Peru’s colourful Rainbow Mountain is not for faint-hearted tourists. Some manage the ascent in three hours, others take longer. But once they are up, then they’re usually reluctant to come back down, thanks to the view of the surreal-looking mountain.

Tourism at Mount Vinicunca in Peru has yet to take off. Travel agencies only discovered it around two years ago. The mountain isn’t even listed in the current Lonely Planet guidebook, although that seems likely to change.

Mount Vinicunca near the mighty Ausangate is currently developing into a real tourist attraction, which could compete with Machu Picchu and other highlights in the South American country.

The Peruvians call it “Montana de Colores” – the mountain of colours. Among travellers it has acquired a similarly evocative name: Rainbow Mountain.

Millions of years ago, plate tectonics pushed various sediments to the Earth’s surface. As a result, the mountain features up to seven different colours, from iron red to sulphur yellow and copper green.

The drive to Rainbow Mountain is gruelling. If you want to be one of the first up, you have to start in the Peruvian tourist hub of Cusco at 3am. The cobblestones of the former Incan capital city are followed by a wild drive heading southeast, before climbing up a gravel track to almost 4,500m above sea level.

The rewards for this uncomfortable trip are the spectacular mountain scenery, the first alpaca herds and a 6km-long trail through an impressive valley.

Rainbow Mountain

You can ride a horse to go up to Rainbow Mountain, but leave these guys (the alpacas) alone

The hike is no walk in the park, however. The first step out of the bus is at an altitude of 4,480m, the viewing peak next to Rainbow Mountain is at 5,150.

Even for those in good shape, it’s a challenging hike. Some people indulge in the luxury of being taken up by horse. These four-legged friends wait in the valley like an equine taxi rank.

The cost is around US$30 (RM129). The higher you get, the cheaper (and more tempting) the offers become to let a horse carry you uphill.

The view of Rainbow Mountain compensates for any pain the climb may have caused your legs and lungs. With the striped formation of the sediments, the mountain really does look a bit like a rainbow up close. You get the best view of the mountain from a summit next to Vinicunca. – dpa