Rainbow Mountain is one of our most popular Add-ons to our various Machu Picchu Treks. If you are heading out on an Inca Trial Trek, Lares Trek to Machu Picchu to our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu then this a Must-do Add-on.
So, we thought that we should tell you a little more about what makes Rainbow Mountain such an astonishing wonder of the world! Keep reading to find out 10 interesting facts about Rainbow Mountain, the worst-kept secret of Peru!
What are Rainbow Mountain’s Colours Made of?
14 colourful minerals, in fact. Generally speaking, the main colours people notice on the mountain are yellow, pink, white, turqoise, brown and red. Each of these colours is caused by a specific combination of mineral deposits, as the image above explains.
The pink colour is created by red clay, mud (technically, fangolitas) and sand (arilitas). The red is due to iron clay from the Cenozoic era. The whitish colour is from quartz, sandstone and marls, whereas the turqoise colour is due to phyllite compounds and clays rich in iron-magnesium. Earthy browns are caused by fanglomerates made of magnesium-infused rock. Finally, the yellow colour is created by calcerious sandstone and limestone rich in sulphurous minerals.
It is the exposure of these minerals to environmental conditions such as wind, rain and altitude that has caused them to become so brightly coloured. As the different sediments are deposited in layers, you get this striking rainbow effect.
What is Rainbow Mountain Actually Called?
In the local Quechua language of the Peruvian Andes, Rainbow Mountain is called Vinicunca. This name is composed of the words “wini” and “kunca” – “wini” being the name for the black stones that cover the area, and “kunca” meaning neck – referring to the area of the mountain that resembles a necklace.
However, locals also call the mountain “Montaña de Siete Colores” – literally meaning “mountain of seven colours”.
What Caused Rainbow Mountain To Look Like It Does Today?
Whilst Rainbow Mountain is undeniably a wonder of nature, its colourful appearance was actually exposed to the human eye because of climate change. Until the past decade, the mountain was covered in snow, with its stripes hidden under glaciers. As local temperatures have increased, the snow melted, thus revealing the colourful mountain beneath.
What Kind of Wildlife Lives Around Rainbow Mountain?
Various creatures reside in the area around Rainbow Mountain. When visiting the site, you may spot foxes, skunks, huallatas, partridges, deer, vizcachas, condors or even osqollos. You will also encounter local Ausangate people herding alpacas and llamas. This is one of the last solely high-altitude shepherding communities left in the world.
Does The Weather Affect Rainbow Mountain?
The colours one can see at Rainbow Mountain actually change throughout the year – and even throughout the day! The predominant colour you will see depends on the climate. If the weather is poor, or even if there is not much light, the colours will become fainter and darker. However, on sunny, clear days, the colours become much brighter.
What Happens At The Rainbow Mountain Festival?
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 Star Snow festival (Qoyllur Rit’i). This takes place a week before the Corpus Christi feast on 31st May.
Who Owns Rainbow Mountain?
Until it became a tourist attraction, the reserve that Rainbow Mountain sits in was run by a mining company. Eventually, the Peruvian government ruled that local native communities should be able to determine how the area was maintained. This has been great for the locals, and also means that you will receive a warm welcome when visiting!
What Time Of Year Is Best To Visit Rainbow Mountain?
Peru is a country full of microclimates. Whilst weather can be unpredictable anywhere at 5000 plus metres above sea level, the best time to visit Rainbow Mountain are generally between April and October. This is the dry season for this area of Peru, meaning that you will have the best chance of good conditions for hiking and seeing the mountain’s many colours at their best.
Prepare for any weather!
However, as with any high-altitude mountain, the weather can change quickly. Therefore it is important that you pack for any weather when hiking to see Rainbow Mountain. It can get cold, so bring a warm jacket – and it can also rain, so bring a waterproof, too!
What Else Can I See At Rainbow Mountain?
Not only is Rainbow Mountain bucket list material in of itself (in fact, is was named one of the top 100 things to see before you die by National Geographic) – there is also lots more to see in its surrounding areas! From hot springs to local villages, to spectacular views of the Ausangate Glacier, it is well worth exploring everything the reserve has to offer on your trip to Peru!