This colorful mountain is 100% natural. It’s made up of 14 colorful minerals that give the mountain an amazing rainbow-like appearance.
The Rainbow Mountain of Peru is truly one of a kind. Image credit: Michaellbrawn
Vinicunca, or Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors) is part of Peru’s diverse natural geography. It’s located at an elevation of 17,100 feet (5200 meters) in the Peruvian Andes, near Cusco. This multi-colored geological wonder quickly became one of Peru’s must-see attractions, and hundreds of tourists venture to the mountain every day. Hikers and tourists wanting to see Vinicunca with their own eyes have to complete a round trip of about five miles. It’s definitely worth taking the journey, since the whole landscape is just as amazing as the mountain itself.
However, high altitudes can take a toll on the body, so the hike demands some fitness and proper acclimatization is recommended for the trip. Furthermore, local Peruvian communities consider Vinicunca and its surroundings a holy place, and while they’ll give anyone a warm welcome, visitors are expected to act respectfully in accordance with local traditions.
The Peruvian Andes is just as amazing as Vinicunca. Image credit: Frank Plamann
According to the Cultural Landscape Office of the Decentralization of the City of Cusco, Vinicunca’s brilliant colors are due to its mineral composition. The red and pink color comes from red clay (iron); the whitish coloring is due to quartz, sandstone and marls. And while the green and turquoise shades are the product of phyllites and clays rich in ferro magnesian, the earthly brown and yellow colors are due to fanglomerate and sulphurous sandstones.
But how did this extraordinary mountain form?
During the Tertiary and Quaternary periods (66 and 2,588 million years ago), the minerals in ancient soils were eroded and transported by huge water masses. In the course of several geological time periods, these minerals piled up over each other, forming different colored layers arranged according to the weight of each mineral.
Different colorful minerals along the hiking trail to the mountain. Image credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly
For a long time, these colorful stratigraphic layers remained hidden, protected under the snow of the Peruvian Andes glacier. However, climate change caused the glaciers to melt, revealing the geological wonder that is Vinicunca. So, while it’s amazing that we can hike to the Rainbow Mountain and see it in all its beauty, we shouldn’t forget the reason why we can do that today, and what kind of changes are happening to our planet because of global warming.
Many locals consider Vinicunca and its surrounding a holy place. Image credit: Frank Plamann
This extraordinary place also holds a very diverse and amazing fauna. On this remote part of the Peruvian Andes you can see the famous llamas, and alpacas all over the place. But there are skunks, deer, foxes, tapir, guinea pigs, and chinchillas as well. Even more rare animals include the puma, Andean condor, and even the spectacled bear, the last remaining short-faced bear species in the world.
Given the fact, that Vinicunca lies at an altitude of more than half of Mount Everest, weather can be unpredictable, and temperatures often drop below 0. Nevertheless, in the course of only an hour, weather around Rainbow Mountain can change rapidly from blistering sun to rain, or even snow.
Llamas and alpacas are considered regulars at Vinicunca. Image credit: Alec Gamoff
With all that being said, though, concerns are growing whether the discovery of the area, and the large amount of hikers contribute to the degradation of the previously unspoiled landscape.
While tourism around Vinicunca gave a new wind to the economy of the region by generating around 400,000 dollars a year for the locals, alarming changes can already be seen: a wetland that had been the home of migrating ducks was destroyed in order to build a parking lot for tourists, and the 5-mile-long hiking trail has been severely damaged by human presence. Mining companies also took the initiative to conduct metallic mining in the area, despite protests by locals in the Cusco region.