Palcoyo – The Less Crowded Rainbow Mountain
In order to find a less challenging alternative to Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, we slipped on our hiking shoes and headed out to Palcoyo, the alternative Rainbow Mountain.
Unlike the Instagram phenomenon that is the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, Palcoyo remains an insider secret among locals. Thanks to its short and soft ascent Palcoyo is an option suitable for everyone. Furthermore, with considerably fewer visitors, Palcoyo is also the best place to enjoy the multi-colored mountains without having to wait for the perfect split-second photo. Here is the rundown on what the day entailed as we made our way to this prismatic phenomenon:
05:30 – The departure from Cusco
After we all met at the office with our backpacks filled with extra jackets and pullovers (in preparation for the possibility of a cold hike) our driver picked us up and whisked us off on our adventure towards Palcoyo.
09:00 – Arriving in Chulluca, where the trek begins
The parking lot for the hike is situated directly below the first rainbow mountain. We recommend that you make a quick toilet break here as the only toilets onsite are located here. You will have to pay 1 sol to use them but you will be given some toilet paper. Most importantly, the actual facilities were quite clean.
09:20 – Our first viewpoint (already!!)
After about 20 minutes of very light walking, we reached the very first viewpoint over the first rainbow mountain. As you can see in the picture below we were the only visitors at that time. From our first lookout point we could see the colorful mountainous area, a lady shepherding her llamas and the car park.
09:50 – Viewpoint number 2
Another 30 minutes later (and still the exact same easy walk) we found ourselves at the second viewpoint. From there we got to see the whimsical spans of color and the surrounding ‘Red Valley’.
10:20 – Its time for viewpoint number 3
Viewpoint 3, in our opinion, was the best of all as it offered us the most incredibly colorful view of the mountains and was also the most similar to the Instafamous view of the famous Rainbow Mountain.
The difference here is that we were basically the only group up here and had some time to sit, reflect, and enjoy the view without worrying about getting in anyone’s photos.
10:40 – The Mars-like stone forest
After a quick backtrack from the 3rd lookout, we went off along another path for a few minutes as we made our way to the highest point of the trek (at 4900 m/16,076 ft). Here, the scenery drastically changes as the colorful ‘smooth’ mountains transform into a forest of serrated rocks that appear to push up through the earth’s crust.
11:20 – The drive back
We took a quick 40-minute walk down back to our awaiting driver. A quick stop was made at the red river. This is also something that you can do at the beginning of the hike, or along the way to/from Combatapa). The red color is a unique phenomenon caused by the rainwater running off the mineral-rich hills. Highly recommended for the photo bank!
13:50 – An Inca rope bridge
We took some time to stretch our legs in Checacupe in preparation for the last section of our trip back to Cusco. There, you can find the Checacupe Bridge, one of the last remaining Inca bridges which stands today in the same position as it once did over 500 years ago! To say it’s fascinating is an understatement for this incredible piece of living history.
15:30 – Back home in Cusco
The 2-hour journey from Checacupe gave some of us time to catch a little nap in the car (while others, like myself, used the opportunity to write this very blog article).
It was an amazing Saturday. And we have to say that if we had to choose between Vinicunca or Palcoyo, Palcoyo would win our vote!