There are times when Nature seems capricious and turns something that should fall into the category of normal into a visual spectacle that, in the end, serves to draw attention to it and, paradoxically, to protect it. It happens with some of those living beings that we can consider rare and also happens in certain landscapes. This is the case of two unheard of places, one in China and the other in Peru, where it seems that a gigantic palette of paint has been spilled, completely changing its appearance.
It is enough to take a look at the images to understand the capacity to surprise that the Zhangye Danxia Geological Park and the Vinicunca mountains have, almost twin places where the orography changes the grey colour of the stone, the brown of the earth or the green of the grass through a chromatic symphony where other completely unusual tones appear, such as ochre, red, yellow or blue. A material, palpable and permanent version of the rainbow.
The Chinese park is located in the province of Gansu, in the northwestern part of the country. It measures about 520 square kilometers of surface in which settle the Qilian mountains, low and rounded for being already old, of about 24 million years. Erosion has acted with force on the sandstone, sculpting it with curious shapes. But the most outstanding thing is that fantastic colouring, the result of the deposit of mineral pigments on the rocky strata, made visible by the orogenic action.
As a result, myriads of tourists come to this site – declared a World Heritage Site in 2010 – to contemplate the panorama live, and it is necessary to pay an entrance fee and make the tour in a bus or vehicle, given the distances to be covered. There are viewpoints set up in strategic places, generally crowded with curious people with cameras in their hands.
But Peru also has a similar place, although it is much less known because the Andean country has so many tourist attractions that the lion’s share is taken by a handful of them, leaving the others in a second and unfair plane.
Cuzco, recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in South America, does not fall into this category, but the truth is that those who visit it already have a lot to do in trying to see everything that is in the city center and, if anything, extend its radius of action to the surrounding archeological sites and the Sacred Valley.
In this plan, almost all travelers overlook the presence of the Ausangate apu, a mountain 6,372 meters high (the fifth highest in the country) located in the Vilcanota mountain range, a hundred kilometers from the ancient Inca capital. Ausangate is frequented by mountaineers but, incomprehensibly, few know that in its surroundings they have the Vinicunca chromatic show, a succession of elevations that have earned the unofficial nickname of Rainbow Mountains.
A walk through these places is a very special experience, combining the fact of being at similar heights with the enjoyment of an outdoor activity and the contemplation of a visual wonder. The incomprehensible, which I said before, can be extended to the Peruvian tourist authorities, who do not promote the place; perhaps because of what I also said, in that they are overflowing with attractions.
In fact, it is quite difficult to find information and only the local companies that organise mountain routes mention it. Seeing the glass half full, between that and the fact that climbing over 6,000 metres is not within everyone’s reach, a visit free from overcrowding is guaranteed.
This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on February 9, 2016. Puedes leer la versión en español en Las espectaculares montañas de colores de China y Perú