It’s already some time ago when I first heard about the Rainbow Mountain, a spectacularly colorful rock formation in the Peruvian Andes. The mountain, in Spanish called Montaña de Siete Colores, Montaña Arcoiris or Montaña de Colores, is accessible from the tiny mountain village Pitumarca which is within a 3-4-hour driving distance of the city of Cuzco.

Although Montaña Vinicunca was long spared by mass tourism, this has very evidently changed in the past couple of years: I did not see a single tourism agency in Cuzco that did not offer the trip to the 5200m high colored mountain. Indeed, talking to other backpackers it became very obvious that the trek to the top of the mineral-rich attraction has ultimately become kind of a mass event.

Crowded parking

On the basis of increased competition among agencies the trip has become cheaper and cheaper so that in September 2017 prices were starting around 50 Soles, including breakfast and lunch, for the entire day trip. Although all agencies only offer 1-day-trips we asked for transport only, doing the outward trip on the first day and the way back on the other day. After some worried faces and some phone calls every agency we talked to confirmed us the possibility of an overnight stay. Most tour agencies and shops in Cuzco offer tenting equipment, ask for a warm sleeping bag and mattress.

Caravan to the top

In the hope of a reliable driver we paid 75 Soles for outward and return. The plan failed: Although we were not completely confident about our plan of camping somewhere between 4500m to 5200m, we were soon hoping that we would ever reach the starting point alive. Our driver was overtaking any car, truck or van on the very narrow ways. Even though I could not sleep, deep chasms forced me to close my eyes throughout the trip.

When reaching the village and everybody around us tried not to waste any time, we leaned back and started to walk upwards slowly. Alongside the way there are various inviting depressions that shield us from prying eyes. Suddenly, somebody disturbed our afternoon nap: A local man from the village wanted us either to camp down at the parking or to pay a fee of 20 Soles. Although the local community does charge an entrance fee of 10 soles at arrival, especially the agencies are making their benefit from tourism. We talked to the man for a while and it soon attracted our attention that he was not very well disposed to the guides who often use their land unrespectfully.

Around 3pm all the tourists were gone. Within a few hours the area changed from an ant trail to no man’s land. Unluckily the weather seemed a bit unstable so that we decided to hike up already around 4pm. From our camping site it was just another 45 minutes to reach the viewpoint in front of Rainbow Mountain. Indeed, we were a bit unlucky with the weather. It was really cold and it soon started to snow. Nevertheless, I think our strategy of experiencing Rainbow Mountain just on our own fully paid off.

Rainbow Mountain

Arriero at work

We experienced the area all to ourselves

Stunning view from the top

Plays of light and shadow on the enormous rock walls