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.
Now that you know your options, I hope you are better able to make an informed decision about the Rainbow Mountain that is right for you. See you at the top!