Cusco – Rainbow Mountain
This is the new attraction in Cusco, a chain of mountains that paint a rainbow of colors on the landscape, at more than 5000 meters above sea level. Make sure you’re acclimated before set off to enjoy this natural wonder.
Vinincunca Mountain has always been there. For millions of years, it guarded the slopes of the highest sacred mountain, or apu, in the Cusco region, Mount Ausangate (more than 6380 meters high). Local people have always admired it as yet another beautiful aspect of the landscape in which they live, with its snow-capped peaks, lakes and grasslands. A few tourists were able to see it, as long as they were willing to make the arduous hike around the base of Ausangate, either as independent hikers or through the responsible tourism project run by the company Andean Lodges (andeanlodges.com), which offers 4-day and 3-night or 5-day and 4-night circuits that pass Vinincunca and include accommodation in both rustic and luxurious lodges.
A few years ago, local travel companies began to offer a new tour that allows anyone to see this beautiful rainbow-like mountain at a reasonable cost. Depending on the agency and level of service, a full-day excursion costs between S/70 and S/100 Peruvian soles per person. But remember that this excursion is recommended only for those travelers who have already spent a few days in Cusco. At least three full days are required to acclimate before ascending the steep, high altitude trail to Vinincunca.
This is the itinerary:
3.00 AM-Pick up from hotels: Services are offered on a POOL basis; this means that travel agencies group together their tourists in minivans with space for a maximum of 15 passengers, to form a caravan of vehicles. These minivans visit hotels between 3.00 AM and 3.30 AM to pick up their passengers.
6.30 AM-Arrival at the village of Pitumarca: Breakfast is served here and is included in the price. Tea, scrambled eggs and bread and jam are served. The guides give a brief presentation about the walk, describing how the body reacts to altitude and how visitors should respect the natural environment (take your garbage away with you). They also ask each participant to make a symbolic S/.5 Peruvian soles contribution to the education of the children of the community.
7.30 AM-Final section in a minivan: Once again, everyone sets off by minivan, as far as the point where the walk will begin (+/- 30-minute drive).
8.00 AM-Things get serious! Each member of the group must wear a jacket that will help identify which group they belong to. The walk begins with a 15-minute test to make sure you’re fit enough for the walk.
8.15 AM-The horse riding option: The first 15 minutes are easy, but once you see the 800-meter climb you’ll have to complete over the next 7.5 kilometers, you’ll start to think again. And local people know this. That is why they offer horses for hire, at a cost of S/.80 Peruvian soles for the round trip. If you’re too proud to take this option, don’t worry because you’ll find more horses higher up the slope. The higher you get, the lower the price. It’s possible to make the entire trip on foot; it’s basically up to the individual. Along the way, you’ll find dry latrines and people selling snacks and drinks. Don’t load yourself down for nothing.
9.30 AM- You’re one-third of the way there: Around this time you’ll pass the control point where an additional entrance fee of S/.10 Peruvian soles is paid.
11.30 AM-Almost there: You’ve given it your best, and now you can lift your head to enjoy the immensity of the surrounding scenery, with its green plains, snow-capped peaks, passive alpacas, narrow creeks and little houses.
12 AM-Viewing point: In order to see the mountain of seven colors in all its majesty, you’ll need to make a final effort. This mountain is hidden behind the hills and you’ll have to walk up to the viewing point. These last 100 meters are completed on foot; the horses must be left behind. But this is the only way to admire properly the graded colors. Standing in the cold wind, you’ll have around 30 minutes to contemplate the scenery and take all the photographs and selfies you feel you need, with a face that says “Yes, I made it!”
12.30 PM-Descent: The descent can be completed quickly because you’ll be losing altitude, and you’ll feel like a trekking king on the way down. It’ll take you around two and a half hours. After boarding your minivan, by around 3.30 PM you’ll be back in Pitumarca for a typical and energizing Peruvian lunch: quinoa and vegetable soup, rice, mashed potato, pasta salad, chicken and tea. A tip: Don’t skip the lunch option to save money; you’ll find a good meal VERY welcome!
4.30 PM-Siesta! The minivans will bring their sleeping passengers back to Cusco.
7.45 PM-Cusco: The minivans will leave you just one block from Cusco’s Main Square, and from there you’ll want to get back to your accommodation for a rest.
It is not easy. The 5100-meter altitude makes it tough and you’ll need to be accustomed to the altitude. Explore Cusco first and then go on the walk. After this trek don’t plan to take a night bus, because the arrival times are approximate and depend upon how well the whole group handles the walk. Also, believe me, after conquering Vinincunca you’ll want a good night’s rest.
- Trekking time: 6 hours round trip
- Kilometers: 15
- Loss and gain in altitude: 800 meters
- Final altitude: 5100 meters