A man stood with a llama near Palcoyo Mountain. Or maybe an alpaca. I’m still struggling to differentiate the two.
He stood there, posing for pictures for the tourists that trickled by.
I stood, watching. Unsure if I should grab my camera, too.
Like every millennial, I reached for my camera.
Multiple colors ran down the side of the mountain behind him like a smear in the picture: red, pink, yellow, green, purple, and blue.
What I just described sounded to many like the famous Rainbow Mountain. However, this is its lesser-known sibling, called Palcoyo.
And with Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) closed at the time of this writing, it’s allowing Palcoyo to shine.
Rainbow Mountain Cusco
In the Cusco region of Peru lies Instagram’s hottest young star, photographed by over 1,500 visitors daily.
Rainbow Mountain doesn’t have a bad side, so it’s always ready for its photo op.
But, this Rainbow Mountain isn’t the subject of today’s post. Instead, it’s a lesser-known (yet equally impressive) version of Rainbow Mountain.
At the time of this writing, locals have protested over some concerns about Rainbow Mountain.
In turn, all tour operators have turned to an alternative.
And that’s Palcoyo Mountain.
Nearby Vinicunca, you’ll find Palcoyo by Cusco, Peru. The mountain sits near Palcoyo, Peru, a village with the same name.
If you haven’t acclimated to Cusco’s altitude, I’d suggest giving yourself a few days in Cusco before visiting Palcoyo to avoid altitude sickness.
You’ll climb a series of steps from the parking lot. When you arrive at the top, you’ll get your first view of Palcoyo’s Rainbow Mountain.
Pause for some pictures, but not for too long. The quality will only increase in quality the higher you go.
From there, follow the path up the side of the mountain. Ahead of you will be a series of stone spires that shoot out of the mountain like a forest of stone.
Keep following the path until it splits, going left up toward the stone spires or right toward another hill above where you are. Go right.
This will take you to an area where you can see Rainbow Mountain and the surrounding range from a perfect vantage point.
Behind you, far in the distance, you’ll see Ausangate Mountain Range — a popular destination for trekking.
Enjoy this area, and snap plenty of pictures.
After this, follow the trail back down the hill from where you just came. Instead of turning left to go down the mountain — the same way you came up — you’ll stay right, head toward the peak and the stone spires described earlier.
This is the second-most difficult part of the hike, as you climb a series of switchbacks up toward the highest point.
However, you’ll be able to rest at the top as you take in the full scope of the surrounding scenery. Congratulations, you’ve reached the peak. Crack a cold one (if you have one).
Follow the trail down the mountain (not the way you came) toward the area where you started. This completes the loop and the hike.
How high is Palcoyo Mountain?
Palcoyo Mountain’s altitude is just over 16,000 feet. So you should be prepared for elevation before visiting.
Also, take some coca tea or leaves to help alleviate your symptoms.
How to Get to Palcoyo Mountain
There are two options to get to Palcoyo: yourself or a tour. (Hint: take the Rainbow Mountain tour)
Getting to Palcoyo Mountain by Yourself
You’ll need some type of transport; that much is obvious. How you do it is up to you.
You can rent your own transportation. But, this will be pricier, and you risk damage to the car. Much of the road is dirt and poorly taken care of, so you accept the risk of driving a smaller vehicle on these roads.
You can hire a driver or a taxi, but this will also get expensive as it’s a far drive (around three hours). And few taxi drivers will be willing to risk damaging their cars.
If you drive, adding a trip to the Red River nearby is worthwhile. A flowing river of red water flows through a green backdrop. It’s a gorgeous landscape.
This leads us to the most convenient and cheapest option: a tour.
Getting to Palcoyo Mountain with a Tour
Some people don’t enjoy group tours (I’m usually included here). Yet, there are exceptions when it’s this easy and cheap.
With a tour — usually around $30 — you get:
- Food (breakfast and lunch)
- A guide
Mind you, this day trip will take around 12 hours. Only $30 for that time is a steal for a fantastic experience. And the food I ate was the best I’d ever had on a tour, so kudos for that one.
Most trips start early (around 4-4:30 am) and will have you back in Cusco around 4-5 pm that afternoon. So, prepare for a long day.
Our tour guide, Omar, was excellent. He provided a Spanish and English option and gave us background on the area and how the mountain had formed.
He even gave us an extra 30 minutes to enjoy the place since he could tell we didn’t want to leave.
What to Wear to Palcoyo Mountain
The tour company told us to bring cold-weather clothing because of the high altitudes.
Be aware of the season you visit (dry season or rainy season). This should influence your clothing choice.
I’d still recommend listening to this advice, especially depending on the season. Still, you don’t have to think hard about this.
I’d recommend taking:
- A thick pair of pants (jeans, hiking pants, sweatpants, etc.)
- A long-sleeve t-shirt
- A light jacket/rain jacket
- A hat/cap
I wore plenty to keep me warm (I hate the cold), and I wore too much and ended up shedding many layers into my backpack.
Save yourself the extra weight and follow the packing list I provided. You can thank me later.
So, you have to ask, “Is Palcoyo Mountain worth it?”
Palcoyo was a welcomed surprise. After seeing countless photos of Rainbow Mountain on Instagram, I was worried it would be overcrowded.
I received the same experience at Palcoyo Mountain and enjoyed it, as the tourists were minimal.
But, with Rainbow Mountain’s unforeseen reopening, it will not stay that way long.
If you’ve got a few days in the city of Cusco, put Palcoyo Mountain on your list.
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