For those well-versed in the latest destinations trending across South America, and/or plugged into Instagram’s most eye-catching travel photos, Peru’s Vinicunca, aka “Rainbow Mountain,” begs little to no introduction. But what about Vinicunca’s lesser-known, but equally stunning, cousin, Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain?
There are countless reasons why Palccoyo should make it into your private journey to Peru, especially if you are already considering “Rainbow Mountain.” You will still get that classic shot of rainbow mineral hues cascading behind you, all while supporting an off-the-beaten-path destination. In this article, we lay out the top Palccoyo tips to get you to Peru’s rainbow cordillera!
Vinincunca aka “Rainbow Mountain” vs. Palccoyo
First things first, let’s compare and contrast Vinicunca (Peru’s more famous Rainbow Mountain) with Palccoyo. Both destinations offer sweeping panoramic vistas of colorful mountainscapes and jagged peaks. Yet perhaps one of the most striking differences is while Vinicunca welcomes upwards of thousands of visitors per day in the high tourist season, Palccoyo still only receives a handful.
Another major difference is that Vinicunca is a stand-alone Rainbow Mountain, whereas Palccoyo forms part of a cordillera colorida. Palccoyo belongs to this colorful mountain range in which the striking colors extend even further into the horizon across three distinct mountains, not just one.
We can argue a third difference in that Palccoyo ultimately offers a more complete and authentic experience. We will expand more on the specifics below, but a trip to Palccoyo brings even more unique sights to the table between both natural wonders, and ancient human-fashioned artifacts.
The final difference we’d like to highlight here comes back to altitude. Let’s not forget that these fantastic sights sit at an altitude well above sea level. Therefore, neither should be added as an afterthought to your impeccably planned curated journey to Peru.
This is why we recommend at least two nights in Cusco before visiting Vinicunca, which lies at 17,060 feet above sea level. And if you decide to include Palccoyo in your custom-designed itinerary instead, at least one night in Cusco will suffice because Palccoyo sits at 16,070 feet above sea level, almost a thousand feet less than Vinicunca!
Why are they called rainbow mountains?
Here’s the big question: can these mountains really be compared to a rainbow? And if so, why and how? The answer is a resounding yes, but instead of light refracted, the rainbow effect is actually derived from a unique geological phenomenon in the Vilcanota mountain range of the Peruvian southern Andes.
Without getting too technical, the minerals we see today as a myriad of astonishing colors on Vinicunca and Palccoyo were shifted through millions of years of tectonic movement to this precise location. This unique environmental phenomenon was revealed only a few years ago as decades of glacial snow and ice melted away.
As the minerals began to oxidize, breathe if you will, they took on new life and enriched colors. These colors range from lavender (clay + calcium carbonite), and green (ferromagnesian minerals), to mustard (limonites), and bright pink (clay + mudstone + sand), and many more in-between.
The call for conservation of these mountain ranges has also gained international support in the past few years. Thanks to increased tourist foot traffic to this region, and a newfound, urgent focus on eco-conscious travel, the Peruvian government folded Peru’s rainbow mountains into the protected natural area of Ausangate in 2018. Mining companies can’t touch it now!
Where is Palccoyo exactly?
The Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain range is in the same south-easterly direction from Cusco as Vinicunca and takes about three hours to get there. Driving in this direction from Cusco city, you will head into the Combapata district, with a clear view of the mighty Ausangate glacier ahead. Reaching the town of Checacupe, you will be close to the starting point of your short hike up to Palccoyo.
Palccoyo highlights & advantages
Something Palccoyo has that Vinicunca does not is an ethereal “stone forest.” These stark jagged natural monuments look like something taken right out of the fantastical worlds of Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones. A visit to Palccoyo guarantees an additional excursion to this otherworldly natural phenomenon!
Either on your way there or on your way back, you can also opt to explore the trilogy of bridges in Checacupe. These bridges have stood the test of time from three distinct periods in Peruvian history 1) the Incas 2) the colonies 3) the republican era. Seeing all three side-by-side allows for an interesting discussion with your private guide, especially if you’re a history buff!
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the resounding advantages of Palccoyo is the fact that you won’t have to share this one-of-a-kind experience in the Peruvian highlands with hardly anyone else, for now at least! So, now is the time to include Palccoyo in your personalized travel experience to Peru before it becomes even more popular.
One final benefit to visiting Palccoyo over Vinicunca? The hike is half an hour less than the shortest route at Vinicunca, and two and a half hours less than the longest route. This, plus the fact that it is almost 1000 feet lower, makes for an easier route for younger children and/or anyone dying to see this natural phenomenon, but not in the best shape of their life.
Best time to visit
Hands down, the best (and arguably only) time to see Palccoyo is during the dry season in Peru, roughly from April to December. Snow covers these precious colors during most of the rainy season, and unpredictable electrical storms during this time can get pretty dangerous.
What can you expect traveling to Palccoyo with Kuoda?
To maximize your experience in Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain, we recommend traveling with a top travel agency that knows Peru like the back of their hand and how to prioritize your travel interests above all else. Kuoda is one such agency.
You will depart for Palccoyo with no one other than your travel party, private guide, and driver, who is flexible and can play it by ear depending on how you’re feeling and what you want to see, every step of the way. Contact us today to speak with one of our travel experts directly, and start planning your memorable vacation to Peru featuring its one and only Rainbow Mountain range, Palccoyo!