The newest natural attraction on the “things to do” list in the Cusco, Peru region is the stunning Rainbow Mountain.Topping out at 5,100 m (16,732 ft) the Mirador peak was only discovered a few years ago as it had been snow-covered year-round. With receding glaciers and snowmelts, the unusual and colourful Permian striations have become visible.
Scarcely a year has passed since this 7 km (one way) hike has been opened up to the public on a larger scale. A recently built road has made access to the mountain easier.
For centuries, the local indigenous people have scraped out an existence farming the land and herding sheep, Alpacas and Llamas.The trek begins in the small village of Quesiuno at 4,326 m (14,189 ft), a remote hamlet about three hours south-east of Cusco known as the Cordillera Vilcanota mountain region.
At this altitude, the main challenge of this hike is to get enough oxygen into your lungs to keep walking the reasonably gentle grade up to the mountain top. The locals offer horseback rides to those who cannot make it on their own two feet.
Spectacular vistas surround the walk as you meander through a valley, passing Vicuñas herding communities and roaming herds of animals.The push up to the top is a demanding workout, and one has to stop every few steps to take a few deep breaths before continuing. Our guide recommended chewing Coca leaves (only available legally in Peru and Bolivia by the way) to give a little extra burst of energy to complete the climb.
The panoramic views from the top are well worth the effort. The naturally occurring bands of blue, red, ochre and turquoise in the sandstone are various mineral deposits that create the rainbow effect.
The Cordillera Vilcanota, snow-capped Ausangate mountain in the distance.
The descent is much less demanding, but it still requires continual attention to the path, fellow hikers, guides and horses (some having a late lunch) on the way down.Back at the village a Momma sheep and her kid give us a glance crossing their pasture as we walk back to the transport vans that will take us back to Cusco.If you are in the Cusco region make sure you make time for this demanding but rewarding trek.