Everything you need to know about visiting awe-inspiring Palccoyo: Peru’s Alternative Rainbow Mountain.
Last updated: November 2023
When planning an itinerary to the enchanting Peruvian Andes, there are a few bucket list items that naturally land at the top of the list: visiting Machu Picchu, exploring the Sacred Valley and wandering the historic streets of the former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco. But how about climbing an awe-inspiring Rainbow Mountain?
Not that Rainbow Mountain. While tourists flock in droves to popular Vinicunca – the first of the region’s Rainbow Mountains to skyrocket to stardom (and Instagram feeds) – there’s an alternative, under-the-radar Rainbow Mountain that most tourists don’t even know about yet.
Palccoyo: Peru’s Alternative Rainbow Mountain
Known as Peru’s “Alternative Rainbow Mountain,” there really is nothing alternative about Palccoyo. In fact, this majestic set of mountains should be the primary Rainbow Mountain on your list. Before we explain why, let’s rewind back to 2015.
This is when Vinicunca – also known as the Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors) – burst onto the tourist radar as melting glacial ice caps, most likely due to gradual climate change, revealed a literal rainbow of colors swirling down the mountainside. The terrain’s unique minerology produces the spectacular sight, where vast swaths of deep red (iron rust mixtures), dusty pinks (clay and sandstone), golden yellows (iron sulfide), sparkling white (quartz sandstone), pastel blue-greens (chlorite and phyllite) and more whimsical colors seemingly stretch endlessly.
By 2018, the same geological wonders were discovered in nearby Palccoyo. As a sprinkling of tour outfits started offering excursions to the “new” mountain range, early adopting travelers arrived to a near-empty Rainbow Mountain just as breathtaking as the more popular, yet already oversaturated, Vinicunca.
Fast forward to today and incredulously, Palccoyo still manages to remain under-the-radar. Though as tourism continues to recover following the pandemic, we suspect this magical mountain range won’t stay a secret for long.
Why You Should Visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain (Now!)
As if you need more convincing, here are three reasons why you should put Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain at the top of your Andean bucket list:
1. You’ll visit not just one, but three Rainbow Mountains at Palccoyo.
In addition to taking in a fanciful scene of colorful stripes winding their way around soaring mountain slopes and summits, you’ll also marvel at (and have the option to climb to) an otherworldly Rock Forest. Depending on your tour operator, you may even have the company of a jovial llama or alpaca during part of your hike.
2. Little to no tourists.
As prior mentioned, you will be sharing Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain with far fewer travelers than the hoards that descend daily on Vinicunca. Book a sunrise excursion and you might even find you have the entire mountain range to yourself.
3. A gradual, moderate ascent.
A steady 45 minute hike up a gradual incline brings you to Palccoyo’s maximum elevation: roughly 16,404 feet (5,000 meters) above sea level. In comparison? A steep 2 hour odyssey to reach a nearly identical height at Vinicunca – sometimes requiring the assistance of oxygen tanks. Even if you think you’re already acclimated to the region’s notorious altitude, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be thankful for Palccoyo’s mercifully moderate climb.
How to Visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain: DIY Style
Can you visit Palccoyo independently? While the answer is technically yes by renting a car out of Cusco, it’s simply not advisable given the remote location, winding mountain back roads and 3 1/2 hour drive (each way). This is one excursion where you are absolutely better off hiring a guide. And note, not all guides are created equal.
How to Visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain: Guided Experience
While you can find a number of tour outfits offering the trip to Palccoyo, there’s only one ensuring you’re the first travelers on the mountain: Exploorperu. Our recent adventure with the Andean experts not only ensured we were the first visitors there, we arrived so early we had a pin-drop empty experience for nearly 2 hours before other tourists began arriving. Saying it’s an early wake-up call is an understatement, but 100% worth it for the awe-inspiring experience of standing atop Palccoyo mountain with nary a soul around.
Visiting Palccoyo with Exploorperu also means unforgettable opportunities to observe wild alpacas, hike with a lovable llama and of course – stop for plenty of photo ops. Plus! Included breakfast and coffee on the way there, a 3-course gourmet lunch on the return trip and seamless roundtrip transport from Cusco in a private car that, bonus: happens to come equipped with reclined, ready-to-sleep seats and blankets for catching some en route zzz’s.
Beyond Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
For those still curious about Vinicunca, Exploorperu happens to offer excursions to the OG Rainbow Mountain as well. For others looking for a truly immersive Peruvian experience? The Andean (and otherwise) experts also offer multi-destination tours taking travelers through the best of the country, like this 6-day Peru adventure covering Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountain (you can choose Palccoyo or Vinicunca), Humantay Lake and even Huacachina, the only natural desert oasis in all of South America.