On our recent trip to Peru on an organized tour with GAdventures, a hike of Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca) was offered as an optional activity. At a height of 5200 meters asl, we were worried about the acclimatization factor since we wouldn’t have that many days in Cusco which sits at about 4000 meters asl. After some research, we found the not yet widely known Palcoyo Rainbow mountain. With less crowds and a little lower altitude (4900 meters asl) we decided to book this one. Located about three to four hours southwest of Cusco, these two attractions are quite different. Vinicunca has one rainbow mountain and takes about three hours hiking to get there whereas, Palcoyo has three with only an hour’s hiking time.
As we drove into in the indigenous community of Palcoyo, we spotted herds of llamas and alpacas and the surrounding landscape was already revealing its beauty. The small entrance fee which is paid directly to the community was included in the price of our tour. There were only five of us (semi private tour) which meant we didn’t have to leave our hotel at 4:30 am like the other tours do. Breakfast and lunch were included as well.
With a higher starting altitude, and just a short walk from the parking area, we were able to see the colorful mountains right away. There was only one other tour bus there. That scenario will probably change in a couple of years as this attraction becomes more popular.
If you’re just doing the rainbow hike, it takes about an hour and a half or longer depending on how much you stop and stare. We were feeling adventurous, so we continued on to an area known as the stone forest which had massive, jagged rock formations. One of our guides stopped and serenaded us with some Andean flute music. The stone forest hike is not for the faint of heart. The path is not well defined and there were lots of loose stones which made for unstable footing, some parts were a bit scary. We all needed assistance to negotiate our way down.
There’s an area on the other side of the Stone Forest called the Red Valley. We were all too tired and decided to skip that part, besides it was cold and windy, and we were still feeling the effect of the altitude.