Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains: the colourful alternative of Vinicunca

This Valley full of Rainbow Mountains has been recently discovered and opened up to tourists. Avoid the crowds and experience the colourful mountains of the region!
Considering the buzz about the “Classic” Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca, it is surprising that this place was only discovered about five years ago. Locals claim that the area used to be covered entirely in snow. Only recently, caused by global warming, the snow melted and revealed the colourful mountain beneath. Each colour on the mountain comes from a different mineral. In this case, red suggests iron oxide rust and the turquoise indicates chlorite. The layers of the different colours is what sets this mountain apart from any other.

With its geographical proximity to Cusco, day trips can easily be arranged. Tour operators and agencies increasingly organise trips to this magnificent mountain range to serve the growing number of tourists. However, ever since tourism has been booming, problems have arisen. Tourists complain that the mountain has become overcrowded, taking away the magic of the place. Adding to that is the environmental destruction of the fragile alpine landscape that occurs from exceeding the carrying capacity. Finally, in spite of the economic benefits created, the nearby local communities are becoming fed up with the large influx of tourists and their loss of control over “their mountains”. The efforts of the government to restore peace have been unsuccessful thus far.

Recently, an alternative to the Vinicunca has been introduced to those tourists who want to avoid the crowds but still experience and view the colourful mountains of the region. The Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains are located a bit further away from Cusco (approx. 3.5 hours by car), at an altitude of 4980 metres above sea level. Here you will not only find a colourful mountain but an impressive valley with more than three Rainbow Mountains and a Rock Forest. Hiking up to the rock forest may be a challenge but is definitely a must as it offers the most spectacular views. On clear days it is possible to see the Vinicunca and the snow-capped peaks of the Ausangate, Mariposa and other glaciated mountains in the distance! The walk in the valley is relatively easy as the inclination is rather gradual. As such, the area can be explored in two to three hours. Few tourism agencies in Cusco offer day trips with a guide. Unfortunately, as the mountain range is not easily accessible, this is the only/best option. 

The question remains whether this place will retain its authenticity and off-the-beaten path image. A lot will depend on how much the government and tour operators have learned from their past…


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