Rainbow Mountain, a striking mountain ridge of multi-colored bands of rock, is today one of the Cusco region's most popular hikes outside of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. This mountain is most often visited from Cusco on a day trip: the mountain is about 3 hours and 85 miles southeast of Cusco.
It is also possible to visit this mountain coming from Puno if you wish to do so independently, although this is rarely done. Travel to Rainbow Mountain is either by private transfer, bus, taxi or a combination of these three.
For more, see this article on Rainbow Mountain and how to travel to it.
Duration: 3-4 hours
It is from Cusco that Rainbow Mountain is nearly always visited. Cusco is the nearest big city but more importantly also there are various means of visiting the mountain from here: by long-distance bus, by local bus and by tour/ private transfer.
Most opt to visit Rainbow Mountain by private transfer: the easiest and most expensive way of getting to Rainbow Mountain.. This is arranged with any one of many Cusco tour agencies, who will also supply a guide for the hike up the mountain. Travel time from Cusco to the start of the hike up the mountain is around three hours. Tours also leave early: often as early as 3am, so that you arrive at the top of the mountain early in the day. Travel is via Hwy 3S (the road to Puno and Lake Titicaca) to the town of Checacupe, then on Hwy 124. This is also the route you would take from Cusco if driving yourself or arranging a taxi to take you to the bottom of Rainbow Mountain.
Coming here independently (and therefore avoiding the crowds of tour groups, which some travelers prefer) things are a little more difficult. The town closest to Rainbow Mountain, Checacupe, is conveniently located about two hours from Cusco on Hwy 3S, the main road south to Puno from Cusco. So you can head to Terminal Terrestre and board a Puno-bound bus, telling the driver you wish to be let out at Checacupe. There are also buses from Av. Tomasa Tito Condemayta near the Tupac Amaru hospital in Cusco that run to Checacupe. Whichever bus you opt for, in Checacupe you then need to take a taxi (around two hours) to the hike start point.
Duration: 6.5 hours
It is possible, although rarely done, to visit Rainbow Mountain from Puno en route to Cusco. Buses from the Terminal Terrestre bound for Cusco normally follow Hwy 3S north: ask to be let out at the town of Checacupe, reached after around 4.5 hours. From here, taxis wait to take you to the hike start point: almost a two-hour drive away.