Cordillera Vilcanota: Peruvian Andes (Peru)

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Cordillera Vilcanota: Peruvian Andes (Peru)

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The Cordillera Vilcanota is a mountain range in southeastern Peru that constitutes one of the southern branches of the Cordillera Occidental. Vinicunca, or "Rainbow Mountain," is a natural landmark. Ausangate, significant in Incan mythology, is the tallest peak in the range.

Cordillera Vilcanota

The Cordillera Vilcanota is a mountain range in southeastern Peru, on the boundary between the departments of Cusco and Puno. It constitutes one of the southern branches of the Cordillera Occidental (eastern range) of the Peruvian Andes.

Part of the Andes Mountain system, the Cordillera Vilcanota extends north for approximately 80 km (50 mi) and then west for about 40 km (25 mi). To the east, the San Gabán and Azángaro rivers make up the natural boundary separating it from the Cordillera Carabaya.

The Vilcanota range is extensively covered by snow-capped mountains and glaciers, along with numerous u-shaped valleys, moraines, and glacial lagoons. The main lagoons include the Amayuni, Singrenacocha, Challpacocha, Armaccocha, and Sibinacocha.

The Qosñipata and Pilcopata rivers descend north of the Vilcanota range and join with the Madre de Dios River near Manú National Park. The Marcapata and San Gabán rivers descend to the east, the latter of which joins the Inambari to flow into the Madre de Dios.

In the south of the range, the Vilcanota River joins the Paria and Santa Rosa rivers to continue its extensive course as the Urubamba River to the northwest through the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

The Cordillera Vilcanota contains more than 200 peaks over the elevation of 4,600 m (15,092 ft) and reaches its maximum altitude on the snow-covered Ausangate at 6,384 m (20,945 ft) asl, followed closely by:

  • Callangate: 6,110 m (20,046 ft)
  • Chumpe: 6,106 m (20,033 ft)
  • Alcamarinayoc: 6,102 m (20,020 ft)
  • Jatunhuma: 6,093 m (19,990 ft)
  • Yayamari: 6,049 m (19,846 ft)
  • Huiscachani: 6,000 m (19,685 ft)


Vinicunca, also known as Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors or Rainbow Mountain), is located in the Vilcanota range of the Peruvian Andes, with an altitude of 5,200 m (17,100 ft) asl.

This natural landmark is along the road to the Ausangate mountain in the Cusco region. It s located to the southeast of Cusco and can be reached from Cusco via two routes: Cusipata or Pitumarca.

Formed by weathering, environmental conditions and sedimentary deposits over time, the mountain's unique mineralogy created a marbling effect. The colors of the mountain are due to its mineralogical composition. Iron-rich sediments will change when exposed to oxygen and water.

  • Pink: a mixture of red clay, mudstone and sand
  • White: sandstone (quartz sand) and limestone
  • Purple or lavender: marlstone (mixture of clay and calcium carbonate) and silicates
  • Red: argillites and clays
  • Green: clays rich in ferromagnesian minerals (mixture of iron and magnesium) and copper oxide
  • Yellowish brown, mustard or golden: limonites, calcareous sandstones rich in sulfur minerals
  • Earthy brown: fanglomerates composed of manganese rocks dating back to the Quaternary era

Tectonically-driven crustal shortening has tilted the sedimentary layers on their side, exposing stripped stratigraphic intervals.


Ausangate is a mountain in the Vilcanota range in the Peruvian Andes. With an elevation of 6,384 m (20,945 ft), it is situated around 100 km (62 mi) southeast of Cusco in the Cusco Region.

The mountain is significant in Incan mythology. For example, the Quyllur Rit'i (Quechua for "star snow") festival attracts thousands of Quechua pilgrims every year. It is celebrated about 20 km (12 mi) north of the Ausangate at the Qullqipunku mountain and takes place one week before the Corpus Christi feast.

The region is inhabited by llama and alpaca herding communities and constitutes one of the few remaining pastoralist societies in the world. These herders use high mountain trails to trade with agricultural communities at lower elevations. Currently, one of these trails, "the Road of the Apu Ausangate," is one of the most renowned treks in Peru.

The area has four major geological features:

  • the Andean uplift formed by granites
  • the hanging glaciers and glacial erosional valleys
  • the Permian formation with its singular colors: red, ochre and turquoise
  • the Cretaceous limestone forests