Rainbow Mountain, Peru

One of the most magnificent geologic features in the world is the Ausangate Mountain of the Peruvian Andes. The mountain is striped with colors ranging from turquoise to lavender to maroon and gold. However, this “painted mountain” is notoriously difficult to find and get to, requiring several days of hiking to reach its peak deep within the Andes by way of Cusco. 

The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca

The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca
At the summit of Rainbow Mountain!!
The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca
The quality of photo from iphoneX is really impressive! I can’t believe that I could capture all these details and colours using just an iphoneX.
The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca
Reached the summit of Rainbow Mountain!!!
Base Camp The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca
Our tents at the Base Camp of Rainbow Mountain. It was at least -10C or lower. Freezing COLD! Most of us didn’t get any sleep (including me) and thought that we were gonna die of hypothermia 😆 It was so cold that I couldn’t stop sneezing and my nose was completely blocked. When I lied down, my nose would be completely blocked and couldn’t breathe. When I sat down, I could breathe but I would freeze! It was the longest night I’ve had. Most of us were counting down to 5am, which was our wake up time! We wish we could start hiking at 3am 😆 It was definitely an unforgettable night!

The painted Ausangate mountain is also considered to be holy and believed to be the deity of Cusco by local Peruvians. It is a site of daily worship and offerings by local citizens. Every year thousands of Quechua pilgrims visit the Ausangate Mountain for the Star Snow festival which takes place a week before the Corpus Christi feast.

The mountain sits at an elevation of 6,384 meters and is located approximately 100 kilometers southeast of the major city Cusco. The local area is rich in geology, from uplifted granitic cliffs to glaciers which have eroded large valleys and the cretaceous limestone “forest” nearby.

Llama The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca
Descending to the base camp for our lunch from the summmit. So glad we camped overnight and started our hike at 6am. The trails were filled with people and horses when we were descending at around 10am (I didn’t have my watch with me). It was getting too crowded and very warm!

The Andes are an incredibly complex mountain chain that extends along the western edge of the South American continent. The subduction of the Nazca plate underneath the South American plate initiated mountain building and uplift of the mountain range. This produced significant volcanism and the introduction of rare and varied mineralogy to the Andes Mountains.

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. This is similar to how a nail will rust and turn red when oxidised, 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 Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca Red Valley
Main View of the Red Valley
The Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru Apu Winicunca Red Valley
Main View of the Red Valley

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 oxidised 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.


We also visited a local family in Huito on our way to Rainbow Mountain to experience local Peruvian cultures and food. They were so welcoming and excited to share their cultures with us!


Have you been to Peru? I’d love to hear your experiences! Leave your comments below. If you haven’t, I hope this post would encourage you to explore this beautiful country.

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Photography Information:
Camera: Nikon D800 with Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 and iPhone X.
Post-processing: Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and Photos software in iPhone X.

2 thoughts on “Rainbow Mountain, Peru

    • Yes, it’s an amazing lens! I’ve had it for years now. It’s slightly cheaper than the Nikon 24-70mm. I never use the Nikon ones so not sure how the comparisons are like. Thanks so much Tom as always! 😀

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