Machu Picchu might be one of the most frequented tourist destinations in Peru, but if you don’t visit the Rainbow Mountain, you’re missing out on one of the most spectacular geological wonders in South America.

Located in the Peruvian Andes near Cusco, Rainbow Mountain lives up to its name: Layers of minerals in the rock face have created a striped pattern of turquoise, magenta, red, orange, gold, and yellow. Rainbow Mountain is a recent discovery: When snow began to melt off the mountain about four years ago, this unusual color scheme was revealed.

In Peru, the mountain is known as Vinicunca, and local communities, including herds of llamas and alpacas, still populate this region and live their normal lives, despite the sudden influx of tourism. However, as Rainbow Mountain only recently decided to show its true colors, there are still no limits on how many people can visit this site per day (unlike at Machu Picchu, where there are strict tourist limitations in order to preserve the integrity of the site).

Since there is a hike involved in getting to the rainbow mountain, the best time to visit is probably during dry season, from March and November, when there is less chance of getting caught in a rainstorm.

How to get to the Rainbow Mountain

One of the best ways to experience Rainbow Mountain is through a guided tour, and the official Rainbow Mountain Peru website can recommend several vetted tour operators. Rainbow Mountain Travels is the number one most recommended tour company, and its premium tour costs just $49 per person.

Most reputable tour operators will transport you and your group from Cusco to Qesoyuno, where the hike to the rainbow mountain begins, then drop back off in Cusco at the end of the day.  Keep in mind that this is a long hike: The ascent and descent take about an hour each (some people put the total climb at around three hours) and altitude sickness – usually just a headache and some dizziness – are common.

Adjusting to the altitude by spending at least a day in Cusco is recommended, and your tour operator will als have oxygen tanks on hand. Some people even recommend chewing on coca leaves as an anecdote to altitude sickness and the accompanying headache. If you are having trouble adjusting to the altitude or are just feeling exhausted from the hike, you can rent a horse to take you the rest of the way at any point of the hike; no need to book one in advance.

Once you get to the top and get an up close view of the mountain’s rainbow patterns, and the surrounding sweeping view of the Andes, all thoughts of altitude sickness will disappear. And don’t worry,  you’ll have time to soak in the view and take pictures once you reach the top.