the rainbow mountain

Vinicunca Vs Palccoyo: Which Rainbow Mountain Is Best To Visit?

Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca is one of the most well-known mountains 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 comparison of Vinucunca vs Palccoyo to see which Rainbow Mountain is best for you to visit.

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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.

Here’s a comparison table of Vinicunca and Palccoyo with all the information you need::

Joe and Alex on the rainbow mountains

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo: Altitude

If you decide to visit Vinicunca, the original Rainbow Mountain, you start the trek at around 5,000m (16,400 ft) and the viewpoint is 5,200m (17,060 ft).

 

For Palccoyo, you hike from 4,850m (15,912 ft) to a viewpoint at 5,000m (16,404 ft).

 

There isn’t much difference between these two mountains in terms of altitude, so this won’t likely be the deciding factor for which one you decide to hike. Palccoyo is the better option for backpackers who don’t like hiking that much or suffer from altitude sickness easily.

Rainbow Mountain is the only high atltitude hike from Cusco. If you are an avid hiker then check out the post below on one of the best treks in Peru:

 

 

rainbow mountains with clouds
Vinicunca vs Palccoyo guide

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo: Difficulty

Vinicunca is the more difficult hike of the two mountains.

 

The viewpoint at Vinicunca is only 100m lower than Everest base camp. Regardless of your physical fitness, you may suffer from altitude sickness. 40% of people are affected by altitude sickness at these heights.

 

If you are trekking Vinicunca, reaching the viewpoint takes roughly 2-2.5 hours, double the amount of time it takes to reach Palccoyo.

 

The final climb is steep, and due to the altitude, your shortness of breath will make it slow and difficult. You would think that ascending 100m would be easy but at this altitude it is hard. 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.  

 

On the other hand, Palccoyo can be considered a moderate difficulty hike. It is much easier than to hike than Vinicunca.

 

First of all, the viewpoint is 200m (656 ft) lower than Vinicunca, and at these altitudes, it genuinely makes a difference. Secondly, the hike is shorter in total at around 1km, and you only climb 150m in elevation. 

 

Palccoyo is considered more manageable than Vinicunca due to the shorter distance, less elevation gains and mostly flat route – so pick this mountain if you want an easier hike.

For more information on the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain trek, including tips, tricks and an essential packing list, head to the post below:

 

 

the rainbow mountains

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo: Cost

Palccoyo will be slightly cheaper than Vinicunca as it is the less popular of the two mountains.

 

Both mountains require a tour to get there. Rainbow Mountain Travels is the best company to go with if you want to see Vinicunca. They offer a reasonable price at $49 that comes with a quality experience.

 

They provide a quality experience that makes the day out feel more than just paying for transport by providing excellent food and engaging tour guides.

 

Inkan Milkyway offer tours to Palccoyo for $40. This is another reputable tour company that also run lots of great tours in and around Cusco.

I’ve compared three different tour companies for Vinicunca in the guide below. Check it out if you want to find something cheaper or are interested in taking a private tour:

 

 

hiking the rainbow mountains

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo: Crowds

Vinicunca is the more popular mountain due to the better views. However, one downside is that it’s more crowded, especially if you leave on a later tour at 5:00 AM.

 

The viewpoint at the top of Vinicunca is a small patch of dirt and gets very busy with people trying to get the perfect photo of the rainbow colours behind them. 

 

The most common way to get there is by a tour, leaving from Cusco. It’s possible to start the tour between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM, and if you can get on one of these you will miss most of the crowds. Most leave at around 5:00 AM and once they arrive, they bring the large majority of tourists meaning that the trail becomes busy.

 

Palccoyo is a much quieter mountain with less crowds. There are less tours visiting this mountain each day so you will likely have the place to yourself.

 

Either visit Vinicunca on an early tour to avoid crowds or visit Palccoyo if you prefer a tour with as little people as possible.

Thinking of visiting Peru but can’t make your mind up? Rainbow Mountain is one of many great reasons to make Peru your next backpacking adventure. For more reasons, head to the post below:

 

 

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo guide

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo: Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Vinicunca is during 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. Furthermore, mountain conditions are typically unpredictable regardless of the time of year, so make sure to check the weather forecast before you book.

 

I would recommend visiting Palccoyo in the dry season as well. However, you may wish to go in the wet season (Jan to March) to see another impressive sight – the Red River.

 

Heavy rain up in the mountains causes mudslides that fall into the river. The red minerals from the mud turn the river a bright red colour. This can be seen on the way to Palccoyo mountain and the Inkan Milky Way Tour will stop on the way to allow you to see it.

 

Check out the video below to see the views of Palccoyo and the Red River. 

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo: Views

Vinicunca is by far the more impressive tour in terms of landscapes, views and overall experience.

 

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.

 

The views of the Andes are also spectacular and the bright red colours of the mountain and the ‘Red Valley’ are a beautiful sight. 

 

The three Rainbow Mountains you can see when visiting Palccoyo are good but not as impressive as Vinicunca. However, you do get fantastic views of Ausangate, the highest mountain in Cusco 6,375m (20,915 ft).

 

Pick Vinicunca if you are looking for the best views.

For more on backpacking in Peru, check out our itineraries and travel routes:

 

Vinicunca vs Palccoyo rainbow mountains

Which Is The Best Rainbow Mountain Tour Company?

There are hundreds of companies in Cusco selling tours to Rainbow Mountain. It can be a little daunting trying to sort through them all to see how they differ.

 

Whist I only went with one company, I can safely say that there won’t be much difference between them all. We chose Rainbow Mountain Travels (RMT) and would recommend them for their great customer service and cheap price.

 

It costs $49 and they have a great rating on trip advisor. The tour guides were helpful, and their English was exceptional. For that price, you also get breakfast and lunch.

We’ve compared three rainbow mountain tours here for you to see:

 

 

Rainbow Mountain Packing List

 It’s a single day trek so you don’t need to bring loads, but here are a few essentials you don’t want to forget:

 

  • Camera
  • Warm layers – long trousers, waterproof jacket, jumper, etc so you can put on/take off layers when you get sweaty or cold. When I reached the summit, I was sweating and took off my big jacket. However, it didn’t take long until my body had cooled down and the icy wind started to hit me again.
  • Gloves – if you really feel the cold in your extremities then maybe bring gloves. The wind can bite
  • Snood, hat and/or scarf – the wind is strong, and your ears/face will start to feel the cold so keep them protected
  • Sunscreen – the sun is stronger the higher up you are so getting it on the parts of your face not protected by hats and glasses
  • Sunglasses – as mentioned, the sun is powerful this high up, especially if you get a nice day
  • 1L of water – bring this as a minimum. You will likely have drunk it by the time you reach the top. There are people selling supplies along the way, but this will cost you more
  • Snacks – maybe a protein bar or two if you get peckish on hikes. Although we were well fed at breakfast by RMT so didn’t feel the need
  • Walking boots – recommended as the walking conditions can be icy and muddy
  • Walking sticks – if you like to use them or have bad knees. Tour companies will supply these for you

If you are looking for specific items that we recommend when trekking in South America, head to the post below to see some of our favourite gear:

 

 

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