Vinicunca Vs. Palcoyo: Which Rainbow Mountain Is Right for You?

Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, Vinicunca, has grown in popularity since discovered for tourism in 2015. Though still a very new travel destination, hundreds of people have already flocked to witness the array of colors first-hand, and almost every tour agency in Cusco offers one-day trips. However, what most people don’t know is that there are various Rainbow Mountains located in Valle Rojo, or Red Valley, and trips to a second Rainbow Mountain, Palcoyo, have begun to take place.

Now that you know you have two Rainbow Mountain options, you might be wondering which one is right for you. Well, lots of factors should be considered before making a decision such as your hiking preferences, physical ability, and goals.

Hiking in Groups v. Solo Hiking

As mentioned earlier, Vinicunca is the more popular Rainbow Mountain which attracts hundreds of visitors daily. Almost every tour agency in Cusco makes it easy for you to book a one-day tour, which usually includes round-trip transportation, breakfast, lunch, and hiking equipment. However, due to its popularity Vinicunca will likely be more crowded with tourists than the beautiful isolation of Palcoyo.

For some, hiking can be an extremely intimate experience which helps to connect you with nature. It might remind you of how small you are in comparison to the vast world around us, or how incomparable the beauty of nature really is. Hiking can also help you to connect deeply with yourself and your breathing as you traverse difficult trails with the goal of accomplishing what you set out to do.

Unfortunately, Vinicunca might not allow the experience of self-reflection, peace, and contemplation along the hike as you will be hiking alongside other groups hoping to reach the top for its incredible views. The magical landscapes you encounter will be unforgettable no matter how many people are around, but losing yourself in its abundance, with the beautiful feeling of being the only person breathing for miles around is a luxury afforded to those who don’t mind breaking the bank for an alternate route. Therefore, it isn’t impossible for one to enjoy Vinicunca in isolation, but it will cost up to 10 times as much for the exclusive trail (i.e $30 v. $300). But if $300 sounds too steep for a hike, try your luck with Palcoyo which draws less crowds and allows for the intimate experience you might be seeking.


Physical Ability & Goals

A hike is a hike is a hike, therefore, you can expect each of the treks to be roughly 2 hours, and tiresome. Both mountains are also thousands of feet above sea level causing altitude sickness in some. Before attempting either of these hikes, spend some time becoming accustomed to the altitude in Cusco, and make sure to stay hydrated, and pack coca leaves and a snack so you aren’t affected too harshly. Another consideration for both is the weather. The cold winds of the rural mountains intertwine with the hot sun beaming down on you from an open sky, making it difficult to determine the appropriate dress for such a hike.

Though both hikes take around the same time to complete, one is much more physically demanding than the other. Vinicunca is a battle of steep inclines, and hard-to-brake declines, causing you to lunge your way up some parts, and keep your balance from falling over on others. Add this to the confusion in temperatures and layering, and it is sure to prove a challenging trek. And just when you think it’s over, it isn’t. After finally being able to see the long-awaited rainbow mountain, you realize you have another 300 foot incline to the very top of the view point for the best views of Vinicunca and the Red Valley. Palcoyo, on the other hand, is a steady and leveled hike making it much easier to accomplish.

Therefore, if you are seeking a challenge, or have the goal of accomplishing a challenging hike, Vinicunca might be the choice for you. But if you are more interested in an easier trek with equally stunning views, try your hand at Palcoyo. Still, this isn’t to say Vinicunca can’t be considered. The locals in the area offer horseback rides to the top of the mountain for those who prefer not to hike. Keep in mind though that the horse will only go as far as to where you can see the mountain, so you will still need to complete a very short, steep hike which takes about 10-15 minutes.

Plaza de Armas Cusco – Haukaypata

Plaza de Armas Cusco: one of the 5 most beautiful squares in the world according to the National Geographic Traveller in 2013.
In Incan times, the plaza was called ‘Haukaypata’ which is Quechua word meaning ‘place of ceremony or party’, alluding to the important activities that were carried out in this place like the ‘Inti Raymi’ (Suns Party). The plaza is also called ‘Wakaypata’ which means ‘place of weeping’, in honor of Incan leader Tupac Amaru, who was executed in the plaza in 1572.

Nowadays, the plaza is the center of the cultural and social life of the city, surrounded by old mansions of the colonial era that are now hotels, bars and restaurants.

One side of the Plaza de Armas boasts the basilica cathedral of Cusco, built between 1560 and 1664 on the site of Suntur Wasi – the ancient palace of Incan king Wiracocha. Suntur Wasi was built with huge blocks of stone brought from the Sacsahuaman site, 1.2 kilometres away. The basilica’s shape represents a latin cross, with a renaissance façade containing the best examples of colonial goldsmithing. The basilica also boasts a valuable collection of paintings from the Cusqueña School, a catholic artistic tradition which flourished in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the Church of the Company of Jesus, built by the Jesuits in the year of 1576. This church is considered to be one of the best examples of Colonial Baroque style.