Palccoyo Mountain, also sometimes spelt Palcoyo, is a natural marvel sitting in the Andean mountain range. Often referred to as Peru’s ‘Alternative Rainbow Mountain’ and with just a fraction of the crowds than at the more popular Vinicunca site, this incredible attraction is a fantastic day trip from Cusco.
Although it is Vinicunca that commonly makes the Instagram shots, Palccoyo Mountain is an epic alternative which promises equally incredible scenery and a more exclusive experience. If you’re planning to visit Peru’s Palccoyo Mountain, this guide will reveal everything you need to know, from the best time to visit, to how to organise a day trip.
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Map & Resources
An Introduction to Palccoyo Mountain, Peru
Palccoyo is perched within Peru’s iconic Red Valley, the same area that plays host to Ausangate Mountain and Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain. Vinicunca was the first of these epic colourful mountains to be ‘discovered’ by tourism and after the viral posts on social media, it quickly became one of Peru’s most desirable attractions. Palccoyo came onto the tourism scene slightly later.
In years past, both rainbow mountains would have been covered in snow, however, climate change has led to increasingly hot temperatures and the snow melt has revealed the many colours of the mountains beneath.
While Vinicunca is still the most popular rainbow mountain in Peru, Palccoyo Mountain has also become a leading attraction in the country, drawing in those wanting to experience this natural wonder without the same crowds.
All the photos featured in this article were taken during our own trip to Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain with Rainbow Mountain Expeditions!
Palccoyo vs Vinicunca
Since Vinicunca shot to fame on Instagram, visitor numbers rocketed and the entire visiting experience has changed. What used to be picturesque and off the beaten track now attracts multiple busloads of people every day.
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is relatively unheard of by travellers, with pretty much all the main tours offering the standard trip to Vinicunca Mountain. Palccoyo sees fewer tourists and in that area, there are three different rainbow mountains, whereas there is only one at Vinicunca. If you’re unsure of which rainbow mountain to visit when you’re in Peru, this post will help you choose!
Best Time to Visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
Visit Palccoyo Mountain during Peru’s dry season for the best experience. This occurs during April to October and peak tourist season falls during the months of June, July and August. Therefore, the shoulder seasons (which still fall during the dry season) are the best times to visit.
Even if you visit during the dry season, you are still advised to take a rain jacket – the weather can be unpredictable year-round in areas of extreme altitude! Sunny days result in the best view of the mountains as the sunshine enhances the colours of the rock. Don’t worry too much if it is overcast as you begin your trek though, the weather can and does change very quickly here!
There is some danger with visiting Palccoyo Mountain in the afternoon as this is when storms are more likely. There have been reports of travellers being struck by lightning after being caught in storms on their way up to rainbow mountain. Always make sure to time your visit for the mornings when the weather is better.
Palccoyo Mountain Trek
- Distance: 4km (out and back)
- Duration: 1.5-2 hours (out and back)
- Difficulty: Moderate
Also known as the ‘Alternative Rainbow Mountain Trek’, the hike to see the mountain of colours is relatively short. However, the altitude makes it hard work. Take regular breaks when your body tells you and make sure you stay hydrated.
The trail to Palccoyo ascends but very gently. When you arrive at the mountain, you have the choice of whether to continue up a steep hill to reach the top of the Stone Forest. While it is a tiring trek up to the top, the sweeping views are well worth it!
Practical Information For Visiting Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
Palccoyo Mountain Altitude
The altitude at Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is not to be sniffed at. The Palccoyo trek starts at around 4,900 metres above sea level and surpasses 5,000 metres if you tackle the hike up to the Stone Forest too.
Owing to the thin air, even this short walk will feel intense and you may need several breaks. To ensure that you stay well, make sure you have allowed your body a few days to acclimatise to the high altitude setting and stay hydrated on the trail. Chewing coca leaves can help stave off the symptoms of being at altitude.
If you start to suffer from altitude sickness, you may have to use an oxygen tank. Always make sure to choose a Palccoyo tour company where the guides carry tanks in case of emergency.
Palccoyo Mountain Weather
Due to the high altitude, the weather at Palccoyo can change very quickly. As a general rule, the mornings present better weather, often staying dry but still windy. Afternoons bring in stormy weather which can be dangerous for hikers. Make sure you prepare for all four seasons – it is hard to predict the weather somewhere as fickle as Palccoyo!
Palccoyo Mountain Entrance Fee
The entrance fee to the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain can only be paid in cash. Therefore, it is advisable to carry some small change. The approx. fees are as follows:
- 15 soles per person (Foreigners)
- 10 soles per person (Peruvian)
- 5 soles per person (Locals)
The car park is free and it costs one sol to use the public toilet. If you want to use a drone in the area over Palccoyo, you have to purchase a permit at the entrance. The permit costs approx. 50 soles.
What to Bring to Palccoyo Mountain
- Walking shoes
- Quick dry clothing
- Windproof layers
- Rain jacket
- Coca leaves
How to Get to the Alternative Rainbow Mountain
Visiting Palccoyo Independently
There are two ways to get to Palccoyo Mountain, either independently from Cusco or on a day trip.
If you are heading there independent of a tour, you’ll need to be aware that this is no mean feat! The transport connections are unreliable and information about how to reach the mountain independently is rather scarce.
Public transport requires three changes from Cusco and fails to get you to Rainbow Mountain before the tour buses arrive. Therefore, even if you make it there independently, you will still have to contend with some company on the mountain.
It seems that the only effective way to visit Palccoyo independently is to drive yourself there. Be aware that many of the roads in this area are in poor condition and therefore, using a rental car for the journey is not advised.
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Tour Day Trip
The best way to reach Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is on a day trip from Cusco. When you take into account the difficulty and cost of organising independent transport, it actually works out cheaper to join a group tour.
While agencies all over Cusco offer trips to Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, far fewer service Palccoyo and even those that do, vary in quality. We recommend the company Rainbow Mountain Expeditions, famous for their specialist knowledge of Peru’s rainbow mountains and local guides. Their wealth of knowledge will help you to get the most out of your tour while enjoying the beautiful setting in a small and intimate group.
Tips for Visiting Palccoyo Mountain, Peru
- Layer up
The alternative rainbow mountain trail will see you ascend to altitudes just shy of 5000 metres. Believe me, that is very high! As a result, you should expect the weather and temperature to change quickly. One minute you could be sweating and the next – shivering!
- Bring coca leaves
Chewing coca leaves has been proven to help with the effects of being at altitude. Grab a bag for as little as one sol in Cusco’s San Pedro market.
- Bring enough water
Although the Palccoyo trek is not long, the altitude makes the path challenging. Staying hydrated is hugely important for a successful hike and keeping altitude sickness at bay.
- Make sure you acclimatise first
You will want to spend at least a few days in Cusco before attempting a visit to any of the rainbow mountains. It takes a little while for the body to acclimatise and trekking at this kind of altitude is a big challenge. You can get really sick if you attempt it before you are ready.
- Check your travel insurance
As the trekking at Palccoyo is over 3,000 metres above sea level, it is unlikely to be covered by your South America travel insurance as standard. Most policies will require you to purchase an add-on package if you are going to be exploring high-altitude areas. Make sure to check your policy wording carefully before buying insurance.
SafetyWing is the travel insurance of choice for scores of backpackers!
- Subscription style insurance
- Cheap and flexible
- Available after your trip has started
Palccoyo is undoubtedly one of the best Cusco day trips that you can do. Otherworldly scenery, three rainbow mountains, incredible hiking and way fewer tourists than commonly seen at Vinicunca – a visit to Palccoyo is a no-brainer!
If you’ve visited Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain in Peru recently, please share your experience with us in the comments below!