Planning a Peru vacation and getting all of your hikes and excursions in order? Peru’s famous rainbow mountain should TOTALLY be on your list. BUT, did you know that the rainbow mountain you’re probably thinking of – Vinicunca – isn’t the only rainbow mountain in Peru? AND, did you know that the other one – Palccoyo – is just as gratifying but is a slightly easier hike that has MORE rainbow mountains? Palccoyo rainbow mountain is absolutely magical, so keep reading this ultimate guide for everything you need to know about hiking Palccoyo, Peru’s alternate rainbow mountain.
Everything You Need to Know About Peru’s Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
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About Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
Palccoyo is the alternative rainbow mountain in Peru that is almost a hidden gem because most tourists go to Vinicunca. Both are gorgeous, so it’s completely understandable why someone would choose to go to either. Vinicunca was only discovered in 2015, and Palccoyo is even younger at just being discovered in 2018. They were hidden beneath snow before being discovered, so I guess thanks global warming? *sobs*
ANYWAY… Palccoyo actually has three separate rainbow mountains vs. just the one at Vinicunca. This was enough for me to be super pumped to visit there!
Palccoyo’s tallest point sits at 4,900 meters in elevation, or over 16,000 feet. So, SUPER high up; the air is very thin and it’s pretty chilly up there. Palccoyo is over three hours from Cusco and you can get there via group tour, private tour, or on your own. I opted for a group tour, because driving in Peru looked treacherous enough without the craziness of unpaved mountain roads.
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain Tour from Cusco
I LOVED the tour I went on. They picked me up from my hotel – the Hotel Cusco Plaza Saphi in Cusco – and it was about a 3 – 3.5 hour drive each way. I understand that that sounds awful, but in honesty it really wasn’t that bad. Each ride was broken up about halfway through with a stop at a GORGEOUS restaurant for a delicious meal. And the ride there left so early in the morning that I slept most of the way anyway.
Speaking of the early ride… I did the early tour which left around 4am so that we could beat the other tourists to Palccoyo. And while the wakeup call was brutal, I highly recommend going this route. We basically had the rainbow mountains of Palccoyo all to ourselves for hours. It was absolutely magical.
This is the exact Palccoyo rainbow mountain tour from Cusco that I went on that I HIGHLY recommend:
Palccoyo Hike Details
If you visit Palccoyo, you will almost certainly be hiking at least part of it unless you only plan to hang around the parking area. Here are the things you should know about the hike (and the AllTrails link if you want to save it for later):
- 2.4 miles out and back
- 541 ft / 165 meters elevation gain
- ~16,000 feet / 4,900 meters elevation
- 1 – 2 hours to complete, but you’ll spend more time admiring the gorgeous surroundings (more like 3 – 4 hours)
Vinicunca vs. Palccoyo
The main differences between Vinicunca and Palccoyo:
- Palccoyo is a shorter hike at a lower elevation, making it technically easier (though I wouldn’t call it easy at all, that elevation is still no joke)
- Vinicunca is a shorter drive from Cusco (2ish hours) compared to Palccoyo (3 – 3.5 hours)
- Palccoyo has three rainbow mountains vs. the very famous one “mountain of seven colors” at Vinicunca
- Vinicunca is a much more popular destination, so you’ll see more tourists
- Vinicunca may or may not be open depending on what is happening locally/politically, so Palccoyo has been a more popular backup option in the last year but still isn’t nearly as touristy
Tips for Visiting/Hiking Palccoyo
Hiking Palccoyo was one of the highlights of my entire 10 day trip to Peru and here are some ways to make sure you’re prepared and know what to expect:
- You 100% need to acclimate before this hike for two days at least; it is HIGH up
- Bring coca tea or candies to help with altitude sickness (our tour guide had some for us)
- It’s only about 2.5 miles but it is rated hard due to the altitude so be prepared and ready to take lots of breaks while hiking
- There are locals with their alpacas and llamas along the hike up that you can tip for photos/petting
- The drive is long so have something ready to entertain yourself with; a book, podcasts, etc.
- Pack light; you’ll need water and sunscreen but not a ton else
- If you’re a photographer, don’t forget a wide angle lens
- The drive is super gorgeous when you start getting closer to the mountain (pro tip – you can ask your driver to pull over to get out and see the alpacas on the terraces but do that on the way back)
- Wear layers so that you’re warm enough but can remove any if you get warm hiking (I didn’t, and I normally do, so that tells you how chilly it is)
What to Bring/Wear to Palccoyo
I put together this Peru Packing List on my Amazon Storefront so you can see all the things I brought with me! But the things I would fully, for sure, recommend are:
- Hiking boots (these are my trusted Timberlands that I have worn and sworn by for years)
- Trekking socks
- Hiking leggings/pants
- Hat and gloves
Where to Stay to Visit Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
There are likely MANY towns much much closer to Palccoyo to stay, but Cusco is a good home base for so many of the beautiful, classic Peru experiences that I do recommend you stay there for a good chunk of your Peru trip. Like I mentioned above, I stayed at the Hotel Cusco Plaza Saphi which was incredibly inexpensive while still being nice enough. But overall there are tons of places to stay in Cusco for any budget.
So there you go! The ultimate guide to Peru’s Palccoyo rainbow mountain. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out as always! And feel free to check me out on all the social media platforms you can find me on for more on-the-ground views of my travels (like my Instagram story highlights for Cusco) and other shenanigans!