Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania. He prefers a slower pace to his travels to explore destinations more in-depth and to get a feel for what life is actually like there. When he’s not writing, he’s usually off exploring trails with his fiancée, Kaitlyn.
Explore Palcoyo Mountain, Peru’s tranquil alternative to Rainbow Mountain. Enjoy an easier hike, vibrant landscapes, and a unique day trip from Cusco.
Palcoyo Mountain in Peru surprised me.
My fiancée and I had scheduled a visit to Vinicunca Mountain, the most well-known “Rainbow Mountain.” But, due to local protests, the tour company switched to the lesser-known Palcoyo, sometimes spelled Palccoyo.
If you ask me, I’d rather visit Palcoyo over Vinicunca. Fewer crowds and equal beauty? Sign me up every time!
Palcoyo blew me away. From the mountain itself to the Ausangate Mountain range in the distance, it was an incredible backdrop no matter what angle you viewed it. And as you trekked up the easy path, you came across locals happy to share some of their culture and, yes, pose for a picture or two.
So if you’ve got some extra time between your trips to Machu Picchu and all the Incan ruins, then you’ll love this chance.
Keep reading to learn about the alternative Rainbow Mountain in Peru.
Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain overview
Palcoyo Mountain is revered in the area. And it’s actually not one, but three rainbow mountains in Peru.
And when you see the paint smear-like streaks on the mountain, you can understand why. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.
Like a child’s sidewalk chalk drawings, red, green, yellow, and blue streak across the colorful mountain’s face. You don’t expect the colors to be as vibrant as they are. Oversaturated Instagram images have jaded us to how beautiful nature actually can be.
And Palcoyo is the perfect showcase of it.
The view is so delightful you don’t know if you’re getting lightheaded from the altitude or the landscape.
At over 16,000 feet above sea level, you’ll definitely feel some effects. So keep your wits about you. Especially if you’re walking around the Stone Forest or the giant spear-like rocks that erupt out of the ground opposite Palcoyo. Take your time, hydrate, and even enjoy a packed lunch.
And speaking of, that’s one thing you’ll have plenty of: time.
One of the best things about Palcoyo is how peaceful it is compared to other popular destinations in Peru, like Vinicunca or Machu Picchu. That means you can enjoy this view with only a handful of other people. I would say there were around 10-15 the day I visited with my fiancee, and we spent around 2-3 hours simply exploring the area.
The no crowds and stunning views aren’t sounding so bad, are they?
How to get to Palcoyo from Cusco
You’ve got a few options to get to Palcoyo from Cusco, Peru:
- By taxi: Expect it to be expensive (we’re talking $60+). The road is beautiful along the way if you do take this route, so that’s a plus.
- Palcoyo Mountain tour: Booking a tour to Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain is a hassle-free way to visit Palcoyo and return to Cusco. The tour is usually a full day trip and includes breakfast and lunch. My fiancée and I did this through Airbnb, and our tour guide was amazing. We only paid $29. Here’s a link to it.
- Drive yourself: If you prefer, rent a car and drive yourself! Ensure you have a reliable map or GPS.
Hiking Palcoyo Mountain
The Palcoyo Mountain trek is great for hikers of all levels.
In fact, the most challenging part may be the altitude more than is hike difficulty.
You follow a well-marked trail gradually up the hill, where you get increasingly better views of Palcoyo Mountain. The best views are from the top (shocking, right?). It’s tempting to stop and snap pictures every few hundred feet, but the wait is definitely worth it. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the top if you’re moving at a slower pace and enjoying the hike.
Along the way, you may see locals and herds of grazing alpacas, so be sure to bring your camera.
The entire hike clocks in at approximately 3 to 4 hours, giving you ample time to explore the summit and soak in the captivating views. If you go on a tour, they usually give you some extra time so you can get all the pictures and experiences you need!
Overall, don’t worry too much about if you’re capable. Just take it slow and steady, and enjoy the views!
You’re capable. Just take it slow and steady, and enjoy the views!
Preparing for your visit to Palcoyo Mountain
If you’re planning a trip to Palcoyo Mountain, keep in mind a few things to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
What to bring
- Appropriate clothing: The climate in this part of the Cusco region tosses up surprises. Layering is key, so pack clothes that you can easily add or remove as the temperature changes. A rain jacket is a worthy addition, too.
- Footwear: Comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots are perfect.
- Sun protection: The sun’s rays are harsh at high altitudes. Arm yourself with sunscreen and a hat.
- Hydration and snacks: You must bring a refillable water bottle. Since there are no restaurants or food vendors on the trail, you should also pack snacks or a lunch (if you’re not on a tour).
- Cash: Carry cash in small amounts for any local purchases. ATMs are a rarity.
Health and safety
- Altitude precautions: With trails going over 16,000 feet above sea level, altitude sickness is a concern. Acclimatizing in Cusco or another nearby town for a few days before the hike is a great idea. In case of symptoms like headaches, nausea, or shortness of breath, descend to a lower altitude as quickly as possible.
- Trail safety: Stick to the designated paths and avoid solo detours. The terrain can be uneven and rocky, so be mindful of your surroundings.
Local life and culture
- Respect for Indigenous communities: Indigenous communities live near Palcoyo Mountain. Respect for their customs and traditions enriches your visit and makes it a better place for everyone.
- Proper etiquette: Encountering locals on the trail is likely. Politeness and asking for permission before taking photos or entering private premises are courteous gestures.
Best time to visit Palcoyo Mountain
Deciding on the best time for a trip to Rainbow Mountain depends on your preferences.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect across different times of the year:
Dry Season (April to September):
The dry season is the best time to visit Palcoyo.
The trails are less muddy, making the trek to the alternative Rainbow Mountain a smoother affair. The mountain’s colors are also at their most vibrant under clear blue skies.
But, it’s essential to book your Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain tour well in advance as this is a popular time for both tourists and locals.
Wet Season (October to March):
The wet season brings with it a carpet of green across the mountain range, offering a different yet equally enchanting aesthetic.
But the trail can get muddy, and the skies overcast. It’s less crowded during this time, and you might find more flexible options for a day trip to Palcoyo from Cusco.
Should you visit Palcoyo or Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain?
Vinicunca is the more popular option, and you’ll see pictures of it spread across Instagram like the next Kardashian fashion trend.
But Palcoyo is a solid alternative if you prefer a different experience. So here’s how I’ll break it down:
Go to Palcoyo if you want…
- Fewer crowds
- An easier hike
- A more personal experience
Go to Vinicunca if you want…
- A tougher hike
- More vibrant colors
- A group experience
Will you visit the alternative Rainbow Mountain?
Alright, now that you know how to visit, do you have it on your list?
And if you’re continuing to explore the area, then check out my South America travel guide for more tips and recommendations!