This vibrant mountain is completely natural. It’s made of 14 different colored minerals that give the mountain a rainbow-like appearance.
The Rainbow Mountain of Peru is truly one of a kind:Iмage credit: Michaellbrawn
Vinicunca, also known as Montana de Siete Colores (Seven Colored Mountain), is part of Peru’s diverse natural geography. It is situated in the Peruvian Andes, near Cusco, at an elevation of 17,100 feet (5200 meters). This multicolored geological wonder quickly became one of Peru’s must-see attractions, and hundreds of tourists visit it every day. Hikers and tourists who want to see Vinicunca for themselves must complete a five-mile round trip. The journey is well worth it because the entire landscape is as breathtaking as the mountain itself.
However, because high altitudes can be taxing on the body, the hike requires some fitness and proper acclimatization. Furthermore, local Peruvian communities regard Vinicunca and its surroundings as sacred, and while visitors are always welcome, they are expected to behave respectfully in accordance with local traditions.
The Peruvian Andes is just as amazing as Vinicunca. Image credit: Frank Plamann
The brilliant colors of Vinicunca are due to its mineral composition, according to the Cultural Landscape Office of the Decentralization of the City of Cusco. The red and pink colors are caused by red clay (iron), while the whitish coloring is caused by quartz, sandstone, and marls. While the green and turquoise hues are caused by phyllites and clays rich in ferro magnesian, the earthly brown and yellow hues are caused by fanglomerate and sulphurous sandstones.
But how did this incredible mountain come to be?
Massive water masses eroded and transported minerals in ancient soils during the Tertiary and Quaternary periods (66 and 2,588 million years ago). These minerals piled up over each other over geological time periods, forming different colored layers arranged according to the weight of each mineral.
Different colorful мinerals along the hiking trail to the мountain. Iмage credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly
For a long time, these vibrant stratigraphic layers were hidden beneath the snow of the Peruvian Andes glacier. However, as a result of climate change, the glaciers melted, revealing the geological wonder that is Vinicunca. So, while it’s amazing that we can hike to Rainbow Mountain and see it in all its glory, we shouldn’t forget why we can do so today, and what kind of changes are occurring on our planet as a result of global warming.
Many locals consider Vinicunca and its surrounding a holy place. Image credit: Frank Plamann
This extraordinary location also has a diverse and amazing fauna. The famous llamas and alpacas can be found all over this remote part of the Peruvian Andes. There are also skunks, deer, foxes, tapirs, guinea pigs, and chinchillas. Even rarer animals include the puma, the Andean condor, and the spectacled bear, the world’s last remaining short-faced bear species.
Given that Vinicunca is located at a higher altitude than Mount Everest, weather can be unpredictable, and temperatures frequently fall below zero. Nonetheless, the weather around Rainbow Mountain can quickly change from scorching sun to rain or even snow in just an hour.
Llamas and alpacas are considered regulars at Vinicunca. Image credit: Alec Gaмoff
Having said that, there are growing concerns that the discovery of the area, as well as the large number of hikers, will contribute to the degradation of the previously unspoiled landscape. While tourism around Vinicunca has given the region’s economy a new lease on life, generating around 400,000 dollars per year for the locals, alarming changes are already visible: a wetland that had been the home of migrating ducks was destroyed to make way for a parking lot for tourists, and the 5-mile-long hiking trail has been severely damaged by human presence. Despite protests from locals in the Cusco region, mining companies took the initiative to conduct metallic mining in the area.