If you like the idea of seeing Peru’s colourful Vinicunca Mountain but the crowds put you off, then consider Palccoyo, the alternative “rainbow mountain.” But don’t take my word for it: The following guest post is by Matt Waugh, an experienced tour leader and the owner and founder of Trek Hoppers Peru, who has been to both Rainbow Mountain and Palccoyo on numerous occasions…
Most people who travel to Peru are now well aware of Vinicunca (as it’s known locally in Quechua), the famous Rainbow Mountain, also known as the Painted Mountain, Montaña Colorado or Montaña de Siete Colores, in the Cusco Region of Peru.
But today, with just four years of fame under its belt, Rainbow Mountain can feel like just another over-populated route, a well-worn, overly-touristy destination that draws hundreds of people per day depending on the time of year.
So for anyone looking for something similar but – for now, at least — below the tourist radar, there is an alternative Rainbow Mountain: Palccoyo.
The Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain(s)
Like Vinicunca, Palccoyo (sometimes spelled Palcoyo) has an alternative name. Some call it Huallata Cunca, which roughly translates as “goose neck,” a name derived from the Andean goose native to the high Andes. And like Vinicunca, Palccoyo is also notable for its unusual mineralogical composition, which creates stripes of various colours.
In the Palccoyo area, there are actually seven mountains (I counted them) bearing the rainbow-like patterns. So rather than just one mountain of seven colours, here you get seven striped mountains — a real bargain for the view!
You also have the nearby Bosque de Piedras (Forest of Stones) to explore, with its strange rock formations. And from here you’ll have fantastic views over the panoramic, multi-coloured landscape, backdropped by several distinct mountains tops. On a totally clear day you can even make out the glacier-encrusted Ausangate and Salkantay mountains, all from the same place.
If I were a painter I could imagine standing here for hours with my palette and canvas, capturing the magnificent sight. But unfortunately I am not a painter, so I had to let my camera do the work.
When to Go to Palccoyo and How to Get There
I’d been excited about this trip for some time, and I had hoped to visit before the start of the rainy season, which runs from November to March. But due to various other commitments getting in the way, I decided to chance my luck and go in February.
Happily, I managed to luck out weather-wise. But going in the wet season can be hit or miss. If you have to go during the wet season, it’s best to keep an eye on the weather forecast for the day you plan to go (and check to see if it snowed heavily the day before)
I also prefer to see Palccoyo in the afternoon as hardly anyone is there then. All the other agencies go in the morning as they say there’s more chance of rainfall in the afternoons. But of the five trips I’ve done to Palccoyo during wet season this year, it rained only once.
It takes about 3.5 hours to get to Palccoyo by van from Cusco with a tour agency. There is no regularly scheduled local transport to get there at this time, although you could spend a tedious day looking around for passing colectivos to the nearby area. For now, however, getting there and back is almost certainly going to be by private arrangement. As long as you split the cost of the van between you, it should work out fairly cheap.
For example, if you come with me and Trekkhoppers Peru, we can arrange the trip with a minimum of 4 to 6 people for just $45 US per person, or $35 for groups of 7 to 9 people and $30 for 10 people and above.
All Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain photos by Matt Waugh and Trek Hoppers Peru.