Hiking Vinicunca and the Red Valley

¿Do you love nature? It the answer is yes, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to explore the wonders of Peru, one of the ten megadiverse countries of the world, due to its variety of ecosystems, species, genetic resources and aboriginal cultures.

Its geography is composed, among others, of deserted areas such as Huacachina in the highlands, the tropical jungle near the Amazon and the impressive Andes Mountain Range.

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Vinicunca: a colorful wonder

One of the most visited places of the last decade in Peru is Vinicunca, better known as the Rainbow Mountain. Thousands of tourists hike to admire this colorful mountain composed of minerals such as red clay, iron (brownish color), quartz sandstone (white), phyllites (green) and calcareous sandstone (yellow).

Have you have added Vinicunca to your bucket list? let me explain you how to get to this remote treasure. There are ways to go by public transport, although most travelers sign up for private or group tours organized by local agencies. There are plenty of them in Cuzco, I would highly recommend you Inka Trekka, very close to the city’s main square. The manager was super helpful and borrowed me some trekking poles, which are very much needed due to the heavy wind, the rain, haze and snow frequent on the area. 

The tours leave Cuzco before dawn and include transportation by minivan, breakfast, a guide during the hike, lunch and a ride to return to the city.

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The ways to Vinicunca

There are two popular routes to reach Vinicunca: the Cusipata path, which is just 1 hour walk; and the Pitumarca way, that takes 2-3 hours to complete. Both routes can be done on foot or on horseback, although the final stretch up to the viewpoint can only be done on foot.

Needless to say, hundreds of people gather at the small viewpoint on the mountain and the place has become a photocall where even the locals bring Alpacas to decorate your picture.

In my case, I booked the excursion to Vinicunca from Cusipata with an additional visit to the Red Valley, which is a 15-20 minute detour on a trail. The Red Valley remains a truly hidden gem, as only a dozen of us continued the trail to this spectacular valley of endless red mountains. 

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Fighting the altitude sickness

Vinicunca has an altitude of 5.200 meters above sea level, meaning that suffering from altitude sickness is quite common during the hike. It is advisable to follow the guide’s instructions at all times and to check if you notice symptoms of altitude sickness such as shortness of breath, headache or dizziness. In my case I did not have any problem with the altitude, although I drank a lot of water during the hike, chewed coca leaves and carried in my pocket a small bottle of Florida water, a mixture of herbs that helps you breathe better. You can buy it at the local market in Cuzco or in pharmacies.

In addition to the altitude sickness, keep in mind that the climate conditions in the area change by the hour: from below zero to above 20 degrees when the sun comes out. The day I hiked Vinicunca we experience rain, snow, haze and sun in just 3 hours, so I would highly recommend bringing many layers of clothing, a raincoat, sunglasses, sunscreen, as well as waterproof trekking boots and poles.

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