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The now famous Rainbow Mountain of Peru is an incredible natural tourist destination. Located 5,200 m (16,900 ft) above sea level, people travel from far and wide to marvel at the many wondrous colors of this sacred mountain.
Around 2015, the melting snow revealed this unique sight that has been known to locals for ages, but few others. Containing 14 different colors of mineral deposits, it possesses a unique beauty you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. However, it requires a difficult 3-hour journey, much of it on foot and uphill. Located at 5,200 m (16,900 ft) above sea level, the climate is harsh and only exacerbates the difficult trek to the peak.
I believe in getting the bad news out of the way first, so here is a list of reasons why visitors didn’t feel like it was worth the trip.
A long journey
Some find the typical tour itinerary to be quite grueling, especially given you spend so little time actually getting to see the mountain. Most tour guides follow more or less the same general schedule:
- Depart between 3 and 5 am
- 1-½ to 2-hour drive with a brief stop for breakfast
- An additional 1 to 1-½ hour drive to the beginning of the trail
- A 1-½ to 2-hour trek up the mountain
- Stay at viewpoint for 10-20 minutes
- Trek back down the mountain
- Drive back to town
To add to all of this, the high altitude means the air is frigid and thin. Most people are recommended to spend a few days in Cusco before even attempting the climb, in order to get used to how thin the air is, and Cusco is only 3,399 m (~11,000 ft) above sea level. The Peak of the Rainbow Mountain, at 5,200 m (16,900 ft), has even thinner, colder air.
A grueling march
In addition to the long walk for such a short drink of water, the part of the trek that’s done on foot is more than difficult, it’s dangerous. It’s a brand new tourist attraction, at only 4 years of age, it hasn’t had time for guides to build up experience in dealing with the treacherous aspects of the trail. As for that, the trail itself is relatively new, and not well prepared or maintained. The entire tourist operation has yet to receive any kind of real attention that most other tourist destinations, and as a result doesn’t have the level of development that can ensure the safety and relative comfort of visitors.
That’s all assuming you guy at the right time of year. From September to May, Peru has an annual rainy season, and due to the altitude, at its best, it’s just cold and foggy, and at its worst, that weather is accompanied by the occasional sleet and hail storm.
The photos don’t do it justice
Normally when I say that, I mean you have to see it for yourself. In this case, the liberal application of photoshop coupled with very ideal conditions was used to accentuate the brightness and contrast of the natural colors. In truth, while the colors are varied and quite beautiful, they’re not nearly as vibrant as the marketing photos would have you believe.
Many visitors trudge down the mountain disappointed at not seeing a literally petrified rainbow.
For those who found the visit worthwhile, here are the most common reasons.
Truly unique and beautiful
The product of millennia of different colored sedimentary minerals, the rainbow pattern boast a total of 14 different colors, with hues that range from clay red to goldenrod, pale blue to powder white, and more. Some of these colors are uncommon by themselves and nowhere else has such a broad array of these mineral hues so close together.
Under the right conditions, with clear skies and bright sunlight, the mountains truly sing with color. While it’s often a single peak that signifies this most strongly (the one you usually see when you google it), the entire region has patches of exposed mountain displaying the full range of colors. Even without the color’s, it’s a lovely mountain range with broad, grassy slopes punctuated by patches of the colorful rock formations.
Brand, spanking new (kind of)
While the local cultures have known about, and revered, the Rainbow Mountain for longer than anyone can remember, it’s relatively new to everyone else. Originally called Vinicunca in the Peruvian native language, it’s been a well-kept secret for generations. Add in how difficult it is to reach, and that makes it hard to corrupt the stunning view with gift shops, cafes and other hallmarks of overdeveloped tourist destinations. Llamas and Alpacas still roam the surrounding lands, and the sloes and stones are much the same as they were generations ago, minus a little lost to natural weathering.
All in all, it’s still quite pristine, and though it is gaining ever more acclaim with each passing year, they don’t seem to be encountering the same problems as mountains like Everest.
It’s getting better
As time goes on, tour guides, the Peruvian government, those with a vested interest in the success of the tourist attraction and the surrounding cities and towns who also stand to benefit have all begun to slowly, but surely, improve how they handle things.
They make sure to check the weather forecasts before scheduling treks, though they’ll still take you if you’re determined or can’t wait for better conditions. Additionally, if at any point along the hike you feel like the altitude is getting to you, you can rent a horse to take you the rest of the way up and back down. You don’t even need to schedule one, they have taken steps to make it possible to hire one at any point along the trail.
Lastly, a handful of tour operators have set themselves ahead of the rest based on the quality of their equipment, guides, customer service and general experience they can offer their clients. The most recommended tour operators are, in alphabetical order:
- Haku Travel
- Kantu Peru Tours
- Rainbow Mountain Travels
- Rasgos del Peru