Rainbow Mountain: Somewhere over the rainbow

We just cannot believe it. We are 5,100 meters above sea level looking at a naturally formed rainbow. We are literally somewhere over the rainbow. In Peru. On top of Winikunka mountain.

Somewhere over the rainbow. Isn’t this something achievable? Well, in this case, it definitely is. When we did some research on what we could visit in Peru before our journey, we almost immediately found a mountain called Winikunka in Quechua language. In Spanish it is called „The mountain of the seven colours“ and all the tourists just say „Rainbow mountain“. The pictures online seemed to be fake, the colours different in each picture. How does it look like in reality?

7 colours, seven minerals

How does this mountain get its famous colours? Due to sediments of different minerals in this area. You can find lots of iron there, providing the red colour, copper for a kind of yellow, and  even gold for a brownish colour. Actually, there is more to it than just 7 colours. Up to 14 minerals can be found in this area, which makes it rich not only in a touristy sense.

Does it look like in the pictures? Well, that completely depends on the pictures you are referring to. Let me tell you about our experience.

From Cusco to Winikunka

Our guide Carlos visits us 2 days prior to our trip to the Rainbow mountain. He makes sure we take the right things with us: „A small backpack is enough. Take enough water with you, not only because you might get thirsty, but also because of the high altitude. We are going to get to an altitude of more than 5,000 metres above sea level!“ I am a little insecure about the altitude. But Carlos assures me: „No worries. I will take a first-aid-kit and an oxygen spray, just in case.“ Oh … is that supposed to calm me? Actually, it is. He is so optimistic that I am looking forward to start the hike.

Two days later we drive about 3 hours from Cusco to our desired destination. For about one hour we rumble on an uphill-path with lots of bumps and serpentines (which were perfectly tackled by our lovely driver Ruben). Then we can see it: In the sunlight, lots of cars and buses glisten awaiting their guests, who probably are currently gasping for air on top of the mountain. Well, so it is.

Perfect weather conditions

The weather is perfect! Blues skies and sunlight … no need to worry about extra clothes or rain-pants. However, you have to be prepared for quickly changing weather conditions at this altitude. We are equipped with: trekking shoes, trekking pants (I am wearing skiing underwear as I am always cold), t-shirt, hoodie, warm jacket, wind-breaker, a hat and gloves, sunglasses and sunscrean. Oh and some water of course. Carlos hands us walking sticks and pulls out a small yellow bottle. „This helps against headache. Just rub it between your hands, breathe in the scent and rub the liquid onto your temples.“ We do as we are told and it feels quite good.

We start walking and I am almost disappointed, as the path is not steep at all. Wait for it … only two thirds of the path are quite easy going. The rest is steep. When taking a look up the hill, I can see the tourists walking slowly towards the top, there are even restrooms on the route up the mountain. The tourists look like an ant street, to be honest. It seems there are thousands of them, but Carlos tells us that about 500 people come here on a daily basis. Wow. 500 people of different origins and physical conditions hiking up onto an altitude of more than 5,000 metres. Is this a good idea?

Preparation and how it feels to be there

Since you cannot predict how your body reacts to the altitude, you cannot really prepare for it. Drink a lot of water beforehand and during your hike. The day before your trip, go to sleep early and just be ready for the hike. Before our journey to Peru, I followed a special program in my gym. As I could not do anything about my bodily reaction to the altitude, the only thing I could do was to get myself in shape. That was actually quite a good idea, as I could concentrate exclusively on my breathing.

Our tour in Peru roughly took us from Lima (equals sea level) to Arequipa, the Colca Canyon, and Lake Titikaka to Cusco. Everytime climbing the metres above sea level. We are already accustomed to the altitude, so we are not suffering from headache. Still, our breathing is quicker than usual, my heart is beating stronger and also significantly quicker. I can feel it in my chest even through all the layers of clothes. A slow but steady step is important to get to the top. The first two thirds are easily done, but as soon as the steep part starts, tourists begin to stop every few steps. Including myself.

I am happy about the walking stick Carlos gave me, as it helps me to rest in between. I am breathing deeply – in and out. It seems as I want to suck out the oxygen of the air I share with hundreds of visitors. Some of them take one of the many horses that are offered to carry you up as far as it is possible. I would not recommend to use the horses, as it is very exhausting for them as well.

The view on top of the rainbow

Congratulations! Carlos gives me a high five and a fist bump and is very happy that we have made it without any complications (apart from walking veeeeery slowly). I try to catch my breath while turning around. Wow. It is a rainbow. And it looks even more spectacular from above in the sunlight. The contrast against the blue sky is glorious, the view fantastic. We do it as all the other happy and proud tourists: we start to take photos from every possible angle, take pictures with the alpaca named „Pequena“ (Spanish for „little“) and his owner, hug the sign telling us where we are and are just utterly amazed by the view.

Yes, it is a rainbow. Yes, it does look like the pictures – but only the real pictures without photoshop :-). Yes, it is worth the trip and yes, it is worth the sucking in of oxygen. I am so proud to have made it, even without a headache!

Just my point of view …

  • Don’t go without a guide. Try to get a private tour, the guide is responsible for you. Our guide Carlos from cbc provided us with loads of information (also about Peruvian culture) and motivated us until we were back in the car with our well deserved lunch package.
  • Inform yourself: 5,100 metres is not something you just do because you want it to. Prepare yourself, bring adequate clothing and enough water. Don’t get yourself and others in danger.
  • Don’t start your trip through Peru in Cusco: Make sure you have a route that ascends in height bit by bit. That way, you most likely won’t have big problems on top of Rainbow mountain, apart from heavy breathing like all the other people up there 🙂
  • Don’t take a horse 😉
  • High altitudes … can cause severe health problems. Your guide has first-aid equipment in his backpack and there is a small clinic at the entrance gate of the mountain. Make sure to tell your guide when you don’t feel well.

And then … enjoy the view … somewhere over the rainbow in Peru …