Day 52: Vinicunca – The Amazing Rainbow Mountains in Peru

After a horrible night and poor sleep my host got up at 5 am and consequently me too. I realised that he did not change the clothes and went even with his muddy feet to bed since he was working on the field. The local people just wear leathern sandals but no socks and I am still wondering how they survive the cold in the early and late hours of the days! However, after I skipped dinner I was curious what to expect for breakfast. I was starving…

Arriving in the shed… ahm… kitchen, he set up a large pot of water and started to cook some potatoes in it. I was glad to have some carbohydrates to eat which hopefully should prepare me for my upcoming trip to the rainbow mountains. After eating a couple of potatoes and another coca tea I made myself ready to hit the dirt road again but before doing so I had to pay the good man of course.

When I asked him how much he would like to have he did not simply answer with “Oh, it is cheap. Don’t worry” BUT with ONE HUNDRED TWENTY SOLES! WHAT???????? I expected like 20 or 30 Soles but never ever such a ridiculous high price for a crappy homestay (which was not even a homestay). Suddenly his smile and all his kindness vanished and a super serious looking Peruvian guy was standing in front of me, making no move but expecting me to pay my duty.

I felt guilty and was also more than surprised to be asked to pay this amount of money. Usually, for this price you would get a 5 star hotel. Well, I got a local experience and paid him the money. Pissed off for almost the whole rest of the day I hit the road.

Since I was rather late the day before I had to speed up a little bit in order to avoid the crowds arriving usually in large busses. Unfortunately, I saw already a few mini buses passing my homestay before I could make my 2 hours way up to the rainbow mountains. The road reminded me a bit of the death road in Bolivia, it was a single lane and there was no chance to pass another vehicle at the same time. Only the drops off the cliff were not as high as in Bolivia but sufficient to end ones life in the worst case.

Again, I could have used some other tires for this road but while driving carefully I made it up to the top where already a very few tourists were making their way to the mountains. Since I had already some experience in exercising above 4000 m I decided to hire a guide with a horse to drag me up to more than 5’100 meters. I was glad to have made the decision even though I felt a bit stupid when tourists were crossing my path from time to time. Well, I had after this experience another 3 – 4 hours drive with my motorbike to Cusco and could not relax in the bus.

It was also my first time on a horse which I mistakingly mixed up with a mule at the beginning, lol. It was a rather small one and had obviously some difficulties to walk me up, making quite a lot of breaks in between. I had a bad conscious and told the guide at the top of the mountain to not need his service anymore. I would walk back to the camp, even though I was wearing my complete motorbike outfit (luckily I left the helmet at the bike, lol).

I just had to bridge another 200 – 300 meters of hight difference and suddenly I saw the incredible rainbow mountains in front of me, it was just so surreal. Not able to speak, I was just standing there, enjoyed and watched the unbelievable colours of the mountains which were formed over millions of years by this magnificent earth. I already saw so many times the pictures that I thought they must have been all photoshopped but now I could convince myself from the opposite – it was real!

Trevor Nace, A geologist explains the coloration within a Forbes interview as the following: “The reason we see the rainbow coloration in the stratigraphic layers of the Ausangate mountain is largely due to weathering and mineralogy. Red coloration of sedimentary layers often indicates iron oxide rust as a trace mineral. Similar to how a nail will rust and turn red when oxidized, sediments that are iron rich will change when exposed to oxygen and water. This, in combination with uplift and tectonically driven crustal shortening has tilted the sedimentary layers on their side exposing stripped stratigraphic intervals.

The different coloration is due to different environmental conditions and mineralogy when the sediment was originally deposited and subsequently diagenetically altered. Introduction of goethite or oxidized limonite will introduce a brownish coloration to sandstones. The bright yellow coloration could be due to iron sulphide as trace minerals within the pore cement. In addition, chlorite will often color sediments varying shades of green dependent on diagenetic history and concentration.”

Standing on top of the world, I realised there was not just the rainbow mountain to admire but an amazing landscape of many other snowcapped mountains which were forming an incredible scenery. After a while clouds were blocking the sun and suddenly it became ice cold and I was more than happy to have had my motorbike clothes with me.

Even though I could have spend the rest of my life at the rainbow mountains, it was time to descend again and to continue my journey to Cusco.

What an unforgettable experience!!!!!!

Vinicunca Mountains to Cuzco