Posted on: 29 November 2018

How to Choose Between Palccoyo and Vinicunca Rainbow Mountains

If you’re planning to visit the famous Rainbow Mountains in Peru, especially in the Cusco region, you’ll face a crucial decision: should you explore the iconic Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain or venture to the lesser-known but equally impressive Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain? This post will help you make an informed decision by providing key information about both options.

Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain:

Vinicunca is the most famous Rainbow Mountain in Peru and, consequently, the most visited. This elevation has become incredibly popular in recent years, attracting thousands of tourists, even during special events like Easter 2022 when nearly 2000 people ascended it. While it can get crowded, it doesn’t reach the levels of Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous tourist attraction.

The hike to Vinicunca is challenging, featuring a long ascent, steep terrain, and altitudes that can affect some visitors. The duration of the trek varies from 3 to 6 hours, depending on the route you choose and your level of physical fitness. The final stretches are often steep, and even those who rent horses must walk the steepest part.

Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain:

On the other hand, Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain was discovered when Vinicunca was already famous, but few travelers cared to explore “another” Rainbow Mountain. This has resulted in Palccoyo being less known and, therefore, less traveled. Here’s where one of the main advantages lies: the opportunity to enjoy a quieter and more authentic environment. The hike is shorter, flatter, and usually takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour, compared to Vinicunca’s 1.5 to 2 hours. At this altitude, these differences can make a significant impact.

Detailed Comparison of the Rainbow Mountains:

Aspect Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
Visitors per Day 1000-2000 50-100
Time to Summit 90-120 minutes 45-60 minutes
Difficulty Difficult Easy-Moderate
Total Distance 6 km (with Red Valley: +4 km) 7 km
Maximum Altitude 5102 m 4971 m
Travel Time by Car 3.5 hours per way 3.5 hours per way
Weather Conditions Often colder due to proximity to Mount Ausangate Better conditions as it’s farther from Mount Ausangate
Rainbow Mountains 1 3
Arrival in Cusco Around 4:00 p.m. Around 4:30-5:00 p.m.
Horse Rental Available, approximate cost of S/ 80 ($24) Not available
Best Time to Visit May to September (dry season) May to September (dry season)
Drone Use Allowed and free. Permission required from an official at the mountain. Allowed with a fee of S/ 50 ($15) paid to the local community.

Best Time to Visit the Rainbow Mountains in Peru:

In Cusco, it’s crucial to differentiate between the rainy season and the dry season as conditions vary significantly. Typically, the rainy season runs from November to March/April, while the dry season spans from April/May to October. However, keep in mind that climate change has caused variations in these dates.

Visiting the Rainbow Mountains during the dry season is usually the best choice as you’ll enjoy clear skies and abundant sunshine, creating a stunning backdrop. During this time, however, the mountains tend to be more crowded as it coincides with the high tourist season in Cusco, which runs from June to September. In the rainy season, both Vinicunca and Palccoyo can be covered in snow, making the hike more challenging, colder, and potentially hazardous.

Recommended Clothing for the Rainbow Mountain Hike:

Since the weather can change rapidly in the Cusco region, it’s important to be well-prepared and wear multiple layers of clothing. Here are some recommendations:

  • Trekking pants.
  • Warm trekking socks (bring a second pair in case of snow or rain).
  • Sports shirt.
  • Long-sleeve shirt and/or fleece.
  • Windbreaker.
  • Trekking shoes (highly recommended).
  • Gloves, scarf, and hat.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm.
  • Waterproof jacket.
  • Extra shirt (for changing).
  • 2.5-liter water bottle.
  • Snacks (fruits, granola bars, chocolate), and coca leaves.
  • Camera.
  • Cash (for entrance fees, drone use, souvenirs, snacks, restrooms, etc.).

Conclusion:

In summary, both Rainbow Mountains in Cusco, Vinicunca and Palccoyo, are stunning and worth visiting. However, the choice between them depends on your personal preferences and physical abilities. Vinicunca is the option for experienced hikers or those seeking a challenge. On the other hand, Palccoyo is more suitable for beginners or those who prefer a more leisurely pace. Regardless of your choice, you’ll enjoy a spectacular landscape and an unforgettable experience in the Cusco region.

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