How To Visit The Alternative Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo v’s Vinicunca


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One of the most popular day trips from Cusco Peru is to visit Peru’s Rainbow Mountains.  A trip to the Rainbow Mountains provides the opportunity for exercise, glorious photographs and the ability to see some of the world’s most stunning landscapes.   These naturally occurring phenomena have become world-famous and are visited by hundreds of visitors on a daily basis.  Most travellers head to the well-known, well-travelled Vinicunca rainbow mountain on a cheap day trip from Cusco.  However, head a little off the beaten track to Palccoyo – the alternative rainbow mountain and you’ll find peace, tranquillity, equally stunning, if not better, landscapes and a distinct lack of other people.

The Rainbow Mountains of Peru are well known.  Vinicunca in Quechua is the most famous. However, a visit to the lesser-known rainbow mountain of Palccoyo will take you away from the crowds, through the stunning landscape of the red valley and also provides for incredible views of the magnificent Ausangate glacier.

What is a Rainbow Mountain?

The Rainbow Mountains of Peru get their unique colouring from minerals present in the mountains.  Weathering and climate change are evolving the landscape of this area, with the famous colours of the mountains now being exposed by erosion.  The minerals present, once exposed to oxygen react to air and water and provide a stunning visual display.

  • The colours of the mountain come from different mineral deposits.
  • Pink comes from the red clay, mud and sand – which if you come during the wet season you can also see cascading down the streams and river beds here
  • The white colours come from sandstone, quartz and other minerals rich in calcium carbonate.
  • Red comes from iron
  • Green comes from phyllites and clays that are abundant with ferro magnesium
  • Yellow comes from sulphur deposits
  • The brown colour comes from rock infused with magnesium.

rainbow mountain viewpointWhere are the Rainbow Mountains in Peru?

Peru’s painted mountains or Cerros Colorados are to be found in the Cusco region of Peru.    There are two specific areas in which you can see the Rainbow Mountains and both are most easily reached on a day trip from Cusco.

The two Rainbow Mountains near Cusco are firstly the most famous one, Vinicunca and Palccoyo.  There are pros and cons to visiting each mountain which we’ll cover, but the primary reasons to go to either rainbow mountain follow:

  • If you want a challenging hike go to Vinicunca it’s a 3-hour hike versus about an hour at Palccoyo
  • Vinicunca is about 300 metres higher in altitude than Palccoyo
  • Palccoyo is significantly less touristed than Vinicunca. You might even have the mountain to yourself.

Vinicunca – The Rainbow Mountain

Vinicunca is also known as the mountain of seven colours.   It takes around 3 hours to get to the start of the Vinicunca hiking trail from Cusco.   You’ll find tours going from Cusco to Vinicunca every day unless there is snow which is when the mountain closes.  The easiest way to get to Vinicunca is to book your trip online now.

Palccoyo – The Alternative Rainbow Mountain

In Cusco, you’ll find that every tour company has a trip to Vinicunca.  You’ll have to ask specifically for Palccoyo – or you can book online here.  There are significantly fewer tour companies that make trips to Palccoyo, so either hunt around or book online NOW

Palccoyo is also known as Huallata Cunca or even more simply, as the alternative rainbow mountain.

Visiting Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

After Machu Picchu, Peru’s rainbow mountain is the most visited attraction in Peru.  This stunning natural landscape, made available by erosion and climate change is one of Peru’s natural highlights.  It’s easy to visit Vinicunca from Cusco as a day trip and we’ve highlighted the ways in which you can do this below.

How to get to Vinicunca Mountain Peru

There are 3 ways in which you can reach Vinicunca from Cusco.

  1. The easiest way to go from Cusco to Vinicunca is by organized tour. Organised tours usually leave around 0345 from Cusco.   Book your organized tour to Vinicunca here.
  2. An alternative way to get to Vinicunca from Cusco is to rent a car and drive yourselves. (Get a quote for a rental car to Vinicunca here )
  3. The most difficult, but the cheapest way to get to Vinicunca from Cusco is to take public buses.
    1. Take a bus from the Closed Colosseuem on Huayruropata Avenue for 5 soles to Cusipata. This bus will take about 2 hours.
    2. Take a 10 soles colectivo taxi from Cusipata to Pampachiri. This journey takes about an hour.
    3. From Pampachiri start your hike.

How long does it take to get to Vinicunca?

On an organized tour from Cusco to Vinicunca, it takes around 3.5 hours to get to the start of the hiking trail.

How to be first on the mountain at Vinicunca

Start your day at 0215 to that you’ll be the first on the Rainbow Mountain.  You’ll also get to hike through the glorious red valley.  A picnic breakfast and lunch is also provided.  Book this fabulous opportunity now.

 
 

What to expect at Vinicunca

The first thing to expect when making a trip to Vinicunca is that you will be getting up early!  Most organized trips to Vinicunca leave Cusco at around 0400.  You may be able to doze off to sleep en route, but the roads aren’t great and are also a little windy the closer you get to Vinicunca.

When you arrive at the start of the hiking trail to Vinicunca. It will take you between 90 minutes and 2 hours to hike to the view point.

 

How to book a trip to Vinicunca

Every tour company, hostel and hotel in Cusco offers tours to Vinicunca, the rainbow mountain.  The difference will be the size of the group that you travel with and their safety equipment.  You can also book a trip to Vinicunca here

Why visit Vinicunca v’s Palccoyo

  • It’s said that the colours of the mountain at Vinicunca are more vivid than those at Palccoyo. Or maybe some published photos just have a more vivid filter on them.
  • You can 100% expect a much more challenging hike if you choose Vinicunca versus Palccoyo.
  • The hike from the start of the trail to Vinicunca takes around 3 hours, versus 45 minutes for Palccoyo.
  • The incline that you will hike at Vinicunca is steep and the trail is described as challenging.
  • You can expect more people on the trail and at the viewpoints at Vinicunca than Palccoyo. In peak season there are sometimes nearly 1,000 people visiting Vinicunca every day.
  • Day trips to Vinicunca from Cusco start at around 0345. A trip from Cusco to Palccoyo doesn’t leave until about 0715.

Want to try something else unique in Peru?  Check out Peruvian Wine tasting in Ica!

When is the best time to visit Vinicunca?

The dry season is the best time to visit Vinicunca.  In Cusco, the dry season is between April to October.  There is less rain, however, the weather is also less predictable at high altitude.

What to take on a trip to Vinicunca

Vinicunca Mountain is situated at 5,200 metres above sea level.  Even if you have acclimatized in Cusco (and you really should do this before venturing on any hikes), you should consider that altitude sickness can hit anyone at any time.  It’s recommended that you take the following things with you on a trip to Vinicunca.

This is a tough hike, with a steep incline you MUST take plenty of drinking water, sunscreen and layers.

  • Layered clothing – including a raincoat/poncho
  • A cap or hat, gloves
  • Sunscreen
  • Drinking-Water – 3-4 litres
  • Hiking Poles if you usually use them
  • Walking shoes/hiking boots
  • Snacks
  • A day pack to carry all your gear in
  • Your camera!
  • Peruvian cash in smaller denominations
  • Toilet Paper
  • Coca leaves or Agua Floridas to help with the altitude.

Visiting Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain

Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is located about 3.5 hours’ drive south of Cusco.  The distance to Palccoyo from Cusco is around 100 kilometres.  Palccoyo Mountain is located in the district of Checacupe, which is in the province of Canchis.  The roads are slow and windy, but generally in good condition.  The view on the way are stunning.

Views on the way to rainbow mountain Palccoyo

How to get to Palccoyo Mountain Peru

There are 3 ways in which you can reach Palccoyo from Cusco.

  1. The easiest way to go from Cusco to Palccoyo is by organized tour. Organised tours usually leave around 0700 from Cusco.  You can book your trip to Palccoyo here
  2. An alternative way to get to Palccoyo from Cusco is to rent a car and drive yourselves. (Get a quote for a rental car to Palccoyo here)
  3. The most difficult, but the cheapest way to get to Palccoyo from Cusco is to take public buses.
    1. First, take a bus from Cusco to Checacupe – it’s about 2 hours
    2. Then take a bus/hitch a lift from Checacupe to Palccoyo village (about 30 minutes)
    3. Then walk from the village of Palccoyo to the mountain (about 1 hour)

How long does it take to get to Palccoyo?

To get to Palccoyo from Cusco takes between 3.25 and 3.5 hours.  This includes a stop for a driver and a break for breakfast of around 30 minutes.

Rainbow mountain viewpoint peru

What to expect at Palccoyo

You can expect the weather to be changeable at Palccoyo, so layer up and take waterproofs.  You’ll still be able to see some of the colours of the rainbow mountain if it rains but they won’t be as clear.

 

At Palccoyo you can expect to see a lot of llamas and alpacas – grazing alongside the road.  They’ll stop for photos so long as you don’t get too close.  You’ll also see, on your drive here, some of the farming methods used by the local communities – and lots and lots of potatoes growing.

Llama en route to rainbow mountain

You can also, we hope, expect to see very few other tourists and therefore get to see the beauty of the mountains in peace and quiet.

Viewpoint over the red valley palcoyyo

If it’s a clear day you’ll be able to see Ausangate Glacier and mountain too.

Rainbow mountain car park Palccoyo

How to book a trip to Palccoyo

The easiest way to book a trip to Palccoyo – Peru’s alternative rainbow mountain is to book it online.  While you will find tour companies in Cusco that will easily book you’re a tour to the Vinicunca Rainbow mountain, there are fewer organized trips to Palccoyo.  If your time in Cusco is limited, then you’ll want to ensure that you can visit Palccoyo on a day of your choice and not have to wait for a specific trip to go there.

Rainbow mountain viewpoint peru

Why visit Palccoyo vs Vinicunca?

  • Palccoyo is less visited than Vinicunca, you’ll have more chance to experience Peru’s nature than simply walking behind a crowd of other tourists looking for a great photo.
  • The hike to Palccoyo takes around 45 minutes, versus 3 hours for Vinicunca.
  • The incline to hike Palccoyo is minimal. There’s virtually no altitude gain on this hike at all.
  • Palccoyo is much more family-friendly than Vinicunca. Even if you have members of the family who don’t want to walk far they can still see some of the stunning landscape and colours of Palccoyo from where you’ll park the car.
  • On route to Palccoyo, you’ll drive through stunning landscapes and get to see llamas and Alpaca roaming wild beside the road.
  • At Palccoyo you’ll see not just one rainbow mountain but seven.
  • From Palccoyo you can also see the Ausangate Glacier and other Andean peaks
  • As you hike to Palccoyo you’ll see the Red Valley and the rocky outcrop known as the “Stone Forest”
  • Most day trips to Palccoyo leave at around 0700, meaning, unlike Vinicunca you don’t need a 3 am wakeup call!

 

When is the best time to visit Palccoyo

The dry season is the best time to visit Palccoyo.  In Cusco, the dry season is between April to October.  There is less rain, however, the weather is also less predictable at high altitude.

Organised trips to Palccoyo will leave Cusco in the morning (around 0700).  If you are travelling to Palccoyo independently, then following that timescale is also best.   Weather patterns can change quickly in the Andes, and they tend to change more in the late afternoon when you’ll want to be back down off the mountain and well on your way back to Cusco.

Palccoyoa Rainbow mountain viewpoint

What to take on a trip to Palccoyo

Palccoyo Mountain is situated at 4,900 metres above sea level.  Even if you have acclimatized in Cusco (and you really should do this before venturing on any hikes), you should consider that altitude sickness can hit anyone at any time.  It’s recommended that you take the following things with you on a trip to Palccoyo.

Viewpoint over the red valley palcoyyo

 

  • Layered clothing – including a raincoat/poncho
  • A cap or hat, gloves
  • Sunscreen
  • Drinking-Water – about 2 litres
  • Hiking Poles if you usually use them
  • Walking shoes/hiking boots
  • Snacks
  • A day pack to carry all your gear in
  • Your camera!
  • Peruvian cash in smaller denominations
  • Toilet Paper
  • Coca leaves or Agua Floridas to help with the altitude.

Viewpoint over rainbow mountain palccoyo

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Palccoyo?

Depending on the tour that you book you may also have to pay a small entrance fee to enter Palccoyo.  This currently costs 10 soles per foreign visitor or 5 soles per Peruvian.  If this entrance fee is not included in your tour then you’ll pay it as you enter the Palccoyo area.

Note that on a tour you still also take a short break at Checacupe – toilets here are clean and well maintained but you will have to pay a 1 or 2 soles fee to use them.

There’s an opportunity here to buy breakfast, walk across the old Inca Bridge, or just take photos.  There are a few small cafes /stores in the town here, and some sandwich and drinks stalls in the main square.

Inka bridge

Comparing Peru’s rainbow mountains

There are several differences between Vinicunca and Palccoyo.  When it comes to Palccoyo v’s Vinicunca you’ll need to look at the cost, the difficulty of the hike to reach the viewpoints and the altitude of both mountains.  We’ve summarized the differences in the following table to compare Vinicunca versus Palccoyo below.

 

Vinicunca v’s Palccoyo Comparison

 Palccoyo MountainVinicunca Mountain
Height / Altitude4,900 meters above sea level (16,076 feet)5,200 meters above sea level (17,060 feet)
Hiking DifficultyEasy – flat – little inclineChallenging – a difficult steep incline
Walking time1 hour (2 kilometres).3 hours (5 kilometres)
BOOK NOW!Book your Book your Trip to Palccoyo NowTrip to Palccoyo NowBook your Trip to Vinicunca NowBook your Trip to Vinicunca Now
Walking Distance2 kilometres (1.2 miles)5 kilometres (3.1 miles)
Start of the tour07000345
Drive Time from Cusco3.5 hours3 hours
End of the tour6 pm.6 pm.
Number of visitorsVery FewHundreds/Thousand per day
WeatherCold & ChangeableCold & Changeable

Best Rainbow Mountain Tours from Cusco

  • Full day Tour to Vinicunca starts at 0415, includes breakfast, lunch and round trip transportation to Cusco, where you’ll arrive about 1700.  Check Availability and book NOW
  • Visit the awesome and empty Palccoyo Alternative Rainbow Mountain.  This trip is a small group trip and you’ll get personal service plus breakfast and lunch, there are a maximum of 8 people on this trip.   You’ll need to pay the 10 soles entrance fee yourself.  Check availability, dates and book NOW
  • Be first on the mountain at Vinicunca –  Start your day at 0215 to that you’ll be the first on the Rainbow Mountain.  You’ll also get to hike through the glorious red valley.  A picnic breakfast and lunch is also provided.  Check prices and BOOK NOW!

Final viewpoint rainbow mountain peru

Which Rainbow Mountain Should You Visit in Peru?

Many who visit Peru are put off from visiting the rainbow mountain because of reports that it’s an extremely challenging hike and that there are hundreds of other tourists attempting to get there.   Don’t be put off visiting Peru’s rainbow mountains because of this.  Visit Palccoyo instead of Vinicunca and get to see some of Peru’s glorious natural beauty.  Palccoyo is family-friendly, sleep-friendly day trip from Cusco with little to no crowds.

PIN FOR LATER

How to visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Peru

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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