A few hours’ drive from Cusco, Pallay Punchu overlooks Laguna Langui, a hub for trout fishers from the lakeside town of Layo.
The dramatic peaks of Pallay Punchu represent what many adventure seekers truly fall in love with while visiting Peru. The mountain peaks and dips in dramatic style, with a jaw-clenching drop to the town below.
Rainbow Mountain: Vinicunca or Pallay Punchu?
Unlike Vinicunca, the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain that has gripped the Peruvian tourist industry by the throat, Pallay Puncho sees barely any tourist traffic.
The Vinicunca ‘Rainbow Mountain’ has become Peru’s second most visited attraction after Machu Picchu – it’s also now host to violence, unsafe tours, and environmental damage.
Vinicunca’s iconic vista attracts thousands of tourists daily, forcing tour companies to compete ruthlessly for business, cut corners, and over-promise in order to secure their slice of the Insta-famous pie.
We’ve already documented some of the worst accidents, deaths, and environmental damage brought on by these practices, and explained why Amazonas Explorer does not offer trips to the peak.
Since that post, police and local communities have continued to feud over control of the mountain. Access was briefly closed altogether this year.
Yet while Vinicunca may be Peru’s most famous ‘Rainbow Mountain’, it’s far from the only one. Pallay Punchu is a more ruggedly wild adventure to Rainbow Mountain- but Palcoyo offers a family-friendly jaunt- free from ethical issues.
A Tour of Pallay Punchu
On a Sunday this October, a group from Amazonas Explorer saw just two cars parked at the trailhead and only a handful of local hikers during the 2-hour ascent.
Not once did we need to wait in a queue to take a picture.
There were no hawkers or ticket booths or fences.
Near the trailhead, a herd of alpacas grazed on the yellow Andean grasses.
Pallay Punchu Trek
Reaching around 4,600 meters, scaling Pallay Punchu is significantly safer than Vinicunca’s 5,200 meters, 3-hour climb, with around 10% more oxygen available and roads never too far away.
And unlike Vinicunca, there are no reports online of visitors dying of heart failure or falls during the hike.
While there are certainly steep sections of rock on the lake side of the mountain, they can easily be avoided by following the trail, clearly marked with white stones in a loop that follows the crest to multiple spectacular views.
There are still outdated reports online suggesting the Pallay Punchu hike is 10 kilometers or more. As of 2022, that is no longer strictly true.
The trailhead and car park have been extended to make a much shorter, safer ascent possible from around 4,200 meters. The hike from the car park is about 3.4km from start to finish.
Of course, a longer trek is still quite achievable, even on a day trip from Cusco, particularly if you’d like to take a closer look at Pallay Punchu’s equally stunning neighbors.
Mercifully, Pallay Punchu’s lack of traffic has also spared it from the litter and environmental damage which plagues many of Peru’s most famous trails.
To Cusco or beyond
From the top of Pollay Poncho, Laguna Langui stretches to the south and west. To the mountain’s north, the larger town of Sayapampa borders the highway leading northwest to Cusco or southeast to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Halfway back to Cusco, the Raqchi archaeological park presents an opportunity for a lunch break and tour.
Just avoid arriving at 1:30 pm, when busloads of tourists descend on the park in their own pit-stop between Puno and Cusco. If you would like more guidance on crafting the perfect Pallay Punchu tour for yourself, get in contact with us today.
Closer to the city, you will pass through Oropesa, a town famous for its sweet, artisanal bread – a common gift seen as essential for any celebratory meal in the Cusco region, available fresh from the bakery for just a few soles.
The Pallay Punchu tour – possible over a day trip, multi-day hike, or mixed hiking and biking adventure – is a far cry from the queues, crowds and chaos of so-called ‘Rainbow Mountain’.
But to assume that Pollay Poncho is unique for its spectacular views or colours would be to repeat what has poisoned Vinicunca.
Cusco’s Andean ranges are full of such treasures, and descending on one at the expense of all others is a dangerous mistake.
If a few thousand visitors are too much for a single mountain to sustain, perhaps more sites should be explored – in smaller groups, with a greater appreciation for the place itself rather than queuing for the same viral photo.
Pallay Punchu, as for many ‘rainbow mountains’ around Cusco, demonstrates that there are still many new and exciting sights to be found in Peru. Contact us today to find out how to experience these adventures yourself, or explore our Palcoyo tour!2