Tourists gasp for breath as they climb for two hours to a peak in the Peruvian Andes that stands 16,404 feet (5,000 meters) above sea level. They’re dead tired, but stunned by the magical beauty unfurled before them. Stripes of turquoise, lavender and gold blanket what has become known as “Rainbow Mountain,” a ridge of multicoloured sediments laid down millions of years ago and pushed up as tectonic plates clashed. It’s only within the last five years that the natural wonder has been discovered by the outside world, earning it must-see status on Peru’s burgeoning backpacker tourist circuit.“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. The popularity of Rainbow Mountain, which attracts up to 1,000 tourists each day, has provided a much-needed economic jolt to this remote region populated by struggling alpaca herders. Environmentalists, however, fear the tourists could destroy the treasured landscape, which is already coveted by international mining companies.
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