Vinicunca / Winicunca/ The Rainbow Mountain
It is hard for me to understand why anyone would want to enhance the colors in pictures of Vinicunca. The site is spectacular just as it is. The pictures in this post were taken with my cellphone (first generation Google Pixel). After taking each picture, I compared the color to what I was seeing with the naked eye. Each picture was a tiny bit darker than the real world, but the colors were quite accurate.
The hike to the summit starts at 4,326 m / 14,189 ft, a good bit higher than Cuzco (3,399 m / 11,151 ft). Having been sick the day before, I decided to hire a horse. 60 /s (about $20) seemed a reasonable amount to pay.
The view along the way is arid but beautiful.
After about 45 minutes with a gradual ascent of several hundred feet, the horses stop. The terrain becomes too steep for them to manage. At this point you are still 610 feet below the summit to which visitors are allowed to climb. I dismounted and began the slow trek upward, very short of breath. I would walk a few paces and stop to breath, then continue a few more. As the incline became steeper, I tried not to look too far ahead. Just set a short goal and try to get there.
As you can see from the picture, I was far from alone. The Rainbow Mountain seems like a pilgrimage point, with hundreds of hikers converging in the last few hundred meters.
About half way to the summit from the drop-off point, there is a small stone wall forming a rudimentary gateway. We were greeted there by a man offering to stamp our passports. He announced a two soles charge (about 70¢) AFTER stamping the document. This is illegal in Peru, but he didn’t seem to care.
At this point many visitors make a left turn an head to the peak facing the colorful part of Vinicunca.
At about 100 feet from the summit I decided I could go no further. I was about to turn 61 years old in a few more days, and I was having a great deal of trouble getting enough oxygen. I sat down and announced to those around me, “I think this is as far as I can go.” My son, Benjamín, approached me, took my pulse (90 bpm) which he judged to be fine considering the exertion I had given up to this point. He put his arm under mine and around my back, announcing, “You can do this. I’ll help.” He lifted me to my feet, and together we continued the 100 or so remaining feet to the top.
From the summit of this small peak (16,522 feet / 5,036 m) the view is spectacular. Not only can you see what has quickly become the “standard” view of Vinicunca, but turning about 100 degrees to the left you have a direct view of Ausangate, the highest peak in the Cuzco region. This alone is worth the climb.
I am very glad I made this trek. It was difficult, and I may never be able to do it again, but I’m glad I did it once. The views are amazing. Vinicunca looks far more natural than the deceptive photoshopped ads that websites promoting the site sometimes display. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to go. Just expect a unique, breathtaking high altitude view rather than the neon colors displayed in the promotional literature.