Rainbow Mountain Peru: The Ultimate Day Trip From Cusco

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When anyone thinks of Peru, Machu Picchu is what comes to mind. This is totally normal, expected and most definitely a site to see. However, there’s usually so much more to a country than THE thing it’s known for. This is certainly the case for Peru and I was ecstatic to find just how much more there really was to discover. Enter Rainbow Mountain Peru.

Cusco Resources & Recommendations

Officially named Vinicunca, this beautiful Peruvian natural landscape is known more commonly as Rainbow Mountain. In Spanish, it’s called La Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors) or La Montaña de Colores (Mountain of Colors).

It is one of the few photos that has literally stopped me dead in my tracks. I even remember showing it to my Mom. We were out eating Chinese almost this same week last year and she put down her fork and stared at my phone saying “Oh. My. Gosh.” Yep, it gets that kind of reaction.

It gets this kind of reaction not only because it’s so stunning but because most people have no idea it exists. And what’s sad, a lot of travelers who have visited Peru didn’t know to go see it or didn’t carve out time to see it.

While Rainbow Mountain is starting to get more recognition, it still isn’t quite saturated with tourists and its remote location has a lot to do with this. However, this isn’t the landscape to dismiss or cop-out on!! It might require a bit more planning, but this is the ultimate day trip from Cusco you shouldn’t miss!

The (Road) Trip

hills with brick fence and small village cusco region peru

It’s a 4-hour one-way drive from Cusco to the parking lot of the trailhead to Rainbow Mountain. We got up around 3:45 am to meet our driver outside the hotel at 4:30 am. Yes, that’s AM, not PM. But at that time, AM basically is PM right, so what’s the difference?

Not too long after we left, we had a flat tire and so we had to wait for another tire to be brought in and for the driver and his brother (who brought the new tire) to change it. Around 45 minutes later, we were back on the road.

pasture with brook in cusco region peru

It’s a pretty drive up, but there is NOTHING along the way. Zero, zip, nada. Nowhere to grab anything to eat. Nowhere to go to the bathroom…

Until you absolutely have to go to the bathroom. Now what? Well, you hold it as long as possible and then you tell your driver you have to stop somewhere. ‘Cause one way or the other…you know what I mean. 🙂

valley with colorful small village in cusco region peru

Driver thinks about it, then turns off the main road and we find ourselves in the tiniest, most remote village I’ve probably ever been to. We are ushered into someone’s backyard (presumably a friend of the driver’s) and then pointed to a shed.

My friend was about to die so I let her go first. She goes in and immediately comes right back out and says “um…” and I look at her and then peek into the shed to find a “squatty potty”.  If you don’t know what that is this will explain it and these are 8 great things to know about squatty potties!

Thankfully, I had learned how to use one of these when I was in China. So, after a quick lesson, all was good and we got back on the road. Again.

The Road (Again)

winding dirt road to Rainbow Mountain Peru

The last part of the drive before arriving in the parking lot is winding uphill. I was a bit worried because I get carsick very easily. Interestingly enough, I never got carsick one time in Peru and there were plenty of times I should have.

blurred closeup shot of alpaca taken from car as we passed

If you’re quick enough (and clearly I was not this time) you might get a shot of an alpaca that is standing cliff side with not a care in the world that cars are whizzing by it!

looking through the front windshield of the car at snowy mountain cusco region peru

Almost there, look at that mountain!

parking lot of trailhead to Rainbow Mountain Peru

Finally, we arrived in the parking lot around 9:15 am.

herd of alpacas at Rainbow Mountain Peru

We saw several alpacas when we first got there. They are so cute!!

looking at trailhead of Rainbow Mountain Peru from parking lot

And we saw bathrooms. Well, porta-potties. This one I took advantage of. Remember to bring your own toilet paper because it is usually not provided publicly in Peru.

The (False) Start

selfie of me on my horse

We decided to rent a horse which is optional and an additional cost. The cost varies and can be negotiated. I think we wound up paying 70-80 PEN (Peruvian Soles) extra which is roughly $21-$25 USD. Not bad at all and since we were starting this hike at 14,189 feet, we thought this might be a good idea.

my horse and guide and my friend on her horse with her guide

We were paired up with guides and horses and started our journey.

welcome to Rainbow Mountain Peru sign

Less than five minutes later, we had to get off the horses because we had to go through control and pay the fee to get into Rainbow Mountain. This fee is 10 PEN (3 USD). Once we were through control, back on the horses we went to really begin our journey for the Rainbow Mountain.


The Ascent

selfie of me on the way up to Rainbow Mountain Peru

This time we stayed on the horses for about 10 more minutes until we had to get off the horses again. Again, really?

There are various reasons we had to get on and off the horses 97 times. I remember asking my guide in Spanish, “otra vez?” which means “again?” He explained that there are several places the horses can’t have riders. Sometimes it was due to the oxygen demands on the horse going uphill and sometimes it was the actual landscape itself.

While this was certainly understandable, I wasn’t aware beforehand of all the mounting and dismounting that would take place. I mean, the steep hills and rough terrain are why you rent the horse to begin with, right? I also was renting one because my twice surgically repaired left ankle had been bothering me after Machu Picchu. And on which side did all the mounting and dismounting take place? The left of course! Oh well, I can at least say I stuck the landing on most of my dismounts. 😉

the view of the hike up to Rainbow Mountain with horse riders and walkers

The scenery on the way up was beautiful and because you are in such a remote location, very peaceful.

the path to Rainbow Mountain with the first colors in sight

After turning a corner, this is what came into view and I remember giving a little gasp. It was the start of the rainbow colors and I was getting excited!

The Arrival

the base of the viewing area of Rainbow Mountain with vibrant colors in view

The very last part of the trek requires everyone to hike up. No horses are allowed past a certain point. This is both because of the altitude (which is around 16,400 feet at this point) and the landscape which gets pretty steep and is very slick in places.

zoomed in view of Rainbow Mountain Peru from base viewing area

But once you get past that, you reach the moment you’ve waited and worked so hard for. And it’s gorgeous!!

"Do Not Enter The Rainbow Mountain" sign

Just make sure you “Do Not Enter The Rainbow Mountain”. 😉

very zoomed in photo of Rainbow Mountain and another mountain peak with the red color intertwined

Gorgeous, grand, majestic…

panoramic shot of Rainbow Mountain Peru and the snowy mountains across from it

beautiful, peaceful, jaw-dropping. I could go on and on and on.

the last incline to the very top viewing area for Rainbow Mountain Peru

And I will as soon as I snap out of my mesmerizing stare of this unreal site to climb one final incline…

panoramic shot of Rainbow Mountain Peru from the highest viewing point

and get THE ultimate view. This is Rainbow Mountain. Speechless is the word.

"Trimm Travels" written in the snow

There was still a little snow on the ground, so leaving one’s mark in the snow is a must, right?

clouds covering part of the snowy mountains showing how high up we are

Because of the altitude, every minute you are up there you are breathing less and less oxygen. There are people up there reminding you of this and telling you to hurry and get your photos and start your descent.

This is a good thing because if you aren’t having any problems with the altitude then you just want to stay up there for forever and at 16,400 feet, it can be very dangerous.

view of Mt McKinley in Alaska, USA for comparison of altitude
Mt McKinley, Alaska, USA

For a little perspective, Mt McKinley (Denali) in Alaska is the highest peak in North America with a summit of 20,320 feet.

shot form an airplane for comparison of altitude

And…that point on a flight when you hear the “ding” and the flight attendant comes on the PA and says “Ladies and gentlemen, you can now use your approved electronic devices and wi-fi is now available”?? Yeah, that happens at 10,000 feet. Next time you’re on a flight, if you’re sitting by the window, be sure to look out and notice what 10,000 feet in the air looks like.

It’s up there y’all. We thankfully didn’t have any issues with the altitude except for a tiny headache that went away after we ate a snack so who knows if it was due to the altitude or hunger. We did see some people struggling though. So please be careful!

The Descent

the last little steep climb to the first viewing area for Rainbow Mountain Peru

This was probably the scariest part of the whole trek. It’s a bit steep and with the snow and ice in patches, it was slick. We saw people slide and fall. Not many, but it did happen and most of the time it was the people not taking the situation seriously.

Our guide met us at this point and I held onto the rope and him and made it down fine.

on the way back down from Rainbow Mountain Peru with minerals showing vibrant colors in the ground

Then not too much farther down, I mounted my sweet caballo (horse) once again. He may not have been very motivated and may not have kept up with my friend’s horse, but can you blame him? Look what he does every day! He was, however, so sweet and patient as was my guide who kept asking me “Está bien (everything okay)?”

another shot on the way back down from Rainbow Mountain Peru

The journey back treated us to a whole new canvas. It’s so interesting how the opposite direction can look so different.

red and green mountains on the way down from Rainbow Mountain Peru

The way back down was also very peaceful. There was still a couple of places I had to get off the horse, but not many. It was quite calming to just stare at scenery that just didn’t look real and yet was so real and right in front of me.

looking down at my horse's mane as he drinks water from a brook with colored pebbles

When we reached the brook, the horses were thirsty and stopped for a drink.

brook with bed of colored pebbles on way down from Rainbow Mountain Peru

Even the brook was pretty with its water rushing over a bed of colored pebbles.

The Finish

my guide, my horse's guide and my horse

We eventually returned to our starting point and I dismounted my horse for the final time and gave him a quick rub whispering “muchas gracias”. I also thanked my guides for a fantastic experience.

the control area for Rainbow Mountain Peru wth Peruvian flag

It may not have been the easiest place to get to, but isn’t everything great in life worth working hard for? Rainbow Mountain is definitely worth it and was one of those “life-changing” moments for me.

I can most definitely say I’ve had one of those now. Thank you, Rainbow Mountain. Thank you, Peru.

me from the back looking at Rainbow Mountain Peru

Know Before You Go

  • GETTING THERE: Isn’t easy or convenient. Keep in mind your reward and follow that carrot!
  • CHOICES: You can book a company in advance that provides English-speaking guides, meals, pickup service, etc. I almost booked one of these companies (for all these reasons) before research from trusted sources revealed tours can be booked much cheaper in Cusco. My deciding factor to book in Cusco was the ability to choose the day I wanted to go. Choosing a fancy company ahead of time locks you into a certain day. Rain (very common) or shine. PROS: Much cheaper tour, choice of day (sunny), hotel pickup, and assurance of adequate acclimatization to the altitude (HIGHLY important). CONS: No meals (brought our own snacks/water)
  • BOOKING: Your hotel can help set you up with a reputable tour company for group or private tours with English-speaking guides. They are everywhere in Cusco and there’s a lot of competition which drives down prices.
  • ACCLIMATE: Don’t attempt this trek until you’ve acclimated to the altitude in Cusco. This takes at least two days for most people and longer for others.
  • WHEN: Go as early as possible. The later in the day you arrive at the summit, the more people there are and the harder it is to get good photos.
  • DRIVE TIME: The drive from Cusco to the parking lot of Rainbow Mountain is around 4 hours each way. So factor in 8 hours in driving time alone.
  • TREK TIME: The hike up, time on the summit and the hike back down will take around 3-4 hours depending on how fast you (or your horse) are.
  • TOTAL TIME: All day. For reference, we left our hotel at 4:30 am and got back to Cusco around 5 or 5:30 pm.
  • HORSE RENTALS: Can’t be rented or reserved ahead of time. Another reason to go as early as possible. What is there when you arrive is what is available.
  • WHAT TO WEAR: The weather can and does change very fast in this region of Peru. Be prepared for very cold temperatures (especially early on) as well as warmer ones on the way up and back. You are at a high altitude and the sun is stronger than you realize so wear sunscreen. For reference, in late May, I had on a couple of thinner layers plus my raincoat/windbreaker, a beanie, gloves, yoga pants and running shoes and I was fine (for me).
  • FOOD: If you elect to go on a tour that doesn’t include meals, bring snacks and bottled water with you. Both are important, but especially bottled water!
  • RESTROOMS: There isn’t anywhere to use the restroom driving to/from, so unless you or your driver is willing to get creative 😉 , you’re out of luck until you reach the porta-potties at Rainbow Mountain. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper!
  • MONEY: Have cash (Peruvian Soles) on you for the horse, the entrance fee (if not on an organized tour that has it included), and to tip your guide.


Pin created for Pinterest with title Rainbow Mountain Peru

I wanted to be transparent and paint a realistic picture of what this trip involves, but without a doubt, if you know your limitations and keep these tips in mind, you should have one of the. best. experiences. of. your. life!!!

Have you been to Rainbow Mountain? How was your experience? Do you have anything to add to my list?

‘Til next time…

Trimm Travels,


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  1. We are heading there in April! Loved your tips at the end. We will have breakfast included with our trip, but I think definitely will have to bring snacks and toilet paper!

    1. Hi Laura! Thank you, I’m glad you find them helpful. Yeah, I would bring snacks and bottled water with you and definitely toilet paper! I just brought a drawstring-type lightweight backpack that had a separate zipper compartment. Toilet paper and some extra lighter camera equipment went in one section and crackers and bottled water in another one and it worked well. You will LOVE it! Your domain is one of my most favorite ones out there. Creative and reminds me of Peru (which is in my top two favorite countries)! 🙂

  2. Hi!! I’m going there the first week in September alone. This was one of the things I wanted to do before my hike on the Inca Trail. I also was debating book prior, so I knew who I was going with, what I got etc. But I’m feeling a bit better about just booking once I get to Cusco.
    Do you know what company you booked with once you were there?
    I also read somewhere that you should def get a horse if you plan on hiking the Inca Trail later on.

    1. Hi Jennifer! You will love it!! I honestly was going to book with a company before too just like you were thinking of, but I read about others booking when they got there and how much cheaper it was. Now most of the time you get what you pay for, but in this case, I didn’t need to stop for cooked meals or have them provided. For me, I was much more interested in choosing my day for my photos. We actually didn’t go with an organized company (and some down there aren’t. After your question, I might need to add that to my post!). If you are wanting just a basic get to Rainbow Mountain and get back (which is what we did), we got advice from our hotel to negotiate with a taxi driver. They are usually pretty eager to make a deal because they will make more money in that day over just driving around town. This is what we did and then when we got to Rainbow Mountain, we rented the horse/guide (also negotiated here) and then paid the entrance fee (not negotiable). Went up, got back. Same driver was waiting for us and drove us back to Cusco. If I went alone, I would probably book a tour through a hotel-recommended tour company personally (or book prior as you were going to do) just because it is a long tour and is very remote. To address your point about the horse and the Inca Trail. I would DEFINITELY get the horse in that case. Especially if you are going afterward. We didn’t do the Inca Trail, but we had done Machu Picchu 2 days prior and my ankle was bothering me (if not for that, I would’ve been fine). But the Inca Trail is a different ballgame and I would save your body, energy, etc for that! Hope this helps and thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. Great post!! We’re heading to Cusco in a few weeks and thinking about doing a day trip to the Rainbow Mountains on one of the five days we’ll be there for. Excellent post with all the details I needed. I had no idea it was 4 hours to get there and then the additional hike! Wow!

    1. Hi Amanda! I’m so glad you find it helpful. It is a long day, but I highly recommend it if you can fit it in. It is by far in my top 2 most spectacular sights I’ve seen in traveling!! Let me know if you have any other questions and if you go, I’d love to know how your experience is! Thank you for reading! 🙂

      1. My husband is less than thrilled with the 4am departure time. 😀 I’m not sure I can convince him. LOL If this was top 2, what was the other?

        1. Oh girl, you HAVE to convince him!! It is MORE than worth it! It is probably #1 honestly. #2 is a tie probably between the Great Wall, the Matterhorn, turquoise lakes in Canada…I don’t know. That’s a toss up! I think it might depend on the day I’m asked? LOL!!

  4. I always see photos of Rainbow Mountain and have a few friends who have done it, but this is a great guide for actually making it happen. Those long road trips in Peru up and down mountains can certainly be treacherous, and you’re right – there is often absolutely nothing along the way!! Peru blew my expectations away and when I return I’ll be sure to add this to my itinerary 🙂

    1. Hi Lauren, I’m glad you like the guide! Perú blew my expectations away too! So in love with that country and like you will be returning! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  5. It wasn’t more than a couple of months ago when I saw a picture of the Rainbow Mountains for the first time. Love at first sight. In fact, I was supposed to be there right now but got stuck in Cartagena, Colombia. It was also a picture that brought me here 1.5 months ago ;). The mountains are just amazing and are right on the top of my next-destination-list. Thank you for the great info – very useful. Happy trailing.  

    1. Hi Eva! Oh no, I hate you got stuck in Colombia and didn’t get to Perú. Definitely go to Rainbow Mountain as soon as you can! They are just beyond words beautiful! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  6. So gorgeous! They remind me of the Painted Hills in Oregon. I love how the landscape transitions from green hillsides to a riot of colours. There’s so much left to see!

    1. Hi Mohana! I’m very interested in these Painted Hills in Oregon. Going to research those because I loved Rainbow Mountain. Thanks for the suggestion and for reading! 🙂

  7. I’m almost a bit jealous … what a crazy trip! Apart from the really unique photos, the story is super exciting written. I could not stop reading. Of course I would have annoyed me to pay for a horse and then have to dismount all the time. But honestly, the sight of the mountains was not worth it … Fantastically beautiful!

    1. Hi Susanne, oh you’re totally right. All the dismounting was definitely worth that beautiful view! Glad you enjoyed the photos and the post itself. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  8. That’s such a helpful guide to exactly what to expect. Sometimes you see the beautiful pics that are the result of the journey, and have no idea what has gone before to get there. I’m thinking that the length of the day and the amount of effort at altitude makes the sight of the mountain even more stunning. I can see why the guides insist you don’t spend too long high up taking in all that beauty. I loved your sprinting alpaca too!

    1. Hi Bernie, you’re right, often times we have no idea the work it takes to get to the spectacular views or places. They are definitely worth it though! Yes, altitude is most definitely something you have to watch on this hike! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  9. Wowwww – how much I love your pics! Not just the rainbow mountain but all the scenery is just breath-taking and so well captured. You really make me wanna go to Peru!

    1. Hi Martina, thank you so much! Perú is just an amazing place. I hope you get to go! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  10. It’s amazing how many literally wonderful things there are to be seen and experienced in Peru. I haven’t even heard of this mountain before – and it does look amazing. How was it there regarding altitude – did it affect you? I was pretty dizzy in Puno, the rest of the country was ok.
    As always, I appreciate you thoroughly written, extended post – it shows that your heart is in it, and I like that a lot.
    Keep up the good work, Heather!

    1. Hi Renata! I totally agree, it’s mind-boggling how much diversity is in Perú. It’s why it just might be my favorite country so far! Most people haven’t heard of Rainbow Mountain (even if they have been to Perú) and most of the citizens haven’t been either! The altitude didn’t affect me or my friend. We were worried about it, but we had been in Cusco 5 days by this point. Still though, that’s 11K feet and we got up to 16K and that’s a huge difference. We both each had a slight headache, but we hadn’t eaten much the whole day. So who knows what it was. Either way, we were never short of breath, dizzy or anything, but we saw plenty of people who were. I’m so glad you liked the article! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  11. Hi Heather,

    This is such a great post and very informative! 🙂 We’re planning to go to Cusco in 2 weeks and would love to see The Rainbow Mountains. I wonder how much did it cost you from your hotel to Rainbow Mountain and back with a taxi?

    Thank you, waiting for your response.

    1. Hi Akya! I’m so glad you find my post helpful! The taxi was around 80-90 Soles for the entire round-trip taxi-wise. We just found a taxi driver we liked the day before and negotiated the price. When you get there, entrance and renting horses are additional. You will love Rainbow Mountain and Perú in general! Just be careful to take time to acclimate! Would love to hear about your trip and thanks for reading! 🙂

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