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A Flood of Tourists to Peru's ‘Rainbow Mountain’

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Tourists struggle for breath as they climb for two hours to reach the top of a mountain in the Peruvian Andes. The mountain is 5,000 meters above sea level. The climbers are tired, but happy to see the beauty before them.

Lines of rich colors form what has become known as “Rainbow Mountain.” The colors come from many-colored rock remains millions of years old. The minerals were pushed up in the crash of Earth’s tectonic plates.

The world learned of the existence of this natural wonder about five years ago. Now, many people want to see it for themselves.

“You see it in the pictures and you think it’s Photoshopped — but it’s real,” said Lukas Lynen, an 18-year-old tourist from Mexico.

About 1,000 people visit Rainbow Mountain every day. The tourism has provided much-needed economic help to this area. Many villagers are farmers who raise alpaca animals for wool. Environmentalists, however, fear the tourists could destroy the land. International mining companies are also interested in the mountain.

In this March 2, 2018 photo, a tourist ride a horse led by an Andean guide to Rainbow Mountain, a ridge of multicolored sediments laid down millions of years ago and pushed up as tectonic plates clashed, in Pitumarca, Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
In this March 2, 2018 photo, a tourist ride a horse led by an Andean guide to Rainbow Mountain, a ridge of multicolored sediments laid down millions of years ago and pushed up as tectonic plates clashed, in Pitumarca, Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Dina Farfan is a Peruvian scientist who has studied threatened wildlife in the area. He points to a four-kilometer path to Rainbow Mountain. Tourists have worn down the area in the last 18 months, lessening the beauty of the mountain. Also, a wetland once popular with ducks has been made into a huge area for automobiles.

There are more serious threats, too.

Camino Minerals Corporation, a Canadian-based mining company, has asked for mining rights to the mountain. The Associated Press requested a comment from the company about its plans but it did not answer.

The large tourism business has provided jobs and money for the Pampachiri native community. The local people suffer from high rates of alcoholism and malnutrition. And wool prices are falling. Many took dangerous gold mining jobs in the Amazon.

Now, they charge tourists three dollars each to enter their land. The community earns about $400,000 a year from the entrance fees. The money has led to a conflict over taxes with a nearby community.

Pampachiri community leader Gabino Huaman says he is not sure his group is ready for the responsibility of the business. He said it requires good care of the environment and the tourists.

“We don’t know one word in English,” he said. “Or first aid.”

In this April 4, 2018 photo, Andean farmers take part in a ceremony honoring Mother Earth and Father Snowy Mountain, in Pitumarca, Peru. The surge in tourists comes with a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment
In this April 4, 2018 photo, Andean farmers take part in a ceremony honoring Mother Earth and Father Snowy Mountain, in Pitumarca, Peru. The surge in tourists comes with a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment

About 500 villagers have returned in the last couple of years to take up their traditional Andes transport trade. The only difference now is that they move tourists instead of goods.

Isaac Quispe is a 25-year-old former gold miner. He left that work after the murders of six people he worked with. He returned home and bought a horse. Last year, he earned $5,200 taking people up Rainbow Mountain by horse.

Scientist Farfan said he hopes the Pampachiri learn from other successful tourism businesses in Peru, like that in nearby Chillca.

For much of the past 10 years, Chillca guides have been quietly taking small groups of tourists to Rainbow Mountain. The five-day walk travels around the melting Ausangate glacier.

The guides in Chillca also operate four hotels with space for 16 tourists each.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. It was adapted by Susan Shand and edited by Catherine Weaver.

Words in This Story

touristn. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

rainbow n. a curved line of different colors that sometimes appears in the sky when the sun shines through rain

tectonic plate n. underground plates that rub together to change the earth’s surface

wool - n. the soft, thick hair of sheep and some other animals

malnutrition n. the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough food or not eating enough healthy food

glacier n. a very large area of ice that moves slowly down a slope or valley or over a wide area of land

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