourselves (except for the occasional llama herders coming through). On the second day, we woke up early for the ascent and once again had not only the entire trail, but also Rainbow Mountain completely to ourselves! We were at the summit taking pictures for well over an hour before the fastest of the single day hikers arrived. As we hiked down, we saw the floods of people coming up. So if you want a bit more solitude and to avoid the huge tour groups, I highly suggest considering the 2 day option. I went with Ayni Peru (https://www.ayni-peru.com/rainbow-mountain-peru-vinicunca-yauricunca/) and it was absolutely awesome!

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