Trial Retirement

Cusco Peru | Rainbow Mountains of Palcoyo

I’m writing this a few weeks after our big move to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. A change of scenery from the long stretch of beaches in Florida to vast dusty lands punctuated with hills and mountains. These landscapes reminded me of a day trip we did in Cusco Peru to the Rainbow Mountains of Palcoyo.

Deposition of different elements and particles such as clay, mud, sand (pink), calcium carbonates (white), claystone (red), phyllites (green and blue), magnesium (brown), and iron sulfide (yellow) in different periods had created the rainbow mountains.

Palcoyo’s distinct colors are formed by naturally occurring elements that dyed it through time. It is fascinating how the colors didn’t meld. Hidden under the glaciers of the Peruvian mountains for thousands of years, rains and winds had exposed Palcoyo’s beauty as we see it today.

We would have wanted to see Montañas de Siete Colores, but during our visit (April 2022) all routes to the mountain were closed due to disagreements involving the neighboring villages. On a walking tour of the Cusco Historic Center, we met a tourist who suggested that we go to Palcoyo instead because it is just as stunning.

All tour agencies in the city will offer day tours to Palcoyo. A day trip that includes shuttle services, breakfast, a guided tour, walking sticks, and lunch, is s/. 85 ($21.94) for each person. If you have more people at your party, you can still negotiate the price down.

Views of Nevado Auzangate and Rainbow Mountains

The number of layers you would need to bring will depend on the time of the year you’re going, but it doesn’t hurt to bring a sweater since Palcoyo is 16,076 feet above sea level. It could get windy and cold. Bring cash with you because there is a s/. 20 ($5.00) entry fee for each person to visit Palcoyo (this is not included in the package).

Take bottled water and a few snacks. Apply sunscreen because you will be walking out in the open. Wear good shoes for all the walking and climbing you’re about to do. The roads close to Palcoyo are unpaved and bumpy. If you are prone to motion sickness, take some pills with you as well.

The trip starts early in the morning from around 6:00 to 6:30 am. The tour agent lets you know the specific time for pick-up once they have your hotel information. Ask for the contact information of your tour guide so you can WhatsApp them for confirmation of the place and time of pick-up.

The first destination is a town close to Palcoyo where a local family serves a light breakfast of bread, hot drinks, cheese, and fruits. From here, it’s an hour more of traveling into the mountains. The roads leading to the trailhead are narrow, winding, and rough. Most are not paved, located right next to a cliff, and are one-way traffic only. You can see llamas and alpacas grazing with views of the mountain ranges in the background.

As you get closer to the trailhead, the tour guide collects the entrance fee and you’re on your way up Palcoyo mountains. The restrooms are at the trailhead, and it costs s/. 1 ($0.20) to use the facilities. Some tour guides have walking sticks available, take them because they’re quite useful during the hike.

There are two points of interest in the area. First are the rainbow mountains and second is the stone forest. There are designated paths for all sites. It is a moderate to high-intensity hike owing to inclines, steps, and altitude. We hiked for about a couple of hours including stops to catch our breath, rest our feet and take in the awesome views of the rainbow mountains that surround us.

On the spot where the trail diverges, there is a panoramic view of snow-capped mountain ranges that just takes your breath away. To the right of the path is a closer view of Palcoyo’s rainbow mountains and to the left is the hike to the stone forest.

We took photos like madmen to take the beauty of Palcoyo with us back home, but those wouldn’t compare to the real thing. We thanked the heavens for having the opportunity to be a witness to the immaculate landscapes that Palcoyo has to offer.

There are locals dressed in colorful traditional garments on some points of the trail, some even have llamas with them. It does not cost anything to have a photo taken with them, but they do expect tips. We even saw a lovely little girl wearing the most colorful ensemble wandering around the park. Tourists just couldn’t resist taking a picture with her, and after a while, she was walking with a fist full of dollar bills.

Unfortunately, the hike toward the colored mountain obliterated most of our energy and time so we didn’t climb up the stone forest. At around noon we went back to the shuttle for lunch and headed back to Cusco at around 3:00 pm.

Palcoyo rainbow mountains’ awe-inspiring landscapes were forged by seasons for thousands of years. We are grateful for the privilege of seeing it and capturing its beauty with our own senses. It is exciting to wonder what kind of adventure waits for us in the coming years. Tons of places to see and a world of possibilities just by examining your life and living it with intention.

Trial Retirements are periods we dedicate to traveling to beautiful countries to know if they are perfect for us when we eventually retire. The time spent outside of work will serve as a preview of our habits and behaviors when we reach Financial Independence, and our way to recharge after months of hard work.

Anything we missed? Questions? Violent reactions? Let us know in the comments below!

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