Vinicuna Rainbow Mountain is one of the popular attractions in Cusco. In fact, it is second on the bucket list of many travelers, after Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu Tour. Needless to mention the seven-colored beauty sticks out a mile in the Peruvian Andes. These colors are deposits of minerals such as iron, copper, dolomite, sulfur, lime, lead, and hematite, respectively.
Most travel agencies in Cusco offer more or less a similar pattern of a full-day Apu Vinicunca Peru Tour. It usually costs S/.120 (USD 35). The tour starts at an ungodly hour.
You will be picked up at 0400 in the morning for a three and a half hour’s drive in a mini-van to the base camp. Then it’s a 15-kilometer strenuous hike from 4,326 m (14,189 ft.) to 5,020 m (16,466 ft) to the peak to get a seraphic view of colors striped through the mountain.
A flash-packer introduced me to the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain tour operated by Happy Gringo Tours. They operate this tour in a slightly different pattern in small groups.
What makes the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Tour different from Vinicunca?
Unlike the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain trek, the full-day Cusco to Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Tour starts at 0700 AM. It does not involve the three hours arduous hikes as Vinicunca. Instead, they drive you closer to the summit.
In a split second, I made up my mind and booked a tour of the impending attraction
Palccoyo the alternative Rainbow Mountain experience
As the sun trounced the blanket of darkness, the journey to the picturesque place began. The bus skittered through the rustic neighborhood of Cusco, with erratic views of Alpacas and Llamas grazing on the natural terraces of the Peruvian Andes. This scenic ride came to an end as the bus stopped in a pokey little area snuggled in a mountain valley.
I got myself immersed in the sensational view of the Andean mountain range. The enigmatic view of vicuñas grazing on one side while the Llamas feeding on the other with an enchanting view of the valley and the colorful mountain was inexplicable.
The guide introduced us (a small group of 5 travelers) to a perky woman with a bright blue jacket and a floppy hat. She spoke not a word of Spanish but just Quechua. She led us through the dirt path between looming peaks of green and startling red rock, offering us some coca leaves at regular intervals to avoid altitude sickness at 5,020 m (16,466 Ft.).
The Stone Forest:
On our way up, as a bonus to the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain trip, we visited the Stone Forest (Bosque de Piedras). It is quite a unique sight. A group of spiky rocks projected up into the sky.
It is a short and easy hike from the trail with the sight of the snow-capped Salkantay Mountain at a distance. You can also climb on the rocks in the stone forest to get a panoramic view of the valley.
Back on the trail to Palccoyo:
Struggling against buffeting winds we reached the top of the mountain with frequent stops to capture the austere grandeur of mountain scenery in my camera. The enormity of the struggle escaped me as I was rewarded not just with the serenity of the place but also with the much-awaited view of the seven colors of Palccoyo.
When is the best time to visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain?
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is a part of the Andes Mountain Range. It is subject to two seasons – dry season and rainy season. It is best to visit during the dry season – between April and November.
Make sure to spend 2-3 days in Cusco to acclimatize before the trek. Although Palccoyo is easier than Vinicunca, it is a high-altitude trek.