Peru's Rainbow Mountain Is an Incredible Display of Color — How to Visit

Here's what you need to know about visiting Rainbow Mountain in Peru.

Somewhere over the rainbow might just be in Peru. The South American nation is home to a spectacular array of natural sights, but one, in particular, has become wildly Instagram-famous in the past few years. Vinicunca, also known as Winikunka or Rainbow Mountain, is a striking geological landmark because of its colorful stripes which are made up of layers of 14 different minerals. Located in the Andes Mountains near the city of Cusco, the mountain has become a popular side trip for travelers on their way to and from the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Although many photos you see on the Internet of Rainbow Mountain suffer from over-saturation and over-editing, it is still a wonderful sight to behold with your own eyes. Far from dull, even on a rainy day, you can see the mountain's distinct and rare mineral stripes. If you want to visit Vinicunca and capture all the colors of Peru's Rainbow Mountain for yourself, here's everything you need to know.

Related: How to Travel to Machu Picchu

What to Know About Peru's Rainbow Mountain

Vinicunca, Peru - Rainbow Mountain (5200 m) in Andes, Cordillera de los Andes, Cusco region in South America.
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Vinicunca, also called Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors), is located in the Andes in the Cusco region of Peru, and until 2013 when the ice that had always covered the mountain melted away, the colors beneath were completely unknown. The colors look more natural in person, but they're not dull either. You can still see the distinct red, yellow, green, and purple layers even in overcast light.

As HuffPo reported, the colors are a result of the ice that once covered the area. When it began to melt, the water mixed with minerals in the ground, turning the earth into the many colors you see today. Red areas are due to rust mixtures, yellows are due to iron sulfide, purples are from goethite or oxidized limonite, and greens come from chlorite.

Best Time to Visit Rainbow Mountain

A mountain of miracles stained in seven colors Mt.vinicunca
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The colors will be there rain or shine, but the photos you'll get on a sunny day will always be better because the colors will appear more distinctly under direct light. You can increase your chances of catching the mountain on a good day if you plan your trip during warmer months between November and March. At this time, snow and rain are unlikely, which also makes the trek to the site less difficult. The next thing you have to think about is the time of day you arrive. On a super sunny day, taking photos at high noon will probably also wash out your photographs due to the excess light. The best time to visit will be in the morning or evening hours, either after sunrise or before sunset.

How to Get to Rainbow Mountain

To get to the Rainbow Mountain trailhead in Qesoyuno, you will need to drive three hours from Cusco. From there, you will begin a trek that will take approximately three hours. Between the difficult terrain and the altitude, you should expect a challenging hike, and traveling with a guide is strongly recommended. If you do not spend a few days in Cusco acclimatizing to the altitude, you risk getting altitude sickness on the trail which can be very dangerous. It's possible to hike to Rainbow Mountain without a guide if you have your own transportation, but many people recommend going with someone who will be looking out for you along the way.

Vinicunca, Cusco Region, Peru.
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Rainbow Mountain Trail

Once you reach the base, it's about a two- or three-hour hike to the top and another three hours down to the base. The trek is challenging because of the steep inclines and loose gravel, so it is not recommended for beginner hikers or people with limited mobility. Additionally, the mountain sits at a rather high elevation more than 16,000 feet above sea level — 17,060 feet to be exact — so bring plenty of water and take your time on the ascent and descent. If you are feeling the burn a little too much, you may be able to pay a small fee to travel part of the way by horse with a guide.

According to AllTrails, the out-and-back trail clocks in at 6.2 miles in total and it takes an average of 3 hours and 11 minutes to complete. Don't believe us on the altitude? Here are what a few people have to say in the AllTrails comments:

"Altitude was no joke! Had to stop every half kilometer to catch our breath even though it's relatively flat. The last kilometer to the peak is very steep and absolutely brutal," one hiker wrote. "The altitude is very tough," another added. "I recommend taking medicine beforehand. I took the official acetazolamide before going and I still had symptoms. This is a quick hike but tough because of the altitude."

How to Get the Best Photo of Rainbow Mountain

Vinicunca or Rainbow Mountain,Pitumarca, Peru
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It can't be stressed enough: Many of the photos you see of Rainbow Mountain that are posted to social media are most likely heavily edited. While the mountain is most certainly gorgeous, it rarely can compare to the exaggerations you see online or in travel brochures. As long as you go into it knowing that the colors will be much softer than the most-liked social media post, you can still have an enjoyable experience and get your own photo of the remarkable Vinicunca.

For the best photo, start your hike in the early morning hours or around dusk. Not only the temperatures be pleasant, but you'll also have the best light. These two times of day are known as the "golden hour." On a clear day, the light becomes a gorgeous burnt orange hue and makes everything it touches look equally stunning. You can also think of different ways to photograph the mountain. Maybe try taking an extreme closeup of the earthen colors or photographing some of the hikers and locals you encounter (with their permission of course), or think about how you can juxtapose a blue sky to the mountain's many colors. Make it unique, and make it a special photo just for you without worrying about likes. That will end up being the best photo of all.

If you get home and are not happy with your image, you may consider downloading a photo editing app and softly editing your image — and we mean softly. Instead of changing colors completely, enhance the image by increasing the contrast and the exposure.

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