If you are an avid hiker and love far out natural scenery, then this is literally a breathtaking adventure waiting for you!
In the southern mountains of the Vilcanota Mountain Range in Cusco, you will find the home of the Ausangate Mountain, (6384 m / 20,945 ft) the fifth highest mountain in Peru and the center of the most significant syncretic religious celebration of the Andes, the Q’oillority pilgrimage.
There is a place called Vinicunca, the location of the Rainbow Mountains, where the unique beauty gives way to overwhelming fascination. Here, the canvas of nature has been decorated with a masterpiece of geological formations. Nature’s artistic hand has sketched a treat for our eyes born from a palette of millions of years of constant geological transformations. GeologyIn state that “the area has four major geological features, the Andean uplift formed by Granites, the hanging glaciers and glacial erosional valleys, the Permian formation with its singular colors: red, ochre, blue and turquoise and the Cretaceous, limestone forests.”
This wonderful piece of nature contrasts with the incredibly blue Andean sky that serves as a magnificent background and turns it into a landscape of psychedelic proportions. To get to this natural wonder, one must walk from the nearby village of Quesuno (4,326 m / 14,189 ft.), a typical Andean village made up of llama and alpaca herders, where the people have kept alive their most important means of survival since pre-Columbian times. Some of the women and men in these villages wear eye-catching multi-coloured outfits that serve as a prelude to what one is going to see at Vinicunca. These herders have a very intrinsic relationship with the mountain gods or “Apus”, to whom they pledge submission and reverence. The most important god in this area resides on Ausangate Mountain, and it is in charge of safeguarding the livelihood of these people and their herds of animals.
The trail to Vinicunca is quite challenging; you will have to climb a steep ascent of 5 miles / 8km from Quesuno to the highest point of the Vinicunca mountains (5,020 m / 16,466 ft). Make sure that you are properly acclimated to do this hike, it is literally a breath-taking destination. The hike is strenuous, you will have to take many stops. The altitude of this place is much higher than it is at Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca trail. But if you take the necessary precautions to get there, then there shouldn’t be any problem at all. Finally, you will have to make your descent by the same route you used to get there.
The best time to go there is during the winter in the southern hemisphere (summer for people in the US). If you are lucky enough to be there in May, during the celebrations of the pilgrimage to Q’oilloritti, then you will be a witness to the reverence that the Andean people pay to their mountain gods. This is a one of a kind celebration.
The Rainbow Mountain Ausangate trek is a hikers’ paradise if you are looking for a multi-day activity. No matter how or when you decide to go there, this place is surely one thing to add to your bucket list.
To check out some awe-inspiring footage of the Rainbow Mountains, see this article!
Miguel is a Peruvian professional tour guide from Cusco, he has been leading tours throughout Peru for almost 20 years. Graduated from the Antonio Lorena Institute School of Tourism in Cusco, Peru, he has a vast knowledge of the rich cultural and ecological diversity of his beautiful country. Miguel specializes in leading tours to the Inca Trail and other alternative routes to Machu Picchu, such as the Choquequirao and Salkantay treks. Since 2003, he has traveled to the US and other countries to lecture about cultural appropriation and sustainable tourism. Miguel is a strong advocate of ecotourism and science. He values the role that tourists play in the development and protection of sensitive cultures and ecosystems and dedicates his work to raise the awareness of such players with the aim of furthering such a powerful tool. Also, he is the co-founder of Evolution Treks Peru travel company based in Cusco.
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