Rainbow Mountain – My Trip to Mekka

Vinicunca, better known as the Rainbow Mountain or the Mountain of Seven Colours, which are created by the various minerals contained in the massive, has been gaining on popularity since its discovery in 2013 and has been listed in National Geographic’s “Top 100 Places to Visit before You Die”.

Even though there is a sad part of the story of Vinicunca – it has been discovered only due to the fact that the snow of glaciers caps covering it melted because of global warming – the natural beauty of the rock attracts more and more eager travellers to come and admire it.

Considered a nature´s holy site by some, the mountain has become a hotspot for international visitors, and is now the second most-visited attraction in Peru after Machu Picchu. It allegedly receives around 1,500 people per day which is a third of the daily visitors at Machu Picchu.

To myself, seeing it for real was a huge dream come true. In fact, hiking it was my trip to “Mekka”. I hiked the Rainbow Mountain up barefoot in 55 minutes, supported by the locals who run up and down several times a day (only in their sandals) with the horses carrying those tourists who opt not for the hike. The locals were sending me words of support and love, understanding this was my honour to the beloved Nature, to the Mother of all, la Pacha Mama.

All the guides from various agencies are one family up there, supporting anyone from any group, splashing Agua de Florida into your hands every time you ask for it as you feel the effects of altitude sickness might be arriving – after all, you are in 5 200m above the sea level. The views to the surrounding icebergs and lakes are stunning.

Located in the Peruvian Andes, 3 hours away from Cusco, the best way to get to the Rainbow Mountain is on a tour with an agency, which starts as early as 4:30 am and costs around 80 – 100 soles. All the agencies offer pretty much the same: a hotel pick up and a van drive to a place one hour away from the starting point of the hike where all the travellers have breakfast and where they can buy some warmer clothes made by the local communities, chocolates and water. Lunch is also included in the tour. The return to Cusco is usually due around 4:30 pm.

Those who do not want to hike can pay for a horse which carries them for 70 soles up (but the last 10-min part needs to be walked by foot) or 80 soles up and down. Those who choose to go by horse gain some time on their hands which they can use to see the Red Valley by one side of the mountain which is also quite an experience. Those who hike usually do not have enough time to see the Valley.

The best season to hike the mountain is in between June to August when rain is scarce.

Know that the colours of the mountain you see on Pinterest an Instagram pictures are totally real, the ones you see here in my article had not been edited at all, some come from my Panasonic Lumix camera and others from my Huawei cell phone.

If you want a perfect picture at the top, know that there are locals with llamas everywhere, trying to earn some little money when you photograph them or yourself with the animals. A snap with a llama wearing sun glasses is nothing unique up there. However, I got one with a llama bum instead (unintentionally).

Interesting facts about the Rainbow Mountain:

1. Vinicunca or Winicunca is a word that comes from the Quechua WillkaKunca which means “Painted by the Gods”.

2. Vinicunca is not the only “rainbow mountain” in Peru. In fact, in Cusco you can buy tours to yet another, similar mountain, less visited, and it is a well-known fact to the locals that the Andes of Peru hide more gems like these, where the minerals worked out their magic.

3. Even though the Peruvians call the mountain “Montaña de 7 Colores”, there are in fact 14 colours, i.e. 14 colourful minerals. Generally speaking, the main colours people notice on the mountain are: yellow, pink, white, turquoise, brown, green and red. Each of these colours is caused by a specific combination of mineral deposits:

    • the pink colour is created by red clay, mud and sand
    • the red is due to iron clay from the Cenozoic era
    • the whitish is from quartz, sandstone and marls
    • the green is due to phyllitesand clays rich in ferromagnesian
    • the turquoise due to phyllite compounds and clays rich in iron-magnesium
    • earthy browns are caused by fanglomerates made of magnesium-infused rock
    • and the mustard yellow colour is created by calcareous sandstone and limestone rich in sulphurous minerals

4. To many local people, Vinicunca is an important holy and spiritual site. As such, every year, thousands of Quechua pilgrims hike to the mountain to celebrate the Qoyllur Rit’i festival. This takes place a week before the Corpus Christi feast on 31st May.

5. Until recently, the area of the mountain had actually been subject to mining! In 2019, as a result of huge protests and joint work between the Ministry of the Environment and the National Service of Natural Protected Areas (Sernanp), the Ausangate area was finally established as one of three new Regional Conservation Areas. However, the measure to protect the area does not guarantee that mining projects to extract lithium will be banned…

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