Palccoyo or Vinicunca? That is the question! Aside from the lost Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain is Peru’s most famous tourist attraction. But, did you know that there is more than one rainbow mountain in Peru?
Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is the one you have likely seen on Instagram, famous for its pointed shape and colourful layers. Palccoyo is home to not one but three rainbow mountains, much lesser visited but just as beautiful.
To help you choose the right rainbow mountain for your Peru visit, we’ve broken down the facts and figures below! So, will it be Palccoyo or Vinicunca?! This guide will help you decide!
Rainbow Mountain Map & Resources
Rainbow Mountain Facts & Figures
|Top Altitude||5,200 masl||5,040 masl|
|Total trek duration||3-4 hours||1.5-2 hours|
|Crowds||Very popular with crowds||Off the beaten track|
Palccoyo vs Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain – A Deep Dive
Best Time to Visit Vinicunca and Palccoyo
The optimum time to visit Peru’s rainbow mountains is the same no matter which one you opt for. The dry season, which falls between April and October, presents the best weather in this area.
Crowds will be at their most intense during peak tourist season (June-August). No matter whether you opt to visit Vinicunca or Palccoyo, the weather will likely be cold. Make sure you dress appropriately and plan for bad weather – just in case! Even if you visit during the dry season, there is still a chance you could experience rain!
Opt to visit on a sunny day if possible as this will enhance the brightness of the mountains. After all, Vinicunca is known as the ‘Mountain of Seven Colours’ for a reason!
Both Vinicunca and Palccoyo sit at similar altitudes. Vinicunca is a touch higher but when you’re already talking about altitudes of around 5,000 metres above sea level, the difference between them is negligible.
No matter which rainbow mountain you opt for, you should allow yourself time to acclimatise in Cusco. Take altitude sickness pills if you need them and remember to bring plenty of water. Coca leaves can help with the effects of altitude so it is not a bad idea to grab a bag of these from Cusco’s San Pedro Market before you head to Vinicunca or Palccoyo.
Trek Duration and Distance
The trek to Vinicunca covers seven kilometres but don’t let this fool you. The Vinicunca viewpoint is located just 100 metres lower than Everest Base Camp – that is some extreme altitude! As such, the hike will feel very challenging and you will likely need several breaks en route. It takes most people between 3-4 hours to do the round-trip hike, however, if you are suffering from the effects of altitude, it could take longer.
The last section of the hike to Vinicunca is steep which makes it very challenging. Luckily, it is fairly short too. The final climb to the summit should take around 45 minutes.
By contrast, the hike to Palccoyo, also known as the ‘alternative rainbow mountain hike’, is much easier and shorter, at only 4km. You shouldn’t let yourself be fooled though. This is another high-altitude hike which will be made more difficult by the thin air. The hike to Palccoyo takes roughly half the time of that to Vinicunca, just an hour and a half to two hours for the round-trip.
The trail ascends but does so very gradually, unlike the steep push to the summit of Vinicunca. During the latter hike, you will gain over 200 metres of elevation, compared to just 150 metres of elevation when hiking to Palccoyo.
Bear in mind that if hiking to Palccoyo, you will likely have the choice of whether you want to hike up to the Stone Forest. This is definitely recommended as you get incredible views over the surrounding area.
While both require you to hike, you should visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain if you don’t like trekking and are worried about the altitude.
Protect These Natural Wonders!
No matter whether you choose to visit Vinicunca or Palccoyo, you should not expect an easy trek. Both of these mountains are located at extremely high altitudes which means that even the most simple hike is likely to feel significantly more strenuous than it usually would. Nearly 50% of people are affected by altitude sickness which makes it even more important to allow your body to acclimate to its new surroundings.
When it comes to comparing the difficulty of the hikes, Palccoyo is an easier trek and doesn’t require visitors to have such a high fitness level. It is generally pretty flat, with a gentle ascent.
You have to hike further and longer to reach Vinicunca. The steepness of the trail is also a factor which makes this hike more demanding. As such, it is only really recommended for those of a high fitness level who have already acclimatised.
While people who don’t fit into these categories can still visit the mountain, the impact of the altitude could mean they feel unwell for the duration, leaving them unable to fully appreciate the breathtaking views.
If you are looking for an easier day out, visit Palccoyo. However, if you enjoy a challenging hike, you should go to Vinicunca.
This should be the main consideration when choosing between Vinicunca and Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain.
Vinicunca Mountain is known for its pointed shape and bright colours. It is also the most famous rainbow mountain and is likely to be the one you have seen on social media. While Vinicunca is the only rainbow mountain that you will see on a tour here, on a clear day it is possible to view the mighty Ausangate Mountain in the distance too!
Palccoyo is home to three rainbow mountains and sits in the epic Red Valley. The scenery is varied and interesting, however, as it is yet to find internet fame, you won’t be able to take your classic ‘I visited Rainbow Mountain’ selfies here.
Good to Know!
If you are looking for that iconic Instagram selfie, visit Vinicunca. However, if you want to see not just one but three rainbow mountains, Palccoyo is the destination for you!
The number of people at each spot should also influence which rainbow mountain you choose to visit. Vinicunca is by far the most popular spot, having been on the tourist scene for over ten years. It might be the most famous but you are very unlikely to get the quintessential traveller shot without people in it. Even the tour companies which service Vinicunca advise that to get the iconic photo with just you in front of the mountain, you’ll need Photoshop!
Palccoyo on the other hand sees way fewer visitors, which will likely result in a better experience. It will be easier to get photos with no other people in and despite its increasing popularity, Palccoyo still feels like an off-the-beaten-track spot.
If you are looking for a sociable day out and the classic rainbow mountain selfie, Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is the best choice. You will likely struggle to get the perfect photo but travel should be about experiences, not mementos! If you prefer a more intimate and quiet experience, head to Palccoyo where there are fewer crowds.
How to Avoid the Crowds at Vinicunca:
Choosing a Tour to Vinicunca or Palccoyo
When it comes to choosing a tour provider to take you to rainbow mountain, it is important to do your research. Check what is included and make sure that the company takes visitor safety seriously. Your guide should carry an oxygen tank just in case someone gets into difficulty on the tour.
Rainbow Mountain Expeditions are local specialists in Peru’s rainbow mountains and their guides are from local communities. Tours depart from Cusco and include return transport, lunch and coca tea (you’ll need this when you get to the high point of each trek)!
Visiting either of these rainbow mountains is likely to be a trip you’ll never forget. If you’re looking for a sociable experience and your very own iconic snap for the ‘gram, opt for Vinicunca but be aware that the hike is tough!
If you’re looking for a less intense trek with equally stunning views, fewer crowds and more rainbow mountains, don’t miss a trip to Palccoyo – the ultimate ‘alternative’ rainbow mountain experience.
Have you visited Vinicunca or Palccoyo? Share your experience with us in the comments!