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Cusco to Rainbow Mountain – Epic Tours Vs Affordable D.I.Y Options

Alison Macallister

Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca) is one of the biggest natural attractions in Peru. It is a short drive from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain, making it an easy choice for a day trip.

In this article, I will compare taking a tour of Rainbow Mountain vs. getting there yourself. I’ve included a step-by-step guide on using public transport to get to Vinicunca.

Looking for a short tour? Here are my 5 favourite tours of Rainbow Mountain:  

See more Rainbow Mountain day tours.

Cusco to Rainbow Mountain

How Far Is Rainbow Mountain from Cusco?

Rainbow mountain is approximately 137km / 85 miles southeast of Cusco. The trail to Rainbow Mountain starts just outside the town of Pitumarca, making it a 2-hour drive from Cusco.

rainbow mountain

5 Quick Facts About Rainbow Mountain 

#1 - Rainbow Mountain is a high-altitude trek.

Rainbow Mountain is at an altitude of 5,200m (17,060 ft) above sea level. That's more than half the altitude of Mount Everest!

There is a real risk of being affected by altitude sickness on the trek to Rainbow Mountain. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself by reading this guide on acclimatization when travelling from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain.

rainbow-mountain-crowds

#2 - Rainbow Mountain is Peru’s second most popular attraction.

A day trip to Rainbow Mountain is the second most booked tour, making it Peru’s second most popular attraction with Machu Picchu ranking first. More than 150 tour operators sell Rainbow Mountain as a full-day trip.

Up to 1,500 people hike Rainbow Mountain a day. This is a mindblowing 365,000 people who hike the mountain each year! That means Rainbow Mountain is not the best choice if you want to be alone with nature and your thoughts.

Other attractive hiking options:

rainbow-mountain

#3 - There is more than one ‘Rainbow Mountain.

That’s true, there is more than one ‘Rainbow Mountain’. The classic slope that you see on your Instagram feed is called Vinicunca. It is a bigger and more impressive mountain and also a busier tourist site.

There is a second, lesser-known site called Palccoya. Here, you can see several different slopes of rainbow colors.

Together, these two Peruvian peaks are collectively known as Rainbow Mountain.

Cusco to Rainbow Mountain

#4 - You can ride a horse to Rainbow Mountain.

Typically, people trek the 7km (4.3 miles) return trip from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain on foot. However, you can hire a horse that will take you most of the way too. Horses stop at the base of the final ascent, which is pretty steep.

A horse to Rainbow Mountain costs 80 soles / $25.

rainbow-mountain-cusco

#5 - The colors of Rainbow Mountains are a result of global warming.

The exposed stripes of color on Rainbow Mountain are not caused by global warming but are a result of glaciers melting in the region. You can read more about this in our ultimate guide to Rainbow Mountain listed above.

Inca-Trail-Porter-Welfare-Alpaca-Expeditions

Guided Tours from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain

The simplest way to get to from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain is with an organized group tour. Most companies take groups of 10-16 people.

With a group tour, you can expect to leave Cusco between 4-5am. You will then have a 2.5-hour car ride to the trailhead. The hike to Rainbow Mountain is about 2 hours. You should get to the colorful slopes around 10am.

Groups spend about 30 minutes at the mountain for a few quick photos. You will then make the return trip and be back in Cusco around 5pm.

Group tours to Vinicunca cost anywhere between $35-$125. There is a major price difference between tour companies. You can book a tour online, but you will get a better deal if you shop around in Cusco at a tour company’s local office.

Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options in Cusco: 

See more Cusco accommodation options.

Cusco To Rainbow Mountain Without a Tour

Why Visit Rainbow Mountain Without a Tour?

It is fairly easy to get to Rainbow Mountain on your own. If you go without a guide, you will be on your own schedule. There’s no need to wake up at 4am during your vacation.

Also, if you time it right, you can avoid the main crowds. Most groups arrive at Rainbow Mountain between 10-11am. If you leave a little later, you can make it to the mountain just after rush hour.

rainbow-mountain-red-valley-hike

How To Get to Rainbow Mountain by Collectivo and Taxi

First, you need to catch a colectivo from Cusco to Checacupe. You should get going by 8 am. Minibuses depart from Av. Tomasa Ttito Condemayta, which is opposite the Hospital Adolfo Guevara Velasco Essalud.

Look for a collectivo going to Ocongate and tell the driver that you will get off at Checacupe. The bus stop is on MapsMe and marked as Buses to Urcos, Ccatcca, Ocongate, Tinki, Mahuayani. The collectivo costs 8 soles.

Please Note: Colectivos are minivans that locals use to travel between small towns, and they depart regularly from various points. Be aware that a colectivo only departs once it fills up with passengers, so be prepared to wait!

It is a 2-hour ride to Checacupe. You will see taxis nearby where you are dropped off. From here, find a driver to take you to the Vinicunca trailhead. The drive is another 2 hours, so you should be able to start hiking around midday.

Make sure you negotiate with your taxi driver to wait for you, which will make the hike plus the collectivo return trip around 3.5 hours. This includes spending some time at the top of Rainbow Mountain.

If you use a taxi, it will cost around 100-120 soles, including waiting for you and the return trip to Checacupe. When you get back to Checacupe, catch another bus to Cusco. You should arrive in Cusco between 8-9pm.

You can also get to Palccoya Mountain (The Other Rainbow Mountain) from Checacupe, which is slightly further away (2.5 hours). Therefore, the taxi ride will cost a little more on this trip.

vinicunca-mountain-stream

Cost Of Visiting Rainbow Mountain on Your Own

Travelling from Cusco from Rainbow Mountain unguided will cost you at least $40 and above. Below is the total price breakdown for visiting Rainbow Mountain on your own. You can reduce costs by traveling in a group.

Solo Travel Costs

Price (Peruvian Soles)

Price (US Dollars)

Collectivo to Checacupe

S/8 (single)

S/16 (return)

$4

Return taxi to trailhead

S/120

$30

Park Entrance fee

S/10

$2.5

Total Cost

S/138

$36.50

When you factor in meals, it is ultimately cheaper to travel from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain with a tour group. Getting there yourself is not very expensive, making this option more appealing to some people.

For other appealing solo treks, you can check out our guide on doing the Salkantay trek without a guide.

Looking for a short tour? Here are my 5 favourite tours of Rainbow Mountain:  

See more Rainbow Mountain day tours.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading my Cusco to Rainbow Mountain article! Whether you take a tour or travel there yourself, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience hiking up the mountain of a thousand rainbows.

Feel free to also leave a comment below if you have any additional pearls of wisdom about the trip from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain and we’ll respond to you ASAP.

Alison Macallister

With a degree in Nature Conservation and experience working with wildlife including the Big 5, Alison works as a guide for a 5-star reserve. She enjoys sharing her passion for all things nature-related. She enjoys hiking, horseriding, 4x4 driving and kayaking.

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