Palcoyo – Peru’s Best Kept Secret
Like the look of Peru’s famous Rainbow Mountain, but don’t like the idea of hiking it with hundreds of other tourists? The Palccoyo Mountains are the perfect alternative. Even though the phenomenon of the Rainbow Mountain is recent, the number of tourists flocking to it on a daily basis can make it difficult to really experience and enjoy the natural beauty. The Palccoyo Mountains are not far away from Vinicunca, but have not yet been discovered by the majority of tourists, leaving them serene and peaceful. Hikers will often get a glimpse of local farmers and farm animals as they walk, adding to many people’s perceptions that this is a more “authentic” hike compared to the Vinicunca alternative.
Another benefit to the Palccoyo Mountains is that unlike Vinicunca, this trek gives you views of seven different peaks, each displaying the vast array of natural colors that make the mountain range famous. The trek itself is only one day, making it an affordable experience for those on a budget. Guided tours that begin in Cusco usually start very early in the morning, around 3am. This is to allow time to drive to the start of the trail, which is about 3 hours away from the city. Hikers are then able to make their way up the trail on their own time, with no rush. This also gives hikers ample time at the viewpoint, or mirador, so they can rest, or wait for the sun to come out.
The Palcoyo Trek is slightly shorter and easier than the Vinicunca alternative, another reason to take the path less travelled. People often compare it to the Machu Picchu trail, in terms of how hard it is. However, due to its high altitude, even the most experienced hikers can experience issues. The trail extends to roughly the same altitude as Vinicunca, which is approximately 17,000 feet, or 5,200 meters. This high above sea level, people can experience altitude sickness, and become exhausted easily. It is recommended that people who are not used to high altitudes spend time in Cusco before attempting the trail, in order to acclimatize.
Although this is a recently-discovered tourist destination, the mountain has been worshipped by local populations for centuries. Even now, on the 31st of May, thousands of Quechua people make the pilgrimage to the base of the mountains in the Sinakara Valley, for the Star Snow Festival. Referred to as Qoyllur Rit’i by the local Quechuans, this festival is to honor the stars, specifically the Pleiades constellation, which is believed to mark the beginning of a new harvest season each year. This festival is part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, and considered a major cultural event both locally and internationally.
The best time of the year to hike up Palccoyo is between the months of May and September. This is Peru’s dry season, and this is the time that you are most likely to experience a clear sunny day that will give you beautiful scenic views, and really bring out the natural colors of the mountain. Although there is nothing to stop you going during the rainy season, please be aware that the chances of poor weather are increased, so make sure to check the forecast before you go. Regardless of when you choose to go, the summit will always be cold, so remember to dress accordingly.
Although beautiful, the Palccoyo Mountains can still be dangerous, especially for inexperienced hikers. This is why it is always best to travel with a reputable Peru tour agency such as View Latin America. Their staff are experienced and will make sure that you are taken care of, with a guide that stays with you for the duration of your trip. View Latin America can work with you to add the Palccoyo Mountains to a larger luxury tour package, so that you can make the most of your time here in Peru. The Palccoyo Mountains make a great end to an Inca Trail or Salkantay Trail tour, when you have properly acclimatized to the altitude.