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.

Ever dreamed of traveling all the way over the rainbow? It turns out that's easier than you think. All you need to do is book a plane ticket to Peru.

The South American nation is home to a spectacular array of natural sights, but one of its most precious may just be Rainbow Mountain, a multi-colored hillside that has become wildly Instagram famous. Ready to plan your own trip to see it? Here's everything you need to know about Rainbow Mountain and how you can nail the perfect shot for your feed, too.

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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Rainbow Mountain, also called Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors), is located in the Andes in the Cusco region of Peru.

But what makes the Rainbow Mountain turn so many different colors? Well, first, always be wary of which photos you see on the internet. Super bright, technicolor photos are often enhanced by Photoshop (which we'll get into later), but the real deal isn't dull either. The mountainsides look like they were painted in yellows, greens, reds, and purples, but they look a little more natural in person.

The reason why these colors have formed, HuffPo reported, is because of the ice that used to cover 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 the greens come from chlorite.

Best Time to Visit Rainbow Mountain

A mountain of miracles stained in seven colors Mt.vinicunca
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It's important to note that the weather makes a big difference in your Rainbow Mountain experience.

It's best to plan your trip during warmer months when it's unlikely there will be rain or snow, because that will make the trail more difficult to hike, and the colors will be duller, as one blogger experienced. At the same time, super sunny days or taking pictures around 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 right after sunrise or right before sunset.

Rainbow Mountain Peru also suggests visiting between March and November, or from June to August, when blue skies are likely and the weather is pleasant.

How to Get to Rainbow Mountain

To get to Rainbow Mountain, travelers should first head to Cusco. From the city, visitors take a two- to three-hour car ride to Pitumarca. Travelers then have to make their way to Qesoyuno to start the trek. Yes, this really is the best way, so if you are thinking of visiting, make sure you really — really — want to go as it's an investment.

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 trip is fairly challenging, so it's not recommended for beginner hikers. The other important thing to remember is that the mountain sits at a rather high elevation more than 16,000 feet above sea level — 17,060 feet to be exact — so be prepared by bringing plenty of water and taking your time on the ascent and descent.

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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We'll stress it here again: Many of the photos you see of Rainbow Mountain that are posted to platforms like Instagram are likely heavily edited. While the mountain is most certainly gorgeous, it will likely not compare to what you see online. Go into it knowing that the colors will be much softer than you see online, but still worthy of seeing in real life.

As for how to get the best photo, again, it's a good idea to try to head out for your hike in the early morning hours or around dusk. Not only will this provide you with pleasant temperatures, but will also give you the best light. That's because these two times of day are known as "golden hour," as the light tends to become that gorgeous burnt orange hue and makes everything else it touches look equally stunning.

Next, consider downloading an app like Lightroom, which will allow you to softly edit your image, too. And we mean softly. Rather than changing colors completely, try enhancing an image by adding a little contrast and ever so slightly increasing the exposure. But also think about different ways to photograph the experience. Maybe try taking an extreme closeup of the earthen colors. Try 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.

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