The mountain of the 7 Colors (also called Vinicunca or simply ‘rainbow’) is one of Peru’s new and best attractions. Located more than 100 kilometers from the city of Cusco, on an altitudinal summit located at 5,200 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) It is a mountainous formation tinged with various shades resulting from the complex combination of minerals. The slopes and summit are tinted in various shades including red, purple, green, yellow, pink and other variations. This tourist attraction was surrounded by ice not many years ago. Since 2016, this place receives hundreds of visitors a day becoming, along with Machu Picchu, one of the most visited places in Cusco-Peru. Below is all the information about the Mountain of 7 Colors.
Its name comes from two Quechua voices: “Wini”, for the rounded and heavy black stones that abound in the area, which were called “wini rumi” (stone). The second is “Kunka” which means neck, because the narrowness of the hill resembles a neck of passage. Initially, the muleteers of the altiplano and the settlers knew it as “Qolla Ñan” or “camino de los Qollas”.
We leave from the city of Cusco and pass through the towns of Andahuaylillas, Quiquijana and Checacupe. This last town conserves a very interesting Inca bridge and in its church there are kept pictures of the Cusco school, especially of one of its maximum representatives: Diego Quispe Tito. Unfortunately, the temple is not always open to the public.
Location, height and more information:
Why is it called Mountain of 7 Colors? – According to various investigations made in the place, the multicolored tonalities are due to the different minerals that covers in capable the area. These natural substances began to form 65 million years ago when water and rain covered its slopes and peaks. With the passing of time, the extreme weather melted the snow that was formed there, revealing to the world what is today one of the most important tourist attractions in Cusco.
Location and altitude – This amazing place is located in the Andes of Peru, in the department of Cusco and province of Canchis, at 5,200 m.a.s.l., an area of considerable elevation. It belongs to the town of Pitumarca who call it the ‘Cerro Colorado’. Because it is situated on the way to the imposing Ausangate, this site was known long before by the adventurers who dared to make the walk. The photos that they published in Facebook and Instagram, made it gain popularity. Since 2016 it has been a popular tourist attraction.
How to get there? – Due to its location, a little more than 100 kilometers from the city of Cuzco, this place is reached by car in the first instance. After a journey of approximately 2 hours along the Longitudinal Highway of the Sierra del Sur Peruano, Pitumarca is reached. The journey continues along a trail to the community of Pampa Chiri. From there we follow a route through mountainous slopes. This route is 5 kilometers long and can be done on foot or on horseback to finally arrive at Vinicunca. There are tours that offer this service.
Climate – The climate, typical of the highest areas of Cusco, is cold. Rain, wind and altitude sickness (or soroche) can be the biggest obstacles for travelers. Temperatures can drop as low as zero degrees Celsius. The best time to do this adventure is during the dry season (April to October) when river rainfall is least likely. If you plan to visit during the rainy season (November to March), bring a rain poncho with you.
Flora and fauna – The incredible geography of the place is scenery of typical animals of high Andean zones like llamas, alpacas and vicuñas. The inhabitants of the area breed horses in order to offer them as transportation to the visitors. Due to the altitude of this region, there is an abundance of ichu or natural herbs from the Andes.
Journey to the Mountain of 7 Colors
7 Colors Mountain Tour – This picturesque summit used to be an attractive way to the 4-day Ausangate. Over the years, this mountain gained popularity on its own. Today, the most widespread way to visit this summit is through a tour. There are 1-day and 2-day services. Most include transportation, food, entrance fees and professional guide. In the city of Cuzco there are many tourist agencies offering these services.
Travel on your own? – It is also possible to visit ‘Cerro Colorado’ on your own. To do this, the visitor must take a bus to Sicuani from the city of Cuzco (2 hours and 40 minutes away). Once there, take a bus to the town of Quesiuno. Then begins a walk (you can also hire a horse transport) to the Mountain of 7 Colors. The price of the entrance ticket is 10 soles.
Mountain difficulty – The walk of 3 or 4 hours (depending on the physical condition of the tourist) is not dangerous and demands a moderate-high physical effort. There are sections of considerable slopes in ascent and descent. However, one of the greatest difficulties is the cold weather and the icy wind. The altitude of the area can cause altitude sickness or soroche. It is recommended a previous acclimatization of 1 or 2 days in the city of Cusco.
Recommendations – Spend one or two days acclimatizing in the city of Cusco. Bring warm clothes for the walk. If you are not in good physical condition for the trek, rent a horse to one of the inhabitants of the place. On that day, don’t forget a hat or cap, sun block, jacket, trousers, ideal trekking shoes and a rain poncho.
How was the Mountain of 7 Colors formed in Cusco?
Origin of the Mountain of 7 Colors
Undoubtedly this is a question that many would like to clarify, thanks to the great consultation of our travelers we decided to conduct research to keep them much more informed:
In order to be able to understand how the colorful mountain was formed we must first understand how the mountains are formed for this we resort to geology and orogeny and thus have a much clearer idea and of course scientific.
The mountain ranges of the hand of their mountains are formed by collisions or collisions of different tectonic plates as these can not advance horizontally to impact do so vertically forming mountain ranges and mountains and other geographical features, but this formation not only intervene endogenous agents such as these collisions, but also exogenous as the vast majority of meteorological phenomena (rain, hail, snow, winds) these make the mountains remain with time and have their particular pyramidal shape.
But the formation of Vinicunca is much older than we think.
For this we go back in time and we will go back approximately 24 million years, at that time, different layers of rock sediments such as sandstone, halites, gravel, limestone ranging from ochre, green, yellow and white along with other minerals, were compacting one on top of another to form different layers as masses of plasticine, one on top of another according to the weight of each layer, the heaviest at the bottom and the others on top of them.
“Don’t stay without enjoying this marvel, reserve the 7 Colors Mountain Tour”.
As time went by with the movement and shock of the tectonic plates, new mountains were born, as we explained previously, these pressed masses of colors were raised while maintaining these typical colors.
However, the meteorological factors were in charge of preserving them and above all to maintain it in total splendor and to respect of course their typical colors equitably.
And not only that, it also influences the altitude since this place is approximately to 5000 m.a.s.l. makes that the vegetation is scarce to such a point of not growing almost nothing, if vegetation existed this great colorful marvel could not be visible.
Then we add to this that not only endogenous and exogenous factors intervene, but also geographical factors such as altitude.
All this is a set of curious mixtures typical of our nature because only nature could give us curious landscapes that often escape our own imagination.
Impacting more than a thousand tourists is at their disposal the visit of the famous: “Mountain Of The 7 Colors”, do not forget that “The adventure awaits us. What are you waiting for?
Climbing on foot
After three hours by car or tourist bus we arrive at Pitumarca, where the community of Qheshiuno is located, the starting point of the walk.
The ascent on foot takes approximately one hour, until arriving at a horse station where the muleteers are always ready to help with the ascent. The price for the service oscillates between 70 and 90 soles per round trip or half if you want only one stretch.
The horses take us to a certain point on the climb. Then we have to walk up to the top, at 5,200 meters above sea level, where there is a viewpoint. From there we can observe in all its splendor the mountains in a 360 degree view. They are the domains of the great Apu Ausangate.
In addition to the Ausangate mountain, in this landscape complex we can also contemplate the Vinicunca mountain, Siete Colores, Cerro Colorado or Arco Iris, named after its resemblance to the colors of the rainbow.
At the request of the community of Pitumarca, the Cultural Landscape office of the Direccion Desconcentrada de Cultura Cusco, prepared a study to obtain technical information about this mountain and offer it to tourists.
The report revealed that the colors of the mountain are due to the mineralogical composition it has: the pink color is by the red clay, fangolitas (mud) and arilitas (sand). The whitish, by the white quartz sandstone. The browns, browns and purples, by limonites and loams, rich in calcium carbonate.
Red is made up of clayites (iron) and clays belonging to the upper tertiary. Green is due to the compound of phyllites and clays rich in ferro-magnesium. The earthy brown is a product of the fanglomerate composed of rock with manganese belonging to the quaternary era. And mustard yellow is the result of calcareous sandstones rich in sulphurous minerals.
All these colors are a wonder of nature product of geological formations. At the same time it is a magical spiritual place, surely admired as a sacred place by local people.
We observed that part of the Vinicunca mountain had a line of snow on it. The villagers tell us that these great hills were snowed in past decades. This would explain why they are only known now. Global warming has discovered them.
The route we traveled was launched recently, in April of this year, and the tourist’s welcome has been immediate. Today it is very well priced by the various Cusco tourism agencies.
All the way is very interesting. We go through immense pre-Inca platforms and during the trip we observe herds of alpacas, llamas and vicuñas in the heights. According to the study carried out by the anthropologist Rolly Gilmar Alcázar Holguín, foxes, skunks, huallatas, partridges, deer, vizcachas, condors and osqollos or wild cats can also be found in these places.
The communities of Pitumarca and Pampachiri are in charge of watching over the care of this route. The municipality of Pitumarca charges 10 soles to enter the mountains per person. The sum allows them to pay for the maintenance of the place and the silos. They have organized to rent their horses to tourists and provide a guide and accompaniment service for those who wish to camp.
In spite of the fact that around 600 tourists arrive daily, there are no prevention or visitor care measures. It is easy to get lost because the road is not yet signposted, even more so at night.
It is essential for the community to organize itself better, implement for example a register of visitors, and check if everyone returns from the ride. (Teodosio Huancachoque, mayor of Pitumarca, is making the procedure for the Cerro Colorado or Montaña Vinicunca to be declared a “Landscape Reserve”).
Despite the lack of conditions, the area is ideal for an overnight stay, because the entire route is clean. But if it is not taken care of and with the increase in visitors, the place is in danger.
The State should be present and constantly train the community’s inhabitants, not only to take care of the land but also to prevent them from selling it. And regarding mining, there has already been concern and fear that at some point will develop, hopefully the communities maintain their desire to develop tourism instead of mining.
One of the millenary traditions is to make an offering to the mountain. We carry some coca leaves and with faith and respect, we deliver them to the apu Ausangate. A “coca-quinto” in gratitude for such a wonderful landscape and for allowing us to return safely to Cusco. There we leave our offering with the assurance that we will soon return.