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Palcoyo Mountain – The Less Crowded Rainbow Mountain

Written by Orange Cares | Octubre 27, 2023
Palcoyo Mountain - 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:


Yes, it is worth it, totally. One American tourist left the following quote “The Mountain is of such a sheer beauty that it will take your breath away”. However, there is a lot more than Palcoyo Mountain, like the Majestic Ausangate glacier glimmering in the distance on good sunny days. The red valleys and amazing landscapes, including meadows, straw huts, alpacas, birds and, all sorts of things in the Andes. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.


  • The earlier you leave Cusco, the better it gets, as you will arrive at the mountain before anyone else.
  • Palcoyo Mountain is actually less popular than Rainbow Mountain, which makes it less crowded. As there are three rainbows, you have plenty of time and space for shooting pictures all the time.
  • Palcoyo Mountain in Peru trail is easy to follow; from the beginning, you can already see the top.
  • We recommend you to visit on a sunny day (April to September) when the colors become the most vivid. When it is raining or misty, colors can turn darker, and it would be hard to avoid disappointment.
  • Do not forget that health and safety always go first. If you start to feel dizzy, nauseous, get a headache or feel tired during the trek, do not continue and get back to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
  • There are no horse rentals at all.
  • The first rainbow can be appreciated within 15 minutes after the hike.
  • The Red River flows during the rainy season only.

Schedule for the Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain

4:00am; Departure from Cusco

We will pick you up right from your hotels, then we drive for more than 3 hours to the trail head of the Palcoyo Mountin.

08:00am; 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.

08:30am; 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.

08:50am; – Viewpoint #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’.

09:20am; 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.

09:40am; 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.

10:20am; 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!

12:50h – 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.

15:00h – 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).


During palcoyo Rainbow mountain tour, you will see the colored hills of Palcoyo, the Ausangate, and everything else, there is one more thing to do. It is an extra 20 minutes hike up the hill to enter the stone forest area, 16,076 ft / 4900 masl. It is called that way because there you find big standing sharp rocks giving the illusion of a forest of stone. This extra hike offers the three rainbows all in one picture. That would be the prize.

Best time to go to the Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain

As we know, the best time to go to Cusco and Palcoyo is in the dry season, from April to September. Although you can go in the other months, but keep in mind that you have high chances of seeing the mountain covered with snow.

Detailed information about Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain

  • Distance by car from Cusco to trek start: (76 miles / 125 km)
  • Travel time: 4 hours each way including a stop for breakfast, 1 hour each way and 4 hours each way including a stop for lunch.
  • Entrance fee: $ 6.00 USD per person (S./ 20 PEN).
  • Altitude at the beginning of the hike: (15,400 feet / 4,700 masl.)
  • Difficulty: Easy to medium.
  • Trail to Palcoyo: Dirt road at the beginning, then there is a paved trail to the last viewpoint on the mountain. Most of it is flat with a gradual ascent. Then up to the top, the site of the stone forest.
  • Trail to stone forest: It is a zigzag trail of about 200 meters for the 20 minute hike.
  • Distance on foot: (2,5 ML / 4 KM round trip)
  • Horse rental: Not available.
  • Hiking time: The hike to the last viewpoint (with some breaks along the way) takes about 45 minutes. The return to the bus station takes 30 minutes.
  • Maximum altitude: (16,076 feet / 4,900 masl.)
  • Average tour duration: 10 hours
  • Elevation gain during the hike: (656 ft / 200 m).
  • Best season: April to September, although you can visit every day of the year.

Vinicunca (clssic ) VS Palccoyo (Alternative Rainbow Mt)?

So, you know a little more about the mountain, but should you go there over Vinicunca? Let’s take a further look. Both mountains are close to each other and offer similar sights. We are going to compare some of the aspects to see which one fits your liking most.

  • The maximum altitude you get to when you visit Palccoyo is 4,900 masl, whereas Vinicunca reaches 5,200 masl. If you’re worried about altitude, Palccoyo will be your best bet.
  • Walking time for Palccoyo is 1 and a half hours there and back (Round-trip). For Vinicunca it takes around 3 hours, so is quite a lot longer. It all depends on the challenge you wish to undertake.
  • It is said that Palccoyo only requires a low fitness level, but Vinicunca a high one. This is likely due to Palccoyo being a fairly flat trail, but Vinicunca gets steep towards the end.
  • The climate for both mountains is very similar; cold with low temperatures.
  • It’s also best to visit both of them between April and September when it tends to rain a lot less.
  • At Palccoyo you will see a total of 3 mountains, and when you Vinicunca, you’ll see just the one.

You can see that most aspects of the mountains are similar. The main differences are regarding altitude, walking time, and the difficulty level. Overall, Palccoyo is far easier to walk and doesn’t take as long. It’s recommended for those who don’t wish to walk too much and like smaller crowds of people. If you want a big challenge, then maybe Vinicunca is the one to choose.

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