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VINICUNCA VS PALCCOYO: WHICH RAINBOW MOUNTAIN IS BEST TO VISIT?

Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca is the most well-known rainbow mountain in South America. However, Palccoyo has many advantages over its larger, more famous sibling which we think everyone should know about and consider visiting on their travels. Here's a breakdown of both to see which one is best for you.

VINICUNCA VS PALCCOYO: WHICH ONE IS BEST FOR YOU?

While there are differences between these two mountains, the main reason for deciding to go with one or the other will be the difficulty of the trek.

 

Vinicunca (the main one) is the tougher trek taking you up to 5,200m. You will spend about 2 hours trekking up to the summit – one hour on a flat path and the other hour on a steep incline to reach the top.

 

Palccoyo is the easier trek, just reaching 5,000m but the route is much flatter and shorter.

 

So, if you don’t like trekking and having difficulties with altitude, choose Palccoyo. If you are fine with both then choose Vinicunca as it’s the more impressive mountain.

VINICUNCA VS PALCCOYO COMPARISON

Below we’ve discussed each mountain in more detail including: how accessible they are, the cost of visiting and the pros and cons of each. We will give you our opinion on which one we think you should choose after the breakdowns and some general advice for both.

 

Here’s all the info in a handy TLDR table for the lazy readers out there:

VinicuncaPalccoyo
Cost$30< $30
Max Altitude5200m5000m
Elevation Gain200m+150m
Views• The size and cone shape is more impressive
than the round ones of Palccoyo

• Amazing panoramic views of the mountains

• Also able to see the red valley
• Three mountains instead of one

• Amazing surrounding views
Difficulty• Hard

• The trek is a 3-4 hour round trip.

• Steeper elevation gain
• Easier than Vinicuna

• Less steep

• The trek is a 2 hour round trip
Crowds• Big crowds
• The only way to avoid most of
them is taking a tour leaving at 3 AM
• Lesser-known so fewer people

THE ORIGINAL RAINBOW MOUNTAIN - VINICUNCA - MONTAÑA DE SIETE COLORES

We went with Vinicunca for our day out in the Andes. For a full breakdown of our tour, including our itinerary and general thoughts, check out our full review here.

How long does it take, and how do you get there?

The most common way to get there is by a tour, leaving from Cusco. It’s also possible to rent a car and drive yourself. Just be careful on the final 1.5 hours of driving as this is a newly created ‘road’ without a lot of space.

 

You can start the tour at 3 AM or 4 AM, however, most leave at around 5 AM. It’s a 3.5-hour drive from Cusco with 1.5 hours of that on a mountain road.

 

Walking to the viewpoint takes roughly 2-2½ hours. The walk back is 1-1½ hours. Depending on your tour you may have breakfast for 45 minutes and lunch for 1 hour. Total tour time is about 12-15 hours.

How Much Does It Cost?

  • Tours range from 50 to 150 soles (£11 to £35 or $15 to $45) – we went with Rainbow Mountain Travels who we highly recommend. Their tour costs $30
  • 10 soles entrance to Rainbow Mountain (£2.30/$1.75)
  • Optional: 10 soles to visit the red valley (£2.30/$1.75) – see our full review of the rainbow mountain and the red valley for more information 
  • Optional: 80 soles (£18/$24) to take a horse. Bear in mind you will still need to climb the hardest part yourself as horses do not go to the summit. Please also consider the condition of the horse before taking this option; many are overworked.
  • Change: Toilet cost – 1 sole (£0.50 $60)
  • Extra: there are people selling snacks (‘alimentos’ in Spanish) and water if you didn’t already bring them.

When Is The Best Time To Visit?

The best time for visiting Rainbow Mountain is in Peru’s dry season – May to November.

 

You want to avoid visiting during the rainy season as cloudy conditions will impact the view, and wet conditions make the climb muddy. The dry season is winter, and so it may be a bit colder but the best chance to get a clear day.

 

We visited in late December, during the rainy season and got lucky with the weather. Mother nature doesn’t consider your feelings, remember that.

 

Furthermore, mountain conditions are typically unpredictable regardless of the time of year, so make sure to check the weather forecast before you book.

How High Is It?

Your day will be spent mostly above 5,000m (16,400 ft) and the viewpoint is 5,200m (17,060 ft). 

Is It Difficult?

Yes, it’s difficult but only for a short period of time.  It’s only 100m lower than Everest Base Camp.

 

Regardless of your physical fitness, you may suffer from altitude sickness, 40% of people are affected at these heights, so the chances are high (pun intended).

 

The final climb is steep, and shortness of breath will make it difficult. Take it slow, and at a pace, that’s comfortable. The only good thing is that it is a short hike. The final push to the summit takes around 45 minutes, and after this, it’s all downhill.

 

One other thing to note is that the trail can be icy, so make sure you have functional hiking boots with grip.

What To Expect

The sights from the viewpoint are spectacular.

 

The ‘Rainbow’ colours, however, are not as you see them on Instagram. They are duller and what you see online is mostly due to editing, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t an impressive sight – most mountains are only one colour, not seven.

 

One downside is that it’s crowded, especially if you leave on a later tour at 5 AM. The viewpoint is a small patch of dirt and gets very busy with people trying to get the perfect photo. Leave at 3 AM for the best chance of fewer people.

PALCCOYO - THREE RAINBOW MOUNTAINS

The alternative Rainbow Mountain, Palccoyo, is in the same region as the original. It has become a popular tour for people looking for a less strenuous trek. 

How Long Does It Take, And How Do You Get There?

Again, you will probably need a tour to get you there. Pick up from Cusco is in the morning between 6–7 AM and then a 3-4-hour drive through the Salcca valley gets you there.

 

You’ll spend 45 minutes to 1-hour hiking to the viewpoint and should be back in Cusco around 6–7 PM. Total tour time of about 12 hours.

How Much Does It Cost?

  • 90 soles (£21/$28) It should cost less than the other rainbow mountain in Peru.
  • Visit a few tour agencies to get an idea of price
  • Be sure to check reviews before deciding on an agency

When Is The Best Time To Visit?

Same as with Vinicunca, its best to go in dry Season – May to November. As the two sights in Peru are close to each other, the weather conditions are similar.

How High Is it?

You hike from 4,850m (15,912 ft) to a viewpoint at 5,000m (16,404 ft). Still extremely high.

Is It Difficult?

This trek is of moderate difficulty and easier than the other rainbow mountain.

 

The viewpoint is 200m (656 ft) lower than Vinicunca, and at these altitudes, it genuinely makes a difference.

 

The hike is shorter in total, it’s around 1km, and you only climb 150m.  It’s considered more manageable than Vinicunca due to the shorter distance, less elevation gain and mostly flat route.

What To Expect

  • Fewer people
  • Three rainbow mountains rather than one
  • Fantastic views of Ausangate, the highest mountain in Cusco 6,375m (20,915 ft)
  • Less impressive views of the rainbow mountains compared to Vinicunca

GENERAL ADVICE FOR BOTH RAINBOW MOUNTAINS

Altitude

A word of warning. To see these natural wonders you often have to trek to some the highest places in the world. At these heights, people may suffer from altitude sickness.

 

Symptoms include: dizziness, vomiting, tiredness, headaches and trouble sleeping. If you feel any of these symptoms, make sure you stop and take a rest.

 

If this does not help make sure you descend to a lower altitude. 20% of people are affected at heights above 2,500m (8,000 ft) and 40% of people above 3,000 (10,000 ft).

 

You should spend a few days (48 hours minimum) acclimatising to the altitude before doing any exercise at heights, and by exercise, we mean walking. Taking this time allows your body to adjust and your body will also let you know if you’re capable of doing certain activities. Sadly some people just may not cope.

Gear

Make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots, especially if doing Vinicunca. Going up is usually fine but coming back down the mountain can be difficult.

 

The trails are often covered in ice and snow making it easier to slip, and if you go during rainy season it can also get muddy.

 

Our Salkantay trek 5 essential item recommendations will work well for Rainbow Mountain as well as the conditions are similar. And if you are looking for some more treking to do whilst in Cusco, then the Salkantay trek is the next best step.

If you are interest in the different Rainbow Mountain tours and their prices then we’ve compared them here for you. 

 

 

After a long day of trekking you will want to find yourself a great place to eat in Cusco, or if you have the energy, why not a night out on the town?

 

 

And if you haven’t planned Cusco yet then our city guide will help you get started. 

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