On various road trips through the Andean mountains, I noticed that there are pockets of colored mountains in Peru all over the country. But, the colorful mountains in Peru found 100 kilometers southeast of Cusco seem to be the only ones that manifest nearly the full range of a rainbow all in one photo-worthy spot. Best known as Rainbow Mountain, some refer to it as the 7-Color Mountain while the name of the ancient mountain is Vinicunca to the locals.
Its hillsides and peaks are naturally tinted with stripes of intense tones of red, pink, purple, green, gold, and white. Peru’s colored mountains are formed this way from millions of years of sediment formation. Over a complex and very long process (we’re talking over 60 million years), a wide range of mineral rock sediments were transported by the sea, lakes, and rivers, naturally layering on top of each other and organizing itself by weight.
The movement of tectonic plates in the area converted the layers of minerals into mountains, while the oxidation from humidity and erosion of the minerals converted them into the vivid colors you’ll see during the Rainbow Mountain Tour.
- Red – clay + argilite
- Pink – red clay + mudstone + sand
- Purple – clay + calcium carbonate + silicate
- Green – clay rich in iron and magnesium + copper oxide
- Gold – limonite + calcareous sandstone + sulfur
- White – sandstone + limestone
The districts where the colored mountains in Peru are found include Pitumarca (in the province of Canchis) and Cusipata (in the province of Quispicanchi). The locals who live in the area consider Vinicunca (or Rainbow Mountain) a sacred mountain and you may feel the mysticism of the area when you visit too.