It is nothing new that the rainbow mountains in Peru have become one of the major tourist attractions. In our opinion, they are definitely one of the must visit spots when in Cusco.
It is well worth it writing an entire blog post about the differences as there are quite some.
That’s why in this article we focus on what you should know about the rainbow mountains in Peru and we’ll help you find out which is the most suitable option for you.
|Table of contents:
Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca vs. Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo
Popularity and Amount of Tourists
The Vinicunca rainbow mountain has become so popular that a few weeks ago almost 2000 people have gone up during the 2022 easter holidays.
Even though it’s a lot, that’s still far from the number of daily tourists visiting Machu Picchu, the most famous tourist attraction in all of Peru.
No matter if you go during high or low season, you will certainly never be alone as there are a lot of travel agencies offering daily departures to the Vinicunca mountain.
Each day hundreds of travelers are hiking up to see the famous Vinicunca rainbow mountain.
The alternative rainbow mountain Palccoyo has been discovered when Vinicunca was famous already, but few people cared about finding out more about “another” rainbow mountain.
At Palccoyo rainbow mountain you’ll be far away from the crowds.
However, up until today there are many travelers that do not know about its existence and it’s advantages.
That’s why there are hardly any tourist groups around. You can almost feel like an explorer discovering a new site on your own.
Difficulty and Duration
At both tours, you will be hiking at over 4800 m which is why preparing yourself properly so you can avoid altitude sickness is crucial.
The Vinicunca rainbow mountain hike is more difficult as you have to hike longer.
In fact, depending on where you start, the tour can vary between 3-4 to 6 hours in total.
Various travelers told us already that they hardly got to enjoy the view as they were so exhausted when they finally reached the summit.
The path on the left side takes around 3 hours and the one on the right side 1.5-2 hours to get to the top.
In general, the path is steeper than the one to get to the Palccoyo rainbow mountain, especially the last part.
Even though you can rent a horse ($20-25), it will not take you all the way but only to the beginning of the last steep part that you have to hike.
The Palccoyo hike is a lot easier, especially if you have done hikes, such as to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain, on the days prior.
This hike to Palccoyo is a lot easier and will also reward you with beautiful views.
We have had various families and adults over 60 that did and loved this tour as it wasn’t as hard as they thought, even though they still felt their heart beating due to the altitude.
The path is flatter, the distance is shorter and you’ll be hiking 45 – 60 minutes compared to 1.5 – 2 hours each way.
Happy travel group that reached the Palccoyo rainbow mountain.
This doesn’t sound like too much of a difference, but at this level of elevation the difference is striking.
The alternative rainbow mountain tour is the suitable option for beginners or people that want to take it easy, whereas the Vinicunca rainbow mountain tour is for experienced trekkers or people that are looking for a challenge.
Especially when adding the return through the red valley, as the descent alone takes around 2.5 hours.
Rainbow Mountains and the Landscape
During the Vinicunca trek you only see one rainbow mountain. However, as you get the frontal view of it, it looks very impressive.
A beautiful view of the Vinicunca rainbow mountain.
You will also be able to see the Ausangate mountain(6384 m / 20,945 ft.) in the distance, the highest mountain in Cusco, which makes up for a spectacular setting.
If the conditions are good, it’s also possible to see the mighty glacier during the Palccoyo tour but farther way.
An extra we at Exploor offer to our clients is that we include an optional return hike through the red valley.
It is an out of this world landscape where the entire valley surrounding you is red. Really unbelievable!
Hiking through the Red Valley is an incredible experience.
The Palccoyo rainbow mountain tour offers you three different rainbow mountains. The first can be seen from the parking lot, the second one on the way and the third one is the final destination.
More than that, you will most likely also see locals working on the fields and animals, such as alpacas and llamas.
Unlike on the Vinicunca trek, you won’t see any horses around as they are not allowed.
That’s why many people perceive the Palccoyo rainbow mountain tour to be more authentic.
During our Palccoyo tour you can take an alpaca or llama for a walk.
Detailed Table Comparing the Rainbow Mountains
|Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain
|Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
|Travelers p. day
|1000 – 2000
|50 – 100
|Time to reach summit
|90 – 120 min
|45 – 60 min
|Easy – moderate
|Total trekking distance
|6 km (3.7 miles) (incl. red valley + 4km/+2.5 miles)
|7 km (4.3 miles)
|5102 m (16,731 ft)
|4971 m (16,309 ft)
|Time in car
|3.5 hours each way
|3.5 hours each way
|Often colder, as the mountain is closer to Ausangate mountain.
|Better, as it’s further away from Ausangate.
|Exploor`’s tour extras
|Option to hike through the Red Valley on the way back (entrance: S/10, $3)
|Hike with an alpaca or llama; visit of the stone forest and a local community visit (social project)
|Arrival time in Cusco
|Option to rent a horse
|Yes, for S/ 80 ($24)
|Best time of the year
|May – September (dry season)
|May – September (dry season)
|Yes and free of charge. Just ask an official person at the mountain.
|Yes, but you have to pay S/ 50 ($15) to the local community.
Best Time to Visit the Rainbow Mountains in Peru
In Cusco, it’s crucial to differentiate between the rainy & the dry season as the conditions are very different. Usually, the rainy season is from November to March/April and the dry season from April/May to October.
However, don’t take our word literally as we have been seeing variations due the latest climate change.
View on the third Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo.
Visiting the rainbow mountains, no matter if Vinicunca or Palccoyo, in the dry season is almost always a safe bet.
Enjoying the rainbow mountains together with a blue sky and the sun is an incredible setting.
Keep in mind that during this time, the mountains tend to be more crowded as for the most part dry season also means high season.
In Cusco, the most crowded months are June – September.
Photo of snow-capped Vinicunca from traveler Aykut Gebes.
In the rainy season, both mountains can be covered in snow which will result in a picture as shown above or even worse, a completely snow-capped rainbow mountain.
Rain in Cusco often means snow on the mountains. Obviously, this is not what most travelers are looking to experience as the hike can be more difficult, cold and even dangerous.
That’s why there are several days in the rainy season where it is not possible to visit the rainbow mountains.
Recommended Clothes for Hiking the Rainbow Mountains
As the weather can change very quickly in the Peruvian highlands, it is important to be prepared properly and to wear multiple layers of clothes.
Your outfit for this hike could look like this:
- Long trekking pants
- Warm trekking socks (take a second pair with you, in case it is snowing or raining)
- Compression shirt
- Long sleeve and/or fleece pullover
- Trekking shoes (not necessary, but highly recommended)
One of the locals with his beloved llama Jorge at Palccoyo.
You can bring the following things in your backpack:
- Gloves, scarf and a hat
- Sunscreen and chapstick
- Rain cape
- 2.5 l bottle of water
- Snacks (Fruit, granola bars, chocolate) and coca leaves
- Cash (for entrance, drone usage, souvenirs, snacks, toilet usage etc.)
A Must Visit When in Cusco
Without a doubt, both rainbow mountains are incredible and 100% worth seeing when visiting Cusco.
Before doing any of the tours, make sure to have stayed at least 2 days in Cusco so that your body already got used to the altitude.
We at Exploor prefer the Palccoyo rainbow mountain as it is less crowded and the surrounding landscape is more impressive.
Being one of the first travelers getting to the mountain and discovering it almost on your own is an incredible feeling.
Nothing better than taking a picture with a fluffy alpaca.
Furthermore, the hike is a lot easier and as both mountains are at a very high altitude this is a strong point to consider.
No matter which tour you end up choosing, enjoy it to the fullest and let us know what it was like!