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Palccoyo: Cusco’s other rainbow mountain

Story by Andean Adventures Peru

Posted: August 4, 2018

Visited by fewer travelers than the better known Vinicunca Mountain, this spectacular geological feature is just a three-hour drive from Cusco.

Cusco, 2018: While the better known Vinicunca “rainbow mountain” is visited daily by many hundreds of travelers on one- or two-day excursions from Cusco, the similar geological feature known as the Palccoyo Rainbow Range lies well off the beaten track.

Situated just 20 kilometers south of its more famous rival attraction, this spectacular destination offers visitors the chance to see and photograph a series of three mountains composed of alternating layers of yellow, red, green, blue and white geological deposits, their view uninterrupted by the handful of other travelers usually seen there on any given day.

After a three-hour drive through typical high Andean scenery from the city of Cusco, it is just a one-hour walk to the Palccoyo range, along a relatively flat trail which contrasts with the steep ascent required on the approach to Vinicunca. The route to Palccoyo passes the village of Checacupe, where a bridge has stood for hundreds of years, since the time of the Incas.

The three rainbow mountains at Palccoyo can be viewed from the place where the road ends in a parking area for vehicles; however, for an even better view the short walk to the mountain range is undemanding.

The best time to visit Palccoyo is from April to November, because during the rainy season precipitation at such altitudes can sometimes fall as snow, covering the brightly colored mountain in a white mantle. Cloud cover and mist can also shroud the mountains at this time of year.

Close to the rainbow mountains of Palccoyo, another unusual geological feature in the form of extravagantly eroded rock formations offers visitors an additional highly photogenic attraction.

Palccoyo is situated at 4900 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level. While the altitude should of course be respected, and visitors should remain hydrated and walk at a pace they find comfortable, the flat one-hour trail to the viewing point ought not to present problems to any traveler with an average level of fitness (particularly those travelers who have already spent two or three days in the Cusco region, acclimating), unlike the far more demanding approach to the rainbow mountain at Vinicunca.