Cusco boasts two natural marvels that have driven up tourism in recent years. Vinicunca y Palcoyo, two rainbow mountains that have striking striations of pigment at their peaks. The two look very similar but the experience of going to them is very different.
On our TOUR of Vinicunca we go to an altitude over 5200 meters over sea level, Palcoyo in comparison is 4900 masl. Both are around Cusco in different districts. To get to Vinicunca set off from the town of Pitumarca, for Palcoyo start at Checacupe.
From both peaks you can see Ausangate, the spiritual mountain of the Incas, although with different points of view. There are also some coincidences regarding how they became famous, both hills were covered with a thick layer of snow that was melting. There is no unanimity regarding the responsibility of climate change in this but it is one of the most reasonable theories.
Video MONTAÑA DE COLORES o Arco Iris
Vinicunca, a bucket list location
In addition to the height, one of the most important differences between both mountains of colors is the way to get there and the effort required to reach the highest point. While Vinicunca requires an intense physical preparation and the walk can last between 4 and 5 hours; Palcoyo does not require so much preparation and the walk can last a maximum of an hour and a half.
Surely Vinicunca, also called by locals like Cerro Colorado, is best known to tourists, as it was even selected by the “National Geographic” as one of the 100 places you should see before dying. And this mention has led to a large influx of travelers. In less than three years the number of daily visitors went from 12 to 1,000. This situation can discourage other tourists who choose Palcoyo for the tranquility of the experience that can be had.
Another fundamental difference, in addition to the number of kilometers that must be walked, is the level of difficulty of each mountain. While trekking in Vinicunca is classified between medium and difficult, the walk through Palcoyo is indicated as easy.
At the top of the mountains of colors
Palcoyo is at 5oo meters high and Vinicunca at 5,200 meters. Reaching the top of any of these mountains of colors will generate a huge adrenaline. It does not matter if you have walked a lot or a little. Feel the cold wind in your face. Contemplating Ausangate and observing the color of the mountains is incredible.
You have to be acclimatized to reach these heights but it’s worth it. Your trip through this region will be unforgettable. When you get to the top you just have to enjoy the view and the landscape.
What gives the rainbow mountains their colors?
The colors in the mountains are the result of “a complex geological history of marine, lake and river sediments,” according to a report by the Office of Cultural Landscape of the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco. The water that covered this area transported sediments during the last 65 million years and the different sizes of grains were deposited in the stripes that are known today. Over time, the movement of tectonic plates was elevating these sediments to form the current mountains. Subsequently, the oxidation of the minerals along with the humidity of the area eroded the surface and left the colors that can be observed today.
The composition of each color is as follows:
1) Pink or fuchsia: mixture of red clay, fangolites (mud) and sand.
2) White: sandstone (quartz sand) and limestone.
3) Purple or lavender: marl (mixture of clay and calcium carbonate) and silicates.
4) Red: argillites and clays.
5 Green: clays rich in ferro magnesian (mixture of iron and magnesium) and copper oxide.
6) Yellowish browns, mustard or gold: limonites, calcareous sandstones rich in sulfur minerals (combined with sulfur)
Palcoyo and the last bridge of the Inca
If you choose to visit Palcoyo you can discover a place with enormous historical and cultural value near there. Q’eswachaka, the last Inca bridge. It is located two hours from the hill and you can discover it with our tour of Palcoyo and Q’eswachaka.
This mythical bridge was built with ichu, a grass from the highest areas of the Andes. Every year the inhabitants of the farming communities of Perccaro, Huinchiri, Ccollana and Qqewe meet to renew their structure, given their age. The renovation of the bridge implies the realization of a ritual and a festivity that lasts around four days. The Q’eswachaka is 28 meters long and 1.20 meters wide. No matter what 500 years have gone by, traditions and rituals stand the test of time.